I like a clean house. He doesn’t care. What do we do?

I like a clean house. He doesn’t care. What do we do?
i like a clean house he doesn't

My question is about housework. It’s causing heaps of resentment between my boyfriend and I since we started living together six months ago. Firstly, I like a clean kitchen/house. I can’t cook if the kitchen’s messy. He is happy to let dishes pile up until there is a tsunami of dishes then, if no one else has done them, and we have not a single dish, pot or spoon left – or if I kick up a fuss and we fight about it – then and only then will he do them. On his nights to cook he’ll get takeaway for dinner so he doesn’t have to wash up and cook. In all the time we’ve lived together, he has vacuumed once. How do I get him to do his fair share? Or short of that, anything around the house? I’m all out of ideas and I was at the passive stage of doing everything rather than bothering to even fight about it, but since writing to you I haven’t touched the dishes – or anything else – and neither has he. Save us? OverIt

I keep imagining the two of you in a Hoarders-type situation, slowly being buried by piles of dishes and empty takeaway containers! I get how you’ve landed yourself in this Mexican stand-off of sorts, but be comforted in the knowledge that many, many others have fought or are fighting the same battle at one point or another. I reckon getting someone to do their fair share comes down to values. If someone doesn’t give a crap about their living conditions, or has preconceived notions that cleaning is ‘your role’ or ‘not their job’ for whatever reason, it can be impossible very, very difficult to change them. But, you’ve got to try, and rather than taking pot-shots at his pigsty-happy ways, make it about fairness and the cleaning responsibilities you BOTH share. So. Here’s my five-point plan.

1. Sit down and present him with a list of all the jobs that need to be done around the house and how often. I like this weekly chore schedule from the Project Girl. Include weekly stuff like shopping, changing the sheets, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning the bathroom, doing the laundry, paying the bills. And include a daily section for things like dishes and cooking. Say you’d like to split all the chores between you because you’re sick of him sitting on his lazy butt  it’s fair that you both contribute to keeping the house clean. It’s my (hopeful) theory that when you present him with the list of what it really takes to keep a household ticking over he’ll realise it really isn’t fair for you to do it all. On the daily stuff, offer suggestions or ask what he thinks is fair (ie if you cook he should wash up and vice versa).

2. Let him choose the chores he prefers Maybe he’ll choose shopping and cooking, or vacuuming and laundry. Make it clear he has to choose half the tasks. I know, I know… Why should he get to choose while you slog your guts out cleaning the loo? I agree, but let it go if it means he’ll step up to the plate. Next step is to broker some deals. Discuss when things will get done. Will you both clean side by side on a Saturday afternoon for two hours getting housework out of the way? Or does it suit you doing it in your own time? If he likes video game style competition, check out Chore Wars, a site where you compete against each other to log cleaning chores done, with the ability to set rewards. Hello more sex? Just a thought.

3. If you can afford the $35-odd cost an hour, hire a cleaner I just did and the pressure it takes off you as a couple is immense. Just knowing the big jobs are done – bathroom, kitchen, vacuuming, mopping and dusting – has stopped the arguments and the weekend guilts (neither of us wanted to spend precious weekend time cleaning). Plus, if a cleaner can eliminate those big jobs for both of you, it might mean he’s willing to do the smaller daily stuff. It’s also so nice coming home to a clean house after the cleaner’s been, you feel kind of inspired to keep it that way in between visits (again, no promises).

4. Go on strike If despite all your discussions, appeals etc he still won’t pitch in for basic daily stuff you’re both responsible for, stop doing something you know he really cares about. If he, say, loves your cooking and having a hearty dinner after he gets home from work, announce that you won’t be cooking anymore. Stock up on cans of soup and show him where they are. It’s awful for it to get to this petty stage, but think of it as a bit of tough love training. I reckon it’ll last a week or two at most before he cracks and gets stuck into the dishes or housework in general on a more regular basis.

5. Demote him to Just That Guy You’re Dating If he really doesn’t think he should pitch in and you still love him but can’t stand living with him, tell him you want to go back to living in separate places. I personally think if you get to this stage, there’s nowhere really back from here. But just the suggestion of it might be effective in letting him know you’re not his slave and it’s time to grow up and man up if he wants an adult relationship.

Love, reality chick

Freelance journo, blogger, self-appointed advice-giver and co-author of Get Lucky. If you've got a dating or relationship issue, feel free to ask a question. (PS. You can also find me at The Mama Files and Letter To My Ex).


  1. Beth 8 years ago

    I went through a similar stage – for me the messy house situation turned out to be a reflection that our relationship wasn’t doing so well. We broke up and I’m now happier and my new place is SO much tidier.

  2. bron 8 years ago

    i have a house of teenagers so i know exactly how you feel.

    My method is to pick the worst jobs and tell the kids to do them (cleaning the toilet etc) and then negotiating down to better jobs – so in return for me cleaning the toilet, my 18yo will put out the rubbish and the recycling. In return for not having to wash the dishes, my 15yo will clean the shower and keep the benches and table clean….

    negotiation is the only way out of this…with the addition of not washing his clothes and keeping a clean set of dishes for yourself and if he wants to eat, he has to wash dishes for himself…

    And if all else fails, enlist his mother or sisters to ‘encourage’ him….

    • bron 8 years ago

      oh and i forgot…in return for me not ‘losing’ his favourite clothes, my 18yo will wash his own…..

  3. Alison 8 years ago

    I have had this issue and know how frustrating it can be…. how I dealt with it? I told him it wasn’t just chores, but it was one of my “needs” and it helped me feel loved… just as kisses/affection, going out together, gifts, etc. would. He started doing more because then he knew how much it meant to me. He still doesn’t go overboard with housework, and I still do need to remind him now and again, but now I don’t have to nag till I’m blue in the face! Good luck to you hun xx

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