Graduate School Student Blog

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How to keep a clean flat

By: Kelsey Danks
Social Studies of Gender, 2018 Cohort

Housework is hard and I am lazy. Often it’s not hard as in difficult or actually requiring heavy manual labour but when you’re a student or you work weird hours or you have a deadline or have essentially any excuse, it’s very very easy to say “I can do this later.” and later never happens.

This habit is exacerbated by communal living. It’s very easy to look around the kitchen and go “Well, that’s not my mess and that’s not my mess and ignore the pile of books you’ve left on the table or the rice that you haven’t yet thrown in the food waste. So I’ve started recording ways that I’ve gotten cleaning done in the flat and ways that I can get other people in my flat to also clean, some of them are obvious but some might be helpful for you to use.

Method: Just cleaning when things are dirty

If something needs doing, don’t wait for someone to give it to you as a job! Get stuck in and clean any and all messes. It will not hurt you to clean up someone else’s pan and if it’s clean it’s going to stop bothering you.

Effect on flatmates: Shamed into cleaning.
I thought that this method might lead to me accidentally delegating myself all the cleaning duties but what I found was that my flatmates started feeling really guilty that I was putting a lot of work in and then they started cleaning themselves. What helped was that I put a lot of cleaning efforts in early on so now the household tasks are fairly evenly delegated but they still think I’m the “Flat MomTM”.

Method: Spite cleaning

Everything is a mess. No one is pitching in. You have an assignment due. You do everything. They do nothing. Angst. Angst. Angst. Sometimes the world is against you and you have to take it upon yourself to clean everything. Even the things that don’t usually matter like hoovering under the sofas because well, no one else is going to do and I bet it hasn’t been done since you moved in. This is what I have dubbed “spite cleaning”. It’s surprisingly useful and effective for getting a lot done and honestly, you feel better afterwards.

Effect on flatmates: Leave you alone.
To the surprise of no one, when you are exuding an aura of hatred, people leave you alone to get on with it. This might be helpful, given that you can’t stand your flatmates at that precise moment in time because they’re making you do all the work. But it doesn’t really get them to pick up the slack in any way.

Method: Visible cleaning or Cleaning party

This is my preferred method for getting other people to clean. Put on some music, set a room goal (i.e. clean the hallway) and just start cleaning. Be noisy. Sing loudly. Ask people “Who’s shoes are these?”. Have fun with it.

Effect on flatmates: Migration to the party.
Flatmates will start to meander into the room you’re tidying, at first it’s to claim the pile you’ve been making of their things but then they’ll start cleaning. The party often doesn’t stop at one room, they’ll migrate to the living room and start moving their things in there as well. It’s amazing.

Additional Note: In writing this blog post, I mentioned the incident where I’d used this method to clean the hallway and one of my flatmates remarked “I just remember that I was sitting on the sofa and the next we were all having a good time tidying the hallway. I don’t remember how or why it started.”

Method: Cleaning sprint

Get everyone to agree that something needs doing. The whole flat, the kitchen, whatever is looking bad. Set a timer for one hour. Everyone tidies for one hour. Flat looks far far far more tidy after everyone cleans for one hour.

Effect on flatmates: Everyone feels like the problem has been tackled because you all agreed there was a problem. Everyone feels like they put about as much weight in as everyone else. This is a very fair method. The only problem arises when one person doesn’t join in or complains the whole time but then maybe they’re the problem, not the mess.

Method: Delegation method

Here’s the thing, if something is bothering you, there is a solid 50/50 chance that no one else has noticed it. Now, you could do it yourself, but if you’re busy you can also ask someone else to do it. Unsurprisingly, not everything has to be done by you but if you still expect the things to get done you often need to ask someone else instead of waiting for them to realise that the floor needs hoovering. If this makes you feel bad, remember, it’s a chore in itself to keep up with all of the chores which need doing and to be the one delegating those tasks (“the mental load”). There’s many ways to delegate: ask directly or drop it in a passing conversation, ask it as a favour of someone or quickly ask someone to do it on your way out of the door because you just ran out of time and you promise you’ll do the washing up instead when you get back. As long as you are fair about what you delegate and what you do, it often works.

Effect on flatmates: I’m not saying Milgram’s obedience study but…
There’s definitely studies which show that when you ask people to do favours for you it actually makes them like you more because they feel useful and wanted. There’s also studies which say that if you ask people to do things, they’ll often do it, even if it’s not in their best interest. Asking people nicely to do things around the house (rather than just expecting them to) is surprisingly effective. Just make sure that you return the favour as often as you ask!

Some methods will work better for your household than others, some methods won’t take hold at all. If a method means you’re still the only one tidying then maybe have a bigger discussion with everyone in the flat face to face and create a rota and a means to hold people accountable. But regardless, keep cleaning, even if only out of spite and at the end of it you can sit down and rest easy knowing at least some of the cleaning has been done!

September 28, 2020

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