How to avoid arguments about cleaning (and deal with them when they happen)

20 Feb 2020
By Sharna Y, Student at De Montfort University

Living with flatmates can be a challenge, particularly when living with people who have differing personalities, temperaments and – sometimes – cleanliness.

Whereas some students like to keep their flats spotless, others struggle to keep communal areas tidy, empty overflowing bins or don’t bother mopping up spills.

While failing to keep up with cleaning causes an unsafe and unhealthy environment, it can also create conflict between flatmates. In fact, in my experience, most of the arguments I’ve ever had have been about cleaning. So, how do you avoid them, or deal with them when they happen?

How to avoid arguments over cleaning

Sticking to a rota

Sitting together at the start of term and deciding how the flat will be kept clean is a good start in trying to avoid an argument. Rotas are a simple way to ensure everyone is contributing to keeping the flat clean by picking who will do which task, while also motivating flatmates to get it done.

This way everyone has a say in what task they want to do and there’s not one flatmate who tidies up after everyone. If flatmates aren’t happy with what they’ve been assigned, the rota can be swapped each term, or every few weeks, so no one is stuck with unfavourable tasks all year.

Working as a team

Working together is a good way to get more tedious tasks done quickly and bond with the people you live with (particularly at the start of the year). Assign a specific cleaning day at least once a month when everyone is free and it will bring the flat together.

This will help tasks feel less of a chore, especially if you play music and have a laugh while helping each other tackle the difficult jobs. It also means the major cleaning such as scrubbing the kitchen or mopping the floors gets done in the space of a day rather than everyone doing different tasks at random times.

Doing your bit

It wouldn’t be fair if everyone was doing their part to keeping your home clean without your help, so ensuring you are motivated to do your bit is the best way to avoid conflict (and bad smells). To make sure you get your assigned tasks done, try marking a day of the week on your calendar you know you have to do it at that time.

Or why not use those odd moments of free time to take the bins out or clean the cupboards, such as when you’re waiting for dinner to cook or having a break from studying. Making sure you clean up after yourself as soon as you make a mess is important and flatmates will appreciate it – you wouldn’t want to wipe up other people’s spilt food.

What to do when conflict arises

Even with planning and rotas, arguments do happen. It’s not always easy to keep on top of everything you have to do, especially around exams and essays. And some people are just naturally more relaxed about cleaning.

However, if heated feelings do start to get the better of you and your flatmates, there are ways to keep calm.

Have a flat meeting

Flat meetings are useful for all sorts of reasons, and they are a healthy way to express negative emotions and discuss why the actions of specific flatmates are causing an issue. Leaving a passive-aggressive note or shouting at each other can make disagreements worse.

That’s why I like getting together and calmly speaking with individuals, helping the problem get sorted quicker and deciding how to make it better, as well as allowing everyone to explain themselves.

Offer to swap tasks

It’s much harder to get a task done if you hate it. If this is the reason people are struggling to get their tasks done, the simple solution is to swap tasks. You could do this as often as you want, but if someone is finding it difficult to do their bit and keep the area clean, then an immediate swap could be the solution.

Ultimately, you’re all in this together. Things might not go smoothly all the time, but if you talk to each other about it in a calm and respectful way, there’s no reason you can’t get through the year without any major meltdowns.

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I'm a film studies student in Leicester who enjoys writing. at De Montfort University