BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
Spouse Lacks Cleaning Basics
Berkeley Parents Network >
Household Management >
Spouse Lacks Cleaning Basics
See also: Messy House, Messy Family Members
After 13 years of marriage, my wife and I love each other dearly.
We have two your children, and as part of teaching the kids how
to be responsible about keeping the house tidy, we are coming to
realize that our own habits are appalling. I take responsibility
for my own failings, and freely admit that I need a kick in the
butt now and again to correct occasional sloppiness around the
house. I believe, however, that my wife has never learned some
basics of how to take care of her living environment.
She has never lived on her own, having moved in with me from her
parents' home. This has left her with a lack of understanding of
some basics. When I was living on my own, I didn't have the
neatest home in the world, but it wasn't a pigsty either.
No one is perfect. I am not interested in a ''who's right and
who's wrong'' argument. I just want to find a way to a tidier
house. As it stands, our kids don't have play dates because we
are too ashamed to allow anyone into our house. Friends invite us
to lunch or dinner and we never reciprocate.
In the beginning I tried ignoring the problem and quietly and
calmly cleaned up after her. That just led to me resenting her
behavior, and it certainly didn't do anything to change her behavior.
After that, I tried gentle and friendly (really!) reminders. That
led to defensiveness and what I perceived as scoring points. (Me:
''Can you put your mail away now please?'' Her: ''You left the bath
mat on the floor again.'') In some ways, I feel that I have three
I am by no means a neat freak, and my own lack of discipline
makes it hard for me to feel I can call her on her faults.
(Naturally enough, she is quick to point that out.) What, other
than renting a drill sergeant, can I do to help her break decades
of bad habits and help us get this place ship shape?
I feel that this problem really needs a hands-on solution. She
doesn't even realize that she is making a mess. What she needs is
for someone to follow her around and help her understand her
habits so she can address them.
Has anyone faced this sort of problem before? Role stereotypes
tell me that there are many frustrated wives with a slob for a
husband. We've reversed the roles, but that doesn't make it any
less frustrating. What can I do?
Here are some ideas of ways to help make your house less
overwhelming to keep clean and clutter-free
1) rent a storage unit (Door-2-Door in Oakland is a good one) to
put all the stuff that you don't need in your house on a daily
basis This will free up some space (and head space too).
2) plan to invite friends over twice a month. this will
probably motivate you both to make your home company-clean.
This has worked wonders for us.
3) if you can swing it financially, hire a housecleaner once a
month to do the hard-core cleaning.
4) after freeing up some space, go to IKEA and get some
organization items that will provide a particular place for
3) for $12 at Barnes & Noble you can buy the most amazing easy-
read book on freeing your life of clutter Clearing the Clutter
for Good Feng Shui by Mary Lambert.
I am fastidious (at least about my house)and my husband is a
very happy slob. When we became married, we agreed that my
husband could always have one part of our home to call his own,
and that I would never say anything about that area. We also
agreed that the path to a harmonious relationship was to always
have a housecleaner. I know, I know -- that's too expensive.
When my mother pointed that out, I answered that if the
housecleaner came twice a month and only cleaned the main rooms,
my housecleaner cost less per day than my mother's (ugh)
cigarettes. It's also a lot cheaper than marriage counseling. We
gave up lattes to pay for the housecleaner. In the end, it's
taken all the pressure off that whole aspect of our lives. So
let's say you have a housecleaner clean only the livingroom,
kitchen, and bathroom. Then, when people come over, the main
rooms are presentable. How family members manage their own
bedrooms is their business. Of course, this leaves you with the
dilemma of the bedroom you presumably share with your wife, but
perhaps with other areas of the house in some order, you have
less to negotiate about--and maybe, like my husband, she'll grow
to enjoy a tidier house once she's had one for a while.
--Neatnik Happily Married to a Major Slob
I feel for you and know how you're feeling. *Please* check out
Flylady.net. Flylady's (aka Marla's) system has helped me start
to regain control of my clutter, throw things away, and create a
more peaceful home for my whole family.
