I have a very popular blog post on where to start cleaning when you’re overwhelmed by the mess, and it gets a LOT of comments. One of the most common threads in the comments is that the reader wishes the house was clean, but they don’t know how to keep the house clean because their spouse is a slob.
Slob is not my word… slob is the word that is often used to describe a spouse who doesn’t care about a messy house, who won’t help to clean it up, and who often creates a lot of the mess themselves.
Let’s be honest:
It’s also a word that is used to describe someone you aren’t infatuated with anymore, possibly because their messy habits are ruining your life.
Suddenly this becomes a MUCH more pressing question than just how to keep a clean house with a messy husband.
(This is also much more difficult than keeping the house clean with a messy family – when it’s mainly your kids causing the mess, that’s easier to deal with. We have tips on how to get a messy family to clean up over here.)
But when the question is specifically about a messy spouse… that is harder.
It becomes a question of love and marriage and commitment and maybe even narcistic behaviors and all kinds of other ugly things.
But let’s – for the sake of ease – say that you love your spouse, your spouse loves you, and you are committed to staying together… but the messy in the house is stressing you out to no end and it needs to be dealt with.
Deciding that you’re staying together despite this stress is hurdle one.
Hurdle two is:
How are you going to get the house clean with a spouse who is messy?
(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)
Is it possible to keep a clean house if you live with a messy spouse?
It is… but it’s going to take both sacrifice (on your part) and sacrifice (on his / her part).
That’s par for the course in good relationships, though.
1) Communicate specifically about your stress over the mess and it’s toll on your relationship
Communicating is the first step in dealing with any issue in marriage, including the issue of a messy home (or the issue of a messy person and a tidy person trying to find common ground).
Talk openly and honestly with your spouse about your concerns and feelings regarding the cleanliness of your home.
Let them KNOW that their messy-ness is making you question your ability to live in the relationship.
Your partner might not even know how you feel. Sometimes we think we are communicating by making snide comments or stomping around while we pick up after them, but they might just think you’re in a terrible mood.
Make sure they understand the level of desperation you feel about the mess in the house.
That said – a relationship is two ways. Try to understand their perspective. Do they really not care about the mess? Or are they also just overwhelmed by it, and don’t know how to get on top of it?
It’s possible they don’t know HOW to clean (or feel too busy to clean) – and they might need extra help to create new habits.
2) Stop nagging about their mess
It’s likely that if living with a messy husband has been hard on you for a while, you’ve been nagging him about it.
And I’m not saying that’s unfair!
But it IS unproductive, and it’s going to make it harder to have a real conversation about the problem. Your partner is going to put up walls as soon as your bring the subject up.
You’re far less likely to make headway with nagging than with gentle discussion, so stop nagging.
3) Pick your battles
Understand that no one is perfect, and you may need to make some compromises to maintain harmony in your relationship. When you discuss the mess in your home, and ask your spouse to help you more, choose to focus on the areas that are the MOST frustrating to you, or that you feel you just can’t deal with by yourself.
For example, he leaves wet towels and dirty laundry on the floor, but it’s easy for you to just pop them in the laundry basket, then do that – rather than making a big deal out of a small thing.
But if he wears dirty shoes into the living room and you’re constantly having to scrub the carpet for a half hour per week, maybe ask him to give on that issue instead.
In the grand scheme of things, picking your battles could mean tolerating a certain level of messiness or taking on a bit more of the cleaning yourself, but it’s the path of least resistance to creating an environment where your partner helps with controlling the mess.
4) Create designated “messy” and “clean” spaces:
Allocate specific areas in the house where your spouse can be messy without it affecting the overall cleanliness. Maybe the basement is their domain, and you’re not going down there much. That can be the “messy zone”.
Maybe there’s a spare room they can have to store their clutter in. (Rather than having it creep around the house.)
Maybe having the kitchen falling apart around you is the most stressful to you, so that’s an area where you can work together to keep things tidy – it can be the “tidy zone”.
This can help create a balance between your need for cleanliness and your spouse’s messy habits.
5) Let them choose the cleaning tasks they would rather do
Create a schedule for cleaning tasks and divide the responsibilities between both of you.
Try to be consistent with the routine to make it easier to follow.
Allow your messy husband (or wife) to choose the tasks that THEY want to take on, rather than handing them a to-do list, and you take on the other cleaning tasks.
Remember that this issue is more important to you than it is to your spouse, and therefore you’re probably going to have to give a little more.
Any tasks that they take on should be considered a win!
6) Ask them to implement simple routines
When cleaning is a huge task, no one really WANTS to do it, but many of us are willing to do small things regularly that make a difference in the over all time that cleaning takes.
For example, instead of asking for help with “cleaning”, ask your spouse to make very small adjustments, like taking dirty dishes to the kitchen when they’re done eating, putting clothes in the hamper at the end of the day, or wiping off the sink when they’re done washing.
These small specific tasks often feel much easier to manage than “cleaning” in general, and go a long way towards keeping a tidy home.
There are simple things I do everyday to keep a clean house, and many of these are basic routines.
7) Create a visual schedule
It is entirely possible that your husband / wife just doesn’t even think about getting the laundry picked up or realize that two weeks has gone by since the toilet was cleaned.
Printing out a cleaning schedule and having each of you do your assigned household tasks on a weekly basis can help.
If everyone knows and expects that Saturday mornings are when you create a tidy house together, and it’s scheduled in, it won’t feel like anyone is being asked to give up their “free time” to clean.
Here’s a cute cleaning planner that could be hung on the fridge or anywhere else where everyone would see it daily:
8) Use positive reinforcement and express gratitude:
Encourage and appreciate your spouse’s efforts to maintain cleanliness.
Small efforts that go unnoticed are a disaster, and can take you back to square one.
In a marriage, there are plenty of ways to express gratitude that are also extremely motivating. Just sayin.
9) Seek professional cleaning help:
If your spouse has no interest in helping with the cleaning, but you can’t do it all yourself, ask if they would be willing to put outside help for cleaning into the budget.
You could have a house cleaner come in weekly, or bi-weekly, or monthly… to help take some of the pressure off you.
If you have separate finances, it’s not unreasonable to ask the messy partner in the relationship to cover more (or all) of this cost, if they are unwilling to discuss a division of household chores.
10) Declutter together
If you can get your spouse to help you with decluttering, your space will almost automatically become less messy.
If you can’t get them interested, declutter as much as you can by yourself. Less stuff = less mess, generally.
Getting the house clean with a messy spouse will probably take some time, but it is possible if they are willing to try
If your spouse’s messiness is causing significant stress or conflict in your relationship, consider seeking the help of a couples counselor or therapist to work through the issue together.
As you work towards keeping a clean house even with a messy spouse, remember that patience, understanding, and communication are key to finding a balance that works for both of you. If you’re a neat freak, it’s important to be open to the idea that your standards MIGHT be a little higher than what is realistic to maintain with a messy spouse… but it’s unreasonable to expect that your partner help with a load of laundry now and then.
While it may seem daunting at times, maintaining a clean home together can help strengthen your relationship and create a less stressful living environment – and even better – a happy marriage.
Ultimately, embracing compromise and working together as a team will not only lead to a cleaner home but also a more resilient and enduring partnership.