Hi, my name is Ally Hirschlag, and I am a neat freak. I love color coding my bookshelves, and the idea of spending a day vacuuming and folding shirts fills me with joy. However, last year, I made the decision to move in with my boyfriend who happens to be a slob.
Now I knew he had a tendency to be messy before signing the lease on our new place, but silly me, I thought it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal. I was wrong. What was once a small pile of clothes in the corner of my old apartment became an entire room flooded with boxes of stuff from his childhood and clothes strewn literally everywhere. Dishes would pile up in the sink for days, even though we have a dishwasher, and no surface would ever get cleaned unless I did it. Needless to say, after two months of this, my brain started to implode.
However, despite all this mess, I still managed to be head over heels in love with the guy. That being said, there was no way I could go on living like this. So what does one do when one’s romantic partner practices such an opposing lifestyle? Two words — adapt and compromise. Here’s a step-by-step guide to making life work as a neat freak if you find yourself living with a slob.
1. Recognize that he’s not the only one with a problem
I sort of made a point of this in the beginning, but I will reiterate — just because your behavior is more socially acceptable doesn’t automatically make his unacceptable. It’s the fact that your habits don’t jive that’s the problem, not his overall behavior.
2. You have to accept that things may never again be “perfect”
Before you move forward with the lifestyle conversation, you have to recognize that your need for everything to be perfectly in its place will have to change somewhat. If you love your slob, you have to learn to accept all aspects of his personality, including this one. This may mean that everything will be slightly messier than you’d like from now on, and if that’s not OK you’d best look for another guy.
3. Do not try to change him
You may think you’ll be able to change his sloppy behavior with subtle manipulation (chore and reward), but you’ll find you’re mistaken. Believe me, I’ve tried many a tactic in this vein, and none have worked. The only way he’ll adapt his habits is if you’re upfront with him and willing to relax your habit in return.
4. Don’t have the conversation at a restaurant
This may sound silly, but anytime I’ve tried to have a talk about relationship issues around food and people, it’s gone badly. There’s something about restaurants that up the pressure of a situation exponentially, and everyone suddenly feels like they’re under attack. Do yourself a favor and wait until you get home.
5. Talk about your neat freak issue first
If you start the conversation with your own problem, it will help keep him from getting defensive. Remember, he’s not the problem. It’s a problem that you share, and thus must find an answer together.
6. Start mapping out ways to improve the situation
My fiancé tends to get sidetracked easily, so sometimes I end up having to ask him to take the trash out 17 times. However, if “take out the trash” is on his phone calendar, he tends to do it without fail. Find out how your sig-o remembers to get things done for work and try to incorporate those tools into your home life. We’ve also divided chores around the house so the cleaning feels more balanced.
7. Let the small stuff go
There will no doubt be some retrograde in cleanliness, which is when you have to hold fast to your side of the deal. Things can’t look perfect and spotless all the time, and if you reprimand him for every little misstep, he’ll start to resent you and his behavior will slip even more. Your home may never be a neat freak’s dream again, but if you love him, that will become less and less important.