Cleaning Up After Your Spouse – Do You Feel Like a Maid?

What is more delightful than walking into the bathroom (or bedroom, kitchen and living room) only to find other people’s crap lying all over the place? So much so that it becomes difficult to do anything, without first having to clean up something (that isn’t even yours) first? When you have to move someone else’s tissue, toothpaste, razors or makeup in order to simply brush your own teeth it is easy to become frustrated – no matter who you are. Plus, no one wants to walk into the kitchen to find that his or her spouse just made a sandwich (just for them) and left behind the breadcrumbs or forgot to put the mayo away. After all, how difficult really is it to clean up after yourself?

As adults and parents, we are constantly harping on children to clean up their mess but what happens when you constantly find yourself cleaning up after your spouse? Is that just part of marriage, perhaps what the preacher meant when he said, ‘“For better or worse?’” Or is it something more?

The first thing to realize is that ALL people have a totally different idea of clean.

For some, more anal types, everything has a place and there is a place for everything. These folks tend to come unnerved just to see a shoe out of place and likely for good reason. They are probably the ones who have taken the time to organize the house into neat and tidy little sections that make life easier. And the truth is that an organized space helps couples and families move around more efficiently with less frustration. So, to the organized spouse, all it takes to keep thing running smoothly is a few extra seconds of time from everyone to have the ‘courtesy’’ to put things back where they belong and leave rooms as neat as they found them in the first place. In order for the ‘‘organized house’’ to work EVERYONE has to take part and it is frustrating to see someone else, especially an adult, not pull his or her weight. So seeing shoes at the front door (when there is a shoe closet), bill strewn about the kitchen counters (when there is a bill file), and items left all over the bathroom sink (when there is storage a few inches away) is maddening.

However, there are also ‘spouses’’ (both men and women) who tend not to think very much of a little mess. They have a lazy streak, are always in a rush, and have the best intentions of tidying up’.later! They believe that the house should be lived in, and don’t mind stepping over toys. To them, doing the dishes right after dinner is simply a waste of time, especially since there will only be more to do after breakfast in the morning. They see nothing wrong with letting a little dirt (or baked in barbecue sauce) sit for a while. These are the kind of folks that would rather spend – in theory, one entire day cleaning EVERYTHING and happily shove things under the bed or throw stuff in closets in the meantime. No big deal, right? Unless of course they live with a neat nick.

Household expectations – as they pertain to clean and messy, are quite simply one of those things that couples don’t think about until after they get married. And normally, the whole issue doesn’t come to a head until neat spouse throws all of messy spouse’s things in tote boxes or the garage in a cleaning rage. Truth be told, it can cause issues. But there are a few things that couples can do to help ward off the war.

First of all, have a discussion. Talk about what you expect, what you want and most importantly why! You wont see eye to eye, but will at least gain an understanding. Chances are that ‘pigpen’’ otherwise known as the messy spouse, has probably been riding the coattails of Mr. (Or Mrs.) Anal for quite a while. And although Pigpen enjoys the order and neat-ness, they just assume that Mr. Anal will handle it for them. And why not, he always does. On the flip side, Pigpen may not see the need to alphabetize the pantry and doesn’t think that leaving her hairbrush, hairdryer, and makeup IN the bathroom sink is something to get upset about. To her, it’s not a mess and she doesn’t even expect her husband to clean up after her (even though he always does), so she sees it more as HIS problem than hers.

After the discussion (which probably won’t go very far without some name-calling and serious disagreement), it is time to find middle ground.

If you are the one cleaning up after your spouse ALL the time, you have to stop. Otherwise, you are just enabling the behavior. Decide you will not do another thing for the course of a week that pertains to cleaning up after your messy partner. And don’t. Then at the end of the week, they will be able to see just how much you do, and just how messy they are. Plus, when they cannot find a pair of shoes that match and realize the toilet is covered with dirty laundry they might just find their way over to the neat side of life. By the same token, YOU the cleaner have to NOT get mad, frustrated, or become unglued at the site of a mess left behind by your partner. This means no tote boxes and no wiping the counter every time you see a crumb.

What should happen is that the two of you will be able to reach middle ground. The cleaner upper may gain appreciation for the relaxed nature of the messy spouse, while the messy spouse may finally appreciate all the cleaner upper does to keep the home comfortable and clean. Or maybe not!The trick is finding the right amount of making a mess and cleaning up after somebody that you can handle and learning to somehow live with the rest.



