Disclaimer: This advice is meant to be helpful and informative, but it should not be taken as professional advice. Max is not an expert in any field; if you need further assistance, please refer to CSUMB campus resources. Submissions for Ask Max can be sent in here.
“I decided to live off campus this semester and got a one bedroom apartment with a friend from high school in Seaside. It’s been going well but this guy won’t clean up after himself. He leaves food in the sink (no garbage disposal) – it’s like he expects me to clean it up for him. When I ask him to do something he looks at me like I just told him to put down his dog. I need advice. How do I stop myself from strangling him?”
Thank you for submitting to the column and I’m sorry that you’re struggling with this. Living with friends can be complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.
My first suggestion would be to sit him down and have a conversation about your expectations as roommates as soon as possible before he can develop any more bad habits. I understand that you have already voiced your concerns, but it’s likely that he’ll continue to dismiss them if you only mention them in passing. You can start by asking him if there’s anything you can do to make your home comfortable for him so that the conversation doesn’t feel one-sided; then specifically mention what’s bothering you as well as other expectations you have.
It may seem uncomfortable, but devoting an entire conversation to discussing your needs will force him to look you in the eye and acknowledge that his actions have made your home a space that’s uninviting.
I don’t know your friend so I don’t know how he was raised, but it’s possible that he never learned how to clean up after himself properly. It shouldn’t have to be your responsibility to teach him these things, but it’s clear that there’s something missing in his understanding of his own obligations as a roommate.
If you can identify the source of his behaviors and beliefs it’ll be easier to solve the problem. There could be a difference between his definition of cleanliness and yours, so opening up this conversation will allow you to understand each other and the source of the conflict. The best way to identify the root of the issue is to ask him non-defensive questions, so try to be aware of your tone and choice of words. Even if he simply doesn’t find cleanliness important, you have the right to express the way a messy environment makes you feel and hopefully, that will be enough to make him respect your shared space.
Unfortunately, these conversations aren’t always as effective as we hope they would be. During my first year living on campus, I had a housemate who would leave dirty dishes in the sink for weeks if not months. We reached out to our RA and she even came over to have a discussion about the things that were bothering us. We explained that leaving the sink full made it difficult for my other housemates and I to do our own dishes. He was agreeable and seemed to understand how his actions were impacting others when we had these conversations, but my other housemates and I still spent the entire year cleaning up after him anyway.
I realize that I let this slide because I was avoiding conflict, but now I wish that I gave him a taste of his own medicine. Obviously, this isn’t a diplomatic solution, but if you’re stuck with him on a lease you might have to beat him at his own game as a last resort, and I think that this can be done without going overboard. For example, in my situation, I could have put all of his dirty dishes into a paper bag so that the sink was empty and I didn’t have to clean up after him. You might want to be cautious with this tactic though because depending on how your roommate handles conflict, he could perceive these types of actions as a declaration of war rather than a wake-up call.
I hope that it doesn’t have to get to that point, and your friend will shape up once he realizes that he’s not doing his part. You can always send him this article if all else fails.
Best of luck,