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Back To School or Back to the Broom Closet?

CC0 public domain no attribution required cleaningManaging life, in general, can be tough for some people. Living by oneself can produce a mile long list of things to do… cleaning, cooking, decorating, shopping, or even enjoying activities. As the new school year approaches, many of you will leave home, enter college and live with strangers, your new college roommates. Some of you will remain home and live with family as you attend classes.  Frankly, there will be very different explanations, opinions and even arguments about how these tasks should happen,  who is responsible, if responsibilities should be delegated, or if one person is expected to  be primarily responsible for everything.

Are you the responsible one feeling the burden for delegating or picking up after everyone? Of maybe, you relied on your parents to pick up and clean after you having never learned this responsibility of sharing household chores. As you transition into your college years whether you live in a dorm or an apartment with roommates, or live at home, be aware of this possible imbalance and view that everyone shares the same standard of cleanliness you grew up with at home. This assumption about your roommate or family member can lead to conflict over responsibilities especially of mutually shared spaces such as the bathroom, living room or kitchen.

While I have not lived with college roommates, I have dealt with my family, who more often than not, leave everything to me to clean up. For me, it has been quite a challenge to live with this lifestyle, and to accept this environment. If you are like me, the one who needs clutter free and a clean home environment, you may have to learn to walk away even when you feel the need to clean up after your roommates, so you don’t lose time or energy better devoted to your studies.  This struggle with chores causes a lot of tension between me and adult family members taking away valuable time from my academic focus.  So, I have had to make concessions and figure out how to best navigate these situations, and these strategies may be helpful to you as you get ready for living the college life.   I have several suggestions regarding managing expectations of chores and preventing conflict in these types of situations, especially within college dorm settings or other similar settings:

  • The moment you begin living with college roommates or other folks (or before if you can) define how each of you would like for your home to look and determine how willing each of you are to respect the other’s wishes. If you discover your roommate does not share the same standard of cleanliness, then you can either give it some time to see how things really present itself, or you may have to eventually reconsider your choice of roommates and move to another place.
  • Together, create a list of items to do and place this on the shared refrigerator. If it works that people can follow the chores list, this will prove helpful. If not, use this list as a means to enter into another conversation.
  • If both of these tips fail and you find yourself doing the bulk of the chores with anger and resentment you can either 1) resign to cleaning (after all, it is your standard, not theirs, you are trying to maintain), or 2) not do anything in the joint space. This takes a great deal of patience and letting go of standards. Sometimes, if the shared space stays dirty and unsightly long enough, you might find they can’t stand it themselves either and they will pick up. This may seem like reverse psychology, however, sometimes it motivates people to move towards betterment without fighting or being up in arms. The key here is if your roommate does finally clean up DO acknowledge their effort and DON’T be sarcastic. You want to reward good behavior.

Finally, life should not be just about the chores. For me, it is not fair for one person to do everything. So, if you’re starting to feel like a maid/butler, then it’s time to set boundaries and tell your roommates or family members how you feel. Life obviously isn’t perfect.  However, it is important to communicate your need for a basic standard of living and encourage a mutually shared space that promotes well-being and uplifting circumstances.

Have a good week,

Ann Margaret Zelenka

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore

Negotiations and Conflict Management M.S. Program

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