Eight years ago I devised the perfect rule set for sharing a living situation, and these guidelines represent the fairest and most efficient solutions to the common problem of sharing your kitchen space with strangers. These are childishly simple: Don't leave any messes, at all; clean them immediately when they are made. That's it, and it works.
That system performed flawlessly—field tested—for about seven housemates. Then, in 2020, I allowed a friend to move in during the middle of the pandemic, and everything went to hell. She never cared what worked best, nor why, and instead turned my life into a hostile war zone.
The main features of my house-sharing algorithm are fairness and efficiency. The system is excruciatingly fair and egalitarian, as no one is ever forced to address someone else's mess. Each party leaves the kitchen ready for the next housemate to cook in without the need to pre-clean before even beginning.
This is the most elegant, efficient solution for several reasons. It avoids conflicts, as conversations about messes and cleaning are completely unnecessary. There is simply nothing to discuss, ever. That's a lot of time saved, and effort, and annoyance. The kitchen remains in a state of readiness, so that no meals are delayed or derailed by the carelessness of others.
In my house-sharing Rental Agreement, the rules were stated as follows:
“Each roommate will clean up the kitchen after his/her use. Dishes should be rinsed off and ready in the dishwasher. If items need to soak, they can do so on the left side of the kitchen sink, but they will need to be loaded for dish washing in a timely manner.
Counters should be wiped clean after use.
Floors need periodic sweeping and mopping, which will be on a rotating basis.”
That system worked like clockwork for seven years until the arrival of anarchic chaos. There is another approach to kitchen etiquette, the most inefficient, unhygienic, rude, and frustrating approach. It's real, and it's here now. The two approaches are not equal.
Since I never required my friend to sign that Rental Agreement (or provide first/last month's rent or security deposit), communicating to her the system's value and rules became a tedious, grueling affair that destroyed the friendship. The rift caused fights. She has been uninterested and viciously hostile to the idea of any changes to her behavior.
The main inefficiency with her do-whatever-the-hell-you-like approach is the finger-pointing. That bit over there wasn't me. I'm only cleaning this area etc. ad nauseum. Nauseum. A perfectly solved situation became an endless series of pointless arguments. Arguments swiftly escalated to bad feelings and bad blood. The stress and psychological damage were absurd. None of these conflicts were ever necessary in the first place.
The next, and perhaps most significant, problem with kitchen anarchy is hygiene: counters are never properly cleaned. Random items are left in the way of a proper cleaning, thus interfering with other people's ability to clean, and to prepare their food, even if they decide to improve on another's sub-standard efforts. A dirty kitchen is a travesty, in my view, and unacceptable: that is where I choose to draw the line. Mankind has known about bacteria for quite a while now and should be united behind the cause of fighting against it. Kitchens are for preparing food; they are not playgrounds.
Lastly, leaving food waste around a kitchen attracts insects. Some people never got on board the perpetual war between the humans and the ants, roaches, and vermin. My system above smoothly avoids this problem, as there is never any bait left out to entice passing bugs. Hygiene is prioritized. A collection of fresh, clean rags is available on demand. It should not have gone off the rails.
I knew that my friend was a messy person, and she was raising a child—so double messiness. Her kitchen had been crawling with ants back when she rented her own house. The bugs were attracted to all the crud left smeared on every counter surface. Over time I came to realize that this was no fluke but her idea of normalcy.
When she moved in, I made repeated efforts to communicate to her the importance of following the tested system, but she refused. Wouldn't hear it. Talked over me. Argued every point every time. She deemed it “not necessary,” when I clearly found it necessary for the above stated reasons and more: it was my preference to live in a clean environment.
But, she was also an amateur-level hoarder, which is relevant in this matter. I once mentioned the old, “Give 'em an inch they take a mile,” aphorism. No effect, she kept on taking, every square inch of the common areas. When her hoarding encroachment finally covered over the kitchen island, I had to interject.
She then made it personal, as in personal attacks, rather than simply taking care of her own business and avoiding conflicts with her housemates. This interpersonal conflict escalated to an R-Rated horror movie level, as if the pandemic wasn't harrowing enough to endure. Tense hostility hangs in the air at the time of writing.
Leaving messy problems for other people to solve is fundamentally rude. It's also incentivized for bad actors to be as lazy as possible and to do as little cleaning, so long as other housemates fill in and clean for them. This habitual rudeness builds resentment over time: that's why it needs to be addressed up front as part of a lifestyle choice. If there's a better way to manage a shared living arrangement, then why not at least consider it?
Far too many people, in my experience, behave rudely, mindlessly so, constantly infringing on others, such as with their cell phone speaker noise. Walking around with a noise box constantly invading others' peace and quiet is rude. Rudeness in a living environment is a cause for annoyance and should be minimized, not ignored, and not humored. These are our lives. They are important to get right.
I hope these real world experiences help somebody out there understand what works better and why.