Why don’t people clean up after themselves?

the discarded trash that didn't make it into the canPerhaps I’m in the worst town in America for this observation, but I’m baffled why people don’t clean up after themselves in public places. I’m sitting at a busy Starbucks in Las Vegas, Nevada, on a bright Sunday morning so perhaps it’s something to do with hangovers after staying up way too late and drinking way too much alcohol Saturday night in Sin City, but still…

From observation, it seems like there are two types of people who aren’t good at cleaning up after themselves, the clueless, and the uncaring. You probably see both of them all the time too, with the former characterized by dutifully grabbing two cups off their table and throwing them away as a good citizen would do. Except there were three of them and the third cup is now sitting, waiting for another customer to ignore, toss or for an employee to clean up after them.

It’s the latter category that bugs me more, however, See that plastic wrapper on the floor right next to the trash can? I watched a woman walk up to the trash and shove all their refuse within. That fell and she watched it slowly float down to the floor, then walked away without picking it up. I noticed because I absolutely expected her to pick it up. Wouldn’t you?

I wonder if it’s symptomatic of a greater consequence of the increasingly narcissistic world we live in: just outside the door is a kiosk where they’re selling selfie sticks. You know, extending poles that you can use to take arms-length self portraits without the bother of asking someone else to help you out. If it’s all about me, then I can just rely on someone to run along behind me, cleaning up after my mess, right?

dirty table at starbucks

Certainly that seems like a parenting issue because goodness knows I can talk until I’m blue in the face without my kids recognizing that putting the milk back in the fridge after using it is smart, or that dishes belong at least in the sink after a meal, if not in the dishwasher itself. I sometimes dream of an OCD child who is obsessed with having the house be neat and clean. As mental illness goes, at least that seems somewhat beneficial to the family.

Just kidding, I don’t mean to make light of any mental illness, of course. But still, compared to having violent mood swings or looking for sharp objects to practice self-mutilation, washing the dishes seems a lot easier to handle. 🙂

It’s hard to find good statistics on how often children clean up after themselves, but I am pretty sure I’m not alone in having children who are more than a bit clueless about household and community cleanliness and who enjoy and appreciate a clean home without realizing that their contribution would be a mitzvah and much appreciated.

How about you? Are you one of the unwashed masses who expects someone else to clean up after you or would you have bent down to pick up the errant plastic refuse rather than expect someone else to do so? And what strategies do you have for helping encourage your children to learn how to be clean and help maintain a clean living space?

Oh, and for the record, I picked up the plastic wrapper after I took the photo. 

15 comments on “Why don’t people clean up after themselves?

  1. Public property is nobody’s property, which means nobody but a neurotic has any incentive to take care of it. That’s why socialism is stupid, dude.

    • I clean a lot because my mother forced me to, she was very frightening and would force me to spend hours cleaning. Now I’m very neat and will clean up after others if they are too stupid/lazy to do so for themselves. Previous commenter is a jerk who thinks that people will do everything for them. Some of us actually want the world to be a nice place to live in.

      • No, public property is just a bad idea. People shouldn’t have to be ‘tricked’ into taking care of things. If someone has property they will take care of it, or they will suffer.

        If Starbucks cared they could throw out anyone who littered. But they’re dealing with a mass of incorrigible retards. Such people need to suffer for their mistakes, which is why ‘public property’ is fucking stupid.

        It’s also why people SHOULD trash public property, because otherwise they’re just propping up a broken, idiot system (much like morons that vote).

        • “Nah”, your comment makes precious little sense. Are you saying that all property, all land, all parks, all open spaces should be privately owned and that it’s just the owner that should be responsible for keeping it clean?

      • Clearly he’s in the latter of the two categories.
        It’s just the right thing to do. (Pick up)
        It is upsetting that people don’t care, but unfortunately it’s the world we live in. Just do your part and carry on. It does get frustrating at times especially when you witness it firsthand, but does no good to get yourself upset. It doesn’t accomplish anything. (Accept if you use your frustration and anger to clean your house top to bottom— )

      • Amen! I say it’s a lazy thing, knowing if your only there for a visit. Whoever lives there will pick up whatever you don’t . Common dude use a little energy !

