Domestic Drudgery – Domestic chores are impossible to escape. Whether you live in a house or an apartment, a duplex or a mansion, the trash needs to be taken out, the laundry needs to be done, and the dishes need to be washed. If you are one of the lucky ones with a fulltime housekeeper who attends to your every need, you might be able to skip this chapter. Otherwise, read on. We will help you understand how your idea of what makes a home can affect your relationship. We will show you how to divide up the chores fairly and give you tips to help you follow through.
➤ Understanding how you feel about your home ➤ Strategies for allocating chores ➤ Ideas for remembering your responsibilities
➤ How to keep your end of the bargain ➤ When to hire a housecleaner
Everyone views his or her home in different ways. For some, it’s the one place where they can relax and be themselves. They enjoy being able to come home, grab a drink, sit down in a comfortable chair, and put their feet up. They don’t want to think about getting a coaster for their drink or taking their shoes off before propping them up on the table. They might throw their jacket on the couch or not rinse the sink out after brushing their teeth.
This behavior might drive their spouse crazy. Their spouse might view their home very differently, seeing it as the one place where things are in order, away from the chaos of the outside world. They like to in- vite people over spontaneously and want the house to always look nice. They are always going around clean- ing up after the other person and really resenting it. They spend twice as much time on housework as the other person and always feel their spouse is not doing his or her fair share.
Where Do You Stand?
Before you and your spouse can organize your weekly chores, it’s useful to figure out how each of you feels about your home. Decide whether the following state- ments are true or false as they apply to you. Then have your spouse answer them.
- I like to feel totally relaxed in my home. True or False
- It’s important to me that everything is in its place. True or False
- My dirty underwear doesn’t always make it to the laundry basket. True or False
- I prefer the bed to be made neatly every morning. True or False
- I like to eat all over the house, not just in the kitchen. True or False
- Dishes should be washed as soon as you’re finished with them. True or False
- I leave magazines and books wherever I read them. True or False
- The bills should all be left in one place. True or False
- I enjoy putting my feet up on the coffee table. True or False
- I always rinse the sink well after brushing my teeth. True or False
To compute your score, add up your “True” state- ments in the odd-numbered questions and your “False” statements in the even-numbered ques- tions. Do the same for your spouse’s answers.
0–3 You like your home to be in excellent order, and you like things in their place.
4–6 A certain amount of order in your home is important to you.
7–10 You tend to be very relaxed in your home, and keeping things perfectly neat is not that important to you.
If you and your spouse both fall into the same category, you probably have a similar idea of what needs to be done to make your home livable. If the two of you fall into different categories, you will have more of a challenge creating a home that both of you are happy living in. It’s important to realize that both of you cannot have the exact kind of home you want. Two people living together always need to compromise. But there are ways to make the house livable for each of you, if you are willing to negotiate.
I Can Live with That
If you and your spouse feel differently about your home, it’s important to break the problem into manageable pieces. To start, list the 10 most important items that help make your house into your home. Examples might be making the bed in the morning, keeping laundry off the floor, putting your feet on the coffee table, or having a snack while watching TV.
By listing the things that are most important to each of you, a problem that seemed huge and difficult to tackle is now more manageable:
1. __________________________________________________________________________ 2. __________________________________________________________________________ 3. __________________________________________________________________________ 4. __________________________________________________________________________ 5. __________________________________________________________________________ 6. __________________________________________________________________________ 7. __________________________________________________________________________ 8. __________________________________________________________________________ 9. __________________________________________________________________________
Go through the list again and do the following three exercises:
- Mark items on the list that you can easily do by yourself. For instance, if your spouse doesn’t care about making the bed neatly, you might decide that it wouldn’t be so terrible if you just made it yourself in the morning.
- Now write down ways you could compromise on some of the items. Maybe the person who likes to eat throughout the house needs to promise to get the dishes back to the kitchen immediately after eating. Or maybe the person who likes to put feet up on the coffee table will first take off his or her shoes.
