top of page

How to Survive Living with a Messy teenager/employee (aka P) When You're a Freakishly Neat (aka


I'm a Judger, a.k.a a freakishly neat, compulsively organized, stressed out, OCD bore. Ditto my ENTJ husband.

So will someone please explain how we managed to produce an INTP teenager, emphasis on the "P"?

I get that teenagers can be irresponsible, unpredictable, moody, absent-minded, deeply protective of their personal space and relaxed about personal hygiene. But there's a big difference between dealing with the usual adolescent weirdness and dealing with the kind of adolescent weirdness that comes wrapped up in a personality that clashes with your own. And when it comes to living with someone – partners, spouses, children, roommates - the J/P dimension can certainly provide some explosive exchanges.

Basically, Judgers like plans, structure and organization, while Perceivers prefer to remain flexible, laid back and spontaneous. You know someone's a Judger when they're always on time (i.e. early), have plans set at least a week ahead, and get seriously wound up when you leave a pile of dishes in the sink.

Perceivers are the ones who breeze through problems, have no set plans until around an hour before, and think that "dinner at 7.00" means opening the fridge door at 7.30 and realizing there's nothing there to cook.

So how can a Judger live in harmony with a Perceiver without driving each other crazy?

Well, you could try to make them all Judgey by enforcing, nagging, structuring, scheduling and being generally passive-aggressive while using phrases like "my house, my rules" and "if you don't clean that mess, I'm throwing your stuff out in the street."

Or, you could realize that it isn't right, it just doesn't work, and you must find a way to embrace the Perceiving aspects of your spouse/partner/offspring/roomie while acknowledging that you probably have enough Judginess for the both of you.

Here are my top tips for living with a Perceiver when you're a Judger, focusing on three major hot spots: mess, time management and decision making.

1: Don't Mess With Me

All teenagers are messy, right? Wrong! I wasn't. I've always needed things to be clean and organized or else I just can't think straight. It's like my environment has a direct channel of influence on my brain.

My Perceiver's room, on the other hand, is a cesspit of filth. The floor is only visible if her monthly allowance is imminent, and then after much nagging. Worse, she really doesn't understand why I ask her to tidy her space - she knows where everything is, and that's good enough for her. And trust me when I say, this causes way more frustration on the J side of the fence.

Couples argue about tidiness/cleanliness more than anything else, according to just about every piece of research ever done on the subject.

And if you're a J/P combo, you will never have the same standards in this area.

Judgers see mess in snapshot - we look and see dishes in the sink, toys on the floor, laundry to be ironed and dirty streaks around the bathtub. These are problems that pull our focus, because Judgers like closure. Who can rest when there's a problem to be fixed?

Perceivers see the same image but in video. Sure, the house is a mess now, but in an hour or two the toys will be in the cupboard and the laundry will be pressed. The dishes will get done after dinner and the tub will be rinsed down after the kids have had their evening bath. For them, mess isn't a problem to be solved, it's simply a part of daily life. So, they relax and let the chores get done in their own good time.

How to cope?

To a Judger, a Perceiver will always be a slob. To the Perceiver, the Judger will always be a control freak. The secret to solving this conundrum is to accept this fact and recognize that there are limits on how much the other is capable of changing. In other words: don't turn the issue of housework into a battleground.

Perceivers won't have the same priorities as you, so be really straightforward about what needs to be done so you're not preoccupied all the time. A chores rota is a great idea. Include the items that are most likely to cause you stress, but try to build in some flexibility for your freewheeling Perceiver.

For example, you could set out the chores that need doing that week, with a reasonable deadline. That way, your Perceiver can procrastinate as long as she wishes, but she will be super-busy on the last day of the week if she hasn't got her act together before then.

Resist the urge to passive-aggressively clean around your Perceiver or hawkishly tut whenever they do the chores their way (and it's very, very wrong) – this behavior will not guilt the Perceiver into action. You'll just end up feeling resentful that you're doing all the work and your Perceiver will feel resentful that you're trying to control how and when the chores are done. If you can, give your Perceiver a place where you do not have a say – where he can pile up his papers and leave his things lying around.