Question of the Day: How to Get Roommates to Share in Cleaning?

A reader named Jason Stauffer writes:

I live with four guys in a house. We had no cleaning schedule until about a month ago, but the house was never cluttered, and was more than clean enough for actual women to feel comfortable visiting. Even the bathroom was clean enough for the girls to freely use it without vomiting. However since we have implemented our cleaning schedule the house has gotten into worse and worse shape. The toilet downstairs is even looking so bad I don’t want to use it. What gives?

Okay, everybody, let’s hear what you have to say about private vs. public incentives, moral hazard, and the general cleanliness of men.

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Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



  1. Sam Lufi (@slufi) says:

    I suspect that one housemate had a low tolerance for filth and was frequently cleaning. That housemate probably pushed for a shared load, but now is refusing to clean since the stated responsibility is shared. Couple this with a fact that those with a higher threshold are probably less effective cleaners, and you have a recipe for the failure of the whole plan.

    I expect that the person with a low tolerance for filth will eventually remove themselves from the situation, unless other economic factors outweigh their being taken advantage of.

    In my housing situations, I’m frequently the person with a high tolerance and try to carefully manage the mood of the housemate most prone to cleaning.

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    • Steve S. says:

      There are also two different kinds of filth: 1. messes that you sporadically make (ie. spills) 2. the stuff that accumulates through use (ie. dust, crud, grime). Not all roommate are equally committed to fighting against both and sometimes the latter is often rationalized to it’s minimum.

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  2. Brian says:

    I suspect that the cause of your problem is not the cleaning schedule, but the situation that made the cleaning schedule necessary.

    One roommate (“the clean one”) probably believed that he was doing more than his share of cleaning; as a remedy, he porposed the cleaning schedule. But when the sloppier roommates continued to not clean, the clean one grew even more frustrated and started shirking himself.

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  3. Steve S. says:

    With one or two roommates I’ve always lived by the principle of doing by best (when it comes to cleaning) and hope for others to follow my lead. I also believe that the best way to fight slackerdom is guilt:)

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    • Lynn says:

      But someone who has a different standard of cleanliness is not necessarily “slacking”. If Roommate A thinks the kitchen should be mopped daily, and Roommate B thinks it should be mopped weekly, B is not “slacking” if s/he mops weekly.

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      • Sam Lufi (@slufi) says:

        However, if you give in and mop before time reaches the standard that Roommate B thinks is reasonable, the horizon for Roommate B to take action will never arrive. Which means Roommate A does all the cleaning – and accuses B of shirking.

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  4. JimFive says:

    I wonder why the roommates felt a need to implement a cleaning schedule if everything was working out ok anyway. I’m guessing that 1 or 2 of the guys were doing nearly all of the cleaning and that the schedule was a way to spread the burden a bit more fairly. So now the problem is that people are only doing the job they are scheduled to do and only doing it when the schedule says to instead of based on need.

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  5. Charlie says:

    Hide the cutlery and plates until there is only one set per person!

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  6. Jennifer says:

    I’ve lived in mix-sex/orientation houses, and never completely figured it out myself. I will say, though, that there is a definite difference in motivational incentives between being asked/forced to do something in a structured way versus doing it of your own free will/volition. Perhaps the roommates subconsciously feel they have no agency in their cleanliness now – it’s something they’re being told to do, as opposed to doing it without expectation and getting positive affirmation. Maybe have a house meeting to talk openly about it, and go back to what was working before. Wondering why a schedule was implemented if it didn’t seem to be a need? Don’t fix what’s not broken I guess :). Good luck!

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  7. George says:

    On the general cleanliness of men – we’re generally hopeless slobs, especially when there’s anyone else around to do it for us.
    On the situation – I agree w/previous posters, that the clean freak had been doing most/all of the work and is no longer willing to for free.
    On better solutions: either the clean guy moves out, or the group agrees to chip in & hire a cleaner, who could, of course, be the clean guy.

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    • ka says:

      I am a lady and I have lived with lots of guys and I recommend this last method, if the “clean” person will agree to it. I lived in an apartment with two guys a few years back; one of them was the messiest kitchen-user I have ever lived with and he wasn’t so great in the bathroom either. This person was also the best-paid of the three of us and was out of the house a lot for his job, so his giant messes were less of a concern for him than for us. We eventually resolved by having him pay for all the cleaning supplies etc (hey, those things cost money! Especially decent cleaning stuff, which is what I insisted on) and my other roommate and I did all the actual cleaning, which made everyone a lot happier with the state of the kitchen floor, the shower stall, the living room carpet, etc. (Well, we did it all except this guy’s outrageous dirty dishes… we all had our own dishes and we’d happily leave his stuff to gather mold. People have limits, ya know.)

