Dear Margo: Mr. Clean He Is Not

Margo Howard’s advice

Mr. Clean He Is Not

Dear Margo: I’m not sure whether this is a problem, but it sure is annoying the heck out of me. I am newly married (less than a year). My husband and I did not live together before we tied the knot, so it’s come as something of a shock to learn he is in no way neat. In fact, he is a slob who thinks nothing of tracking in dirt, sand, gravel or whatever. He seems totally unaware of the mess he makes. I suppose there were hints before we shared a dwelling, but I guess they didn’t register. Now that “our house” is my house, I am noticing, probably because I am always cleaning up after him. He responds to neither hints nor direct requests. Do you have any advice for me? — California Neatnik

Dear Cal: Grit happens. Because your guy does not respond to hints or requests, you may find it easier and less stressful to take matters into your own hands (along with a broom and a vacuum), which would make it a non-issue. If there are things he does for you, and I hope there are, in your mind make them a trade-off. I pass on to you something I learned from my mother. It is easier, in terms of aggravation, to just pick up his socks, sweep up the dirt, wash the dishes in the sink, etc. When the irritation goes away, you will be minus one problem. I think the fact that your spouse spaces out about what he tracks in is small potatoes. I suspect the equality brigade will come after me, but truly, I think it’s easier to train a dog than a man. — Margo, historically

Picky Eaters

Dear Margo: We have an 8-year-old grandchild. He’s a good child; however, he is picky with foods. Like many children, he loves all the foods that aren’t the best nutritionally. My concern is that when our grandchild visits us, come mealtime my husband becomes angry to the point of not speaking to the child and making faces at him when he doesn’t eat foods he’s never had before. In addition, he rarely finishes what’s on his plate, usually eating less than half of the meal. I have limited his snacks so that when it comes to mealtime he is hungry. I’m trying to help my grandchild, but I am at a loss to understand my husband’s way of handling the situation.

He says discipline is needed, but I find this type of “discipline” not only harsh, but mean. As a result, our grandchild becomes anxious and worried when it’s mealtime. I have told our grandchild that the rule is to at least try one new food each time he visits. A little history: The child’s mother has some emotional issues that unfortunately interfere with her ability to be on top of her game in parenting. As a result, this child often has to fend for himself, which includes getting himself up and ready each morning for school and most often leaving the house without any breakfast. In the meantime, how do I cope with my husband’s behavior toward this child? — Torn Between Two Loves

Dear Torn: There’s a lot going on here. For one thing, I am wondering who is the child. Making faces at a kid thinking it is instruction is juvenile. Tell the old boy to cut it out, and also to bag his anger. He is making things worse. I like your rule of “try something new.” If he doesn’t eat it or doesn’t finish, say nothing. Hungry kids will eat. As for the situation at home, show your grandson, when he’s with you, how to fix cereal and milk with fruit or grab a health bar. If you stay on the case, time and teaching will ease the problem. — Margo, sensibly

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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84 comments so far.

  1. avatar Allaroundtheworld says:

    Regarding the picky eating child:  I just read a really interesting articule regarding children and how their taste buds are underdeveloped and many of the foods that are “good” for us in actuallity taste bitter to them, but as we age our sense of taste evolve and go from bitter to sweet. These foods tend to be green veggies and some roots veggies. There are also some legumes that fall in this catagories. When the child starts puberty, their taste buds starts to change also.  My brother was this was. He was so very picky as a child and wouldn’t eat anything and we also had the add problem of being a military family and living in different countries for the first 17 years. Fast forward another 25 years and now my brother eats everything.  I think forcing children to eat foods that they obviously don’t like is not right, I agree with the try one bite and it you don’t like it, fine at least you tried it. Just make sure you have the children vitamen, protein shakes to balance out their diet. I think so many of us have been in that possition from our own parents of “you’re going to sit there until you eat every bit, there are starving children in Africa, etc..” That we haven’t kept up with the new science of childrens health and food.

  2. avatar NicoleDSK says:

    Gotta be realistic. If the kid is eating Chicken Nuggets and chocolate at home he’s not going to make the switch to salad and kefir very easily.

