What to Do When Mr. Clean Marries Mrs. Messy

by | Apr 1, 2019 | Resolving Conflict, Uncategorized | 66 comments

Resolving conflict over housework
Merchandise is Here!

What do you do when you have different standards for housework?

It’s Monday, the day that I usually try to tackle a reader question, and today I want to talk about what to do when you’re a little messy and he’s a neat freak.

But before I get to that, I’m excited about April! I’ve decided that this month I want to focus on small, practical things that we can do to feel closer in marriage. I want to get down to the nitty gritty and the practical, and I think it’s going to be a very HOPEFUL month! Honestly, most things in marriage can be solved if we tackle them early enough, before they get too huge. So that’s what we’re going to do over the month of April, but that’s also what we’re going to do today with this question.

I’ve actually talked about the messy/clean dynamic before, but I thought it was a good one to rerun because it’s such a basic problem so many people have, and we can learn some important marriage principles from it. So here was the question:

I have a really hard time cleaning, I hate it and my definition of clean is more like tidy. Even that, though, is a stretch for me. When I was living at home I used to fight so hard with my dad because my room was always a disaster and many times it trailed out with me. Even at work, I am messy as I go about my business but I clean everything up at the end of the day.

Once my husband and I were married, I would pick up after both of us. I was constantly picking up his dishes and socks. So many socks. Doing our laundry, cooking our dinners… Everything that I figured would make him think I could be a good house wife.  But that’s not me. So when my husband would travel on business, I began living in my house the way I normally would. It never really got to the point that I thought was terrible but when my husband would come home on the weekends I would make a mad dash on Friday to clean the house because I knew he would freak out. With my limited time however, it never really got “his clean”.

Now we are having it out because he is home and gets to see that my daily routine doesn’t really include cleaning. He’s really upset by this and wants me to clean more, but I don’t feel like that’s me. And we can’t seem to come to a compromise. I think it’s my house, too, and I need to be allowed to set some of the standards. What should we do to get past our conflict over housework?

I asked the question of how this couple can solve this a while ago on Facebook, and lots of people left some really helpful comments. One theme that was repeated a few times was “hire a maid”, and this can be a good solution for some. Personally, I tried the maid route at one point and it never worked. Maids come to clean, not to tidy, and if you have stuff lying around, they can’t do their job. So before the maid arrived, I had to massively tidy. It was more work for me than not having a maid! And tidying takes way longer than cleaning. Cleaning is not the problem; it’s keeping things in their place, especially when you have kids. And I also wanted to make sure my kids grew up knowing how to clean. So a maid isn’t always the best plan.

But I think the reason that a maid can’t always solve the problem is that when we’re having conflict over housework, there’s actually something bigger going on, and it’s this:

Most conflicts in marriage aren’t about the issue itself. They’re about the question: do you really love me? Do you value my opinion? Do you care?

When Mr. Clean Marries Mrs. Messy: How do you find compromise? (Hint: The key is to realize that what you’re fighting about is NOT REALLY WHAT YOU’RE FIGHTING ABOUT):

In a recent podcast, I discussed conflict in marriage, and the different forms it can take. Typical conflict resolution often doesn’t work because the problem is often not what we think it is (You can check out that podcast here). In this case, the husband wants to know, “do you care what I think about the house enough to leave your comfort zone“? And the wife also wants to know of the husband, “do you care what I like enough to leave YOUR comfort zone?” So it’s hardly surprising that they both dig in, because the issue is not how tidy the house is. The issue is, “do you care about me enough to change?”

That’s what a marriage is all about: it’s a give and take, and adjusting to one another, and finding a new way of living that works for both of you. But when we’re first married we’re often really insecure about that. We want to know that we matter. And the thought of having to change or do things “his way” is very threatening because it feels like he doesn’t love me for who I am. And this is just “who I am”.

Here’s the thing, though: when you married, you promised that you would now be “one flesh”. That doesn’t mean that you cease to exist, but it does mean that what he wants needs to be important to you now, too. And we are called to consider others interests ahead of our own (Philippians 2:4).

So if your husband isn’t happy with the home, that should matter to you, because HE should matter to you.

I actually wrote in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex about a very similar situation that my husband and I faced. I said:

When my children were six and four, I was very active with them. We ventured out to the library twice a week, to playgroup once a week, to women’s Bible study, to friends’ homes. We had other children in our home. We made crafts. We baked. Our home was fun, but it was also always a complete mess.

One day Keith sat me down and told me he was sick of coming home to a disaster in the living room. He could handle the basement being a mess; he could even handle their rooms or the bathroom being a mess. But he just wanted to open the door and see an inviting house.

I did not take that very well. I think the words “maid” and “Neanderthal” escaped my lips. But looking back, I can see how I was telling him, “I know what’s best for the kids; I’m home all day; so you need to bow to what I say.” My husband was not the kind who would retreat, for which I am eternally grateful. But I can see why many in his situation would. He was being told that his opinion didn’t count for anything, and that while he wanted a place in this world that reflected him, I was more interested in what I envisioned for the family.

Ladies, if you have already walked down the aisle, remember: he is your husband. His opinion about how the household functions matters, even if you’re the one who primarily cares for it. If something is important to him, it should matter to you. Some men retreat simply because they get the impression that they aren’t wanted, and so they try to carve out a place in the world where they can escape. Before blaming him for running away emotionally, ask yourself if you have done anything to push him out. And if you have, maybe it’s time to ask his opinion and start honoring it again.

If you’re always in fighting with your husband about housework, take a deep breath and think of this in its wider context. Should your husband’s opinion matter? Do you want him to feel like this is his home, too, or do you want him to retreat elsewhere?

If you married him, you made a promise that he mattered. So do something about it!

I’m not a naturally neat person, but I’ve learned how to put little habits into my day that make things work more smoothly. After my shower I make the bed and throw a load of laundry on. I keep the piles of papers on one place in the dining room, and clean off the kitchen counters, living room surfaces, and dining room table. When the girls were younger, every evening before dinner we would do a 15-minute tidy up (it’s amazing how much you can get done in 15 minutes). Honestly, if you just stick to little things throughout the day, the house will not get impossible.

Here’s another idea: Come up with your list of “my big 5 things”.

Each of you decide what 5 things will help you each feel like it’s home–the 5 areas he most wants tidy, and the 5 things you most need to be able to do.

Ask your husband which areas he really, really wants tidy. Maybe the front hall matters to him because it’s the first thing he sees. Maybe he just wants to see a tidy kitchen, or a living room without toys in it. Uncover what’s the most important, and then make sure to honor that. It doesn’t need to be onerous. And it’s just showing him that you value him, that you want him to feel at home when he is at home, and that you’re willing to go out of your way to make sure that he does.

That’s a good message to send to your husband. It keeps you on the same page!

And you can share your own top 5 ideas, too. (here’s a post on how the top 5 idea can help you resolve conflict!) That’s a method that I shared in 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage, and it does help each of you honor each other.

Are you PeaceKEEPING or PeaceMAKING?

There’s a huge difference between the two. And if you don’t get it right–you’ll never be able to feel truly intimate in your marriage.

There’s a better way!

With conflict over housework, as with most conflicts, remember that the reason for the conflict is usually not the thing we’re fighting about; it’s the search for the answer to that central question, “do you really love and value me”?

If we can see that this is really the issue, perhaps we’d have an easier time compromising and reaching out.

When Mr. Clean Marries Mrs. Messy: Resolving conflict over housework

Now, what advice do you have for us today? Leave a comment and tell us how you’ve resolved difficult things!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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66 Comments

  1. John

    The wife is messy?

    The husband is a neat freak?

    Is this some kind of April Fools day joke? I’ve never heard of such a thing.

    Reply
    • Faith

      This was us when we first got married 20 yrs ago. One thing I wouldn’t agree to was ironing his handkerchiefs. I did learn to put shirts on the hanger all facing the same way and actually keep a very clean house after all these years of practice! 🙂

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        It does make such a huge difference when you hang the shirts all one way, doesn’t it? 🙂

        Reply
        • Elizabeth

          Yeah, my husband wanted me to hang shirts all one way. No way. He is lucky they are hung up!

          Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It happens all the time! 🙂 Men are just as capable of cleaning as women, and women are just as capable of being messy. It’s a combination of personality and how they were raised. One of my sons-in-law is a super neat freak, but he’s also in the military. So there you go!

      Reply
    • Andrea

      We need a “like” feature on the comments for this blog! This was brilliant, John — thumbs up! 🙂

      Reply
    • Kelly

      Yes….I am Mrs. Messy and my husband is Mr. Neat & Clean. I have been that way my whole life and do try to stay tidy but not perfect. Unlike his mother who was a SAHM, I also work full time AND am currently in Grad school full-time in order to have better financial stability for our family since his earning potential is not that great.

      I don’t mind doing the laundry, however I despise folding it and putting it away!! While I am currently doing double-duty, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for my husband to pitch in extra to assure that the house is up to his level of cleanliness.

      Reply
    • KC

      Lol. I am married to a neat freak man. I would say most of the time I do appreciate it but sometimes we clash. His way is always correct u see but honestly I get busy but I work 50 hr weeks he works 40 So we have a great routine. He unloads the dishwasher when he gets home at 4 and I don’t get home till 630-7 but I try to load it But not every day. But he doesn’t complain he knows I work hard. He probably has only complained twice in 7 years. But I am sooo naturally messy I have to try so hard for his sake to not be messy. But for the sake of peace he has his panty shelf and his counter top and his cabinet lol. But it helps He is responsible for the living room. He did all the laundry for years but he got tired of it lol so now he does his own and I do my own. I was upset at 1st. But honestly I like doing mine a certain way and so does he so we have complete peace in those areas. Both husband and wife have to be willing to work together as team players for sure. ( we don’t have any children. I do wonder how that will change all this lol)

      Reply
    • John

      My life has been ruined because of a messy wife. I hide my pain until I can’t take it anymore and blow up into a jerk, yet it’s my fault.

      I only have 1 regret in my life and that’s having kids with a woman that’s messy.

      It ruins me in every day thinking to no end, yet hide it as best as possible for the sake of the kids. Can’t even get a divorce over it because of the repercussions.

      Run, run, run far away if you’re somewhat organized and clean if your girlfriend has a dirty car or bedroom. IT WILL NEVER CHANGE! She’ll ruin your life!

      Reply
      • muzjik

        Wow.
        What aspect of “messy” has ruined your life?
        Trying not to sound facetious but “messy” encompasses such a wide variety of cleanliness/tidiness standards and “life ruined” sounds so serious.
        Do you perceive it has an indication of selfishness or lack of respect for you?

        My husband (stereotypical CPA) jokes he should have known from my car when we were dating I had a higher tolerance for clutter/mess than he did. But it would wreck me to learn he thought I had ruined his life and regretted having our kids because, say, spattered food in the microwave registers with him before it does with me.
        But then he has his own version of clutter/mess too – household and tax files going back to 1993, appliance manuals from 3 DVRs ago, hundreds of cassette tapes and CDs, etc.