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      • Marion says:

        I have also had shared quarters with guys and after mere weeks of exasperation with their cleaning methods, gave them basic weekly responsibilities and made them responsible for cleaning supplies. Guys just don’t notice little messes like us ladies do, but they are generally happy to do what they can and claim accolades for what they do complete. This worked out very well as the guys would do things like take out the garbage and recycling, sweep up, put movies and dishes away and keep their room clean or the door closed while I would do the fine tuning stuff.
        I think it’s about finding the balance between everyone, and knowing your roommates’ willingness to do which chores.

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  8. Heidi says:

    I grew up with four brothers and currently share a house, my housemate is a man. My experience is that men are generally clean but never take the initiative.

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  9. Joe W says:

    As 4 male students in a house together, we knew cleaning was a futile group activity.

    Instead, we removed all the spare cutlery from the house to leave: 4 plates, 4 bowls, 4 cups, 4 forks, 4 knives and so on.

    This had two effects:

    1) Eliminated the need for washing up, and prevent it piling up

    2) Much easier to identify the culprit – if one guy didn’t wash up his bowl, he wouldn’t be able to eat from it.

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  10. chris says:

    In my apartment our rule was that messes left had 24hours to be cleaned, after that we were free to put that mess in any manner on the offender’s bed. If for any reason they needed an extension it had to be paid for in advance in beer(12 pack for every 12 hour delay).

    Coming home to a macaroni and cheese bed will change your habits quick, or at least teach you to confine it to your own room.

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  11. The Clean One says:

    I am in agreement with the other commenters stating that there was likely one person who took responsibility for cleaning and eventually grew tired of bearing the whole load, so initiated the (ignored) cleaning schedule.

    I, though female, have been in a similar situation where I was the one who cleaned, so when I initiated the concept of sharing the responsibilities, the roommates were outraged at the concept (the house is always clean, why initiate a schedule?!). Despite the economic hardship of moving out, I took that path for a life of cleanliness.

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  12. Peter says:

    Cleaning schedules just make it so you know when you don’t have to clean. So if it’s not your week, you’re more likely to be extra messy to compensate for when your roommates were messy during your week. You’re also less likely to feel bad for making a mess and more likely to push the boundaries of what you can get someone else to clean. Think about how in fourth grade you used to take food off your tray in the school cafeteria and make something gross. You did it because you didn’t have to clean it up afterwards!

    Having a policy of everyone cleans their own and cleaner people clean extra makes the most sense. If your chick is coming over, you’re going to yell at whoever’s job it is to clean with your current arrangement vs just cleaning the area you want to yourself keeping in mind that your girlfriend is coming soon.

    Messy people will be messy and get mad for cleaning more often and clean people are more likely to do a better job and clean more often and more completely without causing drama so the clean roommate unfortunately has to do more, but only because on some level he/she likes to do more.

    Telling other people what to do is not a good road to go down as friends, so I suggest you get away from this path before someone goes out of town the weekend they are supposed to clean and it’s the same weekend your mom visits, expecting to see a formidable apartment.

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  13. James says:

    This is a prime example of the cobra effect right? this new regulation turned cleaning to a burden rather than an activity for ones own benefit. The incentive went from purely selfish to community based incentive. Reminds me of the podcast where Levitt talks about 15 dollar tomatoes.

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    • Mike says:

      The cobra effect would be if the roommates chipped in and paid whichever roommate did the cleaning, and then the designated cleaner purposefully made it dirtier in order to get paid for more cleaning.

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  14. tdr says:

    People who were conscientious about cleaning up after themselves now feel like they may as well leave a mess because it’s someone else’s turn to clean it up.

    At least that is the thinking among my adolescent children if I would hire a cleaning lady. Any inclination to clean up after themselves goes out the window because the cleaning lady is just going to clean it anyway.

    Hopefully these guys are somewhat more mature than my adolescents, but you never know.

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  15. Cliff says:

    Ive lived in a bunch of share houses and this is a problem I’ve never been able to solve – it rears its ugly head in so many different ways.

