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I'm a student, living with four other non-students, who've all recently graduated. There's one girl, let's call her Sarah, who officially doesn't live here, but effectively does; she stays around all the time, smokes cigarettes and weed in my housemate's room (that's another issue entirely) and eats food in our house, with our plates and mugs. She has a habit of leaving cigarette ends (butts, and sometimes just ash) on those plates and keeping them in our other housemate's room. I'm disgusted, of course, but all of my attempts to ask her to stop doing this have failed.

So at first I posted on the Facebook group politely, twice, asking that this not happen. My housemate (Claire) apologises on Sarah's behalf, the first two times, and promised to talk to her about it. It's Claire's room that Sarah smokes in (Claire also smokes and does weed, but at the least knows how to use an ashtray,) so when I brought it up to Claire in person after the third time it happened, she told me not to worry, because she yells at Sarah every time she does it. I've asked Sarah in person, politely, not to do it, and she's just sort of given a non-committal "Oh yeah, sorry, I won't do that anymore" response.

I've come down this morning to find more ash in cereal bowls, and I don't know what to do about this anymore. I'm really angry at her, but I'm also effectively powerless to do anything more than what I've already done. The problem is, not only is Sarah Claire's best friend, she's also the girlfriend of two of the male housemates (it's a polyamorous house.) While neither of her boyfriends smoke, and I know that they both also dislike Sarah leaving ash in plates, I'm not aware of either of them taking active steps to discourage Sarah from doing it. Also, all of them besides one have been living here previously, so I can assume that Sarah's probably been doing this since before I moved in. So I risk pissing off at least three of my housemates if I get directly angry at Sarah.

I'm really sick and tired of Sarah's behaviour - repeatedly using dishes for her ashtray. It's disgusting and unhygienic, and I feel powerless to do anything about it.

  • @Lou Could you describe who does the dishes / whether you have a dishwasher and what the cleaning arrangements are in your house? Are there traces of ash still on the plates after cleaning or are they mainly "mentally tainted"? – AllTheKingsHorses Jan 23 '18 at 14:59
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – Arwen Undómiel Jan 23 '18 at 19:13
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    Whether the OP's feelings of disgust are valid or not is not what this question is about. Please don't use the answers or comments to try to invalidate how the OP feels. That's not what this site is for. We are here only to tell the OP how to address the interpersonal interaction with someone else. Please see this meta discussion for more information. – Catija Jan 24 '18 at 0:17
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I realize this answer may be more of a 'hack' than what we typically want in an answer for IPS but I was in a very similar situation and this worked wonders so I really wanted to write it.

Buy a bunch of ashtrays, openly tell Sarah that you have bought these ashtrays with your own money so that she can use them rather than the bowls and then place a few at convenient spots around the house.

This puts Sarah in a position where she will almost certainly conform and use the ashtrays because to do otherwise would using extra effort to go out of her way when she knows it will piss you off.

Buying them yourself and remaining polite when you tell her removes the opportunity for her to protest or get annoyed and unless she behaves incredibly irrationally then this should hopefully work for you just as well as it did for me.

Since it is a somewhat passive-aggressive approach Sarah might not like it. But it solves the issue without you doing anything that she can reasonably argue and it seems like your other options are far more likely to get heated. Not to mention how finding a way to fix the issue without causing any fuss will probably earn the appreciation of your other housemates (who you said also would prefer she not use the bowls as ashtrays).

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Jan 24 '18 at 0:19
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    I like this option; it provides a direct solution to the problem, gives ample and easy opportunity for the person to change their actions for the better, and also may then make it obvious to even an "accepting" person that they are being awkward if they opt not to use said solution. – Dan Jan 24 '18 at 13:19
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    So far, this strategy has been basically successful. Claire thanked me for buying the ashtray, as it meant that she didn't have to berate Sarah for leaving ash everywhere; and Claire promised to clean all the things that were ash-ified. So far, no one is upset! :) – Lou Feb 1 '18 at 17:38
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You have used the tag 'acceptable-behaviour' and I think that is the nub of the question.

In the culture of the shared house, prior to your arrival, this clearly was acceptable behaviour to all the housemates, and continues to be acceptable to others. Note, they may not approve of it necessarily, but they are accepting of it.

I think this means that you are going to have an uphill battle to change anything, and that the more obvious result of that will be greater friction in your relationship with your housemates.

I'm coming at this question from the perspective of having spent several years in various shared houses in the past. Ultimately, some people's habits are just not compatible with your own and the dynamics of shared houses can be complex; everyone is in a space that they feel ownership of and often people don't want to back down on compromise issues.

My recommendation is 'choose your battles' and don't invest too much energy in flogging dead horses.

You can continue to try and reform Sarah's behaviour. This may increasingly result in others with more longstanding relationships with her coming to her defence, making this an increasingly polarising house-issue.

OR

You can look for a work around which means you don't ever have to worry about eating off crocks that have been used for ash. There are a couple of ways you might do that:

You could get a set of distinctively different crockery for yourself, to keep with the rest of the house stuff and make sure people know it is yours. Then tell Sarah,

'Okay, I get it, you aren't going to change... but look, I got a set of stuff for myself. So carry on as you were with the house stuff, but mine is off limits. Cool?'

If that doesn't work then you have to consider that you are living with people you cannot come to a compromise with (and you are living with Sarah to all intents and purposes, regardless of tenancy status). In that instance you have to either decide that you care enough to keep your own crocks separately in your room and only bring them out to use; or to look for digs that better meet your standards.

As a small addendum:Beware of unintended consequences. There is a possibility that the house would smell worse if she used ashtrays.... Again coming from shared house experience, sometimes you can stop people using plates as ashtrays, you can make sure the house has more ashtrays, buy old saucers from charity shops etc, and then you find that people don't empty ashtrays, and they get washed even less often than the plates and mugs did. They sit there as stinking heaps overspilling onto the carpets and other furnishings.

  • It's definitely a valid suggestion, and I like the idea. I only err on the side of buying my own crocks for the reasons of practicality - it'd cost a bit to get a full set of plates, bowls, cutlery and glasses - that I then wouldn't really need wherever I'm going next. I also like your point of choosing your battles. I think I'll just continue down the path of least resistance while still making her aware I'm not okay with the behaviour. – Lou Jan 23 '18 at 15:58
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    @Lou You only need a 'full set' if you're entertaining, otherwise just a set for yourself. Asda/IKEA etc will do you basic dining plate, side plate, cereal bowl and mug for less than a tenner. I costed up on Dunelm Mill and you can get one of each for a total of £8. Glasses and cutlery (has ash contaminated those too?) would be more, but for a six month truce it could be money well spent. For what it's worth, I don't think continuing to make your displeasure known is the path of least resistance, but wish you luck anyway. If things don't work out that way, maybe try this down the line. – Spagirl Jan 23 '18 at 16:30
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A few things to get in mind:

  1. As a paying tenant you have as much right to be there and to have a say as any of the other paying tenants. Doesn't matter that they have been there longer.
  2. Sarah is not a paying tenant and has no rights.
  3. Doesn't matter who invites her to be there, while in the shared areas or using shared facilities (like the plates) Sarah is a guest of you all.

You've already brought this up with Sarah and housemates who have acknowledged it, and either nothing has been done about it or Sarah is continuing to ignore the request, either willfully or due to forgetfulness / being stoned.

You are not actually 'powerless' - you have all the power! The drug use is illegal, you could shop them to the landlord! But what you are probably feeling is trapped because you don't want to go down that route, and perhaps not even threaten it (I am not advocating that you do, btw).

From what you've said, nothing is going to change in this house. They've all graduated, so this is not just 'student life', this is their lifestyle of choice. You need to decide: What is more important - living here and maintaining relationships with the other tenants, or living in a clean environment?

If the environment is important to you, as it would be to me, then you need to get tougher with them and not be afraid of the consequences. You don't need to get self-righteous or judgemental, just come from the point of view of a paying tenant. Call a house meeting. State what you find unacceptable. State that this is the final time you will bring it to their attention and you are considering talking to the landlord about the state of the place.

If it is more important to you that you stay in that house for whatever reason, then you may have to put up with the habits of your chosen housemates, or consider looking for another (cleaner) place.

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    It's a tricky one, because I have at most 6 months left in here - this is my final house before I graduate myself, and I don't necessarily intend to stay in the house. I'm also very confrontation-avoidant, so in some ways it would be easier to just maintain house harmony and continue to protest weakly. However, it's really not something I can accept as a living condition, and I'd prefer to just not have it be an issue I have to think about, as well as the constant weed smell, for the next six months. – Lou Jan 23 '18 at 13:03
  • And yes, you're correct that going to the landlord is not an option - although the landlord is pretty much aware that Claire smokes in her room, and the weed would be hard to miss, even if that weren't the case, there's no way I'd jeopardise five relationships by threatening serious consequences for her actions. – Lou Jan 23 '18 at 13:07
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    In many ways @Lou you have answered your own question. You are only there 6 months. The balance of the question I posed to you is tipped by the little time remaining. – Astralbee Jan 23 '18 at 13:15
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    @Lou I think you have to consider your chances of success. Think of it as a numbers game. One person cares deeply about it, one person who could change things clearly sees no reason to and three don't care enough to get her to stop for their sakes and hence probably aren't that vested in your preferences. Those aren't good odds for achieving confrontation that doesn't impact house relationships. – Spagirl Jan 23 '18 at 13:43
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    This is not a good answer. The issue is the ash, not the illegality of weed. Do not cross-use these in arguments, that's leading nowhere. – yo' Jan 23 '18 at 14:52

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