37 Responses

  1. I understand this article is under marriage advice however, how would this work if children were involved? My husband makes a mess in the bathroom with beer bottles, bits of toilet paper, cigarette ash and boxes, dirty clothing, facial hair, spilled beer to name a few but having children that need to use the bathroom as well will not allow me to just leave his mess so he can see how messy he truly is.

  2. Nice article.
    I have been with my husband 23 years and nothing has helped. I have left his messes, he doesn’t care. I have offered suggestions, I have help him organize, to no avail. Now he says he going to do something and instead he thinks of everything he can to deter him from the task at hand then low and behold the day is over and there is no time left. Thats when I get the promises he will finish the next day which of course he doesn’t do.I have gotten mad, I have cried and cried but all I get are empty promises of “wait, you’ll see how I am going to make it better” NOTHING WORKS. I am so stressed and so tired of trying

    1. You have described my husband. I am so tired of it that I am considering moving out because of it. I think he seriously thinks my only task is to pick up after him because he does the more technical stuff and heavy lifting (neither of which I can do. You REALLY don’t want me trying to rewire something!) Since I can’t physically do things he can and he feels the burden I have offered to pay someone to do things I can’t. I don’t feel like I should be the maid simply because I can’t lift 100 lbs, etc. I work more hours per week than he does and I make an equal wage, he doesn’t financially support me. I don’t want to spend the very few hours I have per week to myself cleaning up stuff that isn’t my mess (and then have to be lectured because I moved his things).

      1. My husband is so annoying I clean up the kitchen and it’s like he sees the clean clutter fee space and immediately finds something he can place where I just cleaned . Our kitchen table is full of his random stuff like sweaters and shorts and work bags etc . So much of his stuff is on the table and in the chairs u cannot sit down to eat . I bought a key holder and he still places his keys wherever . Shoes lay in the kitchen, the middle of the family room floor. Drops his shoes anywhere . we have a designated area for shoes . Whatever he uses in the kitchen he doesn’t put away . He gets angry with me for moving his things but refuses to put them away himself . In the bathroom I bought a hanging basket for used towels . Still multiple towels laying everywhere . Hairs on the sink . Toothpaste in the sink. Toilet bowel dirty . I am not sure he has ever cleaned the bathroom . Married 4 years . Starting to regret this marriage . Sick of his stuff thrown all over the place . It very difficult to live with clutter .

        1. Debbie, seriously think about getting out now. Make a list of pros and cons for the relationship, and if the cons outweigh the pros, then get out. I have been married to my lazy ass husband for 33 years. He didn’t have a job for the first twelve of those years (he was a part time student). He doesn’t lift a finger either inside or outside our home. I tried all the suggested methods — don’t get mad, don’t clean up after him, calmly discuss his behaviour with him — nothing worked. I deeply regret staying true to my vows and wish I had left him, but I would have received no support from conservative Catholic family, and did not feel brave enough to do it on my own. One thing I am glad about is that we never had children. He didn’t want them. I wish you the best.

  3. My spouse works the night and is always tired. Which I can understand. However, I wish he would lift his finger to clean the dirt he leaves by the door and do a couple of dishes. I wish he would stop saying your just a stay-at-home mom you have time. “You do it” I cook, dust, vacuum, mop, do laundry, dishes, clean the bathroom, change linens, tidy messes, meal plan & take care of our child. I think we women are all stressed out by all we have to do. It never ends. Men don’t want to help. I just need to rant sometimes !

    1. You are right, we do need to vent sometimes. And I’m coming to terms with the fact that if I want things nice I just have to do it myself (This forum is helping me accept that). In my case the games aren’t worth it because the stress it causes me to stare at the trash is not healthy, when two months later he’ll look at it after I finally point it out and be surprised to see it, as if innocently a little bit confused as to where it came from or WHO left it there. There is definitely a time/impact balance that needs to be struck or else all memory of the incident could vanish rendering the demonstration useless or, in severe cases even backfire when they blame YOU for the mess being there!!! This strategy has been TOTALLY ineffective and in my severe case my time would be better spent just efficiently cleaning the house! And I’m going to try to do it cheerfully God dammit.