    We once tried using public shame as an incentive, the threat being that if someone doesn’t clean their dishes for over a week then all the dirty dishes would placed on their bed.

    This worked for a little while, but when one roommate become slack and was the first to have the dishes placed in their room, they snapped. Lots of house drama, an externality much worse than a few dirty dishes.

    I’ve since bitten the bullet and now just wash any leftover dirty dishes when necessary. Cleaning doesn’t take long and is likely a more efficient use of my time than worrying about how to implement an entirely fair system.

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  16. Robert David Graham says:

    Everyone is focused on the incentives for cleaning. They should be focused on the schedule.

    When somebody sees a mess, they are more likely to want to fix it right then. They also experience increased comparative advantage at that point: they see it, and they want to fix the problem. Imposing a schedule means conforming to the schedule rather than conforming to the mess. They have to hunt for messes to clean on the schedule. They incentives are to follow the schedule, not clean the mess. This means doing the minimum work necessary to meet the criteria, which may not fully clean up the mess.

    The schedule itself also adds considerable overhead. Cleaning is a mindless task I can do while day dreaming or watching TV. Thinking about the schedule takes real effort.

    Thus, I think the problem is the schedule itself, not people’s desire to clean.

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  17. Shypo Lindley says:

    When there is no cleaning schedule, there is inertia to stay on top of the mess. When there is a schedule that means cleaning will be put off until it is “time to clean.” But, for twentysomethings (men or women) time-management is not always their strongest suit. The schedule allows for a mess to build up — it’s not time to clean it yet. Then when it is time to clean — look at this mess, this will take hours. I have event X to go to. I’ll get it when I get back. — and then when they get back from event X, — I’ll clean it tomorrow. — until too many tomorrows have come and gone and it’s almost the scheduled time to clean again, so — I’ll get it Saturday, when it’s cleaning time.

    repeat ad nauseum.

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  18. Nampuna Dolok Gultom says:

    I think this is a common case in all guys’ house. Initiative maybe is the keyword. When there are no specific arrangement whatsoever in the house, everyone will somehow try their best to maintain the cleanliness of the house because one may feel a bit shameful if they don’t (assuming that everyone will feel the same thing that the others will try their best to maintain the cleanliness of the house). This kind of understanding will be very effective if none of the guys make a case about it, because once one member complains about it, then hence the creation of cleaning arrangement. Also, it will be even more effective if some of the members were visited regularly by their girlfriends. The single guys will still feel a bit embarrassed if those ‘taken’ girls find out that they have terrible cleanliness. However, once the cleaning arrangement put into place, one guy will think that the house is not clean enough because the previous guy didn’t clean the house properly and so why should the guy be ‘cleaner’ this time and this routine will go up to the boiling point that all members can’t take it anymore.

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  19. Albert B. says:

    There’s also the problem of moral hazard and timing even if everyone does his job and the schedule works “properly.”

    If you’re not the next person to clean the kitchen, you have every incentive to leave everything a mess since you won’t be the one dealing with it. Thus, the kitchen will always be in as filthy a condition as possible right before a scheduled cleaning. Then, given the moral hazard problem, it will only be clean for a few hours right after the scheduled cleaning since everyone else will get back to making it dirty (including, potentially, the person who just cleaned!) provided they are not the next person scheduled to clean.

    The crucial point is that the appearance or state of cleanliness depends more on people making as small a mess as they can and cleaning up in a timely fashion after they make a mess. Both of these actions are dis-incentivized by the cleaning schedule structured.

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  20. STL Tom says:

    Twenty years ago, my two best friends and I moved into a house with three other guys. It turned into the Delta Animal House to the point that women were disgusted to go to the bathroom. I threw down the gauntlet with a written plan. It got worse.

    Bottom line, we all had different upbringings and expectations. After 20 years of thinking about this, I figured out that three of us had mutual values and respect for each other. We loved each other (yes, in a brotherly way) to be there for each other. The other three did not give a rip. We did not lay out a true incentive to these other three to follow suit (yes — Freakonomics taught me this). We laid out disincentives instead. It became a game of who could screw over the next guy worse.

    When we moved out and moved in with a like-minded guy, we lived in the most clean and orderly place of my college career. Why? We were a little more mature but more importantly, we had the same cleanliness values and mutual respect.

    So, sit down and see if you guys can come to a general consensus on what it is an acceptable place to live. Isn’t the courting of women enough incentive? Sorry men, Brad Pitt and Bradley Cooper can live in a hell hole and it would be considered charming. For us average guys, it makes us sociopaths and narcissistic D-Bags.