        Reply
    • richard

      I am getting very stressed out with living in a messy untidy house. I believe in cleaning and tidying up as we go along. My wife is very messy and untidy and we have many boxes and bags of ‘stuff’ everywhere . We have a son of 17. I work. My wife does not. I do a lot with household chores (clearing up, all sorts of tidying, cleaning etc) and don’t mind doing it. But my wife constantly leaves everything in a mess, will get something out (if she can find it) and does not out it away after. If I try and tidy up I am moaned at on the basis she will do it later and if I do it she will no find it again. I am not allowed to empty the boxes and bags and tidy up. It is like living in a warehouse and does not feel like a home. There is a not a single room that is even close to be tidy and I am beginning to feel there is something wrong with me for wanting to feel comfortable in my own house and find a place to sit down without staring at a mess and boxes. My wife does not seem to comprehend that this is affecting me a great deal and accuses me of being a licensing freak. I am not. I have been trying for several years to find a solution to the problem but am close to giving up. I have discussed it calmly and am meet with yes, I will sort it out – but it never happens. 6 months later she has not even unpacked her own suitcase after a trip and it lies on the floor in the bedroom. But I am not allowed to do it for her. I am close to walking out.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Richard, that’s so hard! Could she be a hoarder I wonder? It’s okay to want certain areas of the house tidy. It really is. I’d suggest telling her how close you are to the end of your rope and getting some counseling together, and making a game plan for how to keep the house tidier. Even if it’s just the bedroom and the living room, and she can make a mess in some other rooms. It is okay.

        Reply
        • Richard

          Hi Sheila, I have wondered if she has some hoarder traits. I know it is OK to want to have some parts of the house tidy so there is a place where one can sit and relax. I have tried to explain it for many years – we have discussed it, she says she understands and will do, but it just never happens in any room. Even the bathroom is a mess. She will not go to counselling. She says I am a cleaning freak and there is something wrong with me. After >15 years of trying to get her to understand I feel I may as well give up and either live in her messy world and stay miserable or leave and live in what I consider to be normal and be happy. It seems a ridiculous reason for splitting up but it is really getting to me now.

          Reply
    • Joe Schmoe

      Spare me your gender stereotype BS. I happen to be a man and I appreciate a clean and healthy living environment. I have pretty serious depression and ADD, having our space clean and tidy calms my mind, improves my mood and makes it easier to function. I am the primary cleaner in our home, I am happy to take on the task, it is something that I am good at. I put a lot of time and effort into having a clean house, but I find my spouse could care less. She will hardly do the bare min , leaving dirty laundry all over the floor, trash and half consumed drinks/food, she leaves crusty dishes piled in the sink, I could go on. I really only want the basics just rinse and stack your dishes, pickup the trash, put dirty clothes in the hamper, these things are so simple. Just be an adult and pick up after tourself! I feel actively worked against, unappreciated, and disrespected. It negatively affects the relationship. I am sure others feel this way too. We all have our struggles, and our partners should be there help support us, share the load, regardless of gender. Life should not feel like a burden. We need to recognize and appreciate the effort our significant others make. I love my wife, but sometimes I need a little help.

      Reply
  2. Julie

    Sheila,
    So I have a question. Recently when you were covering Love & Respect it was a BIG deal when the author wouldn’t put his wet towels away. Which is at the most a small thing once a day that covers a very small footprint of the house. Nowhere else was it mentioned that he was a slob that made his wife clean up after him. You seemed to indicate that this was unloving and even abusive. But when the wife is messy, or in your own case when you were actually verbally abusive to Keith, you recommend compromise. Why is one abusive and why is one in need of compromise? It seems to be the only difference is when the wife is “at fault” vs the husband.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Julie, I don’t remember when I said I was verbally abusive to Keith? I don’t believe I ever have been.

      The issue with the wet towels, as I have tried to explain before, is that leaving wet towels ON THE BED is quite different from leaving wet towels on the floor. If you leave them on the bed long enough, then all of the sheets and comforter and bedspread need to be changed. That’s a LOT of laundry that he is directly causing her to do, simply by not throwing the wet towels in the hamper, or hanging them up, or even just putting them on the floor. It takes no more time to put them on the floor than it does to put them on the bed. But by refusing to NOT put them on the bed, he is saying, “I don’t care about you enough that I would change this extremely simple, split second habit, even if it causes you an additional 15 minutes of work at minimum, plus the emotional pain of feeling not heard, plus potentially wrecking our bedding through mold.” Do you see how that’s a different category of thing than figuring out how to clean the front hall?

      Reply
      • Julie

        No, I guess I do not. In my eyes your “offense” seems to be on a much larger scale and more selfishness involved by large measure. Towels are regularly left on beds in my home and they cause none of the issues you speak of. If they did, while it would change the magnitude of the difference I would still come to the same conclusion I did above. But the difference still is that one is worth compromise on and the other is not, the only difference is the wife is the offending party. I see more and more grace applied to wives selfishness, laziness and sin and less to none applied towards men here lately. One is glossed over, polished up to the best light and the other always shouted down, shamed and pressured as abusive, sinful and damaging. It has become very apparent here lately and I don’t think it is healthy or Christlike.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Julie, what Sheila continuously calls for is that each spouse is thoughtful towards the other. The problem in the Love and Respect is that the husband was not called to be considerate in that situation, the wife was just supposed to deal with it. She’s actually making the same point in both posts–both spouses need to be considerate.

          I’m not sure why you see that as unhealthy or un-Christlike, to be honest. And I’m wary when people are quick to say “you’re just being selfish” without looking at the overall message being given, which isn’t selfish at all. The point is that Mrs. Messy needs to learn to be a bit cleaner, but Mr. clean also needs to understand that he may need to compromise a bit. It’s not one-sided, it’s that both are called to be thoughtful of the other. How is that not what Christ wants?

          Reply
          • Julie

            Here is where we disagree. First, Dr E had already let his wife have her way in the rest of the home. It was a museum. He had already more than compromised. He had loved. My problem is that this blog cannot see that and that it allows comments like the one below mine to smear and accuse good christian men freely, openly and proudly. The fact that hundreds of thousands of christian marriages have been helped by the book is totally disregarded. You take a situation where a man had already more than compromised and then over an action that takes a second and you call it abuse. You take a situation where a woman hadn’t compromised over twelve hours and it’s held up as some kind of ideal.

            There is something off in how men and women are viewed here. What the goal of this site has become. It has become so apparent to me.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Julie, I understand that many people have been helped by the book. My issue is that many have also been HARMED. You can read many of their stories on this post, where we collated many of the comments, and we’ll have a report coming out on it soon that will be available for the public.

