You know when you're sitting in a restaurant and you go to shake some salt on your food, but someone unscrewed the lid, so all the salt pours onto your food? This is my life.

My wife almost never puts the lid back properly on anything. If it's a threaded lid, she'll (usually) crossthread the lid so it's not properly secured, but often she'll just set the lid on top. For things like Tupperware, she'll typically press the lid onto 3 corners and leave the last corner unsecured.

Condiments and drinks get spilled needlessly; foods dry out, get moldy, or absorb odors unnecessarily in the refrigerator or get stale in the cupboard; etc. She never spills any of it as far as I know; she must assume that nothing is properly closed. She is not bothered by any of it, whereas I don't even like having peeled garlic and open butter in the fridge because of the absorbed smells...

How can I ask her to fix this issue? I have talked to her about it before, but usually after I just spilled something or made a mess because her lid skills, so I'm already irritated. She knows she does it and that it bothers me. I am more exasperated than confrontational.

  • 5
    Do you know why she isn't properly closing containers? My first thought was that she might be worried she won't be able to open them again. (Yes, this can be a problem.) I'm not sure how to approach the conversation, but keep in mind that she might have reasons for doing this.
    – Llewellyn
    Aug 24, 2018 at 21:58
  • 5
    What percentage of refilling the saltshaker/putting away the leftovers-type activities do each of you do?
    – 1006a
    Aug 25, 2018 at 5:24

4 Answers 4


It sounds like this is part of her lifestyle, making this a harder kind of habit to break. As such, any halfhearted effort on her part will probably fall short. Unless she really wants to stop, I don't think you'll see an end to spilling and rotting food in the near future. So why isn't she making a conscious effort to stop? This could be a couple things, but my guess is that she doesn't understand how much of a problem this is for you.

Helping her understand the problem

I'd suggest confronting her and being straightforward about it to make sure that she understands. Find a time when you're not upset from a recent spill and sit her down to talk to her about the situation. Try to use "I feel" statements to prevent her from getting defensive. Focus on how the situation is troubling for you, not how she's causing you problems.

Some fun reinforcement

Lastly, I'd use positive reinforcement as encouragement. For a situation like this, I'd get a whiteboard and write in all caps:


And then every day increment the number. If you have a big spill or something's gone rotten, return the number to 0. This could turn into a game of sorts. It will also help her realize how often this is happening to you. Notice how the number never gets larger than 3? This is a real problem!

This may be a little cheesy depending on you and your wife's personalities, but you could definitely have some fun with this. Maybe you could go on a fancy date night once you reach some number of days or do something else she would enjoy, or set other milestones.

TL;DR: I'd have a straightforward conversation with her to make sure she understands why you're having trouble with this and then--if you feel comfortable--incorporate some fun positive reinforcement ideas.

  • 1
    We have a whiteboard already available. We have both broken dishes recently, so this is probably a fun way to address the issue without being passive-aggressive or micromanage-y.
    – Bort
    Aug 24, 2018 at 21:19

I'm not sure you can change your wife habit. Habit are extremely hard to change and if she don't have very good reason to change them, she simply won't.

Also, if she feels like she is already doing more than her share in housework, she might feels like you are just giving her more work but won't do it yourself. If you think that this might be the case, you need to have discussion with here about that (maybe see this answer or other related question about chore sharing).

In any case, you can try switching task. Take the chore that involve putting lids and give her some of your own. This way, you will be sure that the lids are correctly put.

  • I'm worried you're right about this being a hard-to-break habit.
    – Bort
    Aug 24, 2018 at 21:17

Approach her at a time when you haven't just spilled something or made a mess, so you're in a calmer mood.

I think the best way to talk to her is to remind her of the sanitation issues that arise from her failure to replace lids correctly. Remind her that you both could get sick if the food goes bad. Tell her that you don't want to waste food by always letting it go bad. Refuse to buy her favorite foods unless she properly puts them away. I would also try to get a better idea of why she hasn't been replacing the lids. Has she given you any reasons for not closing the containers before? Perhaps ask her why it's been so difficult for her to remember to do so. Maybe there's something else going on that you can address.

Edit: the reason I suggest refusing to buy her favorite foods is because it's something my parents used on my siblings and I when we were young. If we didn't clean up the kitchen after cooking, they wouldn't let us cook and if we didn't put things away after using them we weren't allowed to use them. It worked for my parents, although it might look a little different for OP because obviously a married relationship is different.

  • 1
    Good idea on the sanitation angle. I've asked her why she doesn't put lids on, and she says she forgets. She does (by far) most of the cooking, and I think it may be because we have different cooking styles- I clean up as I go so I don't have much to clean at the end, while she cleans up everything at the end, at which point there is a mountain of dishes to clean and ingredients to put away... Perhaps she just wants to get it over with, so she takes shortcuts when she puts stuff away.
    – Bort
    Aug 24, 2018 at 17:30
  • 1
    Hi zanahorias, can you add some backup to your answer? I'm especially curious why you recommend refusing to buy her favorite foods - was this from some source, or have you had success with this method in the past, and if so can you describe that situation and how it played out?
    – Em C
    Aug 25, 2018 at 18:09
  • 5
    I have to say I would not respond well to having food safety explained to me as though I didn't know. Chances are she intends to close the lids later, but then forgets. That is not the same as thinking moldy food is terrific. And "refuse to buy" is one thing for a parent, a whole different thing for an equal spouse. This answer is likely to worsen the tension over the lids, not improve it. Nov 29, 2021 at 20:11

Assuming that this is not intentional but through forgetfulness, absent mindedness, some tactical things to do:

One that is absolutely not interpersonal: Some people just don't know how to put on threaded lids. Most know the simple trick: Turn the lid the wrong way until it clicks in, then you can turn it the right way without any problems. Maybe nobody ever showed your wife. (I bet 90% of the readers think that's totally obvious; 10% have never known it).

The other is an appeal to the subconscious mind. Forgetting to put on lids is a subconscious thing. So when you see her putting a lid on, you remind her what to do: "Put the lid on". Now what you absolutely don't say: "Don't leave the lid off". Why? Because you appeal to the subconscious. Your subconscious mind is stupid. It forgets little words like "don't", and your advice turns into "leave the lid off". A relative worked as a cashier and had the bad habit of keeping customer's cards. She tried to tell herself "Don't keep the cards, don't keep the cards". Didn't help. I told her one little change: "Return the cards". And that worked.

(There's of course the possibility that she does it intentionally because it looks funny when you get upset about it. That needs a totally different approach).

  • Hi gnasher. Your example uses some form of positive reinforcement (often linked with production of Dopamine. Does this help?
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 9, 2021 at 12:04
  • Somehow, my wife had this same problem and didn't know, and I didn't know what the deal was... turns out she never knew how to put a lid on correctly. You saved the day. Thank you. :-) Dec 25, 2021 at 8:02

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