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  21. David says:

    Completely agree with what the other commentors have already theorized – that one person was doing all the work, thought he could spread the load, and found that when the schedule was implemented, nobody was willing to help. I would ask Jason why he’s so dirty because it’s clear he’s not the roommate doing all the work. I am also curious from the other roommates’ perspective, did they think their house was kept clean by magic fairies, even though they did no work?

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  22. Mark says:

    Does it make economic sense to do your own cleaning? Just hire Molly Maid to come in every two weeks and split the cost.

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  23. Hrishikesh says:

    I agree with Jennifer. I think the fact that there is a schedule in place is an incentive itself to clutter things when it’s not that person’s turn. Previously I think there was some effort by every roommate to cleanup after themselves but after the schedule that need vanished and taken over by free will of making mess when it’s not our own turn.

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  24. rids says:

    Men will be men… that said, there could be an explanation to this problem.

    Assumption: Each one has a moderate sense of hygiene and prefers a cleaner environment to a dirtier one.

    Now, prior to the schedule it could have been the case that all four had a certain private benefit (that acted as an incentive) to keep their territories clean and would regularly clean up after themselves after using a public area (bathroom). With the division of responsibilities, each one believes that they need to do only what has been allocated to them. Coupled with a lack of benefits and external incentives, each one is just concerned about getting the job done and getting on with it (private benefits are far less than public benefits). So, what’s happening is that just for the sake of getting the work done, each one in essence is probably doing a mediocre job (eg: leaving one out of four dishes uncleaned, not taking out the garbage on time etc). And so, the house is looking filthier day by day.

    Eventually though what might happen is that the person with the highest and strongest sense of personal hygiene will get fed up of the other three and either leave or clean the house himself!

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  25. Jean says:

    I vaguely remember a chapter (was it in the first Freakonomics?) about how parents who were “fined” a small fee for arriving late to pick up their children actually ended showed up later and more often than parents who could not, presumably, “pay off their guilt”.

    That makes me hesitate to suggest enforcing a “cleaning fine”, but wouldn’t that change up the payoff matrix? I am assuming the relationship between these roommates is of a significantly different nature than the relationship between either parents and their children or between parents and their children’s afterschool caretakers. Namely, there is less emotional cost involved in disappointing your roommates than in letting down your kid or the nice stranger who takes care of him when you are late.

    So perhaps a mutually-enforced fine, that increases with repeated infractions (until, presumably, the roommate in question can no longer afford to be delinquent).

    Or, a large poster in near the entrance to the apartment that lists the person responsible for cleanliness that week, so that the first thing seen by guests upon entering a dirty apartment is the name of the person abrogating responsibilities.

    Money and/or shame?

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  26. artem says:

    Ha. I am the clean guy at the moment; I live in a house with 8 housemates. The reason I moved in is that it costs 65% of what I would pay in dorms and the rooms are the size of 2-3 dorm rooms. I am in school getting my electronics engineering phd full-time and this house is a 3 minute walk to the campus.

    So, in short, I am the guy who moved in last and cleaned most common areas of it. There was a fridge, for example, that was filled with food and no one ever touched it for 2 years ‘because it’s gross’. The common areas were covered with a layer of dirt topped with leaves and dust. Anyway, it was bad.

    The way I feel about a cleaning schedule is that it is not going to force anyone to do anything. We did introduce a schedule for taking out garbage recently, for example, but I don’t think it will have any effect. All in all, I saw an interesting trait: nobody in the house cared enough about the cleanliness of the house, but was unhappy about it. When I cleaned the house, everyone thanked me and I assumed that was the all I could get from those 8 housemates. I didn’t think anyone would even consider putting any effort in keeping it clean. Nevertheless, I started to see a change in their attitude: they started to do things to keep the house clean, such as replace paper towels on the holder I placed, replace toilet paper, buy cleaning supplies, etc. While this is not them cleaning it does show that they like the house being clean.
    If there would be a house cleaning schedule introduced for everyone, they would generally find it somewhat annoying and would do their best to put in the least effort in keeping up with it. There is no magic to change people. I am convinced that there should be this one center force that drives any progress (I mean, in everything!). Others will follow, but thinking that a bunch of people can manage a task without a lead is a fallacy. This big mistake is surprisingly common in US… (that’s why school group projects are a somewhat idiotic idea ( I am convinced that the inability to manage anything en masse without a pronounced leader is a big problem that is prevalent right now in any kind of societies, not just housemates. I am sure this discussion can expand well beyond all-male houses. (the whole world, for example) ?