    So you have to find a happy medium… something healthy-er, but still palatable. Perhaps homemade versions of the crap he eats. They still aren’t perfect, but are certainly healthier than fast-food joints. Also, meals should be fun. Shared meals and food are one of the joys of life. Make it so.

    Get the kid involved in food prep. Ask him what he would like to eat, help him research a recipe (you obviously have net access since you’re writing to Margo), go shopping with him for ingredients, and help him make it.

    You could try cutting up your own fries, spraying them with oil, and baking them. Heck, even if you deep-fried them they’d still be healthier than most of the ones you buy in restaurants, depending what oil you use. If he goes for the home made fries, try sweet potato fries next.

    Does he like pasta? You can do homemade mac and cheese and throw a few veggies in like peas, or meats if you eat meet. You could use whole wheat pasta. Or a tomato sauce with added veggies. You could puree the sauce so the veggies aren’t chunks.

    My kid likes cream of veggie soup. A vegetable boiled in some bouillon, pureed, with cream. If she needs extra convincing I add goldfish crackers. You don’t mention if the kid is overweight, so I assume he isn’t, in which case the cream shouldn’t be an issue. Even if he is overweight, if he’s eating high fat foods anyhow this won’t be any worse, and may get his palate acclimated to the taste of veggies.

    Home made pizza on whole wheat crust with from-scratch tomato sauce is another option. Or even on white crust if you prefer.

    Tacos can be well-balanced and healthy, you can leave off the sour cream or substitute plain yoghurt strained overnight in a paper towel, and use tortillas instead of fried shells. Get him involved making fresh salsa.

    Most kids like strawberries and grapes. You could try yoghurt with maple syrup and honey, and whatever fruit and nuts he likes. Hell, even strawberries dipped in sugar is better than a Twix.

    Don’t worry if he doesn’t finish his plate. You may be giving him too much. Or perhaps, like Harry Potter, he has a hidden stash somewhere. Either way, let him each as much as he wants to. If he tries everything, that’s a good start even if he leaves a lot on the plate. Perhaps you should let him serve himself.

    If he’s involved in making or choosing the food he’s more likely to eat it.

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      “Get the kid involved in food prep. Ask him what he would like to eat, help him research a recipe (you obviously have net access since you’re writing to Margo), go shopping with him for ingredients, and help him make it.”

      I can still remember the very first thing I made—it was lemon soda out of a book I got from Weekly Reader as a child. My mother and I went to the grocery store specifically to get the ingredients and I made it that night. While it wasn’t my favorite thing ever, the excitement of taking a trip to get something special and going home and assembling it made it completely worthwhile. Within a year I had graduated from grilled cheese to pudding, to hamburgers to BBQ chicken, and after that—lasagna (which I’m known for and is still my most favorite thing to eat ever).

      About the only thing I don’t do well is baking.

  3. avatar KL says:

    LW — To you, I say grow up. There are some major problems in life and among couples, but this doesn’t have to be one if you don’t make it one. I say the same to a lot of these commenters. Yes, it would be great if our spouses were all the same in all things because there would never be any areas of conflict, but that’s just not reality (and it would probably be pretty boring and never allow for differences to foster growth).

    I say you should check out Dan Savage’s little youtube on the Price of Admission — quick google search will find it quickly. He does an excellent job of saying basically what Margo does. There will always be differences and annoyances. Part of being an adult is choosing your battles — which are ones that are worth fighting over and which are the “price of admission” for being with your beloved.

    His example is how his husband can never put away sandwich stuff after making a sandwich and how he used to chase after him, yelling, “put away the fucking mayo, mustard, bread, cheese, etc.” And then one day it dawned on him that it literally took 1/10th of the energy to do it himself than it did to yell at his husband and he realized, “oh, this is one of the prices of admission” for all the other great things his husband brings to the relationship.

