A filthy environment is a place nobody likes to be in. No matter who you are and how much you hate cleaning up, anything can get up to a point where you have to start tidying up the place – but some people take a little bit longer to go past that threshold.
So, what do you do when someone else isn’t cleaning up and you’re always the one with the broom in your hand? You ask for help, of course!
You can always say “Could you give me a little hand cleaning up?” even if you haven’t made a mess at all. “Look, can you clean up after you’re done?” is a little bit more direct, but sometimes necessary.
If you’re worried about a bad response, you can always be a little bit more careful about it – in a non-confrontational, indirect way -, that’s always a good way to do things.
How to politely tell someone to clean up after themselves?
Lead by example
The very first thing you should do when you want people to clean up after themselves is to clean up after yourself!
This might seem pretty straightforward, but a lot of people do not realize they are leaving a trail of dirt and filth behind them – and you don’t want to be the guy that’s both guilty and pointing fingers at the same time.
Make sure you have the moral high ground before you ask people to do the right thing. Most of the time, when someone sees you cleaning up, they’ll start doing the same.
Make sure that your role model function does not turn into the opposite, for example by starting the vacuum cleaner at inappropriate times.
A kind word goes a long way, especially when it’s chore-related.
“Could you do me a favor? Could you clean up before you move on to doing other things?”
A short explanation like this could be the difference between being living in filth and having a clean room.
Then again, you don’t want to be the guy that’s constantly asking people to clean after themselves – but sometimes you have to be. If you end up repeating yourself, you can be kind and put your foot down at the same time.
“Look, I don’t want to be the bad guy here but we need to keep things clean”
Something like this is the perfect way to do this. Keep in mind you don’t need to go nuclear if someone forgets to pick up after themselves, sometimes people forget to clean up – especially during the stressful times we’re living!
Keep things non-confrontational
Don’t turn something simple into a full-blown battle. There’s no need to do that. Even though you might feel upset, you need to cool down before you ask something like this. You might end up with pent-up anger from seeing everything dirty – so take a deep breath!
Think about it like this: you have to ring the bell before you decide to kick the door down. You might salvage the door that way – or in this case, your relationship with whoever isn’t picking up after themselves.
Don’t make it about someone specifically
To keep things non-confrontational, you need to avoid addressing people specifically. You want to avoid things like “you’re always leaving a mess” or “you never clean anything”.
What’s the point of doing this, even if you would be right on calling someone out like that? It will get you nowhere. It’s also rude. It’ll probably end up with both parties extremely upset – not only that, the place will still be a mess because nobody is going to clean anything!
Make it about uncleanliness in general
Try to make a point about the situation in general and avoid pointing fingers. What you want to do is say something like “the table is filthy, maybe we should clean things up a little bit”.
Whatever it is you say, keep in mind the tone you use. You don’t want to come off as passive-aggressive, you want to sound neutral.
Body language does help as well: “this table is filthy” while looking at someone might come off as aggressive – but “this table is filthy” while you start cleaning, is completely different.
Explain why cleaning up is important
If you decide to take a more direct approach and talk one-on-one about the specific situation, it’s always good to explain why we need to pick up after ourselves. There’s no reason to treat anyone like a child, but a good reminder of why hygiene is good never hurts.
For example, if the kitchen is a mess, you can explain why it’s important to keep plates, knives, and the like as clean as possible at all times (that’s where bacteria accumulates, rust dulls knives, etc).
Prepare a basic speech if you’d like, but don’t go over-prepared
If you take everything listed so far, you have more than plenty to go with when you have to ask someone to pick up after themselves. You don’t have to use everything listed, but they are all good weapons in this battle.
Remember that you don’t want to perform a monologue, you’re simply asking someone to clean up their mess. Be kind, be non-confrontational, and be brief.
If you can keep your head cool when you ask, then it’s not necessary to prepare anything. But if people leaving a mess and not cleaning up makes you upset, you might want to rehearse a little bit before you do what you have to do.
If necessary, roll with the punches
After you have asked someone to clean after themselves, things can get a little heated no matter how polite you were. This is normal. Don’t take it personally. People can feel attacked or hurt after you ask – even if you were right to ask in the first place.
No matter what they say, roll with the punches. Don’t engage in the confrontation. Sooner or later that person will calm down and see that you were right.
What to do if someone doesn’t listen when you ask them to clean up after themselves?
First of all, don’t get upset
There are countless reasons why someone won’t pick up after themselves. They might be dealing with a stressful situation, they might’ve been brought up that way, or they might have a higher tolerance to dirt than you. It doesn’t matter. You need to stay calm to win!
If staying calm is getting harder and harder, try to remove yourself from the situation for a while, breathe, and come back. Because you’ll have to deal with it sometime – and you’ll have to be calm and polite to do so.
Don’t budge and ask again
The second worst thing you can do is give up and start to clean up after other people. There’s no reason for you to do that! You have to keep asking and, eventually, you’ll get what you rightfully want – which is living in a clean environment!
If someone doesn’t pick up after themselves, try to see how you approach the situation. If your approach fails, try to figure out why it failed and how to make it work. Maybe you have to put your foot down a little more, perhaps you have to be more direct.
You might be unable to get someone else to clean up because after you ask, you end up budging and cleaning up someone else’s mess yourself. Don’t self-sabotage yourself like that!
Try to come up with a system that makes everyone happy
If asking someone to pick up after themselves over and over again isn’t workout out like you thought it would, it might be time to think outside the box. If it’s a roommate situation, you can leave the chores in writing. If the clean-up time comes after a party, you should agree beforehand on who is going to help once the party is over.
Whatever scenario you find yourself in, you can always figure out an angle where other people cannot escape from cleaning up as they should.
If someone refuses to clean up and you can all afford it, you can budget a cleaning service and make everyone happy.
Try to see if there’s an underlying issue at hand
Most of the time we can only see what’s ahead of us. That means we won’t get to see what underlies the issue at hand. Whoever is not picking up after themselves might be in a tough spot for multiple reasons and you might want to sit down and see what’s up.
It might help you understand that other person better, you might be able to help them fix their issue, and that could be how you get them to clean up after all – by listening!
What not to do when someone refuses to clean up after themselves?
Engage in a “dirtiness war”
If someone doesn’t clean up after themselves, you should strive to make the situation better. The only way to make it worse is by not cleaning up after yourself.
Don’t turn a small situation into a full-blown let’s-see-who’s-dirtier competition. That’s shooting yourself in the foot.
Take it personal
If someone doesn’t clean up after themselves, it’s not against you. It’s who they are – you shouldn’t take it personally. Don’t make a big deal of something that’s not. The minute you start to take things personally is the minute politeness starts to fade away. That’s not what you want!
Sophie Hammond is a journalist, psychologist, and freelance speechwriter for people in politics and business. She lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains with her dog and a lifetime supply of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop.