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I live in a shared house with several other roommates. One of them signed the lease with the owner, and thus has authority to kick anyone out. Call him Dylan. Another roommate, Bob, is very outspoken and usually is the one making the actual decisions.

When I moved in I was told there was a cleaning system where everyone is on a schedule and has different chores that benefit the whole house (so not just cleaning up after yourself, but things like sweeping the hallway). I was never added to this cleaning system until several months later when we had our first roommate meeting.

I began to sense a negative vibe and couldn’t get a straight answer out of Bob/Dylan what was wrong. From the way they spoke to me, they seemed mad but wouldn’t tell me why. I spoke with my friend who was the one who recommended me to move in, asking if he could find out what was up. He told me they were mad at me because I hadn’t been helping clean, and they are thinking of kicking me out. My "friend" told Dylan I had been complaining a lot, and I guess this pushed him over the edge and he finally confronted me saying I didn’t do cleaning for the first several months.

The following statements are true facts

  1. I am bad at cleaning, in the sense that specific ideas just don't occur to me (for example my roommate said he swept under the rug and that idea never occurred to me) and I guess I'm not as sensitive to dust as other people
  2. I would like to continue living in the house for at least another year
  3. I am willing to make a change
  4. On several occasions I had asked Bob/Dylan if there was something I could do to help but was not given a clear answer
  5. Bob and Dylan live on a different floor than I do, so I only share the main floor with them. So this is what they use to assess how much cleaning I've been doing.
  6. I normally try NOT to clean when people are around, as to not inconvenience them.

This is my understanding based on my observations: to Bob and Dylan it’s very important people take initiative and not be asked to clean. But it seems that they need to judge whether someone is helping or not. Most other people in the house make a big show of it when they’re doing something, I had assumed this was just their personality but I guess this is some kind of hidden way to prove they are helping. For example when someone was mopping he would say "come look how dirty the water is!" or "I’m going out to cut the grass now!". My personality is not like that, I think it’s immature to try to impress people by showing them you’re doing work. But, I’m willing to compromise.

So the question is, what’s the best way to get Dylan and Bob to think I am cleaning? I am comfortable taking pictures before and after and sending to them as proof, though this may be a bit too overt. (Dylan likes to stress the importance of "trust" though I think he’s being a bit hypocritical of this if he’s accusing me of not cleaning enough, so I think a discreet method is necessary).

My other idea is to clean up at the same time another person is, so he can vouch for me. I could play it up as "I just find it more motivating when I see someone else cleaning" (which I do).

I find it’s becoming counterproductive: now I see no point in cleaning unless someone is watching me since I’ll still would be accused of not cleaning. Also, being a shared house, I err on the side of caution. There are many situations where I see something that could be junk but I don’t want to through it out or move it encase someone needs it. To complicate matters my assigned chores are currently obsolete (the dishwasher broke down and there is snow on the lawn). Also since so many people are doing other things, I find it hard to find something that hasn't already been cleaned. This is why I tried asking what I can do to help, but they find this annoying. To be clear I always have been helping with cleaning, just not enough in comparison with the amount Bob and Dylan do.

In these types of situations would it help smooth things over if I make a friendly gesture, like buy pizza for everyone for dinner (of course in addition to actually cleaning more)?

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    Do you and your roommates have any visible rota of what chores each of you are doing? Like a schedule stuck to the fridge door or something? I'm guessing not, based on their behaviour. Is their behaviour - the need to give voice to what they're doing - only there when housework is involved? – user8671 Jan 28 at 16:27
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    So for several months you did no cleaning because you "weren't on the rota" is this correct? – WendyG Jan 28 at 17:01
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    If your job is to load/unload the dishwasher and mow the lawn, but the dishwasher is broken and it's snowing, is someone else assigned to wash dishes by hand and shovel? – 1006a Jan 29 at 5:00
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    @Haptometer so you did no communal cleaning, did you clean the bathroom after every time you used it, how about washing the kitchen floor after you cooked? – WendyG Jan 29 at 10:43
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    @WendyG I get the impression you're trying to passive aggressively allude to something? – Haptometer Jan 30 at 10:40
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A friendly gesture probably won't go amiss. But it's unlikely that "sideways" gestures, like buying pizza, will be effective over the long term. Cleaning is something that needs to be done regularly, and most people don't enjoy it very much, hence the schedule.

Some dirtiness is nobody's fault, like dust accumulating. But beyond this you are contributing some baseline amount of "dirtying" the house, no matter how careful you try to be, and so if you are assumed to not be cleaning (fairly or otherwise) you can expect some resentment. Further, it sounds like there legitimately has been a period in which you have not contributed much to cleaning the house, and people will remember that impression.

