It’s A Suite Life In A Dorm

by admin on October 1, 2012

I am a Freshman in college and also an avid reader of EHell. As such, I find myself fussing over little etiquette conundrums constantly because I’m not very socially competent. (In fact, I’m actually really incompetent at making/keeping friends. I tend to get clingy even though I don’t mean it, and every attempt I make to back off just looks spiteful to the other party. But that’s a whole different story and not one to be shared on EHell.)

So, ignoring my pathetic ranting, this is mostly a question due to my own disabilities.

I’ve moved into a dorm with three other girls, and we are, because of the suite-style nature of our dorm room, required to keep our bathroom clean (since a shower covered in soap scum is just not okay). To add to that, we also do dishes regularly, seeing as a good majority of the time, we eat breakfast inside the dorm and on Sundays, the cafeterias are not open. However, due to a skin condition that is normally aggravated by cleaning supplies and most soaps, I’m not allowed by my doctor and my family, to clean dishes or the shower. I do clean the toilet, since that doesn’t require I get down and dirty with the bleach and will happily be the person to take out the trash or some other chore that need not require chemicals. One of my roommates, however, grew up in a home where she did most of the chores and generally takes control, doing the dishes, vacuuming, cleaning the shower, etc. The other two roommates seem okay with this arrangement, but I can’t stand seeing her doing all the work on her own. Even when I offer to help, she generally pushes me off (always with a smile) and tells me not to worry about it. The two of us have taken on the unofficial role of “Dorm Mothers” as well, and generally while she (I’ll call her J) cleans up the dorm, I take care of the other two girls (K and M) when they return to the room on the weekends completely drunk and/or high. (I also go out and buy medicine for my roommates when they’re sick, since I’m the only one who has such a miserable immune system that I’ve practically memorized what every OTC medicine does.) I don’t think it’s as big of a job as cleaning the whole dorm alone, but, as I said, any attempt I make to help is always cheerily pushed away.

I thank her constantly for all her help, since I would never be able to do anything on my own and she really is an angel of a roommate, but I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough to thank her. Sometimes, I feel like she’s gotten annoyed with my constant thanks, but at the same time, I wonder if she’s expecting me to do more to thank her, since I’m absolutely terrible at reading people.

What do you think? Am I being paranoid and nervous about something trivial? Or do I truly have to up my way of showing gratitude? I don’t want to be a boor or lazy, and J is such an amazing person and so nice, I don’t even want to think about making her unhappy. 0930-12

You are offering to help and looking for ways to be of service to your roommates, particularly the one who does the bulk of the dorm cleaning.   When she waves off your offer of help, cheerfully reply, “Well, I’ll go clean the toilet or dust then!”    What you don’t want is the appearance that your offer is a nice platitude that turns out to have no substance when it is actually accepted and you must therefore promptly decline due to medical restrictions.  You cannot offer what you cannot do.    Some chores you can include on “able to do” list would be putting away the clean dishes, dusting, vacuuming, window cleaning (using white vinegar and water),  proactively decluttering the suite of trash, using a Swiffer Wet Mop to do the floors,  even Chlorox makes this shower cleaning pad that goes on the end of pole for easy shower scrubbing with no contact with cleaning chemicals.    Perhaps you discuss an arrangement where you cook, she does the dishes and you put away the clean dishes.

As for expressions of gratitude, I am of the opinion that one cannot be too lavish with it.   But gratitude can be expressed in other ways than simply verbally.  Be sure to do your share of the work to make the dorm suite run smoothly in a timely, routine manner so as to not overly burden her.  Running errands such as a fast food trip, asking her if there is anything at the grocery store you can pick up for her,  etc.

I would not worry about how your fellow dorm “mom” roommate interacts with the other two lazy roomies.   One aspect of etiquette that we don’t discuss enough on this site is the concept of minding own’s business when it comes to being offended for those who are themselves directly offended by others.  There isn’t grace for those who pick up the offenses of others.     So, if your roommate has issues with the other two roommates, that is between her and those two. You make sure you are doing your best not to offend her yourself and all should be good.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathryn October 1, 2012 at 6:42 am

Stop making a big deal over it, OP! :) It sounds like you’re WAY over thinking this situation.

Here are some suggestions that don’t involve an uncomfortable profusion of gratitude:
+Once or twice a week, notice something specific she’s just done and thank her genuinely, but not overly.
+Make her a card and buy her her favourite chocolates (or make her some cupcakes) every now and then.
+Regularly clean the toilet and take out the trash instead of offering help when you cannot due to the cleaning products.
+Just be friends with her.

