Neatness standards at home

When Tommi and I started dating, he was living in a student dorm with one roommate. Tommi’s room’s (to put it diplomatically) “laissez faire”-looks roused in me a variety of feelings which depending on the day ranged from slight discomfort to deep anxiety. Fortunately during this phase the love hormones were so strong that they helped me ignore this minor defect in my otherwise oh-so-perfect partner. However, when were looking for an apartment in spring 2011, we both realized that neatness will probably become the biggest issue we’d have living together. So we decided to start discussions on our joint home’s neatness standards before moving in together.

It is quite rare that the neatness of both parties in a relationship would be a perfect match. Finding a good partner is hard enough so you don’t wan to make it more complex by adding neatness standards to your partner check list. Rather, you should better develop functioning ground rules together. Basically people’s preferences vary on two dimensions: in the importance of cleanliness and order. Some people find it very important that there are no crumbs on the kitchen table and that the toilet is scrubbed clean where as other people get more annoyed with stuff being out of place. Based on these preferences people can be divided into four neatness standard categories:

Neatness categories

In our household I represent the neurotically neat upper right corner and Tommi the very relaxed lower left corner. We realized that we would need to find some kind of compromise that would keep both parties’ anxiety at a bearable level. Fortunately as we live in Helsinki this problem is mitigated by shockingly high rents. This means that in any case you won’t too many square meters to clean.

Basically we believe that household chores should be divided equally, but in the name of specialization it’s smart to divide those based on each individual’s strengths. With regard to neatness this means that the more neurotically partner should pick those tasks that the less neurotic partner is more likely to “fuck up”, because then they will more likely get done according to his/her standards.

We agreed jointly that 1 hour a week is a reasonable investment in the cosiness of our joint home and decided on the following division on labor:

  • Tommi vacuums the whole apartment and is responsible for the dish washer
  • Sonja cleans the toilet and takes care of the laundry
  • Dust is wiped and floors and other more seldom items are cleaned at an irregular pace – when needed
  • If one person cooks, the other one has to clean up afterwards

In addition we have three guiding principles:

  1. Each party takes care of his/her part without complaining, unless a new agreement is made.
  2. Sonja is allowed to clean more often (e.g. vacuum annoying stones from the hallway) and Tommi should not feel guilty about it.
  3. Tommi’s work desk is a sacred space which Sonja is not allowed to touch under any circumstances and it can look as messy as Tommi wants.

These basic agreements have helped us live happily in peace and in a relatively neat home for the past 5 years and we very rarely fight about cleanliness. We do make jokes about it a lot though 🙂 During the years we have also witnessed some convergence in standards, meaning that Tommi has become neater and Sonja less neurotic. Sometimes things might even get totally wild and Sonja might suggest taking a break in the cleaning routines for one week 😉