- On the items remaining, for those you cannot reasonably do yourself and those you feel that you cannot compromise on, write down the specific behavior you would like from your spouse. For instance, if your spouse leaves sections of the newspaper all over the house, it would be reasonable to request that he or she pile them in a central place right after reading them.
Now, instead of general frustration, you have a list of your specific needs. Your spouse will be more apt to meet those needs, both because you now have specific requests (which are always easier to follow) and because you have earmarked several items that you are going to do yourself instead of complaining about them!
Getting Beyond Stereotypes
There is nothing coded on the XX chromosome that makes women more capable of doing the dinner dishes than men. But people who grew up in traditional households in which their mother stayed home and did the majority of the housework and their father worked outside the home will find it hard to shake off these stereotypes. Men might feel deep down that their wives should be doing most of the day-to-day homemaking, and women might feel their husbands are doing them a favor by helping out around the house. Couples may view housework as something that falls into the lap of the woman rather than viewing it as a team issue.
Clarissa tended to do the majority of the housework even though she was also working outside the home. Her mother did a wonderful job of running the house- hold she grew up in, and she assumed that she would do the same. But Clarissa was run ragged. Although she had recently increased her work from part-time to 40 hours a week, she still continued to do all of the grocery shopping, all of the vacuuming, all of the clothes washing, and all of the dinner preparation.
Henry mowed the lawn and occasionally helped with the heavy cleaning. Clarissa never once asked him for help with the other tasks. It never occurred to her that her husband should help out more. She never thought about the fact that her mother, who was a full-time housewife, was not trying to take care of the entire house while working outside the home 40 hours a week! Clarissa and Henry’s relationship suffered for it. Clarissa became irritable and felt tired all the time. But she and Henry both grew up in homes where their mothers did all the housework. Neither of them had a different model.
Chores Are a Bore
Times have changed. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the traditional division of labor, which includes the man working full-time outside the home and the woman taking care of the house. But now, many women also work outside the home and are still forced to continue taking care of all the household duties. However, it’s very im- portant to take into account your outside obligations when dividing up the household chores. Most people are busy and would rather be doing something else than washing the dishes or taking out the garbage. But chores are a fact of life, and they need to get done.
It’s useful to create a chore chart that will work for your household. Some items on the chore chart will probably be standard, and others will be specific to your home. You and your spouse need to sit down together to make a list that will work for both of you. If you are currently doing the majority of the housework, your spouse may not be so enthu- siastic about working out a new system with you. But if there is resentment on your part, then you need to explain this to your spouse.
Holding grudges because of unfair workloads can lead to conflicts in other areas of your marriage. You need to come up with a compromise chore list. You may not be thrilled with it, but it should be one that both of you can live with. It should in- clude daily chores as well as weekly chores. The following list starts with some standard things that most households need done, with space left for you to include special chores for your household.
Taking out the kitchen trash Emptying all the wastebaskets Grocery-shopping
Doing the dishes
Household laundry (towels and linens)
Cleaning the closets
Cleaning the living and dining rooms Ironing
Straightening up the living areas Annual spring cleaning
Mowing the lawn
Taking the garbage cans to the street and back
Cleaning the bathrooms Cleaning the kitchen Cleaning the bedrooms
__________________________________ __________________________________ __________________________________ __________________________________
When the two of you come up with a complete list of chores, it’s time to divide it fairly. You need to take into account how much time each of you works outside the home. If you are working 20 hours a week and your spouse is working a full-time job, it would be reasonable to expect that you would do more of the housework. But if you are also going to school or taking care of the children, that needs to be taken into account as well.
There are many creative ways to divide up the chores, but it needs to feel fair to both of you. Some couples like to rotate chores on a monthly basis to make the routine less dull. For instance, one month you might clean the bathrooms and vacuum every week, while the next month you might take care of the major kitchen cleaning and grocery-shopping.
Hang It Up
After the two of you have divided up the chores in a way that will work, we recommend creating a monthly chart and displaying it on the refrigerator or bulletin board.