    I’m not saying people should be slaves to their partners, but judge it in the whole context. Yes, he may be terrible about this dirty tracking thing, but what about other things? Does he do other things in your relationship that make cleaning up after his dirt tracking ways worth it? If you focus on the positives and are truly grateful for all the great things he brings to you and the relationship, cleaning up after a little dirt tracking will be so much more tolerable. But, of course, this all depends on whether he has those other amazing things or not. If he does, it’ s a no-brainer — choose your battles. If not, then maybe this isn’t such a great relationship anyway and you’re just focusing on the dirt tracking as a symptom of a much bigger problem.

    • avatar LuckySeven says:

      It’s the principle. Why should I have to pick up a mess I didn’t make? Why should I always be punished with extra chores for being the neater, more-conscientious, one? Why should I give up my free time because this other person is a slob? Why should I spend money to replace spoiled groceries that somebody else left out?

      Relationships are two-way streets, and that means that one person can’t do all the giving in. If they want to stay together, the slob needs to step up.

      • avatar KL says:

        LuckySeven — and it’s this “principle” I think people get all confused about. You don’t have to clean up after anyone, but, in my experience, when you’re in a healthy marriage, you can choose to help each other out — and in fact, you want to help each other out. Sometimes, one spouse is better with money than the other, so he/she takes care of the bills, investments, etc. Does it mean the other one is incapable? Or because he/she isn’t as good at it, that he/she is disrespecting the other? No, absolutely not.

        You can pretty much say “it’s about the principle” about anything. But what is the principle you’re fighting for? To have everything your way? That’s what it sounds like to me.

        A marriage is about a partnership, not necessarily every single task being 50-50. If the overall balance is good, then it shouldn’t be a big deal if one spouse does more of one thing or less of another. I think that’s Margo’s point. If he’s contributing in other ways that are important to LW1 — like financially, helping/doing laundry, yard work, etc. — then it shouldn’t be a big deal for LW1 to take up the laboring oar on cleaning up on the dirt tracking as it doesn’t seem like it’s something the husband is doing it intentionally — it’s just simply something that doesn’t occur to him and he’s clueless about (per LW’s own admission). If he’s not helping out at all, yeah, maybe you and David have a valid point that something big needs to change. But she doesn’t say that — she is just complaining about ONE very minor thing.

        Some of the commenters here, you included, seem to make this into a bigger deal than it necessarily has to be. You decide to make this issue about a “principle”, and about being a slave, or in David’s case, apathy, resentment, lack of respect, etc. Those could definitely be there and they could be surfacing in such ways — but that’s not necessarily the case. This could be just a situation where their lifestyles standards are different and they should focus on finding a solution where both their needs are being met, or as close to that as possible, before jumping to conclusions that the husband is trying to make his wife a slave, doesn’t respect her, will breed apathy and resentment.

        So far I’ve heard none of that from LW1 — only that she wants her husband to change, he’s not changing and she’s trying to figure out a way to make him change. And I think such a perspective is a recipe for disaster. It’s one thing to make your needs known; it’s a whole other thing to demand that someone meet them in a very specific way and if they don’t, tell them that they’re a pig, inconsiderate, disrespectful (like David said), etc. Jumping to those value judgments over something that could be a very innocuous difference in lifestyles is very, very dangerous.

        If this dirt tracking thing is a symptom of something larger, sure, LW1 should investigate it. But, if she feels that he’s generally a good partner, that contributes to the household, respects her, loves her, wants to make her happy, etc., then she should just let this minor annoyance go and realize that’s the price you pay for being with someone you love. Sometimes, they’re going to annoy the heck out of you, but you have a choice on whether you’re going to allow that to significantly bother you or to just let it go. People in the latter group are much happier overall because they can see the bigger picture and are grateful for all the positives rather than disproportionately unhappy over minor negatives. Perspective. Get some.

  4. avatar Janet66 says:

    Well, call me the “equality brigade” but I’m sorry: it’s 2013 and women should not be picking up men’s socks from the floor. The first year of marriage is like jello setting, you need to establish a fair and equal division of household labor NOW and also set reasonable standards for cleanliness, otherwise you will be stuck with a status quo that breeds resentment. Then, your husband will write in to Dear Margo complaining he never gets any sex.