Her mantra is ''You are not behind! I don't want you to try to
catch up; I just want you to jump in where we are. O.K.?'' She
feels that many people who have issues with home tidyness are
actually perfectionists (a character trait she considers a flaw)
who become overwhelmed by the task at hand, because they ''can't
do it right,'' and therefore never start.
Another one of her gems is ''housework done incorrectly still
blesses your family,'' meaning of course, it's better to do
something than nothing and it's time to stop thinking of
housework as drudgery and obligation and scorekeeping, but
instead as an expression of your love and respect for yourself
and your family. Members of flylady write in with testimonials
that you'll get via email along with her reminders to do your
laundry, start your morning (afternoon, evening) routine, clean
out your car, etc.
Reading your post I see that you feel your wife has never
learned to clean. Flylady doesn't teach you how to clean, per
se, she thinks you should just use what you have handy and get
going, stop blaming the fact that if only you had the ''perfect''
cleanser or ''right'' cleaning technique you'd have a clean house.
And when you mention you never have anyone over...flylady has
termed an acronym for that CHAOS (can't have anyone over
I love her and believe this woman has found her true calling in
life. Check it out yourself first and then share it with your
wife, if you think she'd be receptive. But do it for yourself
and as many people have experienced, the spouse (admittedly
usually the more sloppy husband) comes around and participates.
One caveat at the beginning the emails are overwhelming. Lots
of them! Don't try to do them all at once. Read your welcome
letter and just start with those things. As those become habits,
slowly start adding other emails to your routines. But don't
burn out by trying to do too much too soon. Babysteps!
Please feel free to contact me if you want more info!
Get a housecleaner.
Seriously, in a situation like yours, getting a housecleaner can
really help diffuse the situation and end resentment. My husband
is an ungodly slob. Before we had children, it wasn't the end of
the world - I would spend every Saturday cleaning the house.
After our first child was born, I just couldn't keep up with it.
The anger and resentment just built and built. FInally I
decided that hiring a cleaner to come in every other week was
cheaper than a divorce. It was definitely the right decision. I
can easily keep up with the daily picking up (with the ''help'' of
my 2 toddlers), and the cleaners take care of the major stuff
like mopping floors and scrubbing the bathroom. It's not that
expensive, either - we pay $75 every other week.
I do worry that my children are not learning how to scrub and
mop, the way I did from my mother, but my mother did not have a
full time job. Also, I keep reminding myself of what my husband
and his sister once told me. They were raised by a single mother
who worked full time, and on the weekends and evenings did
laundry, cleaned, cooked, etc. Both my husband and his sister
told me they could never remember doing anything fun with their
mother. So I guess my point is, you must decide what is more
important - peace and harmony at home, or forcing your spouse to
clean up after herself.
happier with cleaners
You didn't say whether your wife WANTS the house to be neater -
if she feels as bad about a messy house as you do. If she does,
then you should ask her for her ideas about how both of you can
make things better. Listen to what she says about you - even if
you think you're the neat one, and tell her to help you change
your habits, while getting her permission to help you change
hers. But if she is fine with the way things are now, then it's
a lot tougher. In that case, I have only two suggestions --
hire someone to clean up (and maybe if there is someone else
cleaning the bathroom, she'll have more time to tidy), and train
your kids to pick up after themselves, so you only have one
person to pick up after (her). Also, give her a messy zone - my
husband has one, where I cart all of his stuff and close the
door. Finally, I wouldn't let a messy house stop me from having
my friends over. I love going to someone's messy house - it
makes me feel so much better about my own.
Try checking out flylady.com
It's free and it sounds like you're living in CHAOS (Can't Have
Anyone Over Syndrome).
It really changed the way we live. We can actually welcome
unexpected visitors into our home without shame!
I have the PERFECT thing for you - it is flylady.net. Sign up and try it - it
is free. It is too hard to explain in a short posting, but I will say that it
really made a big improvement in my home. But I have to warn you; you
won't be able to ''fix'' your wife. The only thing that you can do, according
to flylady, is to be an example and hope that one day your attitude will
be contagious and spread to your wife and kids.