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--Lia October 1, 2012 at 7:36 am

The cleaning schedule is the easy part. That’s where you either decide that everyone is getting along fine the way things are going or you all 4 sit down and work out a list of what needs to be done and decide who does what depending on who prefers to do what. Remember to be creative with your solutions meaning that you don’t have to divide up chores equally so that everyone takes a turn at the bathroom. One of the best arrangements I ever had was one where my roommate did all of the dishes and I did all of the laundry. She thought she got off easy because she didn’t mind washing a few dishes at the end of every meal while I had to spend hours at the laundramat. Meanwhile, I was in heaven never having to clean a dish. Another creative solution is to let the people who don’t mind messy houses chip in money. When you sit down for that group meeting, you’ll likely find that the big disagreement isn’t over who does what; it’s more likely to be a disagreement over what needs to be done. The 2 roommates who don’t contribute to the housekeeping are probably of the opinion that bathrooms don’t have to be cleaned daily or even weekly. They’re content to live in what you’d consider squalor and what they consider just the way things are. So be open to working things out and coming to compromises.

I’m more concerned about the statement that you take care of 2 roommates when they come in drunk or high every weekend. That is not your job! Unless you’re a trained addiction counselor, you should be recommending they get help from a professional, not taking responsibility for their failures in judgment. As it is, you’re enabling them. For what reasons, I can’t guess, but enablers need help to see their way out of the non-productive relationship too.

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snaphappytexan October 1, 2012 at 7:48 am

I have incredibly sensitive skin so I use water and microfiber cleaning cloths to do a majority of my cleaning. Even the shower. The only cleaners I use is laundry detergent and dish soap and I use dish gloves to do the dishes so I don’t aggravate my skin.

What is the OP going to do when she moves out on her own?

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Jenny October 1, 2012 at 7:55 am

I’m allergic to some cleaning products, so I wear gloves. You might want to try that, as at some point, you are going to have to do your own dishes.

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squirrels October 1, 2012 at 8:27 am

I am unable to help out a lot in our share house, so we have put in all together for a cleaner. However in your situation I would pick a couple of chores you can do(and maybe you noticed are not her favorite) and just do them on the same day. You will establish the habit and she will notice. Maybe also leave her some nice chocolates. Just stop over thinking and do what you can and don’t wait till she declines, just step in and help. If she says don’t worry just smile and say it is my pleasure I want to.

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Cat October 1, 2012 at 8:43 am

Sometimes a direct approach is required as in., “It’s wonderful that you are so good at the housework this place requires, but I am concerned that you do so much and that I do so little. My inability to handle most cleaning agents limits me in what I can do, but I want to do my share and not allow the entire load of work to rest on you. Let’s decide what you would like me to be responsible for cleaning. I can do the following…”
Taking her out to lunch or giving her chocolates is nice, but I know that some college students are not certain of their sexuality. What you mean as a gesture of gratitude could be seen as your “coming on ” to her.
I once bought a huge bouquet of flowers, found them to be too much for the space, and put some on my roomies side. I heard her asking another girl if I were gay. Frankly, that interpretation had never occurred to me . It’s sad that some folks think that way, but it can be the stage of social development that is speaking, and not the woman she is becoming.

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Kimstu October 1, 2012 at 9:06 am

I think the Admin meant to say “As for expressions of gratitude, I am of the opinion that one cannot be too LAVISH with it”, didn’t she?

(Or maybe not, English is weird that way: saying, for instance, “You can’t be too careful” usually means “No amount of carefulness is excessive”, but saying, for instance, “You can’t be TOO careful or you’ll never finish anything” implies that there IS such a thing as too much carefulness.)

Anyway, OP, sounds like you’re doing okay etiquette-wise but are feeling anxious about whether your social skills are letting you down in “reading” other people. Focus less on whether YOU “can’t stand seeing her doing all the work” and YOUR distress at the thought of being “a boor or lazy”, which I’m sure you’re not, and concentrate on thoughtful ways to make it easier for HER to stand it, as Admin suggested.

One other thing you can do is to quit going out of your way to help the roommates who aren’t putting in any work. Don’t be mean or rude to them, of course, but don’t bend over backwards to coddle them through their self-inflicted impairment episodes. You will do them no favors by encouraging them unconsciously to believe that they are Nature’s special princesses, entitled to extra help and solicitude from others even when they shirk their own duties.

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Margo October 1, 2012 at 9:15 am

“Sometimes a direct approach is required as in., “It’s wonderful that you are so good at the housework this place requires, but I am concerned that you do so much and that I do so little. My inability to handle most cleaning agents limits me in what I can do, but I want to do my share and not allow the entire load of work to rest on you. Let’s decide what you would like me to be responsible for cleaning. I can do the following…”

I think Cat’s advice here is great.

I’m another person who reacts very badly to a lot of cleaning produxts. Buying, and wearing gloved *every* *single* *time* works for me. Also using eco-friendly products, and using home made products (e.g. baking soda and vinegar) also helps.

When I was in shared accommodation at university we found having a rota worked well. we then changed jobs each week. This mean it didn’t matter whether evey job was equally onerous, as if you had an ‘easy’ job like taking out the rubbish, one week, you would have a bigger job (such as cleaning the kitchen or bathroom) the following week.
You’re free to switch jobs byu agreement with another person, so, in a similar way to what Lia suggests, if you don’t mind vacuuming but hate washing up, but your roomie is OK with washing up but doesn’t like to vacuum, youcan agree between yourselves to switch.
You can also agree to trade other things for chores.

