What’s The Happy Medium Of Keeping Your House Clean?

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Dear Miriam,

When I was first out of college, I had a roommate who always told me what a slob I was. We didn’t live together for very long (obviously!), but her comments stuck with me, and even though I was never as messy as she said, I’ve swung way in the other direction as a reaction to her criticism. The other night, I heard my fiance describe me to a friend of his as a neat freak. I don’t want to be on either extreme! How do I find a happy medium?


The Goldilocks of Housecleaning


Dear Goldie,

I can’t tell you what’s normal, but I can tell you this: Your fiance’s opinions matter more than your roommate’s. Your happiness matters more than any amount of cleanliness. You are more interesting and complex than your housekeeping standards and more valuable than a simplistic description of those habits. 

Every household has its own norms about what is too messy (or even too neat). Sometimes these standards are set by the most extreme person in the household in either direction, and sometimes – and more ideally – they are set through a series of conversations and compromises that make sure everyone’s needs are met. 

College and post-college roommates are kind of like the first pancake theory – you get to test out the situation, knowing that the first one isn’t likely to turn out well, but the experience primes you for better outcomes moving forward. So your first post-college roommate thought you were a slob. Ok! Her expectations were formed in whatever household she grew up in, too, and those expectations were set through who knows what series of generational compromises or coercions. 

I think you should tell your fiance what you overheard, and ask him to set aside time with you to talk about household chores and responsibilities. Ask yourself, and each other, questions like these: What are his top priorities? What are yours? Which things that you care about don’t matter to him, and vice versa? Which things that you spend a lot of time on end up being wasted effort? Does it bother him that you’re a “neat freak,” or was it just an observation? Have you ever told him about that roommate? What’s your shared, ideal vision of what your home looks like, and how do you – together – envision achieving those goals?

Living with someone often ends up being about who does more and how the responsibilities are divided up. But even more so, living with someone is about how you communicate about the things that matter to you. Sure, sometimes the things that matter are not having dirty dishes in the sink! But just as often, it’s wanting to feel listened to, appreciated, and respected. The happy medium you need may not be able cleaning at all, but rather it’s about knowing another person can hear, respect, and accommodate your priorities, while you do the same for them.

Be well,