Thursday, June 9, 2011

In which the mess is everyone else's fault.

My apartment tends to exist in a constant state of messiness.

Every time I try to figure out why the domicile can't stay out of pig-sty zone for more than a day at a time, I can only come up with one answer. It's not "my" apartment after all. It's "ours".

There are, in fact, six of us currently living in my tiny little flat. Six college-aged girls: three in school, two with boyfriends, all with jobs. We're all far too busy to clean up anyone's messes but our own. And whenever anything is messy, it is definitely anyone's mess but my own.

Crumbs all over the counter? Well, I'm always careful when I eat, so they couldn't possibly be mine. Let the perpetrator wipe them up
Dishes in the sink? Why can't those silly roommates of mine take the time to wash their cereal bowls?
Trash needs to be taken out? I can't believe they'd let it overflow like that!

Notice a pattern? Nothing is ever, ever my fault. And I have a feeling everyone else in my apartment thinks the same way. If I dirty something, I usually clean it up (though I have a pile of dishes in the sink that would say otherwise...) but if I didn't dirty, I'm not going to touch it. Not my problem.

But the thing is, it becomes my problem. Because I still have to live in the apartment. So what does me more good, to live in the dirt and mess, silently fuming at my roommates  or to take a few minutes and wipe down the counter, wash the dishes, or take out the trash? By only taking ownership of my mess, only my mess gets cleaned up. But if I claim ownership of the apartment (it's now both "our" apartment and "my" apartment), then everyone's mess is also my mess, and I'm responsible to clean it up.

On the other hand, I can't afford to take complete ownership of the mess. I work two jobs, I have a boyfriend to hang out with, and I'm trying to get ready to leave for Europe next week. With the amount of clutter and messiness this apartment generates, I could easily spend hours a day cleaning up. It's simply not feasible for me to be the only one taking complete ownership. However, if everybody in the apartment took full and complete ownership, saw every mess as our mess instead of their mess, and acted accordingly? Well, we'd have a pretty clean apartment, wouldn't we?

Now for the reflective part: does this apply elsewhere? I'd say...yeah, why not? I think all friendships, relationships, and marriages could benefit from this complete-responsibility approach. Otherwise, the relationship feels too much like a balancing act, each member carefully keeping tally to make sure everybody's putting in the same amount of effort. How about...international relations? Each nation takes care of its own messes, and then helps out other countries as much as possible. Sometimes though, one nation (like perhaps...the U.S.) has far more resources and/or inclination to clean up other nation's messes, and becomes that one roommate who's always home doing all the dishes. Which works great, until that roommate starts to get angry that she's doing everyone else's dishes all the time. Or until she starts neglecting cleaning her room in favor of making the living room presentable for everyone. And we haven't even touched the issue of fostering personal responsibility. Does cleaning up after others actually hurt them by crippling their ability to take care of themselves?

The conclusion I keep coming to is that this only works when every party takes complete ownership of the situation, whether it's an apartment, a marriage, or a planet. Some will necessarily put in more resources or time than others, simply because they have more to give. But when everyone has total ownership, there's no score-keeping, no grumbling, and no holding back. The mess isn't everyone else's. It's everybody's.

Which reminds me, my room is messy. Off to clean more...

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