    • duh??? socialism is stupid? haaaaaaa so you do not like cleaning after yourself or having clean streets, safe roads, bridges, clean water, air and land. there are no socialist countries.
      the public spaces are the social spaces. public = social ..that is why it is your job to clean up your mess not someone else but especially America the me me land of no freedom, no self responsibility, always someone else’s fault. was way. you make the mess you clean it up or pay someone to babysit you. Duh

  2. I agree with Kate, I found this article because I was frustrated with how lazy and unclean people can be. I like to come home and see a clean home. I don’t expect perfection, but I’m tired of leaving it clean, going to work, and every evening coming home to mess. It’s not cool, dammit!

  3. Very interesting posts. We are supposed to have morals, intellect, self respect, respect for others, hygeine, etc. We all have to tread are way through the many arenas “airports, hotels, city streets, sidewalks, parks, etc.” in life. Yet so many people are lazy, disrespectful, disgusting slobs. Check the crumbs, dirt, wrappers, ground in food and sticky beverage spots on the seats in all these areas, or perhaps the wrappers, paper cubs, cans, bottles, plastic or paper bags you might see on the ground. Then take a look at the many items spilled “soda, milk, juice, melted items, condiments, etc., spilled on the floors of many of these places.
    Most people leave these behind, failing to clean their respective messes because they don’t care. To say it’s because they don”t have ownership or incentive is laughable. Check their homes and find they are slobs in the very place they own and have incentive to take care of.
    They don’t care about any property or possession.
    The human race is truly divided into attitude, image, deception, discontent, laziness, greed and selfishness, and there those that are any combination of the preceding list. Those that trash this planet have complete control over there decisions and actions. They chose to be lazy, disgusting, disrespectful slobs. Just call a person out the next time he or she leaves a mess behind. Oh wait, that’s right, he or she will be insulted by your insinuations, or will offer multiple excuses, or my favorite, tell you to clean the f?$*#** mess. Not many will apologize, take accountability, or responsibility for their actions. I rest my case..

  4. Also to note, if you’re dating someone and see that they leave all of their clothes on the floor In their bedroom, pump the brakes. I just got out of a long relationship where I could’ve seen this foreshadowed while we were dating. It was a sign of a woman who naturally has a lack of cleanliness That never got better.

  5. Love this article. cracked me up bc it is right on.
    I found this site while looking up how to motivate young people who share a house to clean up after themselves..
    I live in The Netherlands, am a coach, therapist for teens and young adults.
    The shared homes for learning to live on own always has problem with them cleaning up social spaces they share like kitchen and bathroom. Being raised to be responsible for myself always, I was shocked at first how entitled and bratty the youth of today can be. I always know which ones follow FB. The are the dumbest and most angry. So searching for quotes and shared tips so can post on their what’s up just to bug them. haaa so thanks go fatherhood, good article. always good to know not alone.

  6. My Parents nipped this in the bud when I was small. My Mother actually sat me down and said this “You are a unique individual. In a world full of unique individuals. You are no more important than the person next to you. So show them respect.” I was also taught to clean up after myself and put away shopping carts and baskets because it makes things run smoother. I was taught not to steal because that made the prices of things go up. She also said “You don’t have to be friends but you do have to work together.” that applied to everything where there was more than one person present.

    Things were taught to me in a “Humans are a herding species and you need to be able to survive that when we’re gone.” kinda way. Logic instead of emotion.

  7. I saw a woman throw her fast food cup out of her truck window at a stop light once. I got out of my car to retrieve it. I was going to take it back to my car but when she actually cursed me for cleaning up her mess I threw it in the back of her truck. She jumped out of her truck screaming and reached in the back and came up with a machete. As she came at me with it I got into my car and drove off. She actually chased me for awhile until I lost her.

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