I find baking to be quite relaxing, and so I used to bake a fair bit, expecially when I was revising for exams, as I founf the change of pace helped me to focus. I found all of my housemates would fall over themselves to offer to take on my chores in exchange for fresh cakes and pie. I also once agreed to cook a fancy meal for my housemate and his girlfriend in exchange for him cleaning the bathroom for my next turn.

reading the Op, it sounds to me as though the roomie who is currently doing the work may simply find it difficult to confront anyone – it doesn’t soun as though either she, or OP, have tried to talkto the other two girls about their lack of help. Perhaps if you approach her as Cat suggests and then suggest that the 2 of you sit dowen with the other girls to agree on a distribution of chores which you all feel is fair.

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DowagerDutchess October 1, 2012 at 9:32 am

If you lived alone, how would the dishes and shower get cleaned? I think this is a 2 step issue. You need to figure out a way to get your own dishes clean (gloves, organic soap, disposables) and the 4 of you together need to agree to a cleaning rota. If you have trouble doing that, call your RA. It’s their job to help you find solutions to problems.

As for thanking her, I think once you adress the guilt, that problem will be solved. Instead of figuring out a way to praise her less, figure out a way for her to do less.

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Powers October 1, 2012 at 9:37 am

The cafeterias aren’t open on Sundays? Where do they expect you to eat??

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DGS October 1, 2012 at 9:45 am

Yes to what all the previous posters have said, and also, consider going to your university counseling center to get some help in addressing your concerns about making friends, reading people and in general, improving your college experience. Depending on where you attend school, there might be confidential social skills training psychoeducation groups, as well as individual therapy to tackle social anxiety. Your student counseling center is a great resource that is paid for with your student fees, and it can be a life-altering experience to tackle some of your fears and emerge a more confident, stronger you with wonderful friends (such as your sweet roommate J). You sound like a mature, thoughtful person and a great friend, so hopefully, you will have a wonderful college experience!

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Katie2 October 1, 2012 at 9:55 am

I agree to make a list of stuff that you *can* do, and asking them what they’d like you to do. Or you could maybe cook every once in a while for the group? I’d love that :)

You sound like a very nice, sweet person and it’s lovely that you are concerned with not taking advantage. I would have loved to have had you as a roommate!

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Yvaine October 1, 2012 at 10:33 am

Powers: The cafeterias being closed on Sundays is not that uncommon. At my college they were open for Sunday brunch but closed for dinner. So what you did was you cooked, or you went off campus, or you bought stuff from the campus convenience store (which *was* open) and ate it.

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Enna October 1, 2012 at 11:31 am

Being too thankful can come across as being needy and patronising – I think Admin has got it right. How about looking into alterntaive cleaning products that don’t contain the allegens you are allergic to?

I also think the other two roomates should do more. How often do they get drunk/high? I would be concerned about the high as that is illegal and the drunk bit is not healthy (they could also be arrested for being drunk and disorderly). Do they give you money for all the meds that you get for them?

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Lita October 1, 2012 at 11:38 am

You sound like you’re doing pretty good as it is, OP! I’d agree with the list of things you can do, maybe you’ll find a chore you enjoy doing that the rest of your roommates don’t want to touch.

I also have pretty bad reactions to a lot of cleaning supplies, and I get the “wear gloves” suggestion a lot – but the thing is, what if you literally can’t do that? Most of the gloves out there made for use with cleaning supplies (that is, the very heavy gloves that reach up to your forearm or elbow) contain latex and other similar materials, and I can’t even touch latex without breaking out in a horrible rash, or going into anaphylactic shock if the latex happens to be wet at all. I realize this is not most of the general population’s reaction even if they do have a latex allergy, but perhaps if they won’t just put on a pair of gloves and knuckle down, they honestly can’t?

But on the other hand, you’d be very surprised what you can replace all those toxic chemicals with. Vinegar and baking soda can replace “liquid plumber” and toilet bowl cleaner, straight vinegar and newspapers can be used for cleaning glass and shower walls (steep a few citrus peels in it for a better smell), rubbing alcohol can be used sparingly to remove sticky messes, sprays of essential oils and water can be used for freshening up…there’s plenty of other alternatives too, all of which I’m sure can be found with our good friend Google. :) And in the event gloves do have to be worn with homemade cleaning supplies, it doesn’t have to be the thick, cumbersome, allergy-inducing latex ones – if you have a medical supply or beauty supply store nearby, you’ll be able to find boxes of vinyl or neoprene medical gloves for a fairly low price.

Hope this is somewhat helpful, and I’m so sorry if I came off at all preachy!

