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How to Get Someone Else to Clean Up Clutter and Other Messes

Getting Someone Else to Clean

Wouldn't it be nice if you could get someone to clean up their mess? You wouldn't have to see it anymore, and you can get them to do their share of the housework. You may feel like you are struggling to clean, only to have them take over the surfaces you just cleaned with their mess.

Many people have tried to get me to clean up my mess over the years. Most of them have been unsuccessful. But a rare handful has been successful from time to time. Although I hesitate to write this in case my family members read this hub, I will share the secrets about the ways people have gotten me to clean up my room, desk, or house. I will also share ways that will not work on me, so you can avoid the pitfalls.

A room can be clean with very few things in it, but some people like to collect things.

A room can be clean with very few things in it, but some people like to collect things.

Start with Yourself

Before you start the process of getting someone else to clean something, you need to examine your motivation, and internalize some important facts.

It's Not About You

You may feel like your roommate, spouse, or family member is trying to annoy you and push all your buttons. It might be true in your specific situation, but generally, someone who keeps a messy place is not doing it to get on your nerves. It doesn't mean that they don't care about you. It is very important that you do not view a messy place as an indicator of your relationship with that person.

Different Priorities

Realize that your messy husband has different priorities than you do. A sparkling clean house might be very important to you, but he might be more interested in earning more money by writing hubs, or keeping up to date on current events, sports scores and news. It's not that he doesn't want a clean house; it is just that a clean house isn't as important to him as something else.

Time is limited and his priority is different than yours. It isn't fair for you to expect him to switch to your priority system when you aren't willing to switch to his. Both of you have to compromise if you live together.


Reasonable Expectations

It is important that you keep your expectations reasonable. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine how clean your house would be if you had just had the week they have had. If you know that I have been going to work, and am writing on HubPages and walking the dog every day, it isn't reasonable to expect my house to be ready for a Better Homes and Gardens photo shoot when you come over unannounced Friday after I just got home.

Years ago, people would say they were impressed at my ability to be a single parent with a full time job while going to school full time. It never ceased to amaze that when they came to my house unannounced, they were disgusted because the breakfast dishes were still in the sink. Really, do you want me to wash the dishes or change the diaper? Or maybe you prefer I wash the dishes instead of doing my school homework?

How Clean Are You?

My harshest critics are people who did not keep their own spaces clean. They were able to make excuses for why their mess was the way it was, but they didn't give me the same leeway. Yes my quilting supplies are going to look messier to you than your electronic circuitry because you would have thrown away fabric, but not wires and circuit panels. Work on yourself first and don't project your insecurities on me.

A messy room can grate on some people's nerves while others consider it quite normal.

A messy room can grate on some people's nerves while others consider it quite normal.

How to Get Your Husband or Wife to Clean

You're read up to here and have internalized the things you need to internalize. You've have already done all you can on yourself. Yet you still have the mess and still need to get your husband, wife, sister, brother, parent, or child to clean up his or her room.

Here are some ways you can get your loved one to clean the house, the yard, the garage, or their own mess generally.

Tell Them to Clean

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One way you could try to get someone to clean is to simply tell them to do it. This may or may not work, depending on what you are asking, and how you are asking. If you ask me to help you by doing a small task in your house, I will be more than willing to help you.

If we are having a conversation where we are dividing the workload amongst ourselves in a way that we all get a fair share, then I am willing to do my part.

However, if you turn up your nose and command me to clean up the mess in my bedroom, then no, it won't work. It is my bedroom, and you don't get to tell me what to do in it. With this attitude, you have turned my cleaning my bedroom into a power struggle. If I clean it now, it is because you told me to, and you are not the boss of me. Even if I was just about to clean before you came up to me, I would find resistance inside myself to actually do the job.

Recognize Different Strengths

All people are better at doing some things, while others are better at doing other things. When you come to my house, chances are pretty good that my bills have been paid, there are clean clothes for the household members to wear, and we haven't run out of anything that we need or use. It is also quite likely that the house needs to be dusted, and there is a stack of paper that is waiting to be processed. Maybe you are good with paper and bad with laundry. Don't expect me to be the same as you.

Buy a Book

Sometimes cleaning advice sounds better when it comes from a disinterested third party. I believe that the concept works because it is someone we don't know telling us what to do and how to do it.

Buying them a book about cleaning may backfire if your teenager thinks you are telling him what to do, but if he truly doesn't know how to do the task and needs some motivation, a book might be just the thing he needs and wants. He may not acknowledge the gift, but may glance through it or actually read the whole thing when you aren't watching.

Accentuate the Positive

Recognize and acknowledge the things that have been done instead of only focusing on the negative. When I have spent all day cleaning the living room and dining room, make sure you acknowledge the time and effort I have put into cleaning these two rooms. Positive reinforcement works. That's why they use it in training animals.

If you complain about a mess in some other room, not only will I not be motivated to clean that other room, I may regret having spent my day cleaning the two rooms I did clean. What's the point if all that effort goes unacknowledged and the criticism continues? It feels like I can't win your praise no matter how hard I try.

Teaching Children

When you have young children, it is very important that you teach them how to clean instead of assuming they know how to do it. It is also important that you teach them at an early age and be consistent in the level of cleanliness you require.

It isn't fair to clean up their room when they are children, and then expect them to know how to clean up their own rooms as they become teenagers. They don't know how and don't feel like it is their job to clean your house.

