What To Do When Hostess is the Grossest.

Dear Relationshipper,

Never did I think I would tell anyone about this, let alone ask for their opinion but it's time.  My husband's sister is 36 and married with two school-age kids.  She doesn't work outside the home and her husband is a lower-level bank executive.  We socialize with them occasionally by having them over for dinner and a good movie on cable or DVD.  They reciprocate and in no way do they mooch or scrimp when it's their turn.

What's wrong?  She's a terrible housekeeper.  The house always has a layer of dog/cat hair on every surface, dishes are frequently taken out of the dishwasher before they're washed, given a quick rinse and pronounced ready for use, silverware almost always has dried gunk, bread and rolls often have touches of green mold, milk smells sour, she is a lousy cook and seems to have no idea about basic kitchen hygiene or health reasons for it.  I don't think she's ever cleaned the stovetop. Her husband and kids seem to have established a type of immunity cause while they have occasional bouts of "stomach distress", they don't get sick.

My husband wants to just tell her outright to clean up her act but I'm against that.  It would hurt her terribly and cause bad feelings.  Would it be too cowardly if we only invite them to our house and keep quiet?  We're not cleanliness fanatics but it's a bit much.  He says she was always a slob when they were growing up and his mother just cleaned up all messes.  Then when she got married, they lived with his parents for a while and his mom played janitor.  After they moved into their own house, they had a housekeeper and had her until 2008 when finances got tight.

I've never run into this type of situation and am totally stymied.  She's a really sweet person and I wouldn't want to hurt her feeling for anything.  Can you give me any help with this?


Dear Stymied,

I agree: this is quite a sticky situation (pun intended).  When considering what to do about this situation, you have to keep this one thing in mind: it’s her house, and she has a right to do whatever she wants in it.

Keeping her house a mess is not illegal, immoral or…well, maybe only a little dangerous.  However, she does have a right to live this way.  Your husband may want to give her orders to clean up, but most people don’t take too kindly to commands – nor is it an effective tactic.

The best solutions will come from an attitude of understanding.  Just because she is messy, she is not bad – or even wrong.  If you want to gently coax her into changing her ways, do so in a compassionate manner.  Your husband has blood ties to this woman, so his way of communicating with her will be different.  You, however, would benefit from some more moderate techniques.

For their anniversary or birthdays, get them a gift certificate to a cleaning service.  State that the gift is in lieu of losing their housekeeper, and now they can treat themselves.  Alternatively, offer to wash dishes after dinner, and don’t take “no” for an answer.  Kind gestures will be more likely to win them over than ultimatums.

However, this is not to say that you should tolerate truly sub-par cooking preparations.  If she offers you bread with mold, by all means let her know that your bread is moldy.  Do it in a swift, brief manner.  If there is cat hair in your coffee, mention it.  Utter a curt announcement like, “Uh-oh, cat hair!”

Women are generally acutely aware of the judgments of others.  If you let her know in a non-threatening way that sour milk is not your favorite beverage, she may begin to take note.

In the meantime, you might consider inviting them over to your place for 2 out of every 3 get-togethers.  No need to shun their house entirely, but if you don’t care for the conditions at their home, you might as well spend more time at your own.

Good luck, and remember: cleanliness may be next to godliness, but compassion is the language of virtue.


Let’s hear about more family issues: lisa@relationshipper.com


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