How to deal with a messy cabin mate

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Q: Tom, Chef, 29:

“My young cabin mate is unbelievably messy, and hasn’t cleaned the bathroom once since we started sharing together 3 months ago. I was actually really messy once, but a chief steward I shared with years ago made me see the error of my ways! So I know this guy can improve but he’s completely ignoring any hints I make about him pulling his weight. We have strict cabin inspections on board so it’s actually quite a bit of work for one person to keep it all clean. He’s also really noisy and inconsiderate with turning lights on and banging doors etc. while I’m sleeping. He’s a decent guy to work with—he’s just a nightmare to live with! How do I get him to snap out of it without causing an argument?”

A: The Crew Coach:

Ah, the messy and inconsiderate cabin mate! We’ve all had them (or been them) at one time or another. You’re in the perfect position to bring this guy around, as you’ve actually seen both sides of this story: you were once messy and inconsiderate to your cabin mate, and now you’re the clean one getting frustrated with the other guy! Some might see some irony in this situation, but I see the perfect example of how people can improve, and then use their experience to help others improve too.

I’m guessing you don’t like confrontation, as you mention ‘hints’ that you’ve made about him pulling his weight. The question you’ve got to ask yourself is this: did you have to interpret ‘hints’ from that chief steward who once showed you how to be clean; or was he more upfront about it and told you what was required? Sometimes the best approach is the honest one. Don’t hide behind veiled hints or sarcastic comments, and then be frustrated when people don’t either see them or act on them. People aren’t mind-readers — and even if he is picking up on your hints, you’re obviously not making it clear how much this matters to you and the yacht.

Don’t feel like you’re being difficult about this: the fact that your boat has a strict cabin inspection policy means that this messy guy is out of step with what the boat requires of its crew. Basically, you need to have a chat with Mr Messy. For these kinds of discussions I always feel it is better to do this in a casual environment, preferably off the boat if possible – you could suggest going for a coffee or a drink after work to have a chat. In this chat you want to:

Explain you’re not judging him, because you used to be messy yourself! You just wanted to be upfront about the fact this is bothering you, rather than getting frustrated and letting it damage the cabin dynamic. He’ll almost certainly appreciate your honesty – certainly much more than if you didn’t do this and instead went to the chief stew or captain about it behind his back!
Make it clear that the cabin inspections mean that he needs to be doing his fair share of the cleaning as part of his job onboard, and that it’s not an optional thing. It’s not just that you are being some kind of OCD freak! You mention that he’s young, so it’s probably worthwhile pointing out that he’ll need to learn to be clean if he wants promotion and a career on boats, as senior crew are expected to lead by example and have clean cabins. This also very much applies to the door-slamming and other inconsiderate behaviour you mentioned. These things are yachting etiquette 101, so you’ll be doing him a real favour by explaining that he needs to do this if he actually wants to advance his yachting career.
Come up with a mutually agreed solution. It might be a cleaning rota for the bathroom, or a checklist you can both use to keep the cabin clean. When you’re doing this, be realistic. Aim for something realistic that you can both meet without too much trouble or hassle. You can also agree what the ‘penalty’ is for not keeping to this: make it something like you have to cover the other person’s next watch or something like that, if the cleaning is not done or the agreement is not kept. This will help to incentivise the behaviour you want.
You mentioned that you’re trying to avoid an argument, but my experience over the years is that skirting around an issue can actually cause resentment to fester, and more often than not you end up having a huge argument in the end. This doesn’t need to be an argument at all: it just needs to be a friendly conversation and a guiding hand to show him there is a better way and that there is a good reason for changing his ways. Believe me, if you do this right he’ll thank you for it; just as you appreciate that chief steward who trained you all those years ago.

Have you had a messy cabin mate? How did you handle it? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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