      1. I moved out at one point and when I came back the house was clean and I’m like oh I see you pick up after yourself when I’m not here. He goes “I just left messes all the time because it was so messy from you already that I didn’t think it mattered.” I am NOT messy. By the way. I’m back living here and I was gone last night I eith my sister and came back and he made a nice steak dinner for himself and left all the dishes and grime and seasonings everywhere…I’m Gonna snap. But he pays the mortgage so I guess I can’t say shit. Even though I work way more than he does, and I exercise, and I coach youth sports, and I help take care of my sister with cancer and her kid. On my days off I clean the house and do ALL the laundry, on his days off he plays video games from 8 am til 8 pm.

    2. Well your wrong because I’m the husband and the neat freak and my wife has never done any cleaning. I am on disability for chronic pain and still try to keep a clean house with 4 animals. My wife of 24 years just sits on the couch and does nothing to help . I take the dogs for walks , clean kitty litter, feed animals, make dinner, fix the cars, mow the grass, etc. she brushes her hair and leave the strands on the floor, sink,and shower. I’m so done !!! I plead with her to stop acting like a teenager and be respectful of my needs also.ugh !!!!!

    1. Not true! Women can be just as messy and inconsiderate. I know first hand because my wife is the messy one who will not put anything away when she’s done with it and has the audacity to complain about the mess. If I don’t clean it for her she loses her mind that everything is messy. It’s. All. Her. Stuff.

  4. Yeah…what if his standards are run down gas station bathroom where meth heads would look for a nicer spot? I have “left the bathroom” for longer than a week. Several in fact. Ask me if he cared…very occasionally he will help. Usually it is AFTER I’m stressing out because ppl are coming over. I have thrown his shoes out into the yard because his highness didn’t like using the only storage I had available and couldn’t just “walk in and oit of his shoes”. No changeI had to say “okay here is a corner behind where the other shoes are use that don’t leave them in front of the door”. He says pretty things like “I don’t want you to have to deal woth anything gross that you don’t want to… (Conveniently unrealistic and not pragmatic)” then proceeds to stop cleaning the 2 litter boxes that 6 cats are using. You see I’m back from visiting family and it can now be “dropped from his radar”. Oh I still want him to handle that 1 task consistently?…just remind him. He has actually made a point to thank me for all the hard work I do to make the house nice…and that’s it. No real offer to help consistently. He will fold laundry but only after it’s on the couch. Won’t take initiative to gather, wash, dry and if that chore isn’t needed that day doesn’t look for anything that could be done. And no he’s not a long haul trucker, or working the graveyard shift…he a remote 9-5 but sometimes he does have to get up at 6…the poor dear.

    1. OK so after several years of constant cleaning I left the bathroom too… The toilet bowl was a cheerful jack-o’-lantern shade of orange by the time he noticed. He made a point to let me see him began to begrudgingly clean the toilet. But get THIS- He seemed irritated with ME!!! Like I was the disgusting slob who let it go so long.

  5. I’m going through this. I’m at my wits end. I spend hours on my days off wiping pee off toilet rim, shaved hairs on vanity, toilet etc. Wiping dry food residue off counters, feeding animals, cleaning litter, mopping, washing walls, cleaning furniture cause off food drop etc. He starts 1 load of laundry a week and tosses n dryer for me to fold/ hang. He won’t hang up clothes and at this point, he doesn’t work. Rare for him to cook. He lately occasionally does some vacuuming, dishes n dusting. Not only do I want a comfy house for my family but anyone who may come by. He is on his phone or gaming too much. We’ve discussed it so many times it’s pointless. I made a chore list. I work full time and I handle bills, grocery etc. I feel alone n disrespected. I’m over it!

    1. I cannot count how many mean glares a day I give my husband. It gets old always being the responsible one and doing the right things.
      I feel used and just like a roommate .. I wish I could run away for a few days to have some peace and think for once. He’s a bully sometimes and it makes me truly sad.

  6. I used to go through this with my husband. I would do the dishes, everything is clean, stove wiped off..etc. and even before I step out of the kitchen….he wanted me to make him something to eat. This drives me crazy…it makes you ask yourself, “why did even bother doing the dishes?”

    His excuse was, “I didn’t want to get in your way, or I waited until you weren’t so busy.” So, I explained it to him like this….it’s like I’m washing the kitchen floor…and you’re standing right outside the door…with muddy shoes…then you wait till I get done and then walk across the floor leaving mud and saying “I didn’t want to get in your way.”

    So, my solution was this…before I do the dishes, I ask him if he wants anything to eat…because I’m only going to do these stupid dishes once. Plus, I only do the dishes once a day (or I would be doing them 5 times a day) and that’s a waste of water.