            When a book has harmed people, and continues to harm people, it really doesn’t matter if it also helps people. If a drug had horrible side effects for 30% of people, but really helped 70%, it would be taken off the market immediately. This book is harmful. I spent a week detailing, using quotes from the book, exactly why. I wrote over 10,000 words on it. I did not take him out of context, but looked at what he actually said. It is a very dangerous book. Love & Respect has horrible teaching on sex, and it teaches women that they are to follow their husbands over God, which is idolatry. It also tells women that they are not to speak up against their husbands even when they are “drinking or straying”, except to say 1-2 sentences every few weeks. This is simply not healthy, and is not biblical. I am sorry if you cannot see that, but even if you cannot, please listen to the voices of those who were hurt. They matter. Please do not discount them.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            Julie, I understand your concern for Eggerichs. We’re simply concerned for people who left the hundreds of comments saying they were harmed by the book.

            It doesn’t matter what we think of the towel story or if we disagree. If you can hear the cries of people who have been hurt, abused, or wounded by this book and brush them off, that’s a problem.

            I know many people say they were helped by the book. But remember, the infamous medication thalidomide didn’t cause birth defects in all cases–in most cases, it helped the mom tremendously! But when it went wrong, it went really really wrong. And so it was taken off shelves. It’s the same problem here.

            Finally, as I have said again and again and as you will see quite clearly if you look at the other blog posts on this website, we do not advertise for one spouse to be elevated over the other on this blog. There are thousands of posts on this blog, and there are some saying women need to be more considerate and there are some that say men need to be more considerate.

            The goal of marriage is that both look more like Christ. If you have a problem with us saying, “We need to make sure we’re being thoughtful and not harming or abusing each other,” we simply can’t apologize for that.

            The conversation about the Love and Respect book has nothing to do with this particular article past this conversation that we have already had, so I suggest that if anyone has any more questions they start by reading the posts that we are discussing, since this conversation is starting to take away from the original message of the post (I’ll leave the comments up, but we want to steer the conversation back to the original topic so won’t be letting any more through, for or against Love and Respect)

            Read the original post telling the stories of women damaged by the teachings in Love and Respect: Your Stories of Women and Marriages Damaged from Love and Respect

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Ha! We commented at the same time….

        • Andrea

          I think that the wet towels on the bed in Love & Respect were just an indication of the much bigger problem of the book as a whole, as I think Sheila explained. This is an author who views women as masturbatory devices for men, so treating them as maids on top of that is extra offensive. A clumsy man who was never raised properly, but is eager to please by learning how to pick up after himself and how to bring his wife pleasure in bed is very different from one who feels entitled to living like a slob and demanding his physical release, and then even brags about that in a book that thousands of Christians take seriously (#9 bestselling book on Amazon).

          Reply
          • Andrea

            I should have said #9 bestselling MARRIAGE book on Amazon, obviously not the #9 bestselling book in general on Amazon.

      • Anonymous A

        I am not sure what Julie was thinking when she mentioned you being verbally abusive to Keith, but when I looked up verbal abuse on Wikipedia, and from my memory of other lists of verbal abuse- ” Name calling” is verbal abuse.

        So there is a question mark in my mind. When you called Keith “Neanderthal” was that verbal abuse? And were incidents like that a pattern in your marriage back then?

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Frankly no–she hasn’t actually called her husband a Neanderthal (it was a joke) and also she didn’t ever call her husband or me or my sister names. Ever.

          But just for clarification on the actual definition of abuse, name calling in an abusive way is not the same as calling someone a descriptive word–saying “You’re acting spoiled” in an accusatory way is not the same thing as saying “You’re worthless.” Very different. The name calling abusers use is done to get power, not simply say “You’re acting like a _____.” If my husband says “You’re being a real brat right now,” because I’m throwing a hissy fit and being a brat, that’s not abuse. That’s him calling me out.

          Reply
  3. endlesscleaner

    For me this part was really good: “Most conflicts in marriage aren’t about the issue itself. They’re about the question: do you really love me? Do you value my opinion? Do you care?”

    Last week after hearing the podcast I wrote about how I do almost all chores at home and how stressful that is. I havent talked to my wife yet but we did have sex. Why does that matter? Well we hadnt had sex for more than 2 weeks. We hadnt had any time for us at all. We rarely have time for us. I started to feel like she didnt care anymore. Didnt care about us. That I was just good as some kind of maid.

    I know I am doing these things for us but to hear a simple: “Thank you for all the things you do” would mean a lot. And also enganging in love making. I dont do it for sex because she doesnt have sex with me because of that. But I was feeling lonely and like she didnt care anymore. After having sex I felt that I could take on the world again. I did all the chores yesterday and today before going to work and I feel great. But I did it because I feel that she cares. She even thanked me in a sweet way for the things I do.

    I know I still have to talk with her about some things. For example I can do most chores if she can put the kids to bed. She sleeps with them and doesnt care when they go to bed. They can go to bed very late which leaves me doing chores and sometimes cooking until late in the night, sometimes 1:30 am. So I have to talk about that and some other things but you hit the nail with that it is often about other issues. I realize now that for me its about “Do you love me(even when I dont do all the chores?), do you care about my opinion when it comes to the kids bedtime? , do you care about me doing whatever I can to make life easier for you now that you study?”

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great insight that you have now! I’m so glad.

      I hope you can continue to talk to your wife about this stuff, because it does matter. Even besides your relationship, your kids really will do better and sleep better with a consistent bed time and with them being in their own rooms. That actually is really important for their own emotional well-being. So keep talking! Keep working for intimacy. You’ll likely like tomorrow’s post, too, because we’ll be dealing with a lot of these things!

      Reply
    • John

      It’s ridiculous to make blanket analysis of love vs filth. If you value common sense, then you’d be wise to listen to your mind and heart. If something isn’t right, stop doing it. People don’t change! They only get gray hair, wrinkles, and depression for forcing a square peg in a round hole.

