'My Boyfriend's House Is So Messy That I Can't Handle It'

There is no guy with a spine that is going to make his house into Martha Stewart's dream abode for a woman he doesn't even live with. Key word: HIS house. (Plus, he thinks you don't like his house, which means he thinks you may be critical in general, so figure out if you tend to be critical in general.)
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Frustrated young man holding joystick while sitting on the floor in messy room after party
Frustrated young man holding joystick while sitting on the floor in messy room after party

Reader Magical Tidier writes,

I'm not married or even on my way down the aisle, but the problem that ails me is about my boyfriend of 6-ish months.

To start, he and I share many things in common (both enjoy working out, eating healthy, reading, taste in TV/movies, etc.) and he's probably the most compatible man I've dated... and yet I have found one large problem that I continually revisit in my head, and has come up often in our conversations about the future.

He is considerably more messy than me. Let me elaborate. Every open surface in his house -- dining room table, coffee table, kitchen counter tops -- covered in stuff (he recently did a mass exodus of those areas)! Books, work papers, food (usually unopened), recent purchases, mail, supplements, laundry, etc. There is little to no organization in his house, and in fact, he still has boxes that he has yet to unpack from his move about a year ago. Yes, he is very busy (lawyer) and has limited free time but I'm reaching the end of my rope. I broke down recently and told him that the disarray was more than I could handle and was causing me to be distracted and anxious when we were together. He wanted to have sex and all I could think about the clutter all around me.

Being a 29 year old single female (never married), this issue concerns me, as this relationship has long-term potential. We spend quite a bit of time at his house and I'm seeing how he prefers to live and function. I am very tidy and want to have a clean, organized and well put together home. I live at home with my parents (going back to school) and so should he and I cohabitate it would be most likely be in his house.

I'm at the end of my rope and we don't even live together. I've tried talking to him about it and some strides are being made in the right direction, however, I fear this will always be a Big Deal and something that will come between us. His reaction when I mentioned my needs in this area (general organization/working on home projects together/cleaning) is that he tends to get defensive, claims that I dislike his house and that he (sarcastically) is a slob. He has lived with two other women previously, both of which didn't mind the mess and/or were even messier. He tells me that I'm very important to him and that we are in a serious relationship that could ultimately lead to marriage.

Do you have any advice in a new relationship in encouraging a partner to clean up after himself and keeping his house in better shape, without being a total nag/invasive of his home and environment? I'm an avid reader of your blog and I see that women struggle with similar issues with their husbands, and I'm concerned this will only get worse should we ever move in together/get married. He wants a large family as well and I don't think I could manage it all by myself without falling apart completely. I want this relationship to work and also want him to be happy. I'm at a loss for how to navigate this situation delicately and with a positive outcome at the end.

Dear MT,

I gave you that name based on The Art And Magic Of Tidying Up, which I love and used to motivate my own kids to clean up. I can see why you wouldn't want to end up like this couple, where she considers him a slob and he thinks she's a perfectionistic nag. But let's not put the cart before the slovenly horse here. You don't even live with this guy yet. You've only been dating for six months.

There is no guy with a spine that is going to make his house into Martha Stewart's dream abode for a woman he doesn't even live with. Key word: HIS house. (Plus, he thinks you don't like his house, which means he thinks you may be critical in general, so figure out if you tend to be critical in general.)

If I were you, I would think about why this mess bothers you so much. I know why the idea of a messy house bothers me. It is because I was raised in a messy house and before people came over, cleaning had to happen. I never wanted this for my own kids. I wanted to be able to invite their friends over for impromptu playdates and for them to be proud of their home. I have accomplished this, and it's great, but it is even more great because it is healing for me. Why is the clean home so important to you? If you can share this with your boyfriend, it may help him to empathize with you.

I wouldn't necessarily say that just because he is messy now, he will be equally messy in the home you live in together. Plus, if you move in, it becomes your house, so then you can clean as much as you want. He will most likely clean more when he marries you, because he will likely be more invested in you and will also consider it his family's home versus his bachelor pad. But let me be clear: he will always tend toward messy. Personally, I think that many men just don't care about mess as much as women (although
, which
. So really, this is up to you. Here are things that have worked in my own marriage:
  1. Cry
  2. Ask repeatedly for things to be cleaned
  3. Make a list of things to be cleaned
  4. Tell him why it was personally important to me, given my background, to have a neat house
  5. Hire a cleaning service (this was for 3 years after the birth of my second child through my third child turning 2)
  6. Clean everything myself
  7. Tell him that if you both clean together then it gets done sooner and you can "hang out" (or just hang out)
  8. Have three kids, work, and start a blog as a second job and then just stop doing laundry completely because I had no time so he had to begin to do the laundry of his own accord, without me even asking
Some of these things worked better than others, as you can imagine. Cleaning everything myself and crying were the only ones that didn't work, and actually those did work, but they weren't sustainable. Currently, my husband cleans what I ask him to clean (and not an iota more!), which is a major coup for me and a wonderful thing for our marriage. But he is innately messy. So, you can win this battle. But you can also hire a cleaning service. Or he may agree to confine his clutter to his man cave or office or whatever. Also, the large family you both want will likely be a game changer. Once you have kids, he can't leave most stuff out because the kids will eat it and die, and so unless he really sucks, he will keep his mess out of the main living areas of the home.
So here is the plan I propose for dealing with this:
  1. If this is your only issue, then make this the only issue. Don't complain about a lot of other stuff, or he will think you're just never happy, and lose any motivation he had to clean.
  2. Are you never happy? Read this and introspect.
  3. If that article is true about you, work on your perfectionism. If not...
  4. Make one room clutter free. It should be the bedroom so you can have sex in there without it stressing you out.
  5. Be really sweet about how this may be YOUR ISSUE but it would make you REALLY FEEL LOVED if he would clean his crap up. Relate this to your upbringing or insecurities if applicable. You get more flies with honey than vinegar. Except in your boyfriend's house where the flies just are drawn to the garbage. Ba dum ching.
  6. Take a pause on this issue till you get married, assuming you otherwise are happy. Then, when married:
  7. Do steps 1-5 again, and then...
  8. Hire a housekeeper (he is a lawyer so I bet he can afford a bimonthly cleaning service)
  9. Realize that when he sees that other people's grownup family homes don't look like bachelor pads, he will likely be more on board with de-cluttering.
  10. If he doesn't ever lift a finger, make him hire you a manny/cleaner to Swiffer naked for you.
I applaud your desire to try and predict what will be a problem and work on it. But this would be kind of like your husband writing in to say that you currently live with your parents so he's worried you'll want them to move in after you guys are married too. People act really differently in their bachelor/bachelorette pads and their family homes. My dorm rooms, for example, looked like garbage, and my home hopefully does not. Also, be grateful that you're writing in about this and not about something like

Good luck and let me know if you can bribe your husband into Swiffering. Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Also Once The Future Baby Almost Eats One Of His Supplements Lying Around, He Will Clean Them Up Right Quick.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family. Learn about Dr. Rodman's private practice here. This blog is not intended as diagnosis, assessment, or treatment, and should not replace consultation with your medical provider.