BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

4 Ways to Make the Hard Conversation Easy

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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

My best friend recently adopted a cat. The problem is that he rarely cleans his house — I’m talking papers wildly stacked everywhere, food wrappers from months ago, dirty dishes piling up in the sink, etc.

Since he got the cat, the filth has increased tenfold. Fur and dandruff cover all surfaces, the litter box has only been cleaned twice (he’s stated he won’t touch it because of the smell) and the faint odor of cat urine hangs in the air.

Mutual friends have wrinkled their noses upon visiting, and they don’t stick around as long as they once did. Some have even had to leave because their allergies were too aggravated.

I’ve tried gently suggesting he tidy up or at least sweep — just 10 minutes a day would help! — but he always insists he’s too busy.

It’s to the point that I too have been visiting less often, because I’m starting to have allergic reactions when I go over there.

How on earth do I convince him he either needs to clean or get rid of the cat?
–Kitty is Killing Our Friendship; Chattanooga, TN

In an earlier edition of this column, I covered how somebody could confront a co-worker who chewed with her mouth open.

That was a struggle to write, because the image of that person flashing her half-digested Subway club was enough to make me nauseous.

But you’ve painted a picture that’s even more nauseating.

For some, keeping a dirty house as an adult is the product of being forced to keep a clean room as a child.

After spending their formative years being badgered to make their bed and put away their clothes, they rebel, or simply relax, once they have space of their own.

At best, your friend suffers from this stunted adolescence. He’s a clueless kid, unable and/or uninterested in looking after his home.

And now he’s compounded the problem by accepting a responsibility he’s incapable of handling. How does anyone expect to take care of anything else, even a pet, if they can’t take care of themselves?

At worst, though, there’s something more serious going on.

I don’t know how old the two of you are, but I do know what it’s like to be, say, a 20-something-year-old dude, arguably the most disgusting creature on the planet. I once was one, and so were my friends.

And while our standard of living wasn’t much higher than that of a fraternity house, it was never as low as your buddy’s.

In many cases, a person’s environment, whether it’s calm or chaotic, is a reflection of what’s going on in their life. So it’s possible this squalor is a surface-level of manifestation of a more serious issue lurking beneath the surface.

Regardless of his motivation/indifference, your friend is in a bad spot. His house is full of filth, while his world is hemorrhaging friends.

Which is why it’s time for you, his best friend, to step in.

Here are four suggestions for keeping this dirty work from getting even messier…

1) Tell the truth

As I discussed in another article about cleanliness, there’s a difference between “messy” and “dirty.”

“Messy” is a nuisance. It’s not making your bed, or leaving your jeans on the floor, or seeing how close to the ceiling that pile of mail can climb.

“Dirty,” however, is disgusting. It’s what makes somebody recoil, or gag, or avoid altogether.

Your friend’s place is dirty. And he needs to know that. He needs to know what others think of it and how others see it — and him.

Because at the moment, he’s out of touch with reality. That’s my only explanation for why he’s offended by the smell of cat litter, yet is OK eating amid the stench of cat urine.

2) Preface with positive

With some people, you can be as blunt as you want to be.

With others, you have to slide on kid gloves.

You know where on this spectrum you’d find your friend. But since you’ve tried “gently suggesting” he clean up and it’s gotten you nowhere, it might be time to toughen your tone.

That could mean being diplomatic, or that could mean being, “Dude, your house is a wasteland, do something about it” direct.

No matter which approach you take, while getting your point across is most important, letting him know you support him is a close second.

Tell him you care about him, that you don’t like to see him living like this, and that you’re worried about what might happen if he doesn’t change.

The more he understands you have his best interests at heart, the more likely he is to listen.

3) Find his “what”

Humans are driven by incentives.

We mind our elementary school teacher, so we can get a sticker.

We suppress our crazy, so we can get a second date.

We tell our significant other their outfit looks great, so we can finally get out of the house.

Yes, there are times (though not enough) we do something solely because it’s the right thing to do.

But more often than not, on some level, we’re concerned with what’s in it for us.

When it comes to cleaning his house, what’s in it for your friend?

Clearly he doesn’t care about living in a dumpster. But what else drives him? What does he want? And what will a dirty house prevent him from getting?

Maybe he wants a girlfriend. Maybe he wants to host a weekly poker game, or avoid being known as the disgusting loner with a cat.

Or maybe he still wants to be visited by his best friend.

Find his “what,” and you’ll give him his “why.”

4) Lend a helping hand

You asked about getting your friend to possibly give up the cat, but I wouldn’t worry about that. The cat is ancillary — even if you remove it, the mess remains.

And the mess is the problem here.

Your focus needs to be on getting rid of it, and you can assist that process in one of two ways.

-If you’re feeling generous with your time and sanity, strap on a mask, holster some Lysol and offer to help clean the place. Your friend has proved he won’t do it alone, but maybe he’ll do it as a team.

Make an afternoon — or a long, long weekend — of it. Grab some beer and turn on some tunes to distract you from your closing throat.

Not only will this make you a saint, it’ll let your friend see how the other half lives, which might convince him to change his ways. If nothing else, it’ll hit the reset button, which would be a positive for everyone involved.

-If you’re feeling generous with your wallet, pitch in for a cleaning service, or pay for it outright. Expense it as his next few birthday bar tabs.

Given how objectionable his house is, it’ll be worth every penny.

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This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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