Incoming college freshmen have it rough — unless they're choosing to share a tiny space with an acquaintance from high school, they're bound to be matched up with a complete stranger who they only know by name and Facebook profile. And if you've never lived with another person before, you may not immediately know how to deal with a messy roommate in college. Chances are, you probably won't even know that the person you've been assigned to live with for (at least) the next semester even is a messy person. Those are the kinds of personality traits people pick up on approximately a week in, and unless there's a public photo album called "Look how messy my room has gotten since 2011!" existing somewhere on the Internet, it's something that no one can truly predict ahead of time.
So, your semester starts, and your roommate seems like a nice girl, except for one major issue — she doesn't pick up after herself. Room cleanliness is probably one of the top three reasons why roommate fights happen, right before sexiling, and lack of communication about guests. If your space isn't too big, your two-person bedroom (or worse, three-person bedroom) can become completely out of hand just seconds after a monthly Costco trip. I mean, that 36-pack of Cup 'O Noodles needs some place to live, right? Like all issues, it might start out as being cute, but switch to being unbearable pretty quickly.
Before you start venting about your messy roommate on Facebook (since trust me, it'll get back to her), try to solve the issue at hand with these helpful tips.
1. Talk to your roommate about it
Simple, right? This should always be your first step. Your roommate probably doesn't even know there's a problem, because you've been too scared to bring it up directly. Instead of accusing your roommate directly, try to bring it up in a lighthearted way. Something like, "Hey, this stuff on your side is getting a little out of control. Can you try and clean it up when you get a chance?" is a good first approach. Mention that you know they've been busy (since hello, college), but it's something that means a lot to you.
And, don't be afraid to keep reminding them. They might get so tired of the reminders that they'd rather clean than hear you complain one more time.
2. Start making piles
If your roommate's stuff is all over the floor, chances are she might not even notice that you've piled it up into one big ball. This is bound to give you more floor space, and set up the message that you're willing to take action. It's a little passive aggressive, sure, but it's completely reasonable if your roommate has totally neglected to listen to your kind complaints. It sends a message — and unless you throw out a bunch of her things, it's fair. (And on that note, while I know it can be tempting, don't throw out her things.)
Creating the pile also helps to separate your space from her space. If your door was open, and a hallmate walked by, there's no way they'll be judging the side that's spotless.
3. Offer to help clean
It's possible that your roommate is a little overwhelmed. By helping her out, it can be a bonding and beneficial time between the two of you.
On the other hand, it could also serve as the "rock bottom" for your roommate. If she's fiercely independent, she might be a little mortified that you even offered to help her with such a task. If she refuses help, she might be willing to tackle the job on her own. As a note, make sure that this offer is made when it's just the two of you — bringing it up when she has friends over, or when your parents are visiting, can be super embarrassing.
Try to make a deal with her — as long as the common areas are clean, that's all you really ask for. If you have separate individual spaces (the ideal situation), it's a little rude to step in. But asking to clean up the living room or bathroom? Completely reasonable.
It's also important for her to see the effort you're making, as well. Set the bar on the level of cleanliness you're hoping to achieve. Don't expect her to clean the rotating dish in the microwave if you've never done it at least once or twice before.
5. Try to figure out why your roommate is so messy
Sometimes messiness isn't necessarily because your roommate doesn't care — often times, they're going through a lot of emotional issues, and the failure to clean is just a side effect. Make sure you're there for your roommate, and don't judge her solely on her actions. Raising your voice, or making a scene about the clutter might end up making her feel even worse.
College, especially, is a really rough transition for most people. Not only are you away from the free guidance you've had for 18 years (thanks, mom and dad), but you're expected to truly figure everything out about your future in a short time. Maybe your roommate is struggling with her major, or she's not really happy living on campus. Emotional distress is a much bigger deal than a few dirty dishes.
If it really gets out of hand, try and see if there are any services offered on campus that might help. A psychologist or a counselor might be able to help guide your roommate at no cost. Just remember that "I heard really good things about the counseling services," or "I went to check out the counseling services" is way better than "You need to see a psychologist."
6. Figure out if your definition of "clean" is on the extreme side
In a small living space, "messy" is really easy to define... especially if the room starts to smell a little bit. If you have a bigger space, make sure to question if you're expecting too much. Do you freak out if your TV has a layer of dust on it? Do you clean in between each window blind? If so, you were probably raised in a very, very neat house.
Not all people find these chores to be on the top of their to-do list, especially if their schedule is already packed. Before lashing out on your roommate, try hard to see if your requests might be viewed as being a little too Danny Tanner.
7. Consider moving out
Nobody likes moving. But, sometimes it's the best way to save your sanity. If you live in a dorm hall, try talking to your RA to see if she has any ideas to help motivate your roommate. While your RA isn't a magician, it's possible she's dealt with this situation before. If not, see if there's any way to get a room reassignment. Preferably a single, but if not, definitely with someone who respects your combined space.
If you truly like your roommate, this thought might not even cross your mind. But, even thinking about whether or not the problem is stronger than the friendship will help you cope with the situation. Some people can be excellent friends, but terrible roommates. If her refusal to clean is hindering your college experience, it might be time to move on.
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