      Everyone Should stop looking around every corner hoping that answer will fix the problem. It’s right in your face and if it doesn’t work, you got a MoveOn.

      Don’t overthink it as most people have obviously done on this blog.

      Reply
  4. Lindsey

    I feel like picking up after yourself is a character issue and an issue of respect for others and your home. So, she shouldn’t feel justified saying “that’s just not me” because in reality it’s laziness, which is a flaw we should all be working to overcome. But, by that same token, why was she picking up his dirty clothes at the beginning? He should be doing that. Or else He is the one being lazy.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      It IS NOT A CHARACTER FLAW!!!!!!!!!!! Good grief. We messy people are not horrible people. Part of it is focus. I just do not see it. When I try to it completely exhausts me. I don’t know how to explain it. I have a million things going in my head: projects, ideas, etc. My time is so organized, but I am in my mid 50’s and I’ve tried, but I will never be Miss Clean. It isn’t me. I did try to keep the top 3 areas my husband wanted clean, but not the whole house. I wish I could explain. I am looking through something and a kid calls I leave and go take care of the kid and forget about the mess I had pulling something out. Phone rings, it is my mom when I am in the middle of something else then time to cook dinner.. I have gotten better. But those of us messy people are just different. Don’t you DARE say we have bad character. I have been faithful for 30 years. I am enthusiastic about sex. I have supported him in every single way. I have been a good mom. So what if I am not a great housekeeper. there are much more important things. I have a friend who has a perfect house but talks down to her husband. I like my way better.

      Reply
      • Trisha

        I just love this site! It is so awesome! I know I am posting really late on this topic, but I had to compliment and thank Elizabeth for saying that it is not a character flaw to be messy. I know exactly what you mean about it being a focus issue. I have Graves Disease and my whole mind goes into a different planet sometimes. And my husband was totally trained on cleaning, and actually loves to clean! My neighbors can’t stand it, and everytime I mention that I have cleaned something, one of them very hatefully says I don’t clean a darn thing. (Not the word she uses, lol) I know there is a lot of jealousy because we have a great marriage, and I am really good at other things. And they aren’t married and drink a lot. I handle all the bills, talk with people from the hospital billing and work at payment plans, as he goes to the hospital with a few medical issues. Plus I handle other business matters and do the cooking. It really hurts when I get judged, but I have learned not to let it get to me. My husband is happy with me and I am happy with him, and we balance each out with everything. I am very grateful and feel very blessed. I am happy with people who compulsively clean, like they do, and I am also happy with people who have worked things out with being messy. Everyone has their own way with dealing with life’s issues. Acceptance is the key. Thank you again Elizabeth, and others who agree with us. Much love and peace to all!

        Reply
  5. Denise

    I’m not messy, but I would say my husband has a more organized eye than I do. For instance he can get more dishes in the dishwasher than I can most days. He says, with humor, that he should make a youtube video about loading the dishwasher properly. I don’t get offended when he reorganizes the dishes in the dishwasher. But I have heard it is an absolute no no to tell a husband you can get more dishes in the dishwasher.

    He also likes the cans in the cabinets to have the labels facing exactly forward etc.

    I think the difference between Sheila and Eggerichs is that Eggerichs never talks about attempting to change. He practically brags that he just can’t be bothered. Sheila was the primary house cleaner and Eggerichs sounds like he never attempted do anything around the house.

    Most times, I do more household chores than he does. But he would never add to my burden by throwing wet towels on the bed or not bothering to get a candy wrapper all the way to the trash. Honestly he would have been shamed by his parents for such behaviors. Even my dad who did little to help around the house didn’t add to my mom’s burden by not leaving wet towels on the bed. Maybe this is a reflection from the days of old/or being poor when people took better care of their belongings and not everything was seen as disposable. My father and father in law were both in the military so maybe they’d learned a higher expectation of neatness.

    I’d personally be embarrassed to send my son or daughter out in to the world without teaching them simple courtesy to others.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Messy wife married to tidy husband here as well…my thoughts…They are both working. They both should be cleaning up the house. He should be showing his love by helping with the household chores. I like the ideas of what’s most important to each of them and then that can feel more manageable. Also they need to consider why they feel the way they do about cleaning. It is just as much about mindset as anything else. She doesn’t need to “be”disorganized to be herself. Why is she “married” to that version of herself? Is it a control thing? Does he not help, and she feels annoyed by it?

    Reply
  7. Mikayla

    My husband is tidy and I started out messy, but now I enjoy being tidy, too! Unfortunately, I have friends who are in the opposite situation, where they are tidy and husband’s messy, but the husband won’t really help. Any advice on what to do to help those wives reach their husbands to let them know how crazy they feel in a way that’ll actually get husbands moving?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great question, Mikayla! I actually wrote a book about that (that’s where the blog title comes from–To Love, Honor and Vacuum). So that may help! I think the big thing is to talk about it. We’ll be talking more about how exactly to do that tomorrow and Wednesday!

      Reply
  8. EM

    I was also messy when we got married and my husband liked things neat. I did ok at keeping things tidy before kids – it was easy enough in a 1 bedroom apartment. But when baby #2 came the wheels really came off the wagon! He would come home from work to a mess, after I felt like I was giving my all taking care of the kids all day. He would get critical and I would be crushed, feeling like he didn’t love me enough to keep his criticism to himself. Didn’t he know it was impossible to keep a house clean with a toddler and a baby?

    He told me to have routines and to treat it like a job and I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. My parents were both creative types who worked full time so there were no household routines! We would clean like mad for a whole day before company came and it was miserable. When I was older and my mom worked more we had a cleaning lady. So I had never been taught how to keep house.

