Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything: The Cleanliness Conundrum, Or "So You Married A Slob..."
Welcome back to another thought-provoking edition of “Ask Pajiba (Almost) Anything” — the only advice column that comes with the Fires & Bear Traps Guarantee: If we can find a way to recommend you solve your problems with the judicious use of fire and/or bear traps, you better believe we’ll do it!
(Reminder: If you’ve got an issue you just can’t solve, or are looking to light more things on fire in your life, tell us all about it at [email protected]!)
This week we’ve got a real mess on our hands. Just kidding — this person does!
I am 35 years old, with a wife and two daughters. My wife and kids are
my entire world, and I love them with all my heart. My wife is an
amazing woman. She’s a fantastic marketer, and she has a thirst for
knowledge like no one else I’ve ever met. She’s always trying to be
the best possible version of herself, and I admire her so much for
There’s only one small thing about her that I can’t stand: she’s
messy. I wouldn’t call myself a clean freak or anything, but I like
having a clean house. I spend my nights and weekends, and pretty much
all the free time I have, doing dishes, sweeping, doing laundry, and
so forth, only to have all my work undone by the time I get home the
My work has me travelling around the state a lot, so it’s not uncommon
for me to be gone for days at a time. I’ll scrub the house down before
I leave, and when I come back two days later, it looks like a tornado
I’ve tried expressing my feelings to her, and each time she promises
she’ll change, but she never does.
She really is the perfect woman, except for this one small thing. What
would you do if you were in my position?
Another One Fights The Dust
Dear Another One Fights The Dust,
Let me just start by saying I LOVE YOUR NAME. And I can sympathize with your problem. In fact, all of the Overlords could! But we didn’t all agree on how you should handle it. So I’m going to attempt to condense our scattered thoughts into a tidy little list. And I apologize if it gets, uh, messy.
- What kind of mess are we talking about? Because there’s a big difference between unfolded laundry and, like, actual health hazards. Generalized mess, or objects left out of place, can be reasoned with. Human and/or animal waste, or anything attracting vermin, is a line in the fucking sand. If she’s falling on the biohazard side of “messy” then I feel like severe shaming and a barrage of frightening medical articles is the only way to go.
- One Overlord immediately recommended hiring a cleaning service to take the burden off both of you. Another Overlord called that first Overlord a “class traitor” who’s prancing around on a cloud of endless money. So, uh, do with that what you will. Hiring a cleaner is an added expense, but could be a viable option when you’re out of town. It comes down to whether you have the extra cash, and feel like reclaiming your free time and/or not fighting with your wife about her mess is worth the expense. Or just spend your spare cash on tacos and beer. There are many paths to domestic harmony.
- Some Overlords are of the opinion, based on their own experience, that partners will never change when it comes to cleanliness. Sure, nagging or stern talkings-to might work for a week or so. But we all have blind spots and different standards, and we’ll all revert to our baseline eventually. You may need to accept that your wife is just fundamentally different from you in regards to the messiness/cleanliness spectrum. And furthermore, YOU are the one who has a problem with it. She doesn’t appear to be complaining about you being “too neat” — she accepts your quirks. Maybe you need to accept hers as well and work around them.
- Other Overlords believe that compromise is possible — and necessary. You are partners and share a home. Whatever differences you may have are real, but your home is yours TOGETHER. It’s not fair for one person to handle the entire burden of upkeep… nor is it fair for one person to dictate the housekeeping standards solo. So part of compromise is reflecting on where you can give a little, not just where you can ask your wife to give. And I’m not talking about you simply doing the work, but “giving” in terms of loosening your own standards. For her to become less messy, maybe you need to be willing to accept a little less cleanliness and meet her somewhere in the middle.
- Personally, I’ve found that over time, my partner and I have achieved an equilibrium in our division of labor, and other Overlords have found the same thing. There are certain chores that I gravitate toward: laundry, vacuuming, mopping. The sorts of tasks that aren’t daily, but are perhaps more intensive when they are required. My husband is much better at the day-to-day upkeep, like dishes. Sure, he cooks a lot and always forgets to wipe down the counters afterward, but I don’t mind handling that — just like he accepts the fact that I am a fervent believer in the “pile” system of organization. Neither of us is anal about a spotless home, but we also don’t want to live in filth, so we trust each other to rein in the mess if it starts to get out of hand, and to point out areas for improvement that the other might be missing. For other Overlords, it might be a division of labor like lawn care vs. house care. Part of it is playing to your strengths: what aspects of the household do you naturally notice, and which ones might your wife be better able to pay attention to? Figure those out, and create a system around it.
- The other part is making sure your partner doesn’t actively undo the work that you’ve done. Maybe you’re a freak about keeping floors clean, and maybe your wife is never going to notice when things need to be mopped. That’s OK! But can you get her to just try and not dirty the floor? Like take her shoes off, or not brush crumbs down onto it or something? Or if your thing is keeping your counters tidy, can you give her a corner to pile her stuff on, and ask that she just not leave things on the other places that you maintain? Having designated parts of the house that are “yours” and “hers” to maintain is also helpful. My husband and I each have our own little office areas, and we don’t interfere with how the other organizes their space (unless we have houseguests, in which case I’m all up in my husband’s office, which also happens to be our guest bedroom). But if, for example, there is a random box of my husband’s miscellaneous childhood junk that has been occupying a corner of the living room that I pass every day but he seems to have forgotten, I will point that shit out to him. Because goddamn it, it’s been months, honey — just sort through it already!
The key to making this compromise work is finding ways to satisfy you both. And if she loves you, she should want to meet you halfway — but that means that you need to do the same. You can’t pull her toward your end of the spectrum, and you may need to accept that some things are less tidy than you’d like, to encourage her to accept that she needs to put in a little bit of work herself. Whether it’s setting up a cleaning schedule, or dividing up chores, try and find a method you can both stick to — and maybe divide up the house as well, so you each have little kingdoms in which you can be as clean or as messy as you want. But most of all, remind her that you love her, and you don’t like nagging her. It’s not a good feeling. Nor is it a good feeling to spend all of your time doing housework. Maybe if you guys can find that happy medium, you’ll have more free time to spend together eating tacos and drinking beer.
- And finally, if all else fails: Don’t forget about the cleansing property of fire. And if she’s prone to leaving her shit in places it doesn’t belong, try hiding some bear traps in those areas of the house. She’ll never get her stuff back, but she’ll learn a valuable lesson about leaving a mess around a bear-trapped house!
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