    I’ll be damned if I’ll pick up a man’s socks from the floor. And I have an amazing relationship and even better sex life. You set your boundaries from the beginning. With an Ex I lived with, here’s what worked: He would randomly leave his underwear all over the house. One morning, I found he had left his underwear on the kitchen floor. A girlfriend was coming to visit. I was embarrassed but thought, hell with it! His problem, not mine. I left them there. I explained to my girlfriend who then teased him when he got home. He never did it again.

    Do. Not. Pick up after a grown adult unless you want to be treated like a maid for the rest of your marriage.

  5. avatar A R says:

    LW2: Wow, you opened a can of worms!
    I’m going to come down on the side of thinking it’s pretty stupid to make a rule that says the kid has to try one new food when he visits. You can feed him healthy foods, but you don’t have to expand his horizons so uncomfortably. And granddad needs to chill.

    As an adult, haven’t you ever been turned off, repelled, or made queasy by a food’s smell, look, or texture? Why make someone try something they don’t wish to? Sounds like a control issue to me.

    Try healthy versions of what he likes: organic instead of hormone-fed meats, baked potatoes or homemade baked fries instead of chips, and crock pot macaroni n’cheese where you control the ingredients.

  6. avatar bobkat says:

    Late to the party here, I know, but LW1’s letter could’ve been written by me. I disagree with Margo’s advice. I’ve been married for 31 years to a man who constantly tracks in dirt, grass, leaves, you name it, and doesn’t clean up after himself, etc. So I clean up after him, without saying anything, because I tried, in the beginning, to no avail. All these years of cleaning up after him have made me more and more resentful. What he’s doing (and what LW’s husband is doing) is being passive aggressive. I feel for her. Either she needs to assert herself now and tell him to take off his shoes before coming into the house, or the marriage won’t last. I bet there’s more subtle abuse going on, verbal/emotional, that she doesn’t recognize as such (yet), until it’s too late. Believe me, I’m her, 30 years later.

    • avatar KL says:

      Bobkat — it sounds like what you’re doing is also passive aggressive. Frankly, it sounds like both of you have issues. If you don’t want to clean up after him, then don’t. It’s really that simple. But trying to get someone to conform to your desires is a mistake too — and passive aggressive.

      Does your husband not do other things more than you? Yard work? Laundry? Dishes? work full-time/make more money? If he’s not pulling 50-50 overall, then, yeah, it sounds like you have a problem. But that’s a lot bigger than LW1’s issue with a clueless husband that tracks dirt in.

      People divide their labor in different ways. Some do all the work financially speaking and others do all the homemaking. Some do some percentage of both (i.e. both work, both do housekeeping). No way is better than the other. You just have to both respect each other and find a balance that works for you. If you aren’t finding that, then perhaps it’s time to do something about it other than suffer in silence and grow resentful — because that certainly doesn’t help anyone at all.

      • avatar Priscilla L says:

        Making more money does not mean that one gets to slack on the housework. The very idea is misogynist (because women in general make less money than men, due to institutionalized misogyny) and stupid.

        If both parties work full time, then both should do an equal share of the housework, regardless of who makes the most money.

      • avatar KL says:

        Priscilla — it can be whatever people want it to be. Some people like things tidier, some people make more money. Neither is better or worse, so there really are no “right” answers, but just what is right for any particular couple. Finding out that balance and what meets both their needs is a challenge and highly individual and frankly no one else’s business.

        But, one objective fact is that the person that makes more is objectively bringing more money into the household, regardless of institutional misogyny or not. And what does that mean for households where women make more money (which is becoming more and more common in dual income households)? When you have more money and less time it actually makes sense to hire someone to clean more — provided you make more per hour than you’d be paying the person to do the same. That’s just smart business and applying correct valuation theories.

      • avatar Priscilla L says:

        Money is one objective fact, but that value of it isn’t. If both parties work full-time, then neither of them has more time than the other. Frankly, I would dump someone who said I should do more housework because he made more money.