Teach by Example

The best way to encourage someone to clean is not by saying anything. Simply lead by example. By seeing how nice the space is when it is clean, and how easy it is to find things when everything has been put away, they might be motivated to keep it clean or clean up some other space.

Yes, I understand that sometimes it feels like they are out to just fill up the space you just emptied, but there is something about a clean space that makes you want to extend the cleanliness. If you keep it consistently cleaned, then you will change the look of normal.

Another benefit is that your child might learn some tips on how to clean that she was not willing or did not know to ask. One time, I saw a friend of mine sweep a large room. Instead of moving all the dirt to one spot that would be picked up once with the dustpan, she divided the room into sections, and cleaned up the dirt with the dustpan in each section. That hadn't occurred to me, and I learned a new technique simply by watching her.

See the Whole Person

Sometimes a messy place is a sign of a disorder, such as hoarding or depression. If it is that serious, you may want to get professional help.

The thing to remember is that the problem is usually bigger than just the clutter. One way you can get a clean house is to help make the person feel worthwhile by focusing on her positive traits, and making her feel valuable. Make sure that you acknowledge the positive contribution that person makes in your life. By helping clear away the bigger issues, you may find that the clutter problem goes away by itself without you even having to mention cleaning at all.


One day, my neighbor came over and asked me if she could use my phone. She was having phone trouble. I let her in and said "Sorry about the mess" as I generally do. Instead of saying "that's okay" like most people say, she surprised me by saying, "It is your house. You can have it however you want." It didn't feel like she was judging me at all. Believe it or not, this is what empowered me to keep a clean house. It is my house and my choice. It is my house and I prefer to come home to a clean house.

Comments: "How To Get Someone To Clean"

Marcy on March 29, 2016:

I enjoyed reading your article. I am at my wits ends because my husband and I work together from our home and I feel I am cleaning after him in the shop and the house. I have cleaned for the past two weeks from messes he continues to make and have not been able to work on my own orders. I honestly have come to the conclusion that he feels he does not have to clean up after himself. I am just tired and don't understand why one can't pick up when a project is complete as to continuously causing more work on one person. Just seems like I'm spinning my wheels.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on December 22, 2013:

Nadine, people have different ideas about the level of clutter they can tolerate, and I find that I am able to tolerate my own clutter much more than I can tolerate other people's!

Nadine May from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on December 18, 2013:

Many thanks for this great advice and for the positive angle. I will post it on Facebook because 2 of my friend could do with this advice. I have so far never got through to them and I feel that I do lead by example. They both lived with us for several months, but they seem to like their own clutter. I manage to get them both to find a place for themselves, so now we will think twice before offering a place to stay when friends are in a difficult situations. I love them both dearly, but I feel that people with to much clutter around them do reflect their own mind - clutter.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on November 25, 2013:

Thanks Linda. I do find that leading by example really does work in getting people to help more.

Thanks Mary, focusing on the positive helps people create a good feeling about cleaning instead of a drudge.

Mary Craig from New York on November 22, 2013:

Lead by example and accentuate the positive! The way to go for sure. You've done a nice job here and anyone can benefit from rading it.

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on November 21, 2013:

Excellent advice! I guess I'm going to have to start leading more by example to get my family to start helping out more. I thought I was doing that, but possibly I'm invisible at times :)

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on March 03, 2012:

Thank you for visiting and commenting Joy56. Some people like a pristine environment while others thrive in chaos and need everything in sight. We must recognize, acknowledge, and accept our differences.

Joy56 on March 03, 2012:

they dont call me clutterbug for nothing...... ha ha..... there are a lot of us about that are organised in a very disorganised sort of way..... great hub....

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on March 01, 2012:

Thanks MobyWho for your comment. As long as your house is clean enough to avoid health concerns, I think it is perfectly all right to let other things take higher priority.

MobyWho from Burlington VT on February 29, 2012:

Oh dear, it's too late for me. I read a poem once entitled "Dust if you must" went one to talk about all the beautiful times and friends you were missing. I'm afraid that's my school. Luckily, my husband is like me. We can never find anything, but I just don't want to take the time: flawed priorities? Maybe, but I'm happy and haven't hurt anyone, I don't think?

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on February 19, 2012:

Thanks Aurelio. My daughter was great at cleaning up clutter as a toddler, but that solution doesn't work for very long as they become very messy teenagers. LOL

I don't really like "Someone Else" in the title, but wasn't sure how to incorporate children, husbands, wives, siblings, parents, roommates, friends, and adults in general into the title. If you can think of a better title, please let me know.

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on February 19, 2012:

Sensible advice for getting a clean house. Honestly, when I first saw the title, the answer that popped into my head was "Have children." Though your hub covers that as well. Voting this Up and Useful.

Shasta Matova (author) from USA on February 18, 2012:

Thank you Motown2Chitown and Sherry. I was hoping this hub wouldn't be read as a rant, and more like useful advice that people could actually use. Thank you for your feedback.

Sherry Hewins from Sierra Foothills, CA on February 18, 2012:

I think you've hit the nail on the head with this one. Everybody has their own priorities and their own standards, and nobody wants to be nagged or told what to do, especially in their own space.

Motown2Chitown on February 18, 2012:

This is such a wonderful hub! I am totally a Mary, and housework makes me want to crawl under the couch. My husband is a bit of a Martha. Between the two of us, though, we keep a clean and comfortable home because we DO compromise, and because he always, always comments on anything I've taken time to do.

Constant criticism is useless. It makes one feel (as you illustrated beautifully here) as though no effort is good enough, so why bother?

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