Real Talk: I'm in Love With a Slob

messy drawersEveryone I love is a slob. I live with three of them -- my 6-year-old twins and my boyfriend. Four, if you count the dog, but I excuse him because cleaning means licking things and that's disgusting. The kids clean their room, but I don't have them scrubbing the toilets just yet. But my boyfriend is a pack-rat, paper-collecting, leaver-of-things-everywhere mess. 

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I am far from a neat freak. I can't remember the last time I mopped (I'm a spot cleaner), and my windows sure would be clearer with some spray and paper towels, but I do like things tidy. I put things in things so there aren't piles of papers sitting around clouding my mind. I work from home and clutter distracts me, upsets me, makes me really cranky. I have contempt for dog hair–coated dust bunnies. They accumulate daily in our house. It's the kind of thing I can spot from across the room and need to pick up immediately. I see them in the sunlight and it's not pretty. My boyfriend is seemingly blind to things like this. I wish I was. If only my eyes were as clouded as the windows are.

My guy doesn't see dirt. He isn't fazed by crumbs all over the table. He can go to bed with a pile of dirty dishes in the sink -- dishes that haven't even been rinsed. He leaves cupboards open and his drawers slightly ajar with clothes hanging out of them.

My brain hurts just thinking about it.

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I didn't fall in love with him for his cleanliness. I remember one of my first visits to his apartment and seeing lines of black dog hairs along the furniture and clumps of it in corners. His stove had caked-on remnants of food. The fridge contained months-old leftover food containers and expired milk. The light switches had dirty smudges of fingerprints all over them.

I fell in love with him in spite of his inability to keep things clean. I knew he did laundry -- his sheets smelled clean. And the bathroom didn't gross me out, so I put that on the plus side and overlooked the rest.

We when decided to move in together -- to an entirely new apartment -- I thought this was a good fresh start for him and for me in more ways than one. Maybe packing and unpacking could help him be a little more organized. Maybe my lead of tidying up and being mindful of crumbs and clean counter tops would make him want to help out, too. I also had two little kids -- and so two more mess-makers -- and I hoped he didn't want to add to the disarray. He came with the dog; I came with the kids -- together we could clean all the things, right?

Well, not exactly.

As it turns out, he didn't want to add to the mess, but he simply didn't know how not to. So I tried doing all the cleaning my way in hopes he would pick up on it. I learned (because he told me) that he like his socks and shirts folded a certain way. I could do that. Compromising -- even when it comes to folding laundry -- is important in a partnership. I felt this was a good time to bring up other household chores and how we should handle them together. We talked about working in household cleaning into our schedules -- things I liked to do (laundry -- I know, strange, but I love doing it) and things he liked would be sort of okay doing. I thought we had it figured out.

Not exactly.

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I'm generally fine with some papers on the kitchen table -- things like mail that needs to be opened, receipts that didn't make it to the garbage yet, or books/catalogs/magazines you plan on reading later. But when these things sit on the table for weeks, and are just pushed aside for meals, well, I can't handle it. I'm more of the take care of it now so you don't have to do it later kind of person. He's more of a leave it here and Oops I forgot about that a month later kind of person. So I tried buying him a bin for all his things -- the little papers, the mail, the coins. When that bin filled, I bought him another one. I realized at the rate we were going, we would soon be overrun with bins. I talked to him about it. He was open to trying to be neater. Results, though? Not really seen for longer than a couple of days.

The top drawer of his dresser is already a paper/receipt/card/random things collector. And that spills over to the top of his dresser, too, which also has a coating of dust because there are so many little things on it that it's a task to clean. I try not to look at it. I am one of those people who doesn't believe in TV or phone use in the bedroom -- it's a sanctuary, a place for rest, for dreams, for connecting. Not a catch-all for all the things that weigh you down, like the phone bill, handfuls of pennies, and health insurance paperwork. I tried designating another bin for things like that in the spare room but all those things still end up on his dresser.

I tried the "dance around it" route. I tried the "teach by example." I tried a "let's both clean" conversation. Nothing was sinking in. It was time for a talk. A bigger one. I told him all the things I need him to help me with on the daily and weekly -- from vacuuming often (especially because of his shedding dog) to at least giving the dishes a rinse instead of leaving them in the sink with food sauces stuck on them. He got it! He was helping. But then a couple of months passed and he settled into old patterns.

It's easy to get frustrated with your significant other over household stuff, and the key is to communicate so that it doesn't turn into something huge. I realized he needed a lot of reminding, and I asked him to be okay with my reminding him and not making me seem like a nag. He got it! Again. But I still have to remind him ... again and again.

He has come a long way from collecting a pile of dirty clothes on the floor next to the bed. And I learned that it's not that he's doing any of these things to be annoying or because he doesn't want to help around the house. He's simply a person who was never used to cleaning up after himself. And he's forgetful.

He's trying -- and I love that about him. He has so many other great qualities that allow me to let some things slack. None of us is perfect -- I'm certainly not, not even when it comes to cleaning.

I learned, however, not to get so annoyed with the messes and to talk about it before it eats me up. I also needed to know that he'll be okay with my continuing to remind him when I'd like him to specifically clean something -- and I'll be okay with folding his socks the way he likes. His shirts, though, get folded my way. Because of all the cleaning I do, and the constant reminding I have to give him to help me, I felt that was a decent compromise.

 

Image via iStock.com/Maxim Zarya

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