Household chores are a given when you have a household, and when your roommate won’t do chores, you have a problem.
Well, it’s a problem for most people. Some people can tolerate extraordinary levels of uncleanliness at home, but you probably aren’t one of them if you are reading this article.
So, how can you make your roommate do their share of the housework?
It probably won’t be easy, but there are steps you can take to bring your roommate around if the person doesn’t do their share of chores:
- Agree on a standard of cleanliness
- Use a whiteboard to track tasks
- Agree on a penalty if the roommate won’t do chores
- Trade-off doing specific chores
- Have a weekly cleaning day and do chores together
- Make your roommate pay for a housekeeper
- Express gratitude when the person cooperates
1. Agree about What ‘Clean’ Means to Each of You
Flickr, Ryo Chijiiwa, messy apartment, Ginger wanted to see how messy my apartment is. This is my living room / work shop
People have very different standards about what is clean and what is dirty.
In most roommate situations, one roommate is more of a neat-freak, and the other is more of a slob. In my life, I’ve pretty much always been the slob.
So, the first step is to come to a mutual agreement about what is acceptable when it comes to cleaning the house.
The reason your roommate is not doing chores might be because they have a different cleanliness standard than you have.
My own ability to keep things up to a roommate’s standards has improved a lot by me coming to understand what my roommate actually means by “clean.”
2. Create a written standard of tidiness and cleanliness
Once you have agreed a required level or cleanliness and tidiness, you can create a plan to make it happen.
Doing this involves communication and sitting down together with a list of household chores and then setting a standard of tidiness for each task.
Whatever you do, do not use passive-aggressive behavior to communicate to your roommate that you are unhappy about them not doing chores.
Classic passive-aggressive behavior would be doing things like washing your roommate’s dishes noisily and maybe even breaking a few in the process. Another example is leaving sarcastic notes around the house.
Approaching this problem with passive-aggressive acts often backfires and makes the situation worse. For best results, be direct, kind, and calm when you communicate about a household problem.
For most people, regular household chores include:
- Washing dishes and putting them away
- Mopping floors in the kitchen, bathroom, etc.
- Cleaning the stovetop, oven, and microwave
- Vacuuming in common areas
- Cleaning the toilet and shower or tub
- Taking out the trash
- Cleaning dust and grime off of counters and other surfaces
- Cleaning out the refrigerator
- Picking up stuff and tidying up in common areas
You and your roommate may have other chores to add to your list.
For example, one or both of you may want to clean the windows regularly, wash the kitchen curtains once a month, or wax the kitchen floor every other week. For other people, these chores don’t even make the list of regular cleaning duties.
The important point is, talk together and decide what is essential for both of you to feel comfortable in your home. Be clear about what is a deal-breaker for you.
If you really cannot stand dishes in the sink for more than two hours, let the person know. If you’re willing to make some compromises, say this as well.
Write down household chores and cleaning schedules
Write down a list of chores you both agree are regular cleaning tasks and what you mean by “regular.” If you have a written roommate agreement, put this into the document.
For one person, “regular” may mean every four months, and for someone else, it means every day. So, be exact about the schedule and agree to it together. Then put this in writing.
- Dishes will be washed by midnight by the person who used them.
- The bathroom and kitchen floors will be mopped once each week or immediately if someone spills something.
- Whoever fills the trash can to the top will take it out right away.
3 .How to deal with each personality type for Why some roommates won’t do chores
Roommates who don’t do their share of the housework usually fall into one of six categories:
Generally well-meaning, but they are not well-organized and often forget about what they said they would do.
If your roommate is not doing chores because he or she is the forgetful type, you might be able to fix the problem by using a whiteboard or other visual reminder to jog their memory. More about that later.
Generally people who lack motivation for the task. However, a roommate who is lazy about cleaning the house may be highly motivated about something else.
So, if your roommate is the lazy type, you may be able to think of a reward system that will motivate them to do their housework.
For example, let’s say your lazy roommate likes playing a particular video game with another player. You may be able to get him or her to do more chores by promising to play their favorite game with them when they finish their chores.
They don’t get around to chores because they do not know what is involved in keeping a house or apartment clean and tidy. They may have grown up in a family where an untidy house was acceptable and do not understand what they need to do.
Some roommates who won’t do chores grew up in a home where there was a maid, so they never learned what a person must do to keep things tidy at home when the job is their responsibility.
If your roommate is not doing chores because they are ignorant about housework, it’s time for a little education. Don’t get angry and act out how frustrated you are. Instead, ask them to sit down with you for a household meeting.