    Maybe some women think the solution is for your husband to do the dishes….yeah, well unless he’s professional dishwasher….you probably know what kind of dishes your going to end up with in the dish rack and what your glassware looks like. Trust me, save your sanity …. do your dishes only once a day.

  7. After 30 yrs of doing it all I finally have thrown in the towel . I have in the past tried the ole I won’t clean , cook , grocery shop , do laundry for a week strike in the past multiple times but it never worked ,he would just buy new clothes if all his clothes were dirty ” he in his entitled mind was too good to do his own laundry ” let alone clean a thing . I put up with this for 30 yrs mostly for the kids I didn’t want them to grown up in a dirty home and I prefer a clean home …the kids are now grown and they are not slobs . The entitled pig I married is now living life wallowing in filth , I refuse to touch or clean anything in the house …I simply don’t see it anymore just like he did for 30 yrs. I don’t give a sheet ! Now the tables have turned , now he cleans ! The pig it seems doesn’t actually like to wallow in filth . I may leave his sorry rump , I don’t want or need a selfish ,inconsiderate pigish man .This pig I married doesn’t even put a sheet on his bed , we have twin beds pushed together . I’m not his mother or his maid …no wife wants to get physical with a man she feels like she has to mother let alone a 55 yr old man who is to lazy to put a sheet on his filthy side of the bed .He can cook his own food , laundry ECT …he is an able bodied person . I am totally done and happy I reached this milestone . The only way I’m ever cleaning a space is when I live alone .

    1. We are having the mom/ child intimacy problem. We have been married for 10 years and he wonders why I don’t want to touch him when he’s my third child. To top it all off, his brother is living with us since October. His wife left him. I don’t even wonder why. But I have ended up with FOUR kids instead of two. I don’t work full-time and he makes decent money so I put up with it for now but I don’t know what will happen when the kids are gone.

    2. I am the opposite to these stories here. I have a husband who prefers to cook and do dishes more than anything else. Gawd I wish he would stay the eff out of the kitchen and learn a skill that would help him relate to men. He only relates to women and I struggle to have a conversation with any woman when he’s around as he dominates the room with his cooking and recipes.
      BTW he refuses to put the toilet seat cover down he says it’s only me that complains about that. He will not hang up his clothes until I bitch
      He also cannot wash dishes clean. I find food on them after they have been put away.. however I don’t want to complain as people will jump on my back telling me how good I have it but everyone’s level of tolerance is different

  8. I feel the ladies who commented. Same issues here! Hubby just doesn’t see or care when he makes a mess. Last night he had juice & this morning I see he spilled some on the counter, the floor & the coffee table & did not clean it up. I am so tired of cleaning after him. It takes 5 seconds to grab a paper towel & cleaning spray & wipe up that mess. He says I act like his mommy. I always tell him, then stop acting like a 2 year old & clean up after yourself! 😡😡😡😡 it’s not that hard to do.

  9. I’m the husband and we been married for three years nothing has worked for me. We have a toilet that you have to hold on down for it to flush all the way after repeatedly asking her for over two years to make sure she flushes it all the way she still doesn’t. I actually do the laundry, mop, sweep, pick up, clean toilets, take out the trash you name it. The only thing she contributes is making dinner, and leaving the kitchen a mess. Anytime I ask her to clean her mess or something I always get the same response “I’ll do it later” and when I ask why she didn’t do it “I forgot”. I can ask it in the nicest way and she’ll get angry and defensive. I’m at the boiling point which happens pretty often. I’ve done the going on strike thing not cleaning before I think it’s time to do it again and for longer

    1. Yeah what’s up with the defensiveness? I don’t get that. If you say you’ll do something repeatedly then don’t, wouldn’t any reasonable person be frustrated with that and maybe want to point it out?