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  27. Dustin J says:

    I had a problem similar to this once. We found that we had to tie it to money. Had to be enough to be memorable in the moment but not so much that everyone balked. I ended up writing a website for it that would send emails and texts to whoevers turn it was and would keep track of the points for everyone. It still turned into white noise eventually though and the mess would be clean for a while then fall into disarray. I had hoped for more from the site but I still use it for reminders, it is good at nagging but its not annoying enough to have much of an effect

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  28. Greg McConnel says:

    We had the same problem at work with our common kitchen. A few years back, the fridge had so much old food in it, we had to bring in a hazmat team to clean it out. Literally, a couple of guys wore gas masks and rubber outfits in fun while throwing out mould-covered food. The rest of the kitchen was nothing to write home about either. I am an economist and actually see this as a ‘tragedy of the commons’ issue. If no one person owns the kitchen as private property, there is little incentive to keep it clean — just as fisherman around the world have little incentive not to over-fish the oceans because no country owns them. I suggested we get around the problem by having one group at work (there are five) ‘own’ the kitchen for a month. That group has been responsible for cleaning the kitchen as per a schedule and the kitchen has actually been quite clean since. This case is a little different than the ‘scheduling didn’t work’ scenario but illustrates something useful nonetheless. Scheduling can work in some instances. Cheers :)

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  29. Scott Blackburn says:

    Seems like a classic case of Laws supplanting Norms to negative effect.

    With no schedule, the two norms were to “clean when dirty” and to “do ones fair share.” Since everyone felt the norms, a failure to act had two effects both of which enhanced cooperation. One was a series of social enforcements (say, jokes about Roommate A being a slob) and two was an understanding that micro transactional debits would be reciprocated in other ways (that is, if one person cleans more often, he felt others would make up the fair share in other ways – say, by preparing more group meals or buying more toilet paper).

    With the introduction of a cleaning schedule, you replaced the norms with the law of a cleaning schedule. This probably did a combination of three things. First, it removed the incentive of the cleaner roommates to clean disproportionately because a schedule breaks the “fair share” norm and so that roommate could not expect reciprocation in other ways. Second, it provided a less effective enforcement mechanism since failure to abide by the schedule was not as embarrassing as whatever social pressure existed under the norm. And third, it did not provide means of rehabilitation for failure to abide by the law – if you have a busy week and cannot clean, the schedule does not clarify who should clean next, when, and how to adjust for created unfairnesses.

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  30. Aaron Fletcher says:

    Perhaps you should use incentives to help persuade your roommates to clean more. Try putting a price on each room that needs to be cleaned regularly. Whatever your total is should be added to the overall rent. Say all of the jobs add up to $400 a month. Divide total that with the roommates, which will add$100 to everyone’s rent. From here you can draft/trade individual cleaning duties. For example- Bathroom $15 a month. This will require them to either do their cleaning or pay a larger portion of the rent. I would also recommend seeing how much it would cost to have a cleaner come in. Maybe it would be worth everyone just picking up an extra shift at work to have someone else do the job.

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  31. Brent says:

    I’m living in a residence hall with three other guys. I’m the only one that cleans our communal bathroom. I really don’t mind, though, because I want the bathroom to stay cleaner than any of the other three do. Essentially, I prefer the bathroom to be cleaned every week while my suite mates would only start to care about the state of the bathroom–and would only benefit from a cleaning–after about two weeks without one. Since I’m the only one that benefits from weekly cleaning I bear the entire cost myself.

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  32. Steve Nations says:

    The most interesting thing about this blog may be simply the number of replies to the different types of posts. This one has a ton.

    There is no doubt about it, from my college experience. Men are clean and take care of their place. Women are incredible slobs.

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  33. Matt says:

    Had a problem with the house getting dirty, the roommate refusing to clean and me not wanting to clean because he wouldn’t. There was a period of several months when he was living away from the house and I still didn’t have the motivation to clean myself (shame on me). At that point I hired a cleaning lady which I paid for myself and upon my roommates return, her cleaning became just another bill we shared. The reason we pay is a financial penalty for not wanting to clean despite the need to.

