Sunday, September 29, 2013

Training My Roomate

My current roommate Lily, has been my longest standing roommate. She is an easy-going artist-in-training at the local college, a sub-par athlete, a cook, and a giggler. What she isn’t, is a “neat freak” like me.

After putting up with the lackadaisical placement of her backpack, dishes in the sink, handprints on the walls and door handles, and arbitrary use of toilet paper, I felt confident enough to finally take action. Therefore, I decided to train her. For her own good, as well as mine.

After some study, I found that there are two main methods of training generally accepted: positive reinforcement, and negative association. Here is how I tried both of those methods and how they, ultimately, failed.

Negative Association

The first method I tried was negative association. Given that it required only a spray bottle ($1) filled with water, it was the cheapest method. I decided to try it after she got back from a pity date with a nervous boy from our apartment complex. She would be in a fairly good mood, considerably lowering the risk of an inappropriate response.

She got back at 11:08:52. I was ready in the living room, pretending to read one of my geometry books. As I expected, she shut the door and took off one of her platform shoes. Halfway across the living room, she realized that her gait was uneven and slipped off the other one. As she stepped away to leave the offending shoe in the middle of the living room, I sprang from the couch and squirted her full in the face with water.

My aim was perfect.

However, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t  planned out what to do after the ‘negative association’ had been administered.

My boldness leached away by anticipation, I decided to run for it and darted around the corner into the kitchen.

Within a few seconds, Lily silently hurried past the kitchen to her bedroom.  It had worked! The first step to fixing Lily’s lack of neatness was successful! And it had only cost me a dollar.


A sudden spray of ice cold water hit my neck. A scream burst from my lungs before I could breath to shake off the coldness. I whirled around.

Behind me, with a smile as big as the plains of Oklahoma on her face and a half-empty water bottle in her hand was Lily.


The water-fight that then ensued left me in no doubt that the ‘negative association experiment’ was an utter failure.

Positive Reinforcement

My next attempt at training my roommate focused on  her habit of leaving cupboard doors open after she had used them. I decided on this because she  left them open a lot and I suspected that it might take multiple tries to connect the ideas.

At first it seemed to go rather well; she shut one cupboard of her own accord and I offered her a piece of chocolate, which she accepted graciously and ate with great pleasure. As I sat down, chocolate in hand, for her to repeat the behavior, I discovered yet another flaw in this practice; as she set about making chicken-something-or-the-other-casserole, she opened almost every cupboard in the kitchen. However, she did not shut a single one.

I was too dumbfounded to speak. With one smooth motion she popped the casserole into the preheated oven and headed back to her room. How did she live like this? I stood up and walked through the kitchen, able to see the erratically jumbled pans in each cupboard. The kitchen, which had seemed to be the epitome of perfection a moment before, had nearly been transformed into almost distilled chaos.

One of the cupboards under the sink wasn’t opened. Looking around, I slowly opened it up. At least it matched the others now.

I went back to my room to contemplate the situation. As the casserole cooked, I began to regain hope. Perhaps she was somehow too busy to notice the half-hazard cupboards when she was cooking and would start shutting cupboards once she returned to take out the casserole. A timer went off and I heard her rush from her room to take out the casserole. I waited a moment, then followed.

Lily had taken out the casserole, and was now waiting for it to cool, munching on a piece of the chocolate that I had left on the countertop. In desperation, I walked into the kitchen to see if she had shut any of the cupboards to earn chocolate. She had shut one-- the one under the sink that I had opened for uniformity sake.

As a final gesture of defeat, I proceeded to shut each and every cupboard door, making a note to myself to reorganize them sometime soon. Then I sat down to eat the rest of the chocolate bar.

I will have to more research on this matter, before Lily makes me fat.

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