    I honestly was feeling like he was a critical, unloving person and had a very “poor me” attitude. Then a friend told me about FlyLady, an online housekeeping training program. I tried it as a last ditch effort and finally learned how to keep house with routines. And guess what? My husband turned back into the loving man I married! He wasn’t a jerk, he was just stressed out coming home to a mess every day. And I was surprised to learn how much more peaceful I felt when things were running smoothly at home. We could have friends over without stressing out over the house. I didn’t wake up dreading the mess I would face when I got out of bed. I am thankful every day that he pushed me to grow as a person and learn a better way to do things!

    That being said, to address the original question, she does say she was constantly picking up “his socks and his dishes.” If he cares about a clean home, he definitely needs to be picking up after himself, not leaving his things everywhere and expecting her to clean up after him. That’s something we dealt with too…once I became neat I realized he leaves a trail everywhere he goes. Still working on that one! Anyway, we now have 4 boys, a busy schedule, and a big house and I am able to keep things going without a cleaning lady, something I never thought I could do. And he has become more understand if things get messy during a particularly busy week. He doesn’t criticize anymore because he trusts that I really am trying my best now.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      That’s fantastic, EM! I think it is so hard for a lot of people to understand the idea of getting into a cleaning routine if they didn’t grow up with that. And it CAN be so freeing! But I also agree with your point about him picking up after himself–if you want the house to be tidy, pick up after yourself!

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      EM–I totally agree. A routine makes such a difference! And I know I thought of staying at home as a job, and it really did help me get things done. Nothing wrong with that at all!

      And I do agree with you about how he needs to pick up his stuff, too.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Okay, I really need to stop basically leaving exactly the same comment as my daughter at the same time. 🙂

        Reply
    • Lindsey

      Yes!!! I love flylady! Her online program is free, and if you are someone who struggles with being neat, please do yourself a favor and check out her website (www.flylady.net). I have her book “Sink Reflections”, and it’s so practical and she’s so nice!

      Reply
  9. Ashley

    I think with things like this understanding personality types helps sooo much. I know you have talked about Meyers-Briggs quite a bit. More recently I heard about the Enneagram. I’m a Perfectionist on that one—definitely the neatest person in the family! I think when we understand ourselves better and understand those we love better it helps us to have more compassion for them and makes us more likely to compromise.

    Reply
    • Katie/unmowngrass

      The Enneagram is so useful!
      Also, unlike Myers-Briggs, we do move about on that one. That’s what the arrows are for.
      One direction for when we’re stressed, one for when we’re healing. They’re kind of like, the indicators for when we’re about to move up or down a level (towards healthier or unhealthier) of our base type.
      So for example, I am a type 4, the romantic, the idealist, the observer. When I am close to going down a level, I go to a type 2. A healthy type 2 serves people for the joy of serving (or, out of kindness even when they’re angry), but an unhealthy type 2 serves people resentfully, ie, “when are you going to notice how much I do for you?!”, and I have gone both ways when I’ve tended to a type 2.
      When I am about to go up a level, I go to a type 1. The organised type. But it’s just as likely that I’ll end up hyper-focusing on organising something that doesn’t really need it, like my sock drawer (which, other than all being in the same drawer, doesn’t actually need any further organisation, it’s just, open drawer, grab socks — the first pair I put my hand on — the end), as it is that I will end up organising something that’s going to be actually useful in my life. But it’s still taking me up a level in my type 4, perhaps to be more of an accute observer, rather than taking me down, such as making me more resentful in a “I will withdraw and if you really loved me you’d notice and you’d follow” kind of way, like type 2 does for me.

      Not that type 2 is automatically bad and type 1 is automatically good or anything. ALL of it is relative to where we start from. Rebecca’s comment further down makes it seem like perhaps she goes to type 1 when she’s about to go down, maybe, because she wouldn’t be a type 4.

      Reply
  10. Kate

    What type of delusional person does one have to be to leave a trail of mess in their wake? Goodness! Have the darn decency to pick up after yourself. I have seen animals cleaner and tidier than some of these husbands who leave their poop….i mean….their messy everywhere they go! This is the behavior of a two year old not a grown adult male.

    I swear, if i ever see such immaturity in my future husband he will get a piece of my mind (in loving manner of course). It shows utter disrespect to another human being when you don’t clean up after yourself. When i’m at people’s house i even clean the plate, cups, forks, spoons, etc. i ate off of. I can’t imagine being rude like that. Unbelievable!

    Reply
    • Aimee

      There’s a lot of judgement here. We need to understand that people have different gifts. Many people who are good at tidying and keeping things clean don’t realize it is a struggle for others because it is easy for them. In the same way that dealing with a large group of children is second nature for me but completely overwhelming for others. I am a messy person. My husband is much more tidy. It isn’t that I dont care. I literally dont see the mess until it becomes so large that it is a much bigger project to deal with. That being said, I am getting better but we’ve been married for 16 years. A Slob Comes Clean blog helped me to realize there other people like me who care but struggle, and has given me some tips from that perspective.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m like that with organization. I’m such a big picture person that I find details incredibly overwhelming. So over the last 10 years I’ve developed all of these systems and checklists and spreadsheets that make it easier for me to function that way. I know it’s important, and it has to get done, so it’s up to me to figure out how to do it in the easiest possible way that works for me. I’m actually pretty organized now! My more naturally organized husband has a harder time locating things than I do! 🙂

        Reply
      • Lindsey

        I feel like it’s a lack of training problem when we’re talking about picking up after yourself. I mean, if you use a dish, take it to the sink, don’t leave it in the table. Parents used to teach this basic courtesy to their children. Personality may make one person less organized than another, but if someone is dropping their clothes on the floor when the hamper is two steps away, or they’re leaving their dishes on the table, then I feel like they weren’t taught, and as an adult they need to be responsible and teach themselves to have a base level of courtesy for the other people who share their home and respect for the belongings themselves. I think that’s why Kate said it “was the business of two year olds”.