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Spuck October 1, 2012 at 11:47 am

I’d say sit back, relax, and let the roommate who wants to do the chores do all the chores. Your offering to help and she is refusing the offer. Let her do what she wants to do, and if you feel guilty take her out for a nice dinner regularly to make up for all her hard work. As for the party girls, they aren’t your responsibility either. There is no etiquette anywhere that says you have to take care of people. It is nice to, but you don’t have to. If they want to be drunk regularly or get ill from the result of their actions, let them. They are just going to keep doing it as long as there is someone else there to take care of them or clean up the mess.

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Library Diva October 1, 2012 at 11:54 am

If you get the sense that J is getting annoyed with you for thanking her so much, it’s possible that because of her background, she is just doing what she does and is a little puzzled by all the gratitude. Perhaps look for ways to let you know that you value her for herself, not just for what she does around the dorm, and she’ll have a much different reaction.

On a practical note, I’d like to tell you about a terrific item that they use in the breakroom of my kitchen at work. It’s a dishwashing wand put out by 3M/Scotch. The head of it is your typical green and yellow scrubbie sponge, and the handle is hollow to be loaded up with dish soap. It might be easier on your hands if you’re just doing a couple of dishes at a time — less touching involved. Just something to look into, since, as other posters pointed out, there will be at least a period in your life where you’re on your own and have to deal with this task yourself.

You do indeed sound like a very sweet, kindhearted person, as does J, but there’s a note of something in your original post that worries me a bit. I do hope that you don’t feel obligated to stay home every Friday and Saturday to be there for K and M when they stagger in, and I hope you and J don’t spend all of your free time studying and cleaning. College is an incredible, incredible place, and you won’t fully appreciate the wealth of recreation opportunities open to you until you get out into the real world and find that your budget won’t allow you to have that kind of fun every night. If drinking isn’t how you and J like to socialize, look for other opportunities. I graduated 15 years ago, but I remember that there were weekly showings of second-run movies for $1, a cut-rate pool hall and arcade, frequent speakers, hiking and canoeing, a really cheap, fully-equipped fitness center and pool, clubs for everything you could possibly want to do, student plays, concerts and art showings, just EVERYTHING. If K and M choose to drink all weekend, that’s their right — certainly many college students who made similar choices went on to functional adulthoods, but you don’t need to be there for them. They can learn to hold their own hair when they vomit, drink their own large glasses of water to stave off a hangover, and if they wind up sleeping out in the hall one night because they were too messed up to do the combination to the room, well, it’s not only a good war story but a good lesson to be slightly more careful. You owe it to yourself to have as good a time as they are at college, in whatever way you choose.

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Cat Whisperer October 1, 2012 at 1:36 pm

First thing that came to my mind when reading this posting: OP would probably benefit from going to her college’s counseling center and making an appointment with a counselor. Seeking counseling doesn’t mean you’re crazy, or defective, or somehow inferior to other people who don’t seek counseling. It means you’re smart enough to recognize that there’s a problem you can’t solve all by yourself.

FWIW, I understand that many colleges and universities are adopting formal or informal classes on etiquette, both business and personal. This is because there is recognition that there are an awful lot of bright, personable young people attending college who were so devoted to becoming academic high achievers to get into college, that they never learned the nuts-and-bolts of interacting with people.

(Also, let’s face it, my generation, which came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, was so busy striking down a lot of the etiquette conventions everyone had become comfortable with, that things have changed so much it’s hard to know sometimes what’s “proper.” And the rise of computer-aided social media has thrown another complication into the picture.)

So, OP, my advice to you: get thee to your school’s counseling center. Ask the counselor if there is some kind of program at the school for learning etiquette and human relations issues. Don’t feel ashamed or awkward to be asking. You aren’t alone, I promise you. Extra bonus credit: if your school doesn’t offer such a program, ask the counselor if he/she will assist you in starting one, and don’t be surprised if it becomes a banner program.

I’m with others who say that if your other “dorm mom” roomie is okay with what she’s doing and isn’t complaining, and if your other two roomies aren’t upset, and if you’re okay with the status quo, then you’re doing just fine. Offering thanks where you feel it’s warranted, including offering gratitude gifts like small knick-knacks and tokens of gratitude, is wonderful.

FWIW, I read your submission with a grim smile: last year, in her first year of college, my daughter’s roommate had her boyfriend over in their room, making out with him and sleeping with him in the same bed, almost from the first day of classes. Total complete absolute absence of anything resembling consideration, modesty, shame, or decency. My daughter spent more nights sleeping on the floor of other student’s rooms than she did sleeping in her own room because of her roommate. She couldn’t study in her own room, which made things very hard for her. Reasonable discussions with the roomie went nowhere; discussions with RA’s and dorm advisors ended with “you need to learn to work these things out yourselves,” and nobody did anything.

Daughter got a new roomie this year, and she just wrote to us that for the first time, she’s actually comfortable studying in her own room. Imagine that.

(The backstory behind the roommate: she wanted to get an apartment off campus with her boyfriend, but her parents wouldn’t let her. They thought if they made her live in a dorm, she’d have to behave herself. Since they were paying the bills, their daughter had no choice. This really ticked her off, so she figured that if she just blatantly had him living in her room and had sexual relations with him openly and blatantly, her parents would give in and allow her to move in with him next year. It worked. They have an apartment off campus this year. IMO, she and her parents deserve each other; they apparently don’t get along at all. And my daughter was the collateral damage in this parent-daughter war of wills.)

