Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My boyfriend and I are at the point where we're talking about moving in together. Problem is, he's a slob. I'm not a neat freak by any stretch, but there are dirty plates left on the bedroom floor, beard clippings all over the bathroom sink (all the time, forever), a toilet bowl that's yellow even after flushing ... it's gross, even for me. And, of course, piles of clothes, books, etc. all over the place.
We're both in our 30s and have dated for over a year. He's never lived with a girlfriend before (though his roommates aren't crazy about his habits either). People keep saying I'm going to have to "break him in." But I don't want to turn into the nagging mean mommy of the house. Any tips for setting us on a path toward hygienic and harmonious co-habitation?
-- Grossed-Out Girlfriend
He's never lived with a girlfriend before? You don't say. Sounds like he's been living happily free of female supervision, and common grooming norms, for years. You're dating a caveman, aren't you?
Look, most bachelors live by their own house rules. And then there are those who don't even have house rules. If you move in together, there must be some cleanliness standards and you don't have to be a nag or a mean mama to set them. Just let him know that you refuse to live among his refuse and then explain how easy it is to keep a clean home. Wipe up beard shavings: 15-30 seconds. Make the bed in the morning: one minute. Straighten out stacks of books and magazines: two minutes. Brush the toilet bowl once every two weeks: three minutes. Rinse dirty plates and put them in the dishwasher: three-five minutes. Convince your annoyed girlfriend not to move out: one-three days.
If he loves you and wants to live with you, he'll comply. And within a few weeks, he won't even remember or miss his brohemian lifestyle. Heck, he might even truly embrace this new cleanliness and take a shower every once in a while.
Here's what not to do: Do not follow him around, washing his dishes and mopping up his beard hair, hoping he will catch on and be inspired and begin independently cleaning, because that won't work. If he notices your efforts at all (and that's a big "if"), it will only be to reflect on how cool his girlfriend is for willingly (and quietly) cleaning up after him. All other subtleties will be lost and you will only grow increasingly resentful that you're shouldering the bulk of cleaning duties.
Talk it out. Tell him you're excited to move in together but there are a few basic things you want to discuss before taking the plunge, such as finances, and chores. Tell him that his messy ways are messing with you, and you need assurance -- and commitment -- that he can do better. He needs to clean up his act.
Be willing to meet in the middle (sort of) on some of this, as long as he stops living like there's a maid coming to tidy up after him. You're not threatening a white glove test, and you can even live with some clutter. And if the dishes sit for a few hours after dinner? Not the end of the world.
But for your sanity, and to keep the easy-going and loving dynamic between you two strong, you can't feel like the nagging no-fun babysitter. In fact, try saying it like this, in terms any man can understand: If he keeps it clean in shared living spaces, you can relax and keep it dirty in the bedroom.