The Grim Reality Of Living With A Clean Freak

A shout out to the moderately clean folks out there…

Photo by S O C I A L . C U T on Unsplash

I’m going to preface this article by mentioning that I like living in a clean home. I like a clean toilet, clean shower, clean kitchen and clean floor.

This is not an ode to the life changing magic of having a dirty house, on why being lazy rocks or how spray and wipe is the real reason behind global warming.

This is an ode for those of us who are moderately tidy and living with someone who could win an award for their cleaning prowess. For those of us who may wait for the house to actually get dirty before addressing it. For those of us who aren’t hyper-vigilant on the way we fold our t-shirts and who might not keep up with polishing the glassware.

Or polish it at all because we realise we live in a house and not an inner-city wine bar.

Are we bad people?


Are we gross people?


Are we lazy people?

Usually no. We just have different priorities.

I live with two humans and three cats. One human (not me) is exceptionally clean and makes the other humans (and cats) aware, most days, how we are not.

We don’t seem to wash the dishes properly, we don’t seem to vacuum the floor properly. We also might be letting the dynamics of the household crumble by not noticing that the skirting boards were dusty and the laundry sink cupboard had a cobweb in it.

Le sigh.

I love this human. I really do. I also love that they love being clean. It’s definitely made me more tidy and thorough when I do get a scrubbin’.

HOWEVER, behaviour such as low-key inspecting areas after someone cleans then commenting on the results will drive other members of the household nuts. Micromanaging always creates a lot more problems than the perceived issue at hand.

Even in my youth I lived in share-houses that had the same dynamic. My friend was an incarnation of a domestic Inspector Morse, monitoring our movements and wiping away any evidence of human activity. No bags could be left on the counter. No cushion could be askew.

When I would tidy, she would just clean it again straight away stating that only she could “do it properly”.

This same friend would then complain that we never cleaned.

Well my dear, shame is a powerful emotion and when applied to situations to assert your own dominance over tasks, don’t be surprised when your fellow dwellers shy away from participating.

But hey, I’ve also lived in share-houses where I have come home to the shower-bath being used as an ice well for beers, about three kilos of mud on the carpet and meringue on the ceiling. My housemate got high and tried to use the blender to make… I’m still not sure what.

Most rational humans know there are always extremes with many of life’s affairs.

The far right and the far left of politics.

The dichotomy between religion and science.

People who like pineapple on pizza and those who don’t.

We swap horror stories of filthy share-houses, lazy co-workers and dirty hotels but I feel like there is a gap in the online world for those of us who have suffered through the opposite.

For those who have lived with the clean-freaks. The forensic scientists of mopping quality and ironing precision.

For those who start questioning their own capability to do simple tasks. For those who start avoiding cooking at home or even using certain areas of the house.

**AUTHORS NOTE: This is not the same as living with someone who is a slob and refuses to help out. That is bullshit behaviour and should not be tolerated. This is about the more nuanced situation of a household where someone feels like it should look like a display home 365 days a year and the other(s) enjoy doing human activities that (gasp) don’t involve deep cleaning the oven

Of course there is also the tough reality for those who may have OCD or other mental health problems that make it almost impossible for them to not manage their environment intensely. I want to be clear that this is not a dig or a gripe at anyone dealing with those complex issues. That is another story entirely and not one for me to comment on.**

When I reflect on my sour feelings during confrontations over domestic duties, a powerful word comes to mind.


A quick google for the official definition and…

“Infantilising; treat (someone) as a child or in a way which denies their maturity in age or experience.”

Of course, this very much depends on how the neat freak in question is delivering their review of your cleaning. But I don’t think I would be alone in stating that for many of us it’s commonly conveyed with some annoyance, anger or condescension.

But when people begin feeling like no matter what they do it’s not good enough, or that minor tasks now come with anxiety and stress, this is where real problems begin to arise.

It usually never starts off this way. Early on, living together can be fun, polite and occasionally enlightening. I think it’s cool to discover how others like to live and I’m a pretty flexible person.

But one day you realise the jumper you left out for the evening is now wet in the wash because it was ‘assumed dirty’ for daring to be anywhere but the cupboard.

You realise your monthly deep clean is now a weekly affair.

You start feeling weirdly guilty about things that never occurred to you before. Like having a day old glass of water next to your bed or some clothes on the floor when you are about to shower.

You come home to be met with stern looks and large sighs.

You start feeling anxious when you have friends over just in case someone gets upset about the mess during proceedings.

You start focusing more on cleaning up after everyone rather than just enjoying their company.

Eventually it just becomes easier to not have friends over.

I will say that my resident neat freak has improved his attitude towards mess tremendously. Through frequent and (mostly) calm talks I have expressed my feelings about the fights over cleaning and he has expressed his reasons on why he over-compensates in this department our shared living arrangements.

I would never, ever want to stop someone from enjoying the pleasantness and freedom of keeping a good home. But you need to draw the line in the sand on both ends of the scale and set reasonable expectations for the multiple personalities that reside there.

Shared living is all about communication, compromise when it’s fair and standing up for ourselves when it’s not.

We all have our own ideas of what constitutes a job done and job done well.

In my case, half the battle has been between clearly defining what is ‘messy’ and what is ‘dirty’. I’ll clean dirt up right away but my mess comes and goes with varying degrees of urgency depending on what I am doing.

Life is messy. It’s also fun and beautiful and sad and hard. Let’s not make life harder by creating living environments where no one is happy. I don’t have a clear answer to solve this dilemma for everyone living this situation but respectful communication and all parties really listening to each other was a great start.



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