So, OP, in the universe of problems that dorm life poses, I think you’re dealing with a non-problem. But go to the counseling center, ask them about the program I suggested, and reassure yourself that you are a worthy person who is doing just fine.

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BethRD October 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I have terrible eczema that is worst on my hands and have trouble with cleaning products too, but I second the notion that that shouldn’t mean you CAN’T clean at all. That’s what gloves are for. I have to use a specific kind so that the glove material itself doesn’t aggravate my hands, but it’s definitely possible.

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Cat Whisperer October 1, 2012 at 2:31 pm

Powers: some schools offer a meal plan for weekdays only, because many students go home on weekends. This is particularly true of schools here in Southern California, because so many students are local. It isn’t that unusual for the dorm cafeteria to be closed or only offer limited service on weekends, especially when the campus is in an urban area where there are lots of alternatives.

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Nilly March 1, 2014 at 7:27 am

At a lot of schools in Ontario, the dorm cafeteria closes on the weekends if the rooms in that particular building are suite-style and therefore have a kitchen, whereas the more typical dorm-style buildings have cafeterias that are open 7 days/week.

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Stacey Frith-Smith October 1, 2012 at 5:47 pm

OP, if you can get your roommates to agree to clean with supplies approved by your physician and purchased by you, that would eliminate the barrier to more equitable distribution of the heavy cleaning. Some possibilities are vinegar in a nine percent solution, baking soda and salt based scrubbers, and any other number of alternatives from makers of specialty chemical and fragrance free products. If you cannot do this because there truly IS no product that would be considered safe, then you should be willing to trade dollars or other services with people (professionals or students) who can pick up the slack on tidying up. Being a “mom” who deals with high and drunk room mates is not your job. Pull your own weight in the room mate department and you won’t have to worry about how to deal with the very personal problems of other people or about how to thank someone for allowing you to take advantage of them (which you surely are if you don’t take care of your roommate “footprint” in terms of dealing with some of the cleaning directly or by proxy). You’ll need to deal with this in terms of planning your future in any case, because your own place won’t have your kind roommate and while you can hire help, your exposure to cleaning chemicals might be reduced if you research alternative products that you can use now. You might also be pleased not to have to pay dollars or deal with the stress of returning favors in kind later if you can get some information that will help you find products you can use safely now. Good luck OP and may your future hold many joys!

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WillyNilly October 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm

I don’t understand the OP at all. Why are you asking your roommate how you can help? Just do. If the trash is full, take it out. Set up a schedule of when you wash the toilet and just do it. If the clean dishes need to be put away, just put them away. If clutter needs to straightened, straighten it up. If the floor needs to vacuumed or swiffered, just do it. You don’t need, and in fact should not be, asking if you should do these things. By asking if you can help you are essentially saying its your roommates job (otherwise why does she have the final say?) You should do what you are able to do, and just do it, and if necessary mention its been done. Sounds like that’s what your roommate is doing. She’s seeing it needs to be done and just doing (she is asking anyone). I think a great way to thank her through actions is to learn that from her; its really a great way to live life, just seeing what needs to be done and if you can, you do it.

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Jenny October 1, 2012 at 6:19 pm

For the people who mentioned they can’t wear gloves due to latex allergy – look for gloves made of nitrile. That’s what we wore in lab because latex posed a risk to some students.

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starstruck October 1, 2012 at 7:19 pm

okay,iam gonna suggest this cause dishes are a huge deal for me. if your absolutely unable to do the dishes, can i suggest paper plates? actually me and my roommates used them alot in college . they are really cheap, around 50 plates for about 1.50 from walmart . and at three meals a day they would last a good two weeks . so about 3 or 4 bucks a month is a small price to keep your roommates happy. i know its not your fault but i cant imagine having someone in my house dirty dishes all the time and not help clean them . again sorry i know its not your fault. thats why i suggested the plates:) imagine if someone roomed with you who couldn’t work due to a health condition. it wouldn’t be their fault , but you would still need their part of the rent, right? ofcourse you would.

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Mechanisticka October 1, 2012 at 11:23 pm

OP Here.
I know a lot of people are concerned about how I’m going to deal when I’m on my own. (And trust me, I am too… I’m trying!) I try to do the best I can, and my family and I are always experimenting with what sorts of soaps and chemicals to use and I do try, honestly, do try to help out. I do recognize that I have a problem (I have severe anxiety and spend most of my time holed up in my room because going outside when not in class TERRIFIES me.), and should be going to counseling services, but I’m not very keen on making my parents (who are paying for my college) pay for the massive therapy bill (counseling is about $110 a session) that I would probably need.

Like I said, I’m not very good around people. I tend to fumble over my words or say the wrong thing, and I latch onto people I’m comfortable with very quickly. I make a TON of etiquette gaffes and usually find out about them and then feel absolutely TERRIBLE.