    A side note is that my roommate thought cleaning applied to clutter and I thought cleaning applied to dirt and grime which contributed to not being able to agree on cleaning pre cleaning lady.

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  34. anon says:

    Make every roommate pitch in to hire a housecleaner on a regaular basis (weekly, monthly, etc). It will make everyone much happier, and the apt will likely be a lot cleaner as a result.

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  35. Pat says:

    All the Multi-person places I’ve lived, only one guy was a “clean freak”. While I’m ok with clutter and dust collection (to a point) I like kitchen and especially bathroom clean. I don’t want to have my feet wetted when I sit on the toilet, i dont think a modern indoor bathroom should smell like urine, but unfortunately most guys I’ve shared space with seem to have weaknesses in the vicinity of the porcelain…
    Suspicion is like others, the real cleaners got tired of doing all the work and this was attempt to fairly redistribute. Only works if everyone ACTUALLY cleans. I suggest agreeing on cleaner, may hav to test to g a good one but worth the effort. General tidying in between, or really specific tasks (every Tuesday J cleans toilet area, meaning scrub inside and mop up exterior, every Wednesday F, etc) might keep it from becoming like an outhouse.

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  36. Edmundo says:

    I have faced this exactly situation before when staying home with my brothers with no parents in the house.

    The conclusion we arrived was the simplest:

    Since no one would clean up after the other, each one woud take care of his own mess. Therefore all the mess YOU make, YOU have to clean. Then you become conscious about what you do.

    When you implement the schedule, you don’t care at all. When it is not your shift – you know you don’t have to clean or face any consequence since it will be cleaned by someone else. If it is your shift, you can just stall until someone’s shift come along.

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    • Philo Pharynx says:

      This doesn’t work for every kind of mess. Dusting – you didn’t put the dust there. A lot of shower mess builds up after repeated use, not after any one shower. Also, if somebody makes a mess without noticing it, they don’t feel responsible for this. i.e. You put something on the counter, but you don’t notice that this item knocks something else over.

      However this strategy works in conjunction with many of the other strategies. If you clean up every mess you know you make and then everybody splits the general cleaning in another way, it can work.

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  37. Joshua K says:

    When there are no rules, basically the person who can stand the least bit of nastiness (the cleanest person) ends up doing more work and keeping the house in order to his exacting standards, whereas a cleaning schedule will evenly divide the work and lead to an “average” result.

    There is also broken window effect – once it’s dirty, no one wants to clean it up.

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  38. danny says:

    hell, just make everyone pool 25 bucks per week so you’ll have 100 to spend on an illegal immigrant house cleaner once a week.

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  39. Deepak says:

    I think the problem began with the decision of making a schedule. Normally when one roommate was not given a schedule, he was doing it for himself. He was not at all concerned about the benefits, which other roommates were getting out of his labour. However, by making a schedule, you have created competitive environment where one has started feeling that the benefits coming out of his efforts are getting divided. And the situation got even worse when some other roommate is not doing his part properly, that means the benefits from others’ labour are also not coming. So the others have also started avoiding there part. At the end everyone stopped doing it.

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  40. james says:

    I live in a house, in total 4 guys and 2 girls and we recently implemented this same cleaning regiment in the form of weekly chores. What puzzles me is we have the cleanest kitchen and commons area out of any house I’ve come across in college living situations and this cleaning schedule didn’t change a thing! One pointer that helped us out a lot, would be to recommend hand washing all your dishes so you’re forced to do them when you use them even if you have a dish washer. But generally I would just discuss with your room mates the collective gains from living in a clean house.

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  41. Clint says:

    I have 2 roomates, here is what we implemented and it worked out quite well.

    It takes about 150$ for a maid to come twice a month and clean our house top to bottom. Each month, each of us puts 50$ in a pot. If one of the roommates/all of the roommates would like to claim the 150$ instead of it going to the maid, then they can do it by cleaning partially or fully. So if 1 person would like to do the cleaning that a maid would do in one trip, they would need to do 75$ worth of cleaning. Also, I’m the one who owns the house, so the quality of the cleaning needs to be approved by me (removes the ability to shirk since I can observe).

    With this system we have in my house, the maid comes about twice every four months, or about 25% of the time. It has worked out quite well in my opinion.

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  42. Ernie says:

    In my house we have a dry erase board on the refrigerator. The dry erase board has lines to make it into a calendar.

    We’ve turned doing the dishes into a sort of competition. If you do the dishes you get to mark your initials down on the calendar and at the end of the month the person who did the most dishes gets to pick out a prize and the losers have to pay for it.

