How to Survive a Messy Roommate

Three Methods:Confronting Your RoommateTaking Care of the MessinessCollaborating on Staying Tidy

It seems like no two roommates have exactly the same sets of standards when it comes to maintaining the cleanliness of their common areas. If you’re frustrated with your roommate’s mess, talk to her about it. Keep your discussions solution-oriented, and make sure you’re leading by example. Together, develop systems for keeping your shared spaces clean that are based in compromise and collaboration.

Method 1
Confronting Your Roommate

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    Be honest and straightforward. Be as specific as possible about the messiness that you find difficult to live with. For example, if her dirty dishes piled up in the sink are making your blood boil, try asking,“Could you try to wash your dishes after you’ve used them?” [1]
    • Tell her what you’d like to see change about keeping your shared living area tidy, and realize that you’ll likely need to be willing to compromise. For instance, in the example above, you may need to add, “I know sometimes we can both get busy and may not always wash our dishes the very same day they’re used, but maybe we can try to make sure they’re washed the same day most of the time…”
    • Don’t talk to other people about your roommate’s messiness unless you’ve first spoken directly to your roommate. Your roommate won’t appreciate learning about your feelings through someone else.
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    Avoid accusations. Starting out conversations by telling your roommate all about her messiness is likely to result in hurt feelings, defensiveness, and/or bitter words. Instead of focussing everything on your roommate’s messiness, point out areas where you could improve as well. Ask your roommate if there’s anything she would like you to do differently.[2]
    • Don’t use phrases like, “I can’t believe you do this…” or “That’s so gross!”
    • Instead, say, “I can get annoyed when there are too many dirty dishes in the sink. I’ll try to make sure to empty out the dishwasher, if you’ll be sure to put your dirty dishes in when they’re finished.”
    • Being open to compromise will help this conversation be more productive.
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    Propose solutions. Remember, it’s likely (or, at least possible) that your roommate has no idea that her habits are bothering you. If you’re going to point out problems, be prepared to offer solutions as well.[3]
    • For example, “It would be great if you could clean up after you have your friends over. I don’t mind helping out if you need me to.”
    • Remember that different people have different standards and expectations regarding cleanliness and hygiene.
    • It’s likely you do things that your roommate finds unacceptable as well. The best solutions will take all perspectives into account.
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    Set boundaries about common spaces. Remember that your roommate has the right to maintain her own standards within her own area, whether it’s a bedroom or just her own bed and closet. Focus on the areas that you share together, such as a kitchen, bathroom, living area, or hallway.[4]
    • For example, you might say, “It’s really important to me that there not be dirty clothes in shared spaces. I try to keep all my clothes in my bedroom (or, on my side of the room). Do you think you could try this too?”
    • If there is the likeliness of bug infestation or mold from your roommate’s hygiene habits, this might require that you suggest changes to her personal area as well. However, most of the time a messy roommate’s habits are just distasteful.
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    Avoid passive-aggressive acts of revenge. If you’ve had a conversation and nothing has changed, or if you’re still putting off talking to your roommate about the problem, you might be tempted to take passive-aggressive moves to rile your roommate into action. This should be avoided, because it’s likely to provoke a worse response.[5]
    • For example, becoming messier yourself so that you’re making your roommate miserable with your own messiness is unlikely to help improve your satisfaction.