The only cure for this is to be observed cleaning or to take on a similar chore. This isn't a matter of blindly following the schedule-- that your chores are now "obsolete" (how are the dishes being washed now?) is no defense. The goal is to be seen as doing your fair share of maintaining the state of the house, and so you should consider asking for chores to do or taking the initiative to do things you see should be done. This isn't

What more can I do to chip in around the house?

it's

With the dishwasher broken and the lawn covered in snow, I don't have any chores right now. I feel like a loafer, what other things can I do in the meantime?

If you don't get an actual answer including some task you can do, or a timeframe in which they'll get back to you, you should ask again at regular intervals or identify a task, start doing it, and say so.

The good news is that there are a lot of ways to make your cleaning activities more conspicuous. You, too, could offhandedly mention to a roommate that you're about to start cleaning. You could announce to your roommates that you will be doing your chore and want to be sure everything that needs to be done is there (e.g., if you're washing dishes, you can ask that anyone with dirty dishes bring them to you). You can ask if anyone needs anything in a pile that you're trying to tidy. You can also do your chores on a regular schedule, so people know that on Saturday afternoons Haptometer will be mopping the hallway. Cleaning in tandem with another roommate will also accomplish this goal and is a suitable idea. You can also try to do "obvious" chores, like taking out the garbage. If the garbage bin is always clean, someone is doing the chore.

None of this is "showing off"-- I doubt anyone is expecting to be showered with praise here or really impress the other roommates. Instead, they are making offhanded comments describing their activities (some people do this in passing), or they're making sure that their contribution is noted. "I'm bad at cleaning" is not a better argument here than it would be if you said "I'm bad at paying rent".


As an aside, based on other questions you've posted about conditions in this house I would not assume that any friction with your roommates (particularly Dylan and Bob) is due to any single, concrete issue. I get the impression that there is some underlying tension resulting from a variety of things, and specific examples may be more an opportunity to express those feelings rather than being truly about that specific issue.

  • What do you mean by a "sideways gesture" and how is pizza a bad idea? – bighouse Jan 29 at 8:00
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    @bighouse : I think that the idea behind that is "doing something nice in order to be the good guy who forgot the chores but hey, no big deal because you were so sweet" is a way to deflect, like if you wanted to draw roommates attention away for the "real problem". If done on purpose, it'll backfire bad and fast IMO, even if, once in a while, as an apology and AFTER catching back, it's fine I'd say – OldPadawan Jan 29 at 8:07
  • @bighouse OldPadawan's interpretation is correct. Pizza is a fine idea and a nice gesture, but it in no way addresses the problem that the OP describes. – Upper_Case Jan 29 at 15:16
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So the question is, what’s the best way to get Dylan and Bob to think I am cleaning?

The only way to get them thinking you are cleaning is to clean, and do a damn good job. So your job is to do the dishwasher which isn't currently working. That is daily job isn't it.

Make it your job to ensure the hob is cleaned, the surfaces are wiped down, the sink and drainer are cleaned every day, any draining washing is put away.

If you know somebody is busy and needs to wash up make some sort of comment like

Hey I know I owe you guys for the first few months, let me wash that up for you whilst I do mine.

Ensure every day the kitchen looks as much like a photo from a magazine as it is possible in your building.

Cleaning a kitchen well takes me about 1 hour. Do it at the end of the day after everyone has eaten their evening meal and done their washing up.

DO NOT MAKE A FUSS! Just go back and quietly clean up. Well I can't actually clean a kitchen quietly too much metal to move but you understand how i mean. Leave the floor till last then matter of factly announce "careful in the kitchen the floor is wet“.

People do notice if work is done and unassuming good work is better than obvious demonstrative working.

If you are spending 45mins to 1 hour everyday cleaning you can't stay secret for long.

Who does the housework at your parents house? How do you know that?


Does your kitchen look like this: does your kitchen look like this

Or this: or this

If you can't see the difference imagine trying to make food in each kitchen, do you need to do anything before you start in each picture? Is there enough space to prep in which picture?

The internet is awash with guides teaching you how to clean, tips tricks etc.

Here is the very first page I found on cleaning your kitchen

https://www.livingwellspendingless.com/2014/03/25/how-to-clean-your-kitchen/

I am going to leave you to look at your garden and see what you could do instead of the snow covered lawn.

And to answer why asking what you can do isn't a good idea here is Emma you should've asked

  • I'm afraid you miss the point. Even if I clean, they wont know it was me who did it. – Haptometer Feb 1 at 10:38
  • What does mean "hob"? The definitions I came across don't seem to fit. – Haptometer Feb 1 at 10:47
  • A hob is the bit you put the pans on top off. And it takes quite a while to clean a kitchen properly people WILL see you doing it, quietly unassumingly. – WendyG Feb 2 at 16:48

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