So, your roommate is gross. Unhygienic. Filthy.
A glob of mobile flesh surrounded by a thin (or thick) layer of dirt. It’s horrifying, slightly nauseating, and the main reason you don’t let friends, family, or potential dates visit your room. It’s even messing with your mind.
But what can you do? Your thoughtful, well-meaning suggestions that they “tidy up a bit” are waved off by a Cheeto-covered hand, or shrugged off by shoulders encased in a shirt that hasn’t seen the light of detergent since his/her mom last washed it. In September.
Time to take action.
Option 1: The Mom Approach
Also called the Germaphobe, this approach is simple. You clean their mess up. Repeatedly.
The Mom Approach is good for those zen, suffering-is-the-only-road-to-salvation types out there. It assumes that your concern for a clean environment is more important than sticking by the principle of the offending party should clean up their own mess. Clean is good. Clean is absolutely necessary.
But the Mom Approach puts you in a perpetual position of weakness. You’re taking care of them. You’re cleaning up after them, and thereby enabling them to stay true to their habits of filth and personal negligence. It’s horrifying, and frankly, not recommended if you value your dignity – but a germaphobe’s gotta do what a germaphobe’s gotta do.
A modified version of the Mom Approach is the Mom Doesn’t Live Here Anymore Approach: keep your room not just clean, but pristine for a week. I’m talking hospital-pristine here. National park pristine. Autoclave-pristine.
Keep that up for a week or two, and then stop cold-turkey. Let everything get rapidly messy.
Your roommate, used to the high standards of cleanliness, will be caught off guard and will (hopefully) start making some kind of effort to regain the previously enjoyed levels of clean. You may not hit the Yosemite clean benchmark, but at least there won’t be dirty underwear everywhere.
Option 2: The Bombing of Dresden Approach
Take the offensive.
Pile all of their dirt and their crap onto a place where they can’t help but be hampered by it. Stuff all their dirty gym socks under their pillow. Throw everything they leave on the floor up on their bed.
They’ll come home, note the lack of dirty gym socks and grin broadly (like a toad or Madame Umbridge in the 5th Harry Potter book/movie), smug in knowing that their filth has finally broken your spirit to the point where you have caved and taken the Mom Approach after weeks of keeping a stiff upper lip.
They drop their bag on the ground, crushing your shoes/homework/copy of John Green’s new book that you paid extra to be signed and shipped as fast as humanly possible, and then they get into bed…only to be naplamed by the smell of a dozen pairs of sweat-and-dirt covered socks. Attack, success.
Enraged, your roommate sits up and begins a Counter-Strike full of expletives and aggressive hand gestures. Stay calm. Do not make excessive, if any, hand gestures. Simply and tranquilly explain that you are sick of living in your roommate’s personal landfill, and a pillow-full of dirty, fetid socks is how you feel about your room everyday.
The Dresden Approach is risky. Depending on how tenacious, or simply scheming and malicious, your roommate is, using the Dresden approach can either lead to your roommate ultimately learning their lesson and shaping up a bit (grumbling optional) or the start of World War III. Wear a helmet.
Option 3: The Blaming Buddha Approach
It’s fairly straightforward. You become the Buddha. You stop caring.
You are at peace with the dirt, the slight odour, the flies surrounding the garbage can. You are one with the universe and nothing matters – not your upcoming exam, not the six ignored phone calls from your mom, and especially not a little dirt.
You must be okay with some dirt in your life. You must not be a germaphobe. If you pick the Blaming Buddha Approach, you are playing the long game and you better be okay with that.
But there is a key component to the BBA: the dirt is not your fault. If someone asks why your room is so dirty, you immediately point the finger at your roommate. It’s not you. Even if you make a tiny bit of mess, the whole room and its deterioration is the problem of your roommate.
While it’s not very nice to play the blame-game, the rising peer pressure will ultimately crack them like a chocolate Easter egg (how good are chocolate Easter Eggs? Why can’t they sell them all year round?).
Option 4: The Snitch (no, not the Harry Potter kind)
If you’re living with a really dirty roommate, chances are you’re in a dorm. And you roomed blind because you should know whether or not your friend from high school is a dirty slob before you agree to live with them. But go back to the part about living in a dorm: if you’re in a dorm, you have an RA or an RA equivalent. And the RA has power.
Editor’s note: The RA’s power is limited.
So when shit hits the fan (hopefully not literally) and you just can’t handle it, call the RA.
Yes, it means you’re a snitch, but it can be an effective problem solving technique. Handling roommate disputes is part of your RA’s job. Don’t worry about the label ‘snitch’: the soul-healing power of cleanliness will make you forget all about it.
Option 5: The Rafiki Approach
Watch The Lion King. Now watch it again.
Rafiki was the best character in the whole movie and he knew his stuff. He would run around singing nonsense and laughing because an ant climbed a blade of grass, and then somehow he’s taught you a valuable life lesson without you even realizing it.
The Rafiki cannot be taught, only known. You must teach your roommate that the mess is unacceptable and they must take part in cleaning with you. The Rafiki ends with a Hans Zimmer-scored musical scene of you two cleaning together, side by side, despite the fact that you’re a lion and he/she’s a warthog.
Side note: as much as possible, avoid walloping your roommate on the head with a wooden staff.
Option 6: The Clorox/Sign Approach (largely for ladies)
You share a room/bathroom with someone who sheds like a dog. A large, furry dog. There is hair everywhere. It’s alarming. You could knit a hair-sweater out of all the hair left in the sink/shower/counters.
For unruly hair, there’s only one thing to do.
Arm yourself with Clorox wipes. Arm yourself to the hilt and go to town on that bathroom. Leave boxes of the wipes strategically placed around the bathroom so that no one has an excuse for not cleaning up their hair.
If that doesn’t work, make strategically placed, passive-aggressive signs in a false cheery voices with too many exclamation points helpfully reminding the offender that this is a communal space and could they please, please not get toothpaste all over the mirror? That would be sooooo nice. Thanks!!!
What strategies do you use to cope with a messy roommate?