(This essay first appeared in the November 26th, 2006 edition of the West Bloomfield Eccentric)

My room is messy. And smelly. There are piles of papers and text books and empty cartons of half eaten food lying around all over. Trash has begun to overflow into plastic bags that surround the can. The sink cannot accommodate anymore dirty dishes in need of washing. Empty bottles stand on tables and lie strewn over the floor. The smell is sour, from spoiled milk, with a hint of garbage and dirty clothing. Grace walks in.

“Eeew! It smells like a pet store. What’s going on in here?”

The cleaning service is on strike.

I am on strike.

Not formally of course. I doubt there is a union for college students that clean up after their roommates, but if there were, and the dues were reasonable, I would join immediately.

But as this union has not established a chapter at the University of Pennsylvania just yet, I had to take action independently. Eric, the other roommate who has lifted a finger to clean, and I had tried to negotiate with the non-cleaning two to get them to pitch in. Suffice to say, they haven’t and instead of hiring a lawyer to sue we concocted a hare-brained scheme to motivate the other two. We would simply out-dirty them.

That was two weeks ago.

At this point, I am beginning to be scared that neither side will cave as the cleaning task becomes more and more daunting and our room becomes more and more uninhabitable. Cleaning is not a mindless task anymore, it is starting to feel like a repulsive one. If it gets too bad, we may have to seal off the common area and abandon it, not to be reentered until the end of spring term, and then only in moon suits. Maybe we could get a Superfund cleanup. At the very least if we put the procrastinate that long, we will need nose plugs, rubber gloves, and cans of Lysol.

I doubt, though, that that will happen. At home, I used to think that I was messy. My parents still think I am messy. But living in a dorm has taught me a thing or two about messiness, and I am not messy. I like for things to be clean and odorless, and this along with my need for dishes to eat on will most likely lead to me caving in and cleaning the common room before too long.

In all honesty though, I am building up the task of cleaning the room far more than it should be. Taking out the trash, cleaning the bathroom, and washing the dishes, the three most urgent tasks, would take only a few man-hours to finish. And the only hard part of cleaning is starting to clean. But there is a great mental inertial force that makes all of us carefully balance the banana peel and empty takeout box on top of the trash can instead of emptying it.

When the trash can is full, when it should be taken out, it’s far too easy to procrastinate and just toss more on. But then the trash can grows more and more full, and the task becomes less and less pleasant, and is pushed off for longer and longer in the hope that someone else will do it. Eventually, the trash can reaches a point where there is more trash balanced on top than actually inside the can, and no one will touch it anymore for fear of triggering an avalanche. Auxiliary trash cans, plastic bags, are set up, and trash starts to accumulate in strange places. Sumeet’s desk was the popular place last week. Under the common room table seems to be the current favorite.

Please don’t look down on us as four slobs who deserve to live in squalor. In any room, just one messy roommate spoils the whole batch. When one roommate leaves around messes that he neglects to clean up the other roommates resent this and stop cleaning. “If he doesn’t clean, then why should I?” I seem to remember learning something about this in psychology class. If I recall correctly, it’s a phenomenon called “moral drift” and it was first observed in Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment. The conclusion was that actions of members of a group drift towards the worst behaviors represented. I guess our room is confirmation of this.

After thinking of all of this, I suppose I should do something about it. But if I clean now, I would be cutting and running and letting the messy kids win. Instead, I’m going to stay the course and hope by being messy, I can make messy kids neat. Does that make sense to you? Maybe not, but for the time being, I’ll just spend more time at the library. Or I could get a job at a pet store. After all, if I get acclimated to the smell it won’t be so bad. Right? <div class="tags">categories<ul><li></li> <li></li> <li></li> <li></li> </ul></div>