'I Felt Like His Maid' A Cautionary Tale Of Doing Your Flatmate's Washing Up
The Debrief: Doing tiny bits of housework for your flatmate? Careful - it's just a slippery mould-ridden slope to becoming a lot like a maid...
Keeping a shared house tidy is always political; there are clean freaks who get upset at a few crumbs at the bottom of the oven, and those who clean their bed sheets by dousing them in Febreze. We are Generation Rent, and it’s likely we’ll share houses with people we don’t love until we’re 40. This means we need to learn when to let the little things go. Even perfect housemates will leave a bit of hair in the plughole sometimes and life is too short to leave passive-aggressive notes on the fridge about whose turn it is to take the recycling out. Just get a grip and do it yourself, right? That’s the attitude I had when I started living with Dave* a few years ago. Every time I let something small slide, tidied the sitting room without thinking, did his washing up along with mine I was unknowingly helping to set a dangerous precedent. Three months in, I was playing a Cinderella-housewife-mother hybrid, too tired to fight against it.
Dave was a friend of a friend; I was desperate to find somewhere quick (I’d just moved back north from London) and he had a spare room in his flat. It was filthy when I visited, but he assured me that most of the mess was his old housemate’s and the rent was so cheap, I agreed to move in. I knew we would never become best friends, but he seemed harmless and maybe even funny, in an awkward way.
I felt like a live-in maid, scrubbing the toilet, doing the washing-up, sweeping the floor, retrieving mouldy plates and cups from his room.
The problems began a few weeks in. Dave never cleaned up after himself, even though he didn’t have a proper job so was at home playing computer games and making terrible video art all day. When he wasn’t bothering me with his ridiculous conspiracy theories, he’d convert the entire house into a hotbox. He spilled milkshake all over the sofa and just left it there to curdle.
The result? It was me spending hours doing housework, mainly cleaning up after him. I felt like a live-in maid, scrubbing the toilet, doing the washing-up, sweeping the floor, retrieving mouldy plates and cups from his room. To add to my degradation, he never said thanks, even when I dealt with finding my cafetiere, which had been under his bed, full of old vomit. It wasn’t only the work, it was the money. I once suggested he pay for loo roll and bleach. His reply? He didn’t use them. I was confused, but unwilling to argue, so paid for everything myself, even though he had more money. We weren’t married – no way – but I wasn’t surprised by a recent headline stating that richer men do less housework at home.
He and his friends thought my burden was amusing – but I hated being that stereotypical nagging killjoy of a woman. That said, fis mess wasn’t normal mess; he didn’t use the shower curtain. He would pass out and drop lit cigarettes onto soft furnishings. He took my food out of the fridge to make room for beer. His idea of a good time involved spraying shaving cream all over the hallway. He’d never paid council tax. He blocked the toilet with a sock. Once, he tried to cook a Fray Bentos pie in a metal tin, in the microwave. Sparks flew. Literally. If I complained, he made me feel like I wasn’t being fun. Like I was uptight and neurotic and little bit crazy.
Dave was older and had lived there for longer, and I’d known what I was letting myself in for when I moved in, so it was partly my fault. Plus, apart from the obvious risks to his health & safety, Dave had been perfectly happy living in squalor before I’d come along. What gave me the right to demand he change?
Dave had been perfectly happy living in squalor before I’d come along. What gave me the right to demand he change?
Everything made sense when his dad came to stay for a week. He made a mess and only spoke to me to offer me tokes on his spliff (at like, 2pm on a weekday). I know loads of guys leave the toilet seat up, especially after a few drinks. But this middle aged guy would leave the seat down and piss on it, so it went everywhere. I realised Dave would never change, it was in his blood. There was no hope.
I couldn’t move out because I’d signed up for a year and couldn’t afford to lose my deposit. So I resented my stupidity and spent less and less time at home. The brown stains on the ceilings turned to mushrooms and the kitchen became infested with slugs. I stayed with friends, at boys’ houses, out all night. I was too embarrassed to have people over. Every time I got a weekend off work I would go away, to London, to my grandparent’s house. I couldn’t be at home for longer than absolutely necessary.
In the end, we both lost our deposits: burn marks all over the carpets and sofas and shaving foam in two of the light fittings. I also realised I could have moved out at any time. Now? I’m extra careful when screening housemates (especially stoners, especially boys). I refuse to be anyone’s maid ever again.
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*names have been changed
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating