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My flatmates used weaponised incompetence against me

By Natasha Coyle

Can weaponised incompetence apply to flatmates too?

Do your flatmates like to play Jenga with the recycling? Perhaps they pretend to ignore that the tinned tomatoes they failed to rinse out properly are sprouting a lovely garden of mould in the kitchen. Or maybe they just didn’t clean up after a house party. 

It’s not just ignorance that results in leaving a trail of ick in a shared flat: it’s a purposeful and weaponised incompetence when someone thinks you’ll do a better job of cleaning it up. Whether you are the flatmate who ends up being the unwilling cleaner of the establishment, or you’re the one acting like the guest in a hotel, here are a few tips and experiences to counteract weaponised incompetence, or to make you aware if you need to do better. 

Now, when one of my male friends attempted to iron his shirt for a summer ball at pres and was failing miserably, I genuinely couldn’t stop myself from going, “Oh, just let me do it”. While it has been known for men to pretend they can’t do simple chores so women will pick up the pieces out of frustration, this weaponised incompetence transgresses gender in uni flats. Anyone can be a perpetrator. Having lived with strangers, some who became friends and housemates for the rest of my undergraduate degree at Exeter University, and opened many a passive-aggressive message that would put a dampener on my night – or straight up annoy the hell out of me – weaponised incompetence is a major pet-peeve of yours truly.

From “could someone clean up the chunks of hair in the carpet”, “could someone clean all that grime that’s festering under the sofa”, or “could someone clear their breadcrumbs up that’s covering the kitchen side”. My most detested being, “someone’s used all the toilet paper”. Erm, that was you who actually indulged in the loo roll that I bought only yesterday. That leftover takeaway that’s stinking up the kitchen clearly didn’t sit very well.

These examples are a short list of things that I experienced as an undergrad, including me being the one to hoover up the grime under the sofa; clean the kitchen sides; and pick up the chunks of hair (although a disproportionate amount of them were blonde and I have recently realised that I shed hair as much as my dog); and walk to the corner shop to buy another pack of toilet paper. Oh, and that takeaway is still stinking up the kitchen like some Parfum du Rot. Oh, what, you think I’ll do a better job of taking the bins out, so you’ll let me do it? Cry me a river. Sarcasm aside, I have tried many a tactic to fight back against this quite frankly irritating weapon of incompetence through three years of experience. I got my degree, so in the end, my frustrations even during periods of ramped-up workload were not awful and I powered through. But the frustrations can be emotionally consuming and, honestly, aren’t worth the stress. 

So here are my tips for tackling this epidemic in your uni flat. Passive aggressiveness sometimes works but doesn’t always. I have left angry notes, messages on whiteboards, and messages in group chats. Sometimes, this tactic does work. The bins have been taken out, the toilet roll replenished, and the clumps of hair removed. But I have also had negative responses where the perpetrator responds with an equally passive-aggressive comment or uses the scapegoat of “I have so much uni work”. Don’t we all? So my next suggestion is … Be honest and upfront about the issue. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, say it. It doesn’t have to be in person; a polite text will do. But I often like to do it in person. What? I like causing violence, okay? I say this jokingly, but in all honesty, saying it to someone’s face can be difficult but the message hits home and quite frankly, can’t be ignored. If the perpetrator still continues with the criminal behaviour even after the very un-British thing of not beating around the bush, try…

Putting their rubbish in their room. Yes, I’ve done this. I’ve also thrown people’s cutlery and plates away after the sprouting garden of mould was an unwelcome addition to the houseplant collection. But sometimes putting the unwelcome houseplant next to their actual houseplant in their room might ring some bells and suggest that they need to, at the bare minimum, clean up their own stuff. Baby steps.

One final suggestion I have: if a flatmate is taking liberties with the likes of toilet roll and pretending it wasn’t them that used it all, just keep it in your room. That’ll show them when they next get that takeaway, and they’re left hovering and cowering over the toilet bowl. But this risks self-sabotage if one time you forget to take the loo roll in with you. Try and test this tactic at your own risk.


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Speaking from experience. It’s best to deal with shenanigans like this before getting into a long term relationship with someone who does this crap. “I can’t pick the kids up.. I’ve a meeting booked at that time.” Aye.