    This does two things: 1. Gets the competitive people I live with off of their lazy butts and doing chores. 2. Allows me to pay ~$10 a month to have a clean kitchen.

    I’ve considered putting up a chart and buying gold star stickers in bulk, and having everyone put a star on their section of the chart every time they do a household chore, but, I’m afraid that if I over complicate things everyone will just give up and not bother.

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  43. Oscar says:

    Ah bollocks.
    You’ve taken it too far this time dubner.
    If the house was so clean why was there a need for a schedule? It seems your pen pal misspoke.
    In my 8+ years of share housing, if a new entrant knows the rules (which are enforced) then a reduction in quality is easily traced back to the source.
    Six sigma this college boy!
    Up shot: Markets ALWAYS need regulation. ‘Bout time you got researching again dubner!

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    • Oscar says:

      Ooow oo! I got this one now…
      Unintended consequence of messiness is (drum roll) OVER ORGANIZING! I’m feeling a dubner Dodd-frank reference to follow?!
      The philosopher king in me wants to suggest taxing the externality. But that’ll probably be too foreign to you yanks.
      I might be too harsh. It was dubner who taught me ‘tax what you want less of’. But when I apply that to immigration, guns and carbon, yanks (a lil FOX in all of you) lose all reason. Perhaps there is a logic tax I don’t know about?

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    • Osc says:

      Ooow oo! I got this one now…
      Unintended consequence of messiness is (drum roll) OVER ORGANIZING! I’m feeling a dubner Dodd-frank reference to follow?!
      The philosopher king in me wants to suggest taxing the externality. But that’ll probably be too foreign to you yanks.
      I might be too harsh. It was dubner who taught me ‘tax what you want less of’. But when I apply that to immigration, guns and carbon, yanks (a lil FOX in all of you) lose all reason. Perhaps there is a logic tax I don’t know about?

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  44. J296 says:

    You should find a compatible roommate for starters. There has to be some incentive for the less clean roommate. Which chore do they dislike? Offer to do those if he/she does the other ones. Pick your battles wisely. Are we talking actual filth, do they leave there shoes in the living room?

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  45. Luke says:

    Current scene
    Hazard from the point of view of the cleaner: Me dong all the work others not doing the work
    Hazard from the point of view to not clean it ever: The place will get dirty
    Incentive if one cleans: A clean house
    Incentive if one deosn’t: Time to rest
    Private incentive: My room clean
    Public incentive: A thank you
    First of all define where ones private space exists and where one public space exists… Make all people responsible for their private spaces at all times and make it so stuff doesn’t spill over to others area.
    That way people can have their incentives on not cleaning their own space.
    Next define all the cleaning jobs that need to be done in public spaces and WRITE THEM DOWN… (this may seem like a small step, but it is without a doubt the most important)
    The next step is to split up the jobs and cycle them through, so all people take turns doing all of the jobs.
    (In a household of 5 people we all did one small job a day that took all of 1o minutes and the place stay pretty much spotless)
    The final step is to increase the incentives for doing the jobs better, and punishments for doing the jobs poorly or… not doing it…
    Ways of doing this:
    One who fails to clean pays for pizza for everyone and must not eat a slice.
    Anyone who does an exceptional job can be shouted 2 beers on occasion.

    I have found the biggest problem being those who do a good job over a long period of time, but not “exceptional” failing to recieve any reward, and letting their standard drop to a lower than average standard. I have yet to find any solution…. perhaps everyones job rated out of 10 every week? once it adds up to certain number then they are given some kind of reward and then if the job is not done that week, the next person’s turn to do that job that has accumulated gets a number out of 20??

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  46. Sam K says:

    We had a good system over at our house during my uni days. We simply drafted a list of cleaning jobs to be done for each area in the house (including wiping down doorhandles and switches), and the area you cleaned was assigned on a first come first served basis.

    Basically, the first person to suggest cleaning had his pick of the jobs and often chose the easier task like the living room, and the last/laziest person to volunteer had to clean the least popular job, which was often the toilet and shower.

    I did all the cooking in the house as well, so once a cleaning session was announced, we put in a rule where we had to clean our assigned area by the end of the day or you wouldn’t get your portion of dinner until it was done.

    Those simple rules and the strong desire to not be the one always cleaning the bathroom week after week kept us on our toes and our house in order.