Start by talking about your standards of cleanliness. Then explain what needs to happen to meet this standard. For example, you may need to say something like,
“I can see dirt and grime on the floor. That’s because it has not been mopped for a long time. You agreed to mop the kitchen, but it seems like you aren’t doing it often enough. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to see all that dirt.”
Saying this might sound harsh, and it may make your roommate angry. But if you say it kindly and without putting them down, the person may be able to overcome their ignorance and learn about doing housework.
People who don’t care about how other people feel. If you have been living with one of these types, you may have started doing their chores for them so you can feel comfortable at home and invite guests over without feeling embarrassed.
I had a friend who once told me, “If you leave the dirty dishes long enough, they do themselves!” He thought this was funny.
Of course, his girlfriend was actually washing the dishes, and she was not happy about it because he had agreed to wash up if she cooked. He was simply an inconsiderate person, and she finally solved the problem by moving out.
If your roommate doesn’t do chores because they are an inconsiderate person, you probably won’t be able to get them to start, no matter how many whiteboards or household meetings you have. You may be forced to do as my friend’s girlfriend did and find a new place to live.
They have a lower standard of cleanliness than yourself. While I’m usually the slob when I’ve shared a household with a roommate, I know other people with lower standards than mine.
If I lived with one of those people, I would be the neat-freak, and they would be the slob.
The good news is, if the slob is a reasonable person like me, you can talk to them and show them what your standards are, and there is a chance they will improve over time.
Those who have a physical, cognitive, or psychological issue, which prevents them from doing chores.
For example, a roommate with a bad back may have trouble taking out the trash or recycle box filled with empty bottles. A roommate with limited eyesight may not be able to comfortably climb up a ladder to clean a window or change a light bulb.
A depressed person or someone with a substance abuse problem may be neglecting chores due to their psychological state of mind.
The person may be reluctant to say what the problem is, or they may not even realize that a condition they have is getting in their way of doing their share of the housework.
If a roommate is unable to do tasks due to a physical or cognitive problem, work together to find other tasks within their abilities.
If a roommate won’t do chores because they are depressed or drinking too much, you can suggest resources where they can seek help. But you might not be able to get them to do their chores until they get better.
4. Tracking Chores with a Whiteboard or Spreadsheet
If your roommate isn’t getting around to doing the chores at home, you may have success by using a whiteboard or a spreadsheet to list tasks.
You can write on the board:
- Who is responsible
- What the chore is
- A place to sign-off when someone completes their assignment.
This can be especially useful for a forgetful type of roommate. But it can also help a slob or someone who is ignorant and learning about housecleaning.
A whiteboard or spreadsheet has another advantage, as long as everyone uses it: It lets you know how long it has been since a specific chore has been done.
For example, a whiteboard can clue you into the fact that it’s been three weeks since anyone vacuumed the living room floor.
A whiteboard or similar visual aide for tracking household chores can add a touch of guilt for a roommate who is neglecting their household responsibilities. Feeling guilty can be a motivator for some people.
At some point, when everyone gets on the same page about doing their chores, you may not need the whiteboard or spreadsheet anymore.
How to get the whiteboard started with your roommate
Do not set up this type of reminder without first discussing it with your roommate.
Make sure you have already had a household meeting and agreed about your standards of cleanliness and cleaning schedules, as well as agreeing to use a whiteboard or other visual reminder system.
If you don’t talk it over and agree to it first, your roommate is likely to feel resentful, making the problem worse. Put this reminder in an easy-to-see place, and remember to record when you do your share of the housework. By writing down what you do, your roommate will see more easily where they are falling short.
You are more likely to succeed in getting your roommate to do chores if you don’t start doing the person’s chores for them.
Maybe your roommate keeps leaving dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, and you have to clean up so you can make your meals. Consider not washing dishes for a good long while, so your roommate has to live with the consequences of neglecting their chores.
You may need to have your own box of dishes and a few pots and pans and keep them separate and out-of-sight from your roommate.
You’ll have to live with some inconvenience for a time. But without access to clean plates, pans, and silverware, may come around to understanding the importance of washing dishes.
5. Use a Penalty System for Getting Your Roommate to do Chores
Flickr, woodleywonderworks, police trooper writing a ticket
Another option for getting a roommate to cooperate on household chores is to have a penalty when someone fails to do their assigned job.
However, this has to go both ways to be fair. So, if you fail to do your chores one week, then you also need to pay the penalty.