And, even if it is a non problem, I always look at the little things because they almost always escalate into something massive. I don’t mind being a caretaker, like someone mentioned, most of the groceries is bought by me when we cook dinner, and like I said, I usually buy medicines or vitamins, and I love helping out.

I guess I come off as an entitled brat to all of you, and I don’t want to, because I honestly try not to be. I just grew up sort of coddled because of medical problem after medical problem, and I’m scared of absolutely everything most of the time.

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missminute October 2, 2012 at 2:25 am

To be honest OP, it sounds like you spend more time thanking her than helping her. Often when we ask “is there anything I can do” we treat the asking as a free pass to get us out of helping. It also seems like you feel guilty that you “can’t help more” when in fact you can. Admin has made some fine suggestions.

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hb October 2, 2012 at 3:25 am

I find plant-based cleaners like this one http://www.methodproducts.co.uk/tubtile.html less irritating. They’re a UK company, but there must be some US equivalent. Something to look into in case you are ever living on your own.

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The Elf October 2, 2012 at 6:30 am

I completely agree with Jenny. This sounds like the perfect time to figure out some work-arounds to your skin condition. Gloves would be my first suggestion, and they make them of multiple kinds of materials so you can pick the best ones for you. Also, if you can narrow down what exactly sets your skin off, you can avoid products with that ingredient. There’s a wide range of cleaners out there! Depending upon the severity of your condition, you could try a little trial and error. I get hives from fragrances and dyes, and it took me a while to figure that one out by trial and error. Some itchiness was worth it to have narrowed it down to exactly the triggers. But that’s just itchiness – a completely manageable thing. If your symptoms are more severe, don’t do it.

Eventually, you have to figure out how to handle this. I mean, who is going to do your dishes when you are on your own, right?

That said, the important thing is to do your fair share of the housework, and the admin has that exactly right. If you can’t clean the shower, run the vacuum. There’s always housework to do that doesn’t involve harsh chemicals. Set up a schedule for all three roommates of who does what when, agree that it is equitable, and go forth. This doesn’t have to be that difficult.

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Kathryn October 2, 2012 at 7:51 am

I don’t think anyone here is under the impression you’re “a spoiled brat”, OP!
Given you’re buying so much food and doing what you can to help people, don’t worry about what else you can or can’t do. You’re already lots! :-)

To summarise the advice that’s been given: try different cleaning products/gloves IF the chores situation REALLY bothers you and stop over thinking the chores issue.

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DowagerDutchess October 2, 2012 at 7:58 am

@OP. You aren’t going to fix any of the little issues until you handle the anxiety. Are you at college in the US? Most campuses can provide low cost mental health services. A good place to start could be your RA, or making an appointment with a general practitioner at the health center who can give you q referral. You won’t be the only student who has struggled with the cost of mental health treatment. Good luck! Anxiety can be a hard thing to shake, but there is help out there.

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The Elf October 2, 2012 at 9:11 am

I second the notion to check out your local resources on campus. Most universities have some sort of health clinic that can handle some basic mental health services (or can refer you to something low cost). Your RA would be a great start to finding those services.

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Library Diva October 2, 2012 at 10:24 am

Mech, you’re about the least bratty, entitled-sounding submitter in recent memory (and I myself have submitted in recent memory, though I didn’t identify myself in the comments). You sound like you’re trying your best, and I hope that despite the bill, you do manage to get some help. As others have suggested, try your university counseling center. Anxiety is partly physiological, and your primary care physician (or a doctor at your college’s clinic) will probably be able to prescribe something to help with that side of it. Hopefully, it will make life a lot less scary for you. Now is the perfect time to do this, because it’s really the start of your adult life.

I also thought of something else: is it possible that any annoyance J seems to have expressed is merely annoyance with the situation, not with any person? She’s got one roommate who can’t help clean and two who don’t want to. From her perspective, that’s an annoying situation, you have to admit. It sounds to me like you’re doing all you can. To compensate, you buy food and medicine and you take out the garbage. If J is as good a person as you’re saying, she’ll remember that and not hold your skin condition against you.

Best of luck to you, Mech. I admire you: you’re up against a lot in life, and yet you’re still taking the time to be as considerate as you can towards others.

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Mechanisticka October 2, 2012 at 10:53 am

OP (Again!) with an update!
I took everyone’s advice and decided to sit down with J and talk to her, and explain how I felt like she was doing all the work around the dorm. She explained to me that she actually likes doing chores, sort of in the same way that I bake brownies when I’m stressed, the chores help calm her down after a long day of classes through the repetitive actions. We decided to make a deal, I’d vacuum and clean the toilet every weekend, along with making dinner on Sundays and supplying her with baked good, and she’d do the dishes and keep the shower clean.