Wow -- I know it's not possible, but it sounds like this could
be written by my father! I grew up in the house you describe,
presuming you also have 3 big dogs, between 2 and 4 cats,
and an assortment of other creatures living under your roof.
My parents fought about the mess in our house constantly,
in often cruel and painful ways, slamming dishes around,
piling clutter feet high on counters, and we NEVER could
have visitors without it being a major crisis. My father still
cleans up after my mother, and when my mother comes to
visit, we clean up after her (my sisters and I call her
''hurricane grandma'' since moving through the house after
she's been for a visit really is like navigating a disaster
zone). I too, alas, am (or, I hope, was) the same way -- I just
simply did not see the mess I left in my wake. Because I
had to negotiate life with housemates for many years --
including one roommate who I eventually married and
started a family with -- I have over time become aware of just
how unusual -- and unacceptable -- my messy behavior
is/was. But, I have to say, it's still really hard for me to see
the mess I make -- and to clean it. After dealing with the
tension around this in therapy for a couple of years, my
partner and I finally came to the realization that therapy was
more expensive than a cleaning person, and so we hired
one. Things have been much better ever since. I was (and
still am) pretty uncomfortable with hiring help (the cost, not
wanting to hire people poorer than me to clean my mess,
etc.) and we still do fight about it, but I have to say it's been a
relationship saver. It's also helped me see what a clean
house is and helped me learn how to help maintain one --
believe it or not, I just didn't know, and I'm really still not very
good at it (I'm good at many other things!) -- and the
cleaners are. My husband has also come to be okay with
taking on more of the cleaning than I do, which is important,
too (frankly, I think that this really becomes an issue mostly
when women are messy and men have to do more picking
up after them, not so much, or in such dramatic ways, when
men are and women have to pick up after them...which i
suspect is much more rampant -- so there's that
component at play here too.) I've talked about the mess in
my parents' house (gently...) with my mom, who now says
that they should have hired help years ago (even though it
would have been a financial hardship and totally out of
character for them) -- and I know it would have made for a
MUCH happier and healthier home for all of us, and
changed our lives dramatically (though my mom now
contends that having to deal with all that pet and dust mess
swirling all over the place as young kids is what
strengthened our constitutions and made all healthy as
horses -- but that's another story). So -- hire some help if
there's any way you can, notice all the amazing things your
wife is good at even if she can't clean to save her life, and
come up with some system of sharing the work of keeping
the household going where you do more of the day to day
cleaning and she does something that draws more on her
strengths (I do most of the cooking and yard work, for
example). But do deal with it. Good luck!
they call me ''mudball''
Try the website www.flylady.com
I wonder if you and your kids started getting better about
housekeeping that your wife would notice and eventually follow
suit. Maybe she can learn by example? Also, you didn't say how
old your wife is, but I know that in my own case, when I was
younger and first living with my husband, I wasn't as good or
diligent at housekeeping as I am now, 9 years later, and I'm
still not as good about is I'd like to be. I truly
think that good housekeeping comes with maturity. I sure don't
know any older people with messy homes!
Hope this helps.
Your wife may have attention deficit disorder, which could be
why she's having such a hard time keeping the place clean. I
lived on my own for many years, but I still am a total slob, and
I think it's because of my ADD, which wasn't diagnosed until I
was an adult. She might benefit from medication and/or
counseling if that's indeed the problem.
It could just be that she's tired, and cleaning is not a
priority for her. Maybe you could hire someone to come in and
The other idea would be to hire a professional organizer to come
in and set up a system that would make keeping the place neat
Why don't you try Flylady (flylady.net)? Notice, I said YOU,
not your wife! You are the one who wants to change. You can't
change someone else. After she sees your change, she will
eventually follow suit (but not if you nag). If you have
children, your example will also inspire them.
Hi - please check out Flylady.net. It's hard to describe.
Lots of good advice about dealing with a messy house by
establishing routines and especially by getting rid of clutter
in your home rather than attempting to organize it.
It gets a little cute sometimes, but I think they really
understand why people let their homes get messy, and there is a
lot of encouragement and work on attitudes. I am trying to
incorporate, little by little, her ideas into my hectic life.
Starting to fly
Have you considered hiring a house-cleaner, say once or twice a
month? I noticed that a lot of clutter started to disappear when my
husband and I started with a house-cleaner a few years ago. We clear
our stuff so the cleaning can happen and it doesn't always return. And
enjoying the CLEAN house is motivating too.
It's relieved a lot of stress between us without a direct negotiation. I
this is a hard issue because a lot of habits are established in childhood.
I tended to clean more, he didn't see the need for it, but now really
enjoys a tidy clean house. We pay $52 every 2 weeks, well worth every
penny. Think about cutting back on dining out once or twice, and there's
the amount for cleaning.
love the house-cleaner
I highly recommend that you visit the FlyLady website
(http//www.flylady.net). Her methods and routines have really
helped me get in control of our home, starting with very simple
routines (like shining your kitchen sink and picking out your
clothes at night before bed) and slowly building on them. She
emphasizes decluttering - really going through rooms and the
house on a regular basis and getting rid of the extra stuff,
because it makes it so much easier to clean. One of the things
that makes the system work is if you sign up for her emails, she
sends you reminders throughout the day, and a ton of
testimonials from people who are just like you (or worse!!!) and
have been able to get their homes in order.
The hard part for your situation is it is hard to change someone
else. The FlyLady recommends that you set the example, not nag,
etc. Does your wife want to change? Is she also embarrased by
the house? If so, it will help her so much to learn that there
are others like her. If not, you might have to lead for a while.
Make sure that all your stuff is in order. I know, it is not
fair for one person to have to do all the cleaning. The hope is
that by watching you your wife will learn how to keep things
neat and just get in the habit.
I don't want to sound like I am proslytizing or something, and
really I am not affiliated with the Flylady website. But it has
made a huge difference in my life, and I am now able to have
people over, as well as setting an example for my son! A big
thing with me was that I didn't want my son to grow up in a
messy house. So just go to the website (or there is also a
book, Sink Reflections) and read about her system. I can't
emphasize too much how it has changed my life. Good luck!
Learning to Fly
Are you my husband, writing this so that I will realize how
truly frustrated you are?
Your story sounds familiar. I am the wife that moved directly
from my parents' home and never learned the basics.
I am trying very, very hard. And although my husband
constant bitchin' has definitely helped, his saying ''Thank
you for putting your mail away (or whatever other small thing
I have managed to do)'' has worked wonders. So keep on
nagging, but offer the occasional nod of appreciation. Give
your wife a break!
For help with your messy house, check out www.flylady.net for a
system to get your house and life uncluttered and keeping it that
way. Its like your own personal household coach, (not quite a
drill sergeant), but helps you learn routines to make your
household work easier. Although some of it seems a little silly,
it actually does work.
I think I read about it here first but will re-recommend
flylady.net. It's not for everyone (you get a ton of daily
email) but the combination of her practical suggestions and
'home-spun' psychology work for me. We no longer live in total
CHAOS (can't have anyone over syndrome).
My advice in a nutshell log onto www.flylady.net, which is a
whole website devoted to developing manageable routines around
housecleaning and learning to enjoy the pleasures of a clean,
tidy, peaceful home. The site sends out reminders every day for
both daily routines, weekly tasks, and monthly ''zones'' to work on
intensively (i.e., kitchen or bathroom etc.) It sounds a little
dorky, and I sometimes think the list is aimed primarily at people
who are a bit more traditional and conservative than I am (!), but
it has really helped me get my home (which is also inhabited by
two grown-ups and two wee ones, as well as an odd collection of
pets) in shape.
It sounds like you could use the services of a professional organizer. An
outside professional will look at the ''mess'' with a critical eye and design
solutions that don't assign blame, but address the family's organizational
issues. An organized household not only provides a ''cleaner''
environment, but less friction in relationships, time and money saved,
and a greater sense of calm in one's living space. It's worth it. I'm an
organizer myself, but there are others in the yellow pages. My partner
and I (also a UCB Parents Network member) are available for free
Much of what is in your post suggests that you BOTH have a problem
and need better habits.