Method 2
Taking Care of the Messiness

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    Lead by example. If you want to keep your shared apartment or dorm room to a certain standard of organization, the best thing you can do is to stick to this level yourself. Make sure your food is put away, your dishes are clean, and your dirty clothes are placed in the the hamper. Don’t expect your roommate to be tidy if your portion of the apartment is messy.[6]
    • Look around at your shared spaces, and notice your part of the mess.
    • Remember, it’s often a lot easier to spot other people’s mess than it is your own. Try to set a higher standard for yourself than you do for your roommate.
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    Consolidate their trash in one place. If your roommate’s things are scattered all over the apartment, you might consider gathering it all up and placing it in a pile. She might get the message and start to keep the room a little cleaner...or, she might not.[7]
    • Whether she gets the message or not, your shared space will be clean for a temporary period of time.
    • If you haven’t talked to her about your feelings, this might be interpreted as a passive-aggressive act.
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    Clean up the mess yourself. If your roommate’s mess is really getting out of hand, you might consider just cleaning it up yourself. While this might not feel fair, this solution will help address your need for a cleaner house, and probably won’t take very long. Whether it’s washing all the dirty dishes your roommate has piled up in the sink (and on the counters, and on the table, and in front of the television…), or just wiping up the hairs left in the shower drain, you can take action to make your space the way you want it.[8]
    • If your roommate notices, she might get the hint that you’d like to live in a cleaner space. Or, she might think you’re a “clean-freak” with control issues.
    • Follow up your cleaning binge with a conversation about your desire for a different standard of cleanliness in your shared dorm or apartment. Otherwise, you might get trapped into continuing to do your roommate’s cleaning for her.
    • Don’t do this more than once, unless your roommate has a life situation (a death in the family, a serious illness, etc.) that’s substantially out of the ordinary.

Method 3
Collaborating on Staying Tidy

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    Request an apartment (or house) meeting. Make sure all roommates are available for enough time for a good talk, at least 20-30 minutes. Depending on the nature of your relationship, you could say, “I’d like to talk about expectations about clean spaces,” if your roommate asks what the meeting’s about.[9]
    • Don’t wait too long before scheduling a meeting.
    • Make sure you leave plenty of space in the meeting for your roommate to bring up concerns of her own. Remember, you’re not scheduling an intervention, but a conversation.
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    Assign household chores. A solution-oriented meeting should close with assigned duties, and, in the case of a messy roommate, deciding who is responsible for chores and when will be an important next step. For example, you might offer to clean the bathroom weekly, if your roommate agrees to take out the recycling and trash.[10]
    • It’s probably a good idea to schedule a follow-up meeting so that you can check in about how the assigned chores are going.
    • Make sure the tasks are relatively evenly divided.
    • Be aware that most people have some fluctuation in their schedules and there may be times when either you or your roomie let things get out of hand because of school or work pressures. This is normal and to be expected.
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    Implement a penalty system. If you’ve tried the assigned schedule route and one of you just isn’t holding up his end of the deal, you might consider implementing a penalty system. For this to work, of course, you’ll all have to agree upon it, but some people would rather pay a penalty than do a chore.[11]
    • An example of a penalty might be: “If I allow my household chore to remain undone for more than __ days, I agree to pay $__ to the household beer fund.”
    • If your messy roommate can afford it, a possible solution is that the he pay for a cleaning service to take care of his end of the chores. Be aware that this is usually not an option for dorms, but may be for apartments or shared houses.
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    Clean together. Doing things together is often more fun than doing them alone. In addition, if your roommate is new to keeping things clean, he may benefit by seeing how you address cleaning chores. Scheduling weekly times to take care of the household chores together can be both fun and fruitful.[12]
    • For example, maybe Saturday mornings can be a good time to focus your attention on household chores.
    • Follow your cleaning by doing something fun together, such as order a pizza, watch a movie, or invite friends over.
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    Decide to let it go. If your roommate genuinely isn’t bothered by the level of clutter in your shared space, maybe the best solution is to realize that it’s only a problem for you. Rather than getting stressed out every time you find a dirty cup on the back of the toilet seat, or a stinky sock on the kitchen counter, just clean it yourself.[13]
    • Realize that your messy roommate will move on eventually.
    • Focus your attention on what you have in common, and what you enjoy together. Spending all your time feeling stressed about a messy roommate will only ruin your day.


  • The best solution to surviving a messy roommate is to not have one in the first place. If you can, screen your roommate before signing a lease together so that you know you share similar standards of cleanliness.


  • Don’t expect your roommate to be able to change his messy habits because you’ve told him to.

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