Tell Me the Truth, JoAnne

Q: What should I do about a partner who snores? —Sleepless in South Jackson
A. The secret of a good night's sleep in a close personal relationship is very simple: a big house. The number of square feet required is directly proportional to the decibel level of the snoring. Err on the side of bigger. (In a pinch, you can try sleeping near a very loud air conditioner.) The Big House Principle, by the way, is applicable to just about any problem in a live-in partnership.

Q: My roommate is messy. What should I do? — A Tidy Guy
A. First, you must disabuse yourself of any notion that your messy roommate will become neat and orderly. It ain't gonna happen. Trust me. I am a genuine, card-carrying slob, and I know. I can just walk across a room and mess it up. Never once have I drunk an entire cup of coffee without spilling some of it on something—and don't even talk to me about red wine. I have the unfortunate habit of leaving a trail of items everywhere I go—keys, shoes, purses, jackets, and mail, screwdrivers, underwear, cigarettes, lighters. I have "lost" every key and every purse I've ever owned, some of them more than a dozen times.

I've read every article and book I could get my hands on to figure out how to become tidy and organized. I could write the definitive book on the subject. I've bought baskets and buckets and barrels and bins and hampers and hoppers and files to put things in, and fancy labeling machines that identify things clearly and precisely. Professional organizers have set up state-of-the-art systems for me, only to break down in tears when they came back to check on my progress. Maids and housekeepers have prayed for me. Cleaning services have blocked my number from their phones.

Yes, I'm as aware as anyone that if I just spent 15 minutes a day, or less, picking up and putting up, I could transform chaos into order. I have tried. The problem is that on the way to straightening up one mess, I make two or three more. It's a constant struggle, and I live alone.

Don't get me wrong: I am not proud of my affliction. I want to do better. I'm a charter member of Slobs Anonymous. I've sent three shrinks' children to college trying to get neat. I understand the havoc the condition inflicts upon children, spouses, lovers, business associates, friends and passersby. I have heard their pitiful pleas and anguished cries. I have faced their threats and condemnation. I feel their pain—and my guilt flows after it like the rain.

So what's a guy like you to do about living with a slob? Is there any ray of hope for you, outside of getting rid of the roommate? YES, indeed, there is.

If at all possible, employ the Big House Principle (see above)—consider a duplex.

If getting a really big house is out of the question, then here's your plan:
1. Immediately put into effect the Closed Door Policy. I believe this is self-explanatory, and you can easily carry this out yourself.
3. You MAY share a bedroom with the Messy One, but the Messy One MUST NOT have his/her closet in this bedroom.
4. If you do not have separate bedrooms, each of you MUST have a totally private space, no matter how miniscule, that is hidden from public view.
5. In one's private spaces, you have no jurisdiction over the other person's stuff, unless it catches fire or the smell becomes criminally suspicious. Then call 911.
6. The kitchen is no doubt a huge problem for you. Hire a housekeeper.
7. Your biggest remaining challenge will be dealing the piles of items the Messy One has left lying around in the rest of the house. This calls for Pile Patrol, and you are It. Establish your authority as the one designated to pick up any and all articles the messy one has scattered throughout the house. You know, just 15 minutes once a day, and the problem's solved! Place the items in a big plastic garbage can (the uglier and more hideous the color the better) and put the can smack in the middle of Slobbo or Slobbette's private space. And there it can stay until your roommate retrieves its contents—or not. If/when the garbage can gets too full to hold even one more key—or if/when you discover it outside the roommate's hidden area—simply haul the can out on the street for the garbage collectors. (My official neatness consultant—a certified Feng Shui space planner, no less—swears that under somewhat similar conditions, the Messy One has actually taken over his/her own Pile Patrol. I wouldn't count on it, though.)

That's all there is to it. (Now, really, isn't this more pleasant for you than constantly cajoling your roommate or being wretchedly miserable all the time?) But don't forget: The road to loneliness and despair is strewn with picky people.

And that's the truth.


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