  10. My husband works a tiring job and always has. When he is getting up for work I’m already at work. However tho, he gets up to a CLEAN home because it’s CLEAN when I leave for work, but when I come home I come home to a full on pig pen and this is DAILY! the bathroom counter had every product we own sitting on it when all he has to do is put it back on the shelf in front of him. He doesn’t use 1 wash cloth, no he uses like 3-4 daily so more for me to wash, he shaved and there will be hair every where! On the counter, the back of the toilet and in the sink. He then changes his clothes 2-3 times daily and just throws them on the bed or in the floor when they are CLEAN! He won’t even hang the damn things back up, hell I don’t care if they are in the floor or not I hang those bastards back up! Dirty or not IM SICK OF IT! Then in the kitchen he makes his lunch.. HE LEAVES EVERYTHING OUT! the bread will be completely left open, mayo and mustard bottles on the table and the mess he made with them on the table, every Tupperware bowl we own dirtied up or later out on the counter cos he was looking for the rite size bowl! GIVE ME A DAMN BREAK!! I have tried talking to him, reasoning with him, threatening him, withholding sex from him, not cooking for him, even not speaking to him and he could care less. His response is “That’s why I have a wife!” I told him his concept of a wife is what a maid is! I told him if wants a maid, then he needs to hire one! And if I’m the wife /maid then by hell I’m fixing to start getting paid for it! He works, but by hell so do I! It’s not my fault I chose to get an education to have a job that doesn’t require me to work in the heat and cold but I still WORK a stressful job and I’m not sitting around, I take care of people all day! He operates heavy machinery! Our son is completely grown and does not act like his daddy, and I’m so thankful my DIL doesn’t haft to put up with what I do.

  11. My rule. If you put something down and walk away it has 24 hours and then it’s trash. I’ve thrown away power tools, painting supplies, and this week the soup pot, the insulated grocery bags, his screw gun, everything left on the counters and several pots and pans. He didn’t run the dishwasher and preferred Jenga in the dish drainer – so all the dishes and most of the silverware is going. Enough is enough.

    1. I did the same thing years ago. My wife decided to rent a storage unit to hide credit card purchases. Now we have $20k debt for this stuff, half of which was never opened or used. When her credit card was maxed out, she stopped paying the rent for the storage unit. So they threatened to sell it or throw it away. Rather than claim her stuff, she decided it was too hard and just let them take it away.

  12. My wife leaves piles of clutter on every piece of furniture as if she’s claiming territory. Can’t even eat at the table or sit on our furniture. Every day I ask when she’s going to clean it up and she says, “soon, just get off my back about it”. This has been going on for years. Another annoying thing is that she buys too much refrigerated food and never eats it or throws it away. There are 10 cases ($50) of blueberries that have been molding for 2 weeks now.

  13. Wow. Ive read all the comments so far. I was so angry and I sympathize with you all. Im engaged to a man that says “I’ll do it later”. I have had a talk with him about being a team player helping each other out, and that Im not his mum. But this latest lazy spell is disrespectful. Tomorrow I’ll have my friend over but after that, I’ll stop cleaning entirely – I’ve quit! and Im treating myself to things I’d rather be doing. That feels fantastic just thinking about it!
    I’ll wear slip on shoes in the house when the floor gets dirty, and leave all his dishes, his mess where ever it lays. ( I may use that useful tip about having only having a pair of cups, plates, and cutlery) If mess is in my way I’ll brush it off the counter or kick it out of the way. If it gets really bad I’ll throw it outside for the world to see. Then when his friends and family come over unexpectedly he will tidy up. Funny that!

    1. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but he’s never going to change. I’d honestly think twice about getting married. Or postpone it until you guys are on the same page. I’m at my wits end

  14. Well, its nearly been a month of me quitting house work… well a role reversal- doing the things that he did which was practically nothing- make one meal a week, and occasionally take out the trash.
    The results have been interesting on both sides!
    My partner actually saw how lazy he was becoming.

    I noticed that once I took a step back from house work, being at ease with some untidiness, and stopping with constant reminders, things became better.

    After one week on strike he asked if I could use less dishes. His comment made me conscious that I did use alot so I became mindful about that. So I rinsed and reused my own plate and cutlery as I used them. Looks like he’s still washing up after he cooks.
    He goes shopping to prepare 2 dinners a week. He’s been making his own work lunches! Goes to the shops a buys a roast and a loaf of bread. Quick and easy stuff he’s okay with.

    Week2 he vacuumed the floor! (After he realised his muddy boots from the day before left crusty dirt here and there. I didn’t even ask him. That was a surprise.

    I’ll keep this going, and see how it goes.

  15. My husband of 25 years is an entitled slob as well. I’ve gone over and over my finances to see if I can afford to leave him but it doesn’t look good. I’d have to live in poverty and couldn’t afford my dog which is the only thing that makes me happy.

    What’s funny is he recently got mad because I didn’t thank him for sweeping the kitchen which I do 3 times a day because he’s such a slob. I asked him if he had thanked me for all the things I’d done that day and named them. No response.

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