When you have completed your task for the day or week, check it off. By putting a check mark next to a completed chore, it will add to your feeling of accomplishment. You will know that you have done your share that day to help keep the household running smoothly.
It’s very important to keep your end of the bar- gain. If you have agreed to take out the trash every two days, don’t forget. It’s not your spouse’s re- sponsibility to nag you into doing your assigned chores (which would be unpleasant for both of you). It’s your responsibility. Doing the dishes is as much a part of your relationship as candlelit din- ners. Your spouse needs to know that he or she can count on you and that you will follow through on what you say you are going to do.
Can your spouse count on you? Do you follow through on what you say you are going to do? If you answered “No” to either of these questions, think of three specific things you could do to im- prove these traits.
1. __________________________________________________________________________ 2. __________________________________________________________________________ 3. __________________________________________________________________________
When a Chore Is More Than a Chore
What if it’s your spouse’s responsibility to take out the garbage, and he or she keeps forgetting? You’ve tried yelling and threatening that you won’t do your chores if your spouse won’t do his or hers, but nothing has worked. You feel frustrated and stuck.
Ask yourself: Is my spouse absent-minded and truly forgetting? Or is he or she not doing the chore in order to feel in charge and doesn’t want me to nag? Is my spouse angry with me and “acting out” his or her anger by not taking out the trash? Or is he or she feeling overwhelmed in general and dropping all “nonessential” responsibilities?
1. Do a reality check. Maybe your spouse is overwhelmed with his or her other responsibilities. This is a big issue and is about more than taking out the trash. You will have done your significant other and your marriage a great favor by recognizing this and by suggesting that the two of you have a heart-to-heart talk.
2. Explore reasons. Perhaps your spouse is still grumbling over the fact that he or she missed a special program on television to go out to dinner with your rela- tives. Unresolved issues can hurt all parts of a marriage. Make time to discuss what might be bothering your partner.
3. Remind without words. Carry the trash to the door. Put the empty laundry basket near the dirty clothes on the bedroom floor. Don’t say a word. Hopefully, your spouse will get the idea and finish the chore him- or herself. If this “silent reminder” bothers your spouse, don’t continue to do it, but take the opportuni- ty to ask for suggestions on how to remind your spouse of his or her chores.
4. Make it part of a routine. Suggest that you both do 20 minutes of chores while dinner is cooking.
It is not your responsibility to do your spouse’s chores, but sometimes he or she might need a push in the right direction. Think about what you would like your spouse to do and then figure out what action you can take to get him or her to do it. Often chores become sources for anger and resentment. While it is important to re- solve these issues, it is also important to put chores in perspective. Life is too short to let chores ruin a marriage—or even a day.
Hiring a Housecleaner
In many households, finding the time to get all of the housework done is tough. Both of you might be working and be pretty exhausted at the end of the day. A solu- tion that works for some households is to hire someone to help with the weekly housecleaning. Someone who comes to your home every week can help with the weekly chores such as washing the sheets, vacuuming, and cleaning the bathrooms. While it’s unlikely that this person will be able to do all of the chores, he or she will put a large dent in your household chore chart.
Hiring a housecleaner costs money (surprise!). You need to weigh the cost of the serv- ice against the benefit you and your spouse will get from it. First, find out what housekeepers charge where you live. Then decide
if you have room in your budget to add those charges. If you do and you feel it would be helpful, go ahead and try it for six months. Then evaluate with your spouse whether it was money well spent.
If a housecleaner would not fit your current budget, you need to decide whether you can cut down on other expenses. Could you be stricter on your clothing allowance, eat out less often, or cut out a small vacation a year? This is a very personal deci- sion. Having your time freed up on a regular basis might be more important to you than eating out every week at a nice restaurant—or it may not. If the two of you are feeling pinched for time, however, you might at least consider this option.
The Least You Need to Know
- ➤ Everyone views his or her home differently. Be clear about what you need in your home.
- ➤ Using a chore checklist is a useful way to remember to do your chores.
- ➤ It’s important for you to keep your end of the bargain.
- ➤ Hiring a housecleaner can be money well spent.