Thanks for all the help, everyone, and I’ll have a few more EHell stories to be posting as well… I need to determine what to do with the other two roommates politely…

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Cat Whisperer October 2, 2012 at 1:23 pm

“…I’m not very keen on making my parents (who are paying for my college) pay for the massive therapy bill (counseling is about $110 a session) that I would probably need…”

OP, you come across as a decent, compassionate, sensitive person who cares about other people. I’m sure that this reflects on the way your parents raised you.

That being the case, GO FOR THE COUNSELING. I am absolutely sure your parents will not see this as expensive, they will see it as an investment in helping their daughter have a brighter, happier, future. And I can tell you with absolute certainty that most parents would cheerfully endure almost any personal pain or privation if that will assure their child a better life. $110 a session for counseling? That’s nothing compared to my child’s well-being.

That said, there are cheaper alternatives. $110 a session sounds like the full-price rate for counseling. If you’re attending college, I KNOW you have a counseling center of some sort at the college, unless your school is a rinky-dinky for-profit non-accredited school of some sort. Virtually every major and minor college or university has some sort of counseling center. It’s part of what you pay your fees for. You call them up and schedule an initial consult, and they refer you to services that are available, usually at no cost or at a very small co-payment.

That said, if your college doesn’t offer counseling, here are some cheaper alternatives:

1. If there is a college or university near you that offers a major in psychology with a certification credential as a counselor, they will offer counseling services at a reduced rate or ability-to-pay basis. Typically students who are in the program provide counseling services under the supervision of a licensed and certifed counselor.

2. If your parents are employed, it’s possible their employer provides access to free or subsidized counseling services for family members through a referral program. My husband’s employer does that: you call a referral number, explain what you’re looking for, and the referral service gives you the names and information about counselors in your local area who work with the program. You get 10 sessions for free, with further sessions as necessary for a reduced cost.

3. Many churches, synagogues, and other faith-based service providers offer counseling services. Sometimes these are faith-based, but sometimes they’re secular; and these services are usually provided free or at low cost.

4. Community mental health centers can provide referrals to low cost or ability-to-pay counseling services. There may be a wait to get an appointment, but if you’re persistent, you can get access to counseling services.

5. Many counselors will negotiate a lower fee than is initially cited, particularly if they know the client is in financial hardship. Since most counselors offer an initial consultation for free or for a very low rate, this is something that can be discussed right up front. And if that counselor can’t offer a reduced rate, they might be able to refer you to one who can.

GET HELP GET HELP GET HELP. The cost of getting counseling is trivial compared with the cost of not getting counseling.

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Katie2 October 2, 2012 at 1:59 pm

Aww, what a great ending to the story. I wish I lived with both of you :)

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Ann October 2, 2012 at 2:21 pm

OP — you have analyzed all the advice and handled this just perfectly!

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Spuck October 2, 2012 at 2:45 pm

To Mechanisticka, polite does not equal etiquette. Upon meeting someone you have to be cordial, say hi to them, make small talk, then quickly disengage if the conversation is going no where. When it comes to living with someone you have offer the same initial courtesy. Start with the small talk and then go into deeper conversation about how everyone can at least learn to tolerate every one else If they don’t offer the same courtesy, it is okay to go cold and act like they don’t even live there. Especially if they are getting high and drunk every weekend, and you end up taking care of them like you are there mother.

That is not your job. That is not even there own mother’s job any more now that they are living at college.

Kudos to you for working things out with the good roommate. I say just try to get a room with her next semester.

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WillyNilly October 2, 2012 at 3:58 pm

@ Cat Whisperer – Just an FYI *my* accredited college didn’t offer counseling thankyouverymuch, nor would my parents have had the luxury of just paying an extra $110 (especially repeatedly) no matter how much they would have loved to – they certainly *would* have seen it as expensive!

I do agree there are probably affordable counseling options out there, and I do hope our OP looks for them as she sounds like she could use the support (you are definitely headed in a great direction on your own OP!) but please lets not encourage her to seek services that might not exist or have her spend other people’s money without their consent.

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--Lia October 2, 2012 at 7:43 pm

Part of what to do about the other 2 roommates politely is likely to take care of itself. I’m going to gaze into my crystal ball and predict what will happen. One of these days you’re going to come down with a bad cold or flu. You’re going to be desperate for someone to make you a hot cup of tea and to keep the noise level down so you can sleep and feel grouchy and try not to concentrate on how you end up with a coughing fit every time you want to breathe. You’re going to need the mothering you’ve been giving everyone else. And when that happens, the 2 roommates you’ve been taking care of like it was your job are going to be nowhere to be found or they’ll be whooping it up and taking no notice of you. Or if they do notice you, it will be to wonder why you’re not taking care of them when they’re drunk or high. When you emerge at the other end of the week after you’ve gotten better, it’s going to hit you that they’re selfish or addicted or thoughtless or lazy or all of the above, and you’ll wonder what you liked so much about playing mother to them, and you’ll stop worrying about them, and you’ll put your love and energy and motherliness into people who appreciate you and like you for who you are. Or you could try this experiment. Next time they come home drunk or high, see what happens if you don’t cater to them. It might be eye-opening.

