“Among people who live together, it does not matter whether they are both very clean or very dirty, but what? does it’s whether their thresholds for chaos are the same or different,” says Sarah Riforgiate, PhD, an associate professor of communication at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee who focuses on research on the division of household chores. “The greater the difference between those thresholds in two people, the more conflict they will have.”
Dr. Riforgiate says the dynamics tend to play out like this: A neat person can’t help but see the mess that always pops up as an invasion of their sweet sanctuary. When they encounter things like dishes in the sink or dust on the floor, they get frustrated, and take it upon themselves to clean up or organize themselves and get mad at their roommate or spouse when they do—rocket fuel for a fight.
These two people also have very different experiences in their homes. While a person with a low threshold recognizes and gets upset about any problem that arises and then works on it, a person with a higher threshold does not even realize that there is cleaning or organizational work that they can do because of their threshold. it is never met.
“[Making] Negative attitudes about an aggressive spouse or roommate tend to escalate arguments and make it difficult to change their behavior.” -Sarah Riforgiate, PhD, communications expert
As a result, it can seem like an aggressive person is just ignoring the issue, which can cause a more organized person to think negatively, says Dr. Riforgiate. (Like, “Wow, they didn’t take out the trash anymore? They must not care or respect me at all.” )”These negative thoughts tend to escalate arguments and make it harder to change someone’s bad behavior,” she says.
Learning to live with someone who has a different tolerance for mess is largely about understanding that difference, and then creating a household system that accommodates it. Here are some tips to help you get started if you find yourself in this situation.
How to handle organizational differences with a partner or colleague
1. Start by asking questions to understand the other person’s point of view
Usually, the smart person starts the conversation about organizational differences (because he is the one whose tolerance for chaos is increased). If this is you, you probably feel the need to advise your partner on how they can do better around the house, or even directly criticize their mess. But that’s what you are it shouldn’t do, says clinical psychologist Abby Medcalf, PhD.
“The main problem that people face when they enter this conversation is that they see the situation as right and wrong,” says Dr. Medcalf. “But if you’re a smart person, you should still see your organizational style as a privilege and nothing more.” With that perspective, you’ll be more likely to start a conversation about your feelings about the mess without immediately putting your partner or partner on the defensive.
Dr. Medcalf recommends starting with a few questions to show them that you’re just as eager to find a solution that works for them as you are. For example, you might ask, “When you leave the kitchen at night, do you see anything left on the counter?” or “After cleaning the bathroom, did you notice that the toilet was still dirty?” That way, you give them a chance to say, “Really, I didn’t see that” (remember, they have a low tolerance for fuss) or to tell their version of the story.
From there, you can suggest that they ask you such questions about your attitude towards the cleanliness of the house or organization. And then you can take the floor to explain how their ongoing mess or failure to clean up makes you feel and why.
In that case, you can expect to be more sensitive to your points, says Dr. Medcalf. “When you go into a conversation trying to learn something, without proving something, it takes the two of you out of a power struggle that can lead to a fight.”
2. Use your “threshold of chaos” to describe your differences
The idea of having different thresholds for disorder can be used as useful language in conversations about homework, says Dr. Riforgiate. It’s a way to talk about a situation without being accusatory. Not that you are smart (and therefore better) and is a slope, but rather that you have a lower threshold of chaos. And because it’s clocked faster, you end up doing more work at home—but I wish that would change.
This way of looking at the problem also removes some of the possibility of those negative attributes that you may make about your spouse or partner. It’s not that this person despises you or is trying to make your life hell with their mess; they are not just noticing the mess that gathers because of their high threshold for chaos. Therefore, they may also not realize that you are rushing to clean it regularly, says Dr. Riforgiate. “That’s when you can say, ‘I don’t know if you realize how often I do this job, but going forward, I’d like to take turns doing it.’
3. Get specific about your preferences and expectations
Instead of just noticing the mess or asking your partner or roommate if they could be “cleaner” or “more organized,” identify the non-negotiables about cleanliness and order (and where you’re willing to give them some freedom). “Maybe you’re adamant that the kitchen counters be paper-free at the end of the day, or you can’t stand the shoes piling up by the front door,” says Nicole Anzia, founder of housekeeping organization Neatnik. “Your best bet is to create specific, achievable, and actionable guidelines for positions that you or your partner feel strongly about.”
4. Avoid the trap of “owning” a job you hate
Because of the way a person with low tolerance for chaos reacts to chaos, they often end up being assigned to jobs they don’t like simply because they’ve “always done them,” says Dr. Riforgiate.
For example, if the dishes in the sink are bothering you, you can start washing the dishes whenever you see them hanging. Over time, you start doing this more often, so you get faster and more efficient. “The more efficient you are at work, the more invisible the work becomes, making no one else realize how much effort you put in,” says Dr. Riforgiate. Eventually, you take care of it so often and so quickly that they take it for granted like wash the dishes, and lead them to sacrifice less and less.
“This style creates a division of labor where we tend to specialize in certain tasks that bother us more,” says Dr. Riforgiate. So, even if something like dirty dishes is really bothering you, stop doing the chore regularly and discuss with your spouse or partner how they can take steps to close the gap. That way, you can’t accidentally dig yourself into the hole of owning the job for good.
5. Confirm contributions that someone else it is make up (for your position or relationship)
It may seem obvious, but realizing that your partner is dirty or your partner is not only Chaos and possibilities contribute something positive to your home and/or relationship and can help you feel like things are more balanced. “When we think about equity, we’re not just talking about, ‘Okay, you’re going to clean the bathroom this week, and I’m going to clean the bathroom next week,'” says Dr. Riforgiate. “We’re talking about, when you look at your relationship as a whole, what benefits are you getting from that relationship, and overall, do they outweigh the costs?”
In the case of a messy roommate, perhaps this person cooks more often or deals with annoying neighbors or shops for community decorum. And if they’re your friend too, they can contribute much more to your relationship than that—all of which can offset some of the disadvantages of their badness.
For a romantic partner, of course, those benefits can be as great or even greater. “You didn’t like your partner because, for example, they cleaned the sink well or knew how to wipe,” says Dr. Medcalf. Just because other things that contribute to your daily life — say, positivity or creativity — can take up as much time as cleaning the house doesn’t mean it’s not worth it, he says.
Just paying attention to all of these non-organizational aspects of your aggressive partner or partner can help you ensure that you’re getting your shake in the partnership, says Dr. Riforgiate, which can also help you feel like you can share space with them more comfortably. .
3 organizing and cleaning tips for people who live together, but have different tolerances for mess
1. Simplify as much as possible
In an effort to control chaos, clean people often add unnecessary layers to the organizational structure. Think: Color coded boxes, drawer dividers, bins within bins. But, surprisingly, these tend to work better for people who are already neat than they do for messes, says Kelly McMenamin, author of the book. Plan Your Way. Instead, he recommends building one-step processes for as many homework tasks as possible by constantly asking yourself if the extra part is absolutely necessary for the system to work (and removing it if it isn’t).
Example: A laundry hamper, which can come with or without a cover. “A poor person can pile clothes on top of a hamper lid, but without a lid, clothes often end up in the hamper,” says McMenamin. The same principle applies to the various containers and compartments inside the refrigerator. “That’s potentially a waste of time given that someone with a high tolerance for messes is unlikely to notice them or adhere to the system as closely as a clean person would,” he says.
2. Create personal areas to contain multiple items
Even if shared areas cannot be saved especially how you would set them up if you were living alone, special personal areas can be. These are places where you create for everyone—because your needs don’t exceed your spouse’s, and vice versa, says Brandie Larsen, co-founder of the Home+Sort organizing service. This way, you can have areas that are guaranteed to be free of clutter, such as the kitchen counter or bathroom, and your partner can have clutter-free living areas while they’re contained, he says.
This system also helps to reduce the expected conflict of the home organization. “Everyone finds a place where they can be ‘shoes off’ and conform to anyone else’s organizational systems,” says McMenamin.
3. Set a schedule for important cleaning and household chores
Having a different tolerance for mess than your partner or roommate means you’ll both notice that something is messy or out of order at different times, says Dr. Riforgiate. To bridge the gap between when you think the bathroom is bad and when your partner does, for example, set and stick to an important work schedule.
Determine your schedule for each task, talk about how often you’d like it done, and assess how your partner or colleague can realistically contribute to it. Then, think about how much “mess” you can handle for a given task, as long as you to know you are not the only one who will do it, says Dr. Riforgiate. “If you can trust your spouse or roommate to do the dishes at least once a day, for example, then you might be okay with letting a few sit at the sink for a while, giving them some freedom.”
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