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Living with Roommates on Opposing Sides of the Cleanliness Scale

Let me start this article off by saying that my roommates and I all love each other very much. However, this does not change the fact that we are all very different people, and this can be the cause of some tensions throughout the household. When I first signed my lease as a freshman for my following year, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into.

I had been privileged enough to have been able to skip the “college roommate experience” by living in a single room dorm with my own accompanying bathroom. So, before I moved into my very first apartment, I had never actually had to live in close quarters with anyone before. It’s not that I would necessarily change anything with the knowledge that I have now. Rather, I just wish I had thought a bit more about the rather potent combination of people I had chosen to live with rather than just how lovely they all were as individuals. 

There are many examples as to why we may not all have been the perfect fit for each other. However, I think the easiest one to see right off the bat would be all of our individual placements on what I like to refer to as the “cleanliness spectrum.” Personally, I would place myself around the middle. I don’t need to be organized all the time, and my room does tend to stay in a state of very mild chaos (I like to think of it as homely). But I also am bothered by messes that could be considered gross like uncleaned dishes, food crumbs, general unidentified ooze), and can become stressed if I am surrounded by complete disorganization for too long.

This generally puts me in a spot of being fairly happy and unbothered by the majority of my roommates behavior. If they leave dishes in the sink for a while, as long as they are eventually cleaned, I don’t see this as a problem. However, the other’s placement on the above mentioned “cleanliness spectrum” is a bit more far fetched. For example, while I may be in the middle, I also live with someone I would refer to (lovingly, of course) as a stereotypical clean freak. And the opposing side being my equally lovable but nonetheless extremely messy roommate. 

photo of an organized closet
Photo by Burgess Milner on Unsplash

I am lucky enough to share a bathroom on the third floor with my final roommate, who I feel has a similarly relaxed view on hygiene and acceptable states of mess. This has created a symbiotic relationship in which we both will occasionally clean and reorganize the upstairs, but it is by no means a cause of tension between us or the rest of the household. Sadly, this cannot be said for the two downstairs, as they also share a bathroom. If a guest were to walk by their rooms, even just in passing, it would immediately become clear how they are on completely opposite sides of this make-believe spectrum I mentioned earlier.

On one side is a room in all purple and green tones, a strange combination that actually works for the most part. Everything is clean and crisp. The sheets are folded, the bed is made, the floor is clear, and the desk is spotless. Although it is no doubt satisfying to look at, there is something strangely disturbing about seeing a teenager’s room be just THAT clean. It is as though while the rest of us live our normal student lives, this little section of our home will always continue to resemble a museum of sorts. However, I doubt it would be so noticeable if the room immediately next to it didn’t seem to have just experienced a very small scale hurricane. 

Looking into this room, I always feel as though I have entered the disaster zone. It isn’t a gross kind of a mess; there are no half-eaten sandwiches or strange unidentified smells. Instead, it is as if whenever she changes an outfit, rather than placing the clothing back in the drawer or a bin, she chooses to drop and leave it on the floor. This also goes for every single other item in her room, whether it be makeup brushes, bags, school work, folder, electronics, or pillows.

They all lie rather artfully around the room, causing me a certain amount of disbelief and my other roommate (and her neighbor) a shocking amount of anxiety. Of course, this is her personal space, and she can do with it as she wishes. However, she has recently begun keeping her door closed (which I feel is a good decision on her part). This does two things. First, it prevents any shocking comparison between the two neighboring rooms. And secondly, it also contains the little bits of mess that creep out from the doorframe like little clutching fingers, eager to infect the rest of our house. 

Becca Tapert
Becca Tapert / Unsplash

Beyond their personal space, they also have very different opinions on how our common space downstairs should be set up. Although this hasn’t necessarily been the cause of many arguments (we all at least try to be reasonable people), the amount of resigned sighs I’ve heard from my cleaner roommate regarding the amount of crumbs on the counter or slightly scuffed cast iron pans lying unwashed in the sink is impressive. Personally, I would argue that the crumbs add character to the house. They say that not only do we have food, but we also actively cook it (as adults do). Although, this is most likely just a further excuse to be lazy. 

By being in the middle of this, I am not fully a part and yet see and deal with the irritants of both sides. In all honesty, this article doesn’t have a huge point. There is no climactic moment or end to this story. In fact, the main challenge is that it is still ongoing and will continue to do so as long as we live with each other. I suppose that it is just important to consider not only the people you will live with but also how they may interact with each other. And beyond that, just be aware of how complicated relationships and living with other human beings can be.

If this article has any point, I would say to always be willing to talk things out and compromise when necessary. Everyone is different, and by coexisting side by side, we must learn to deal with the slightly more irritating aspects of this. Although perhaps small, I feel that this level of cleanliness is a good example. To put a more positive spin on the whole thing, I feel that this experience (especially by watching from the outside) has made me realize how the majority of small disagreements can simply be fixed by a thoughtful discussion and willingness to compromise. And if nothing else, it does serve as a certain level of personal entertainment to watch them both struggle with being the bigger person by either washing or not washing that one dish. 


Emma Ostenfeld is currently a Junior at Virginia Commonwealth University studying psychology. She is interested in creative (or any other form) of writing and has joined Her Campus in order to improve her skills and experience in this field. Originally from NOVA, she loves everything about living in Richmond Except that she had to leave her three cats at home and misses them dearly. She loves her friends but is enough of an introvert that alone time is a necessity for the sake of her mental health and the sanity of those around her. She is an extreme foodie and always appreciates any restaurant recommendations.
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