        Reply
        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          I’d agree, Lindsay. As someone who is a very messy person married to a very messy person, when I leave a dish in the living room it’s not because I don’t know HOW to put it in the dishwasher–it’s because in that moment I just don’t want to. And so I don’t. 🙂

          That’s why Connor and I have found it so helpful to have “non-negotiable zones”. The bathroom can’t be messy, for instance, and if something needs to be cleaned it is cleaned right then and there. And every night we gather up any mugs or dishes etc. around the house, on the table, or on the counter and put them all in the dishwasher and turn it on if it’s full. Because then even if we are lazy during the day, it’s still taken care of and not just one person’s responsibility.

          However, when I’m stressed I go into hyper-neat-freak mode. And during those times, Connor doesn’t wait until the evening to put his dishes away. He just puts them away immediately. Because at its core, housekeeping is about showing appreciation and respect to the other. When I’m not stressed, I don’t care if it’s clean all day as long as it’s clean before bed. But when I am stressed, he adjusts because he knows that’s how he can best be considerate to me and show me that he cares about me.

          Reply
        • Aimee

          So, it may be lack of training for some, but not always. I was trained by my mother. I do certain things well like always taking my dishes to the sink or dishwasher, but I will leave cupboards open and leave the supplies from a project laying around. For me, I think it is a tendency to distraction and an inability to multitask. This is something I work on and make an effort.

          I’m just saying, I struggle with orderliness and my mother did train me. Some other people may struggle with patience, generosity, attentiveness, or any other number of things.

          I have cried many tears and spent a lot of time in prayer over this issue over the years and I really felt like a horrible failure for a long time. What kind of stay at home mom can’t keep her home? This is my job. Now I know I am working at it and getting better at it with the Lord’s help. I dont want another messy Mom to feel like I felt.

          Reply
          • Mina

            I hear you! Also recovering Messy Mom here, and I appreciate both this article and your comment.

  11. Rachel

    I used to be so neat and organized as a teenager, but as a married mama with one little boy and one school age boy, I just can’t keep up with that same standard anymore. I also recently learned that I definitely have minor scoloios (20% spinal curvature), which has been causing my chronic pain, so I just have to let certain things go even though I stay at home. I do what I can and grant myself grace for the rest. That said, there are certain things that I don’t and can’t let slide. I have to feed my family, I have to care for my toddler, I have to do the dishes, and I have to do the laundry. Other than those things, I also try to get one other chore done every week–like the bathrooms one week; the kitchen stove, sink, and microwave another week; dusting another week. And things just aren’t as tidy because of toys and boys. 🙂 And I can live with that.

    Reply
  12. Ingrid

    I totally agree that we need routines and compromise, etc… However, I’d like to offer a different perspective as the enneagram type 1,recovering legalist. It can be incredibly healthy for the neat one to be forced (by circumstance or chooce not a grouchy spouse) to relax their standards. Mom to a toddler and a taby (not quite toddler, not quite baby) and being pregnant again has forced me to recognize an idol of control and a faulty sense of worth. The amount times my husband has reminded me that the mess and incomplete to do list doesn’t reflect my value is frankly ridiculous! If I’d been getting the opposite message and critiqued for my housekeeping, well, I’d have internalized a message of me not even having value. A lot of this has to do with season though too. The original poster’s question is clearly in a very different season of life, which changes everything.

    Reply
    • Ingrid

      Oh! But I will add that the single most helpful thing in the tidying area is minimalism! It isn’t nearly as overwhelming to keep the house at least sonewhat sane in stressful seasons if you don’t keep a lot of nonessentials!

      Reply
  13. Mary

    I love your take on this Sheila!
    There’s another angle I’d like to take on this and how it relates to our personality types. For those of us who are “neat freaks”, it matters greatly and can even become a mental health issue.
    I grew up in a borderline emotionally abusive family. The place was always chaotic and untidy (unless we were expecting company!). And often dirty too. As a child I had all the hallmarks of developing OCD. As a teen, I was often overwhelmed and depressive. I learnt to cope by retreating from my environment into books and music. I am an INTJ, although I never would have realized it at the time.
    When I got married, I was the messy one. I didn’t know how to be anything else! But over the course of some years in a healthy, loving relationship and the safe space of our own home, I learned how to clean and tidy. At first I did it for my husband (also INTJ) but then I discovered how my own mood lifted in an orderly environment and how welcoming it is to come home to a calm space. Those early symptoms of OCD are long gone and, although I am inclined to mild depression, keeping my home ordered and calm (we have 3 kids – it’s not perfect!) helps my state of mind immensely.
    If you genuinely don’t care whether your space is tidy or not and your mental health is in a great place, that’s your personality and that’s great. But if you have a spouse who does, it is REALLY important that you honor that need in them. I think, Sheila, that you made some great suggestions about how that can be done by just fixing a particular area as they like it (entry hall or sitting room for example). It can make all the difference!

    Reply
    • Kate

      I’m the same way, Mary. A messy house literally gives me anxiety! That’s why i’m a minimalist. And i think MOST people prefer a tidier living space too it’s just that over time they collect so much junk it starts to accumulate without their notice. That’s why one must be INTENTIONAL about everything one does. I remember watching 3 episodes of Hoarders and stopped because i was having a panic attack! You can’t even began to imagine how much peace of mind, calm, and tranquil i feel at my home. I actually feel eager to come home, unlike a lot of people i know. Let’s just hope my future husband is not the opposite of me. But by the sound of many married women, it’s the husbands that are messier than the wives. I’m prepared man. lol!

      Reply
  14. Katie/unmowngrass

    I think fundamental differences in our definitions of tidy play a role here. I had a big epiphany when I saw a video by ClutterBug on YouTube detailing the 4 different types of organisation. Some people (maybe 70%) like visual “simplicity”, ie, a magazine-home level of stuff on display, just focusing on their decor. And some people like visual “abundance”; they like to see all of their stuff, or they tend to forget about it.