The penalty for failing to do the chore could be anything you both agree on, such as taking the other person to the movies, buying a half-gallon of your favorite ice cream, or picking the other person up from work or school, so they don’t have to take the bus.
But, if you have a penalty for failing to do a chore, someone still has to do the chore. Or, you have to live with the task not being done and hope the penalty inspires your roommate to do better in the future.
If you live in a dorm or other institutional housing setting, and you have ongoing problems with a roommate who won’t do chores, talk to a resident assistant (RA) assigned to your unit, and see if he or she can help you sort out the problem.
Working with an RA is also the first step if you want the institution to consider reassigning you or your roommate to a different housing unit. However, doing this is usually not easy.
6. Take Turns Doing Specific Chores
Some roommates report success in getting their housemates to do more chores by trading off on specific household cleaning jobs.
Not many people like cleaning the toilet, and getting this unpleasant job done can be easier if everyone takes a turn at it. By taking turns, it’s less likely someone will start feeling resentful and stop doing their job.
If you use a whiteboard or spreadsheet to track chores, it’s easier to trade-off and not forget who signed up for what task.
Another approach is to have a whiteboard listing the chores but not assign any specific chores to any one person. With this system, everyone agrees to do a certain number of chores on the list. It’s just a ‘first come, first serve’ type of situation.
With this system, a roommate who is lazy about chores might be more eager to do the tasks they find easier before someone else in the household gets to it.
However, many roommates find that there is something they really do not mind doing, and having a division of labor works best.
For example, many kids get assigned the job of taking out the trash or washing the dishes when they are growing up, and they are more comfortable doing this chore than something else.
If your roommate is someone who is familiar with doing a specific household job, and you can get them to do it, it’s probably safest to keep it that way and don’t mix things up by switching off of doing tasks.
7. Have a Regular Cleaning Day Together
Doing housecleaning as a team on a specific day or at a particular hour of the day can help some roommates who are not so good at cleaning.
It’s like when people go out running together, doing it as a team makes it more fun and helps each other to keep going and motivated. This is also why many maid services go out in teams.
However, this might not work for all chores.
Most people want to get some chores done every day or almost every day, like washing dishes. You may not be able to schedule dishwashing time every night your roommate.
However, other people are okay with letting dishes pile up until the weekend, and maybe you both have time then. It all depends on the people in the household.
Chores that many people do weekly or every other week include:
- Mopping floors
- Cleaning the stove
- Deep cleaning the bathroom
If you can get your roommate to agree to have a cleaning day together, you might even be able to inspire them with a bit of competitive motivation.
Who can get the floors mopped fastest?
Who can get the living room vacuumed and tidied up quicker?
Who can get the recycling to the recycling center soonest?
You can also make the team cleaning day more fun by putting on some music you both like and cranking up the volume, or having a night out on the town together when you’re done.
8. Make Your Roommate Pay for a Housecleaner
If your roommate won’t do their share of chores no matter what you do, it might be time to suggest they pay for a housecleaner.
The cost of paying someone else to come in and clean every day or every week may be enough of a shock to get the person to cooperate and start helping out.
On the other hand, if your roommate has funds, hiring someone to come in and clean may be a relief for both of you.
You can also suggest to your roommate that if they do not want to do their chores, or they can’t remember to do them, they can pay you to do it for them.
If you get paid to do your roommate’s share of housework, you may stop feeling upset and resentful about the situation. Plus, you could earn a little extra money for your trouble.
But don’t just do the chores and hand them a bill. Talk to them about the problem and suggest this as an option. You could deduct a certain amount of money from your share of the rent each month, or your roommate can pay you weekly in cash.
If you decide to do this, it’s a good idea to put the agreement in writing, be specific about precisely what you will do, how much you will charge, and how the roommate will pay you.
10. Make Your Roommate Pay for a Housecleaner
You can also use gratitude to try and get your roommate to do more housework. This technique is a type of well-known method in psychology called positive reinforcement.
Here’s how it works:
Whenever you see your roommate do anything around the house, pile on the gratitude. For example, let’s say you happen to see your lazy slob of a roommate washing a few dishes for once.
Say, “Oh! Thank you so much! It’s so nice to have those dishes done! I appreciate it so much!”
For this approach to work, you must be sincere and be sure your roommate does not think you are saying it sarcastically or mockingly.
When people feel appreciated for what they do, they are much more likely to keep doing it.
Being a natural slob, I’ve gotten much better about washing dishes because I have a roommate who does precisely this.