But your suggested fixes indicate that you really think SHE is the
one with the problem, and you want to figure out how to motivate
I think you need to have a program that you both adopt and buy
into that you can help each other with mutually. My guess from the
tone of your post is that the reason it's not working is that she
feels defensive and that you're blaming her for being the messiest
Have you considered a personal organizer to help your wife
and yourself set up systems for managing your household?
Lindsay Hilsenbeck is someone who does this and is very
sensitive in her dealings with ''organizationally challenged''
people. Her number is 669-1152. She will visit your home
and actually help you organize, not just tell you how. She
leaves you with a system to handle things after she's gone
home and doesn't charge an arm and a leg either. I
imagine that your wife is really as bothered by this as you
are but doesn't know what to do other than defend herself
against your advice. Far better to call in a neutral party to
help you both get organized and spend your time enjoying a
I live in a household with my partner and my sister, as well
as my two-year old daughter. We have had some
challenges adjusting to each other's living styles, so here is
what we have done.
1. Recognizing that we each have different priorities in
terms of maintaining a household, and trying to respect
each other's contributions. For example, we count grocery
shopping and cooking as household maintenance, just like
cleaning. My husband is the handiest of all of us, and so
his home repairs are also counted. The point of 'counting'
all this is just to get into the mindset that we all contribute to
the running of the house, and all these contributions are of
value. This helps cut down on resentment about who is or
isn't doing x. Along those lines, we also have discussed the
fact that we each have different definitions of mess (my
sister hates clutter, I could care less about clutter but hate
dirt and grime, my husband is more like me in terms of dirt
vs. clutter.) This has helped us take away judgements
about the others being slobs, and helps us remember that
they just see mess in different ways and clean accordingly.
2. We have a (in theory) daily clean up time where we set a
timer and everyone, including the two-year old, cleans for 10
minutes. We get so much done in that ten minutes,
cleaning is more fun, and no one feels like they are cleaning
alone all the time. While our goal is to do this daily, it oftens
ends up being less frequent than that, but we are getting
better about it.
3. We have weekly family meetings to discuss issues that
have come up, including issues around mess and the
house. As cheesy as it sounds, we start off by saying
something we have appreciated about the others that week
(i.e. I appreciated that x put all the laundry away, and that y
fixed the leaky faucet.) This really helps set a nice tone for
the meeting, and diffuses the built up frustration that might
be brought to the table. We discuss which things are really
important to us individually, and then we all make an effort to
focus on those areas.
Bottom line for us is that everyone has his or her own
standards of clean, and short of health hazards,
judgements about the cleanliness of others has been
counterproductive for us. Knowing that x doesn't care
whether or not the stovetop has been wiped down, but has
done it anyway, actually makes us grateful to each other
instead of feeling like the others aren't pulling their weight.
Doing things as a family makes everything more fun and
teaches our daughter about cooperation and contributing to
our community as well as how to keep a house neat. We
still have our issues, but so far so good! Most of this was
my sister's idea, and I think she got these ideas from a book
called Chores Without Wars. Good luck!
not a neat freak
I also live in a house that is usually a mess - sometimes it's really bad
and sometimes it's mostly just ''overly cluttered''. I, not a neatnik but
definitely a person in need of some semblance of order, was a terrible
nag for a long time. It was really stressful to have that be such a huge
part of our relationship. She is a terrible slob - dropping things
anywhere, never putting ANYTHING away, and then really resenting me
when I'd give what I thought were gentle reminders. I ended up doing
most of the picking up as well. We [partially] resolved it by trying to have
a schedule first, we hired someone to come in and clean the house
every other week - not a solution for everyone, I know, but the spirit of it
can be lifted it forces us to pick up the night before, and it's generated a
feeling of regularity about picking up in general. Like every sunday
night we try to do a ''big'' pick-up, and every night, whoever isn't putting
the boy to sleep does dishes and a quick living area clean up. It's our
deal, and sometimes it doesn't happen, but most of the time, since we
have the agreement and the expectation, it at least kind of happens.
this page was last updated: Aug 19, 2004
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2014 Berkeley Parents Network