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    • Sam K says:

      Although if you don’t do any communal cooking, I’m sure with a little thought you can come up with an equally valid motivation for making sure tasks are finished by the end of the day.

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  47. Kevin says:

    I had a unique situation with a roommate in that he was very selective on what he would clean and not clean. For instance, he was very good about cleaning his pots, pans and plates after cooking but he would not clean the stove stop splatter that resulted from his cooking. I think he had a warped way of viewing what caused the mess meaning if he didn’t physically spill it, he’s not responsible.

    The real point of my post is when I asked a friend of mine how he dealt with his roommates, he told me they played to each other’s strengths. He is a neat freak so he ended up being the cleaner. Roommate A was a chef so he did most, if not all of the cooking and Roommate B was useless so he paid the cable bill.

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    • Jo says:

      I wish my situation was so straightforward. Unfortunately one my housemates is shall we say more insular thinking.

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  48. L. I. Rapkin says:

    Jane McGonigal has an interesting solution to the chore problem, if not the cause. See

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  49. Theo B says:

    I lived with 5 guys for many years and I found a system that generally worked very well. We had a chore wheel that turned once a week to rotate the duties. On the side of the chore wheel was a sheet with all the roomates names listed and the week start date. By Sunday evening at 10pm you needed to do your chore and have a roomate check that you did the chore adequately and if so you could initial in their box. If you didn’t get your box checked off, there would be a fee associated that someone else could earn if they did the chore. For the chores that were not a weekly chore, the deep cleaning stuff, once it was deemed to be intolerable, if a handful of the roomates were home, there would be a “roll off” competition where each roomie would roll dice and the lowest number would have to do the chore.

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  50. jose says:

    I live with a brother and his sister none like to clean I’m always cleaning. All three of us found this house and pay rent. But when it comes to cleaning it up to me. These people are grown men and women. I guess it starts at home with the parents…

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  51. Jo says:

    I find it amazing how many people ignore the rental contracts they sign in which most will state that the place has to be maintained in good order or words to that effect. Bad sanitation attracts pests which are both difficult to remove as well as expensive. For this reason cleaning is a must. Nothing is free! Would you be happy if after a month of work you received nothing for your labour? Perhaps this is why there are so many bad landlords out there.

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  52. Taylor says:

    This is an awesome question. And something I think alot of people have a problem with. You should check out this website that is helping roommates everywhere.

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  53. bunny says:

    in my long experience with cohabitation this is largely driven by personality and class background. some people are just slobs – they don’t “see” it like others do, and they don’t “smell” it like others do (nose-blind is particularly bad with pet keepers).

    class and family dynamics come in when you live with someone who grew up with a full-time-at-home Mom who did everything, or they grew up with a maid, so they’re used to having someone going around cleaning after them. once you start going about cleaning up after them, they just fall back into it.

    my two current roomies are a combo of these, and one of them decided to take in a pregnant stray, so now there are 9 animals in the house as well. i moved in 2 months ago and have basically been cleaning since. in addition they both have mild physical disabilities which become an excuse for not cleaning.

    they’re both nice, and it’s getting better. it requires a lot of communication. a lot.

    goddamn entitled shithead slob motherfuckers… 😉

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  54. emma says:

    I know the pain. I’m female and live with 2 guys. I’ve learned a lot (with it solving anything)
    First there are two types of cleaning/mess.
    1 being clutter. Objects out of place. General mess
    2 being dirty. Things needing cleaning not clearing.

    So it’s not just a difference in standards that people live by. But what they see between those cats gores.
    For example I’m messy. I leave clutter on a daily basis. But regularly clean (deepclean)
    the boys are the opposite. They keep things neat. But never actually clean anything.
    Creates huge tension. I feel the house is gross cause nothing is clean. They think the house is gross cause its messy.
    Then there is the fact that they don’t just have different cleaning standards for jobs. There are jobs they don’t know or won’t accept are jobs.
    For example I do all the shopping and organise all bills and utilities. I also cook. Because they aren’t home every night they don’t see cooking as a job unless they see me doing it (despite relying on freezer meals when I’m at work) and they don’t see shopping and bills as a job. I think they think the fridge and pantry magically stay full.
    They don’t know that mould can be cleaned and the shower screen isn’t made of frosted glass or that the microwave needs cleaning after spills. In 5 months I’m the only one who has cleaned anything in the bathroom.
    I don’t know how to fix it.

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