    Also, unrelated to the above, some people (I think but I’m not sure, that this is more like 50/50) like things to be easy to put away. They like big storage bins and just the bare minimum of organisation, eg. a box for “cables”. And some people care more about things being easy to locate when they need them. They like much more intricate systems, boxes with lots of little segments. Their spare cables will all be labelled, each inside a toilet roll tube, decorated with scrapbook paper, colour coordinated for different rooms, appliances or household members depending on personal preference.

    So the definition of tidy will be different too. For example, my Mum (visual simplicity, easy to put away) thinks that by gathering all of my things into one pile from around the room/house, she has “tidied up” more of the room. But I don’t. I am a visual abundance, easy to find when I need it, person. So I think that a bundle of unsorted objects is much much more messy than a number of neat piles, each with a specific function, even if my number of piles does take up more physical space than her one bundle.

    And there isn’t really much compromise in this. It is one of the things that just needs to go one way or the other, and somebody will be happy, and somebody will be frustrated and just need to find a way to get used to it.

    Reply
  15. Matt B

    I decided to search about this issue and this was a site that popped up… I’m hoping someone can offer me advice on this.
    Let me lay out the ground points:
    -I’ve been married for 16 years, retired military and the neat freak of the house.
    – I’ve been working my first civilian job 10 hours a day with a 1 hour transit time.
    – Wife does not work and stays at home with the dogs.
    -I have two teenage kids that are both in school.

    This issue I’ve been having is she can’t keep up with the house even though she has roughly 7 hours of alone time with it. I’ve tried talking to her about this but it ends up being more of arguement than anything else.
    When I retired from the military, she quit her previous job and we both agreed that I would go to work and the house would be her responsibility.
    My kids and myself for the most part do our own laundry which leaves her clothing and the common laundry… aka towels and such… there hasn’t been a day where I can see my laundry room floor.
    My bedroom has looked the same since before I started my current job… my side spotless her side piles of clothes pushed up to the sides of the walls… and the master bathroom is pretty much the same way.
    The kitchen is usually the only thing that consistently gets cleaned… she translates a clean kitchen to the house being cleaned.
    I have no expectations for her to clean my kids rooms as its their responsibility, just the common spaces.

    I think that about covers it. I’m at witts end and its driving me nuts. Going to work for about 12 hours and I’m seeing no return when I get home. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Matt, that is hard! I think the only way through this is to sit down and talk about it. Tell her what parts of the house are important to you. Ask her what she thinks a fair division of labour is. Ask her what she wants her life to look like. Just start that conversation. And it is okay to say, “I feel like I work really hard, and it’s difficult to come home to a house that looks really messy. I want to feel at home when I’m at home, and I’m not feeling that right now. Can we talk about how we can each feel at home and each feel like we’re contributing and a team?”

      Reply
  16. Kb

    My question is about expectations. My husband is a bit neater than I, I can admit that. I do clean and does clean too, but he always critizes my cleaning. Saying I clean like a child and just try to get it done fast. But most of the time I spend hours doing the small things and even cleaning things constantly. He pokes fun and says that I’m not a maid, but a good cook. I have tried to make compromises and even asked him to explain before, but I still can’t get it to his level. It causes me anxiety, because he will always mention something I need to do. I handle most of the chores, cooking, and taking care of dogs and try to make it easier on him. I feel so discouraged and like what I do doesn’t matter because he just nit picks, and I try to accomidate it. I don’t know what to do… I just feel like a let down and a bad wife.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi KB,

      That sounds like a really odd dynamic. So you do all the work and he criticizes you for it and says it’s not good enough? That’s not actually a healthy dynamic. Perhaps you could say something like, “I’m happy to try to clean the home, and I’ll do what I can. But if you’re not happy with it, you’re more than welcome to clean it yourself. If you don’t want to clean it yourself, though, then I’d appreciate it if you would simply thank me for what I do rather than criticizing me, because that’s very hurtful.”

      Reply
  17. Niki

    We have this problem. He wants me to be cleaner. I have a difficult time figuring out how to stay organized. That is the biggest for me, and also having energy to do it. Organizing anything takes me much mental and physical effort. My husband will put me down in front of others and criticize everything I do. That makes me not want to try. The kicker is I tell him I’m overwhelmed and he doesnt understand. He doesnt really help either. He will “wash the laundry” but never does the actual work of folding. On top of all the belittling, he still complains about not getting sex from me. I guess my emotional tank is just empty. I don’t know how to fix it. I do the best I can, but it’s never enough. I have a full time job too with kids that have activities. I’m stuck. (I agree maids dont work, tidying constantly is overwhelming

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Niki, this sounds like some really difficult relationship dynamics that aren’t healthy. It’s not right for someone to criticize you like this, and especially in front of others. And if he’s expecting all of these things from you without being willing to give, then something’s wrong. I’d suggest trying to work through the emotional needs exercise here, and if he’s not willing to do that, then he may not have your best interests at heart. It may be worth seeing a counsellor who understands dynamics of unhealthy relationships. I’m sorry you’re walking through this!

      Reply
  18. Mike

    My situation is a slight variant. I’m male, and I really like a clean and orderly house. I’m a home designer and renovator, and take pride in my home. My wife has a form of OCD where she has anxieties about germs, but is totally messy. There are piles of laundry, boxes, etc. of things that haven’t been dealt with in years. Her OCD paralyzes her from doing anything. I’ve accepted her illness, but the problem is that she won’t let me do the cleaning instead. I’d love to do the laundry, and clean/organize the messes is the house, but she firmly won’t let me go near any of it. I’ve tried every trick in the book, and suggested counselling, but she won’t have anything to do with it. It’s been 25 years like this and, now that the kids have flown the coup, I’m ready to call it quits. I’ve told her as much, and I think she doesn’t take me seriously. I know that if I pull the plug it will shatter her and our great family, but staying in this situation is going to be the death of me.

    Any suggestions?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, Mike, that does sound like a real mental illness. But it also means that she does need to seek help. What about the children? Can they have an intervention with you?

      Reply
  19. SN

    If he doesn’t like the home, he can clean it himself or move out.

    Reply

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