How to Deal with Messy College Roommates

It’s inevitable. At some point, you will have messy college roommate, whether you want to or not.

Messy roommates can cause all kinds of problems. For instance, let’s say you’re bringing a date back to your apartment for an after-dinner movie. Even if it’s your roommate’s fault, it still reflects pretty poorly on you if the first thing your date sees is flies buzzing around empty food boxes on the coffee table. What’s worse is that you may start hating your roommate for leaving those boxes on the table...until you realize you’ve started to take some cues from him/her and do the same.

The easiest way to avoid this situation? Don’t room with someone who’s messy. But since that’s not always doable, here  are some other ways to clean up your messy roommate:

Set some ground rules
In my current living situation, we have a sign above most of our smaller trash cans that reads, “NO FOOD BOXES.” It’s a simple but effective reminder in most cases. It can be made even more effective when each time someone leaves a food box in one of the aforementioned trashcans, a picture is taken, posted to our Facebook group, and complained about. When boxes are left out like that, they sure do smell up the place. Fortunately, my roommate has learned to put his empty food boxes in the kitchen trash sparing us all the smell of three-day-old Chinese food.

Speak up
The example of me posting pictures to our Facebook group is part of speaking up in general (albeit virtually). Don’t be afraid to tell someone when they’re doing something unclean or messy. They probably don’t really need to be told they’re unclean in the first place, they just need to be told to stop. Sure, people are busy with schoolwork, but that’s no reason why they can’t spend 5 minutes every night helping you clean up the living room. For us, we take turns vacuuming, and when someone doesn’t do their job, they hear about it. Speaking up works, though; I can’t remember the last time one of us had to be reminded to vacuum, and it prevents people from leaving future messes.

Lead by example
If you’re going to push your college roommates to be cleaner, the first thing you have to do is make sure you aren’t responsible for any messes. Is the recycling full? Take it out. Did someone leave dirty dishes in the sink? Wash them. This doesn’t mean you should do the hard work for everybody else. If you find yourself doing these things constantly, then you need to stop. Recognize that living with roommates is a give-and-take exchange. More often than not, I’m the person who ends up taking out our apartment’s recycling. However, this mixes with speaking up: if I see dishes in the sink a day later, I don’t hesitate to say, “Hey, I took out the recycling yesterday, why don’t you handle the dishes?” This reinforces that you and your messy college roommates need to work together for an effective living environment.

Messy roommates can be changed for the better: all it takes is time, structure, and repetition. Take my word for it, teaching someone how to be cleaner is way more tolerable than watching someone live like a slob.


College Roommates messy roommates


Thanks for the comment, Renee! And we absolutely agree with your tips too. The chore wheel I think is one that is particularly challenging, as college students tend be stubborn in this regard (males in particular). However, if you can work it work, the more power to you! Definitely a step in the right direction for a positive living environment.

To us, it's all about setting expectations and you seem to know what it takes to get there.

Thanks again!

Great tips! I remember when I lived in suite with five other females I thought I would end up seriously harming one of them because of how messy they were. It is best to just talk with them because not everyone has the same cleaning habits. I definitely found myself trying many different approaches from a roommate contract, cleaning and showing them what a clean bathroom and kitchen looked like, chore wheel and then some passive aggressive behavior. I do not recommend the last one because then the place just gets really messy and you go a little crazy. In the end just talking with the person is best to see where they are coming from. They might not see the need to vacuum everyday and you can compromise to two times a week.

As a (micro) niche real estate redeveloper, I've periodically thought about setting up a relatively big house so as to make it as easy and comfortable for roommate cohabitation as possible.

Do you think messiness is aggravating enough that the average roommate wouldn’t mind having his rent increased $5-15 per week so that the landlord can provide weekly/biweekly maid service for the common areas of the property much like his supplying of repetitious gardening, pool maintenance etc services?

Also, even a few large and healthy houseplants can produce noticeable mood and decor enhancement inexpensively. The problem of course is that without REGULAR attention, they deteriorate and their effects go from sublime to nasty. However, if a landlord was already providing REGULAR maid service, it becomes extremely cost-effective to maintain lush and happy plants.

Some other amenities which seem desirable include:

An effective dead-bolt doorlock for each roomate.

A minifridge and microwave.

More storage. Wherever possible, build in furniture which also serves as cabinets. Likewise, build in substantial underbed drawers. Renovate closet space for maximum usability. Possibly add closetspace.

Thoroughly soundproof common ceilings/floors and walls.

In each room, install both regular phone landlines and heavier Cat5 etc. for broadband access.

Provide separate, locking mailboxes.

Provide a reasonably secure and robust wireless internet connectivity.

Do you think a relatively small flat screen in each room would be preferable to a noticeably BIG one built into the living room.

Do you think it would be beneficial to provide each roommate with a locking kitchen cabinet in addition to the aforementioned minifridge. How about a locking cab for the bathroom?

When feasible, add additional bathroom(s), ½ baths, sinks and/or kitchens.

Conveniently placed circuitbreaker electrical outlets.

Multiple heaters to prevent excessive fogging of the mirrors.

How can house rules be improved?

What would you list as the 3 most important rules for peaceful cohabitation?

If a landlord actually did all the extra things which YOU think would be helpful, how much more (percentagewise) do you think he will be able to get as rent for his property compared to a typical unmodified house?

What additional things can be improved upon?

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