        And, I think cleaning up after yourself is a different matter from routine housework. Routine housework should be equally shared with consideration to other labor (so I do agree that the person working full-time should do less than the one working part-time.) Cleaning up after yourself is a different thing: if you spill something and leave it there, or track in dirt repeatedly without cleaning it up, you are a person showing no consideration for your partner’s labor or feelings. I would DTMFA.

      • avatar KL says:

        You’re right value isn’t objective, but that can vary from person to person, as it should. Your values on it aren’t necessarily the same as others, so people just need to find others that are compatible as there is no fundamental right or wrong there.

        I think your way of viewing the dirt tracking is one way of looking at it, but not the only way and has much more to do with personal style and preference than objective consideration. It’s not something that occurs to my husband because he isn’t used to living somewhere that’s as muddy as we live now, so he didn’t grow up having to do that — and it’s just not within his nature. Just like fixing things around the house doesn’t come naturally to me nearly as much to him.

        To me, I see those things as different skills and proclivities — neither makes someone inherently more considerate, but just different. You need to find someone that thinks similarly to you — that such things are indicative of consideration. But there are other ways of looking at it too and they are no less valid.

  7. avatar Wryle says:

    My 9 year old son is a very picky eater. Our doctor said “No child has ever starved to death that had food available to them.” Sometimes I worry that my son is stubborn enough to put that to the test! Forcing a child to eat is never the answer. If I force my child to try something new, he will say he dislikes it just on principle. I think the grandmother is doing the right thing.

    Could the grandfather’s attitude have played a part in the daughter’s issues?

  8. avatar jennaA says:

    LW1: Excellent advice from Margot. I have a feeling this guy is still fairly young. Initially the pair will have to figure out how to accomodate the other. However, as he grows and matures as a husband he should come to realize that his wife is cleaning up after him and change his behavior. Nagging never works and tends to have the opposite effect but leading by example often does the trick when living in such close quarters. This is, of course, barring the possibility that he’s just very juvenile and doesn’t care what his wife thinks.

    LW2:  I can see it is difficult for grandparents sometimes. As you get older your patience wanes aside from the fact that you might not agree with the way grandkids are being raised which is frustrating. Taking grandpa aside and telling him he isn’t helping is more than appropriate. And doing the best you can to make healthy and appealing meals for an 8-year-old is something most of us have to battle with :)

  9. avatar luna midden says:

    lw2=getting the boy to try a new food each time he visits is not a bad idea, as long as it isn’t FORCED! and the kid DOES NOT GET EMOTIONALLY AND MENTALLY ABUSED!!! (maybe her daughter has the problems she has, because of HER FATHER, THE LW’S HUSBAND!!!!

    Pity the poor kid-no mention of a father, the mother is supposedly a mental and/or emotional wreck-that the boy supposedly gets up and dresses himself and feeds himself before school (were did the lw get this info? from her daughter or the boy? and is the boy a liar?). AND IF THE LW’S GRANDCHILD is getting up, feeding himself, dressing himself, why isn’t this LW seeking help FOR HIM? Trying to get more INTO HIS LIFE???? Kind of understand between this LW, and the Husband why the daughter is supposedly like she is…..

    W1-Got a husband that is similiar -can’t change him. Why is he like this??? HIS MOTHER!!! And my late MIL ONCE COMMENTED that HER HOUSE never ever looked so, well, not organized’.(never outright called it a pigsty… but..) I quickly pointed out to her that I worked as an RN who worked many more hours then HER PRECIOUS SON, and, that I should/could, would not be in charge of cleaning the entire house=Especially when I was doing 12 hour shifts 3 days in a row AND I then I pointed out to her, that  her son does not seem to know how to MOP A FLOOR, WASH A DISH, etc. etc etc. She then, like a proud peacock with his plume extended… ‘I KNOW, I ALWAYS CLEANED UP AFTER HIM!!!’ Said thanks for nothing, really for nothing… because you did not help him learn skills for later in life. I do not think, Yes, I know, SHE NEVER GOT IT..

  10. avatar Priscilla L says:

    Regarding letter #1: I have tried Margo’s suggestion, when I lived with my own disgusting slob. It did no good. Frankly, I really hate and resent cleaning up after other adults, so no, cleaning up after him did not ease my irritation. If I wanted to clean up after someone, I would have a child.

    If he does not respond to direct requests to clean up after himself, I strongly suggest a) hiring a maid if possible, b)sending him to a doctor to be evaluated for ADD and c)moving out if nothing changes. My partner turned out to have ADD, but even ADD treatment did not make a difference in his filthiness. We tried counseling, nothing changed. In the end I moved out and THAT was the only thing that made a difference. It scared him straight, so to speak: he got it together and started keeping a cleaner house. Now I can visit and it’s in much better shape.

    Re: Letter #2: the grandfather is acting like an immature ass. He is increasing the kid’s anxiety around meals. I am guessing the daughter with emotional problems inherited them from her father. He should in no uncertain terms cut that out right now. What he is doing it NOT discipline, but bullying. The grandmother’s insistence that the child try new things is discipline, the granddad’s stupid, childish behavior is not.

  11. avatar Janet66 says:

    This may be helpful to the LW with the messy husband. Note: the authors say picking up after your husband like he’s a kid does kill your sex drive, cause marital unhappiness, etc.

       Most unhappy marriages are unhappy for the same reason. The wife is angry and complains that she has to do everything for her lazy husband. The husband accuses his wife of nagging and bossing him around. Nothing he does is good enough for her, and she’s not affectionate the way she used to be. If this sounds familiar, help is here in the form of an in-depth guidebook called How Can I Be Your Lover When I’m Too Busy Being Your Mother: The Answers to Becoming Partners Again.

  12. avatar Janet66 says:

    Priscilla, totally agree with all your comments. You are totally right! Study after study says the happiest marriages are the ones with the most equal division of household labor… And p.s., re: the ADD boyfriend – been there, done that! I get it.

  13. avatar jillybean1013 says:

    LW1: I had a great mentor that helped me out with hubby differences….make it easier for him to do what you need. My husband would come home from work, take off his clothes and put them in the washer. I’d go to do a wash, turn on the water (I add soap before clothes), open the lid and find a pile of clothes getting wet that weren’t even the same color of load I was doing. So she suggested I buy a hamper to put in that room and encourage him to put the clothes in there instead. That way he didn’t have to walk back the bedroom and change his routine too much. And I didn’t have to change my washing routine. LW1 can buy a mud mat to stick by the door and ask that shoes be taken off there. If there are other areas in which he’s untidy, come up with some organizational tools that will be easy for him to make a part of his routine instead of changing the routine. She must also remember in the first year of marriage, he’s probably mum still on some of her habits that are driving him up the wall. Sounds like a “Come to Jesus Meeting” is just around the corner for these two. Been there, done that!

  14. avatar Diagoras says:

    I don’t agree with Margo’s advice unless she is a stay at home wife but hardly anyone is anymore. Both spouses need to pitch in to do housework or the resulting unfairness will inevitably lead to resentment. If he tracks in dirt, then he needs to do the vacuuming. Not that you need to demand he do it as soon as he tracks it, but tell him it’s his job because he messes up the rug more than you and it should be done once a week. Having everyone do housework on the same day seems to work out best.

    I never pick up my husband’s socks because I told him early in the marriage that only socks in the hamper (or the designated hamper pile if the hamper was filled with clean clothes) would make it into the washing machine. Not only does he not leave his socks in odd places but he actually does our laundry on occasion, even though he travels and is not always home. It’s not a matter of training a man, it’s a matter of expecting fair treatment and making your expectations politely known early on. (Also, it helped that the first few loads of laundry I did as a married woman were missing some socks.)

  15. avatar Diagoras says:

    Best thing you can do for a picky eater is to teach him or her to cook. If they are too little to use the stove safely, they can learn to mix an egg with milk and scramble eggs in the microwave. You can even make pasta or rice in a microwave. Or they can open a can of soup into a microwavable bowl and heat that up. Later on when they are older, you can teach them how to broil steak or chicken in the oven, and then more complicated dishes. Not only will this keep you from going crazy when they don’t like what you’ve cooked for dinner (because you can say, okay then go get your own food), you will be teaching an important life skill.