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Sugaryfun October 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm

I’m a little dubious about the OP not being able to do the cleaning. I get a horrible rash if my skin comes into contact with most soaps or chemical cleaning products and yet I still manage to do the washing up and all the other cleaning in my home, not having anyone to do it for me. I wear gloves, which protect my hands when washing up (and I would need them anyway as to be properly hygienic you need the water so hot that it’s pretty uncomfortable to go without them) and other cleaning and I don’t use chemical cleaners. I clean the bathtub and sink with bicarbonate of soda and the glass with a microfibre cloth and water, no glass cleaner needed. I realise the IP’s condition may be different from mine but saying they can’t do any of this stuff seems like a cop out when there are so many alternitive cleaning methods possible.

If your housemate says it’s fine I would stop asking if I were you. It’s liable to come across like you are making empty offers of help which will just be annoying.

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GleanerGirl October 12, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Perhaps you could arrange for you and the two other roommates to treat your cleaning roommate to a dinner or something. Nothing beyond your ability to reasonably afford on your college-student budget. But just something nice to do together. Each of you would be responsible for 1/3 of the cleaning-dormie’s bill, so it’s not too much on any of you, and you ALL get a chance to express your gratitude.

Your non-cleaning dormies may, in fact, be very grateful, but also at a loss as to how to express it. I recommend giving them the benefit of the doubt, and asking them to join you in doing something special for her. IF they feel it’s not worth doing, then you’ll know that they do not care about what she does for them. As admin says, that is between her and them. However, if you know they do not care, that will make it more vital, for your own peace of mind, that you do something special for her.

One thing I do NOT recommend, though, is buying her cleaning tools because “you do all the cleaning, and I thought you could use this, or this might be helpful,” because then it will almost inevitably come across as “You’re the maid, and I’m supplying you with the tools to do the job.” Just as a man should not give his wife a vacuum for her birthday, even if it is top-of-the-line. Now, if she clearly states that she wants that item, you can give it to her, with the statement that you heard her saying she wanted it, and you like her so much that you want her to have what she wants. But ONLY if she actually said she wanted it.

Yes, sometimes people do ask for practical things. I once asked for toilet supplies for Christmas, because that was what I really needed, and I didn’t WANT anything in particular. But they can often be misunderstood, so be careful.

You might try going shopping with her, at a department store, and when you’re together in the cleaning supplies section, scope out her reaction to items. If she shows that she really wants something, then you can buy it for her, “My treat, since you like it so much.” But make sure you tell her that you like HER.

Gratitude about what she does for you is good, but it’s even more important to feel valued for who you are, not just what you can do or give to others. Therefore, I urge you to cultivate a relationship with her that goes beyond gratitude for cleaning. Discuss her interests and get to know her as more than just the “cleaning house mom.”

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GleanerGirl October 12, 2012 at 6:42 pm

OK, I’m gonna go against the tide here. You do not HAVE to be able to clean to live on your own. You just have to find a way to get the cleaning done.

You can hire a maid, if you can afford it. If you cannot afford to pay cash, then you can barter with someone, offering a good or service that you can provide, in exchange for the cleaning. Be creative!

As for doing your fair share as a housemate, do not limit your views so much that you judge your share based only on housework. There are other things you can do to contribute to the house, such as cooking, or providing extra in the way of shared groceries. If you are a good student, perhaps you can trade tutoring for chores, with your roommates.

As long as everyone agrees on the value of the various kind of work that needs to be done, cleaning, cooking, tutoring, etc., can all be shuffled and sorted out in what everyone agrees to be a fair way, and you need not actually do any cleaning at all, so long as everyone in the household agrees that what you actually DO is your fair share.

As for mothering the girls who come home drunk or high every weekend, and get them medicine when they are sick, that is very kind of you, and you are helping the “suite” as a whole. You do, however, need to be careful that you do not move from “taking care” to “enabling.” For instance, you can follow-up the helping when they are drunk or high with some “motherly” advice the next day, as well as the warning that you will not always be there to pick up the pieces. This is not a threat. It is a fact. At some point in their future, they will fall to pieces, and you will not be there, because you will have moved on. Maybe graduated. Maybe moved out. Maybe just out of town, or maybe just too fed up with them, but it WILL happen. Tell them this when they are sober, and see what you can work out.

As for taking care of them when they are sick, that is very kind and charitable of you, and I hope they reciprocate when they are sick. The truth is, though, many people are just not the care-taker-type, and you cannot rely on them to take care of you, reciprocally.

However, maybe those two roommates do have something they can offer you and the cleaning roommate. Maybe they can tutor you? Or maybe they know someone who would be a good friend for you, and understands your situation, and how you feel about social anxiety and the like. Maybe they could introduce you. Again, be creative, and open, and don’t limit yourself to looking only at chores as a means of doing a “fair share” in a shared environment. If nothing else, they can contribute by sheer entertainment value. Are they funny when they come home drunk?

Good luck!

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