How We Manage Chores

Chores. We’ve talked about chores what seems both extensively and not nearly enough here at APW. (Though I think we have the smartest conversations on the topic this side of anywhere.) And since today is the day that I confess all my sins to the internet, I’ll be the first to admit that Michael and I are still, four years into our marriage, figuring out the balance (right now it involves having a roommate whose standard of cleanliness is higher than ours).

I remember the first time I read about chores on APW, my mind was blown. I didn’t realize that there were so many different factors at play influencing my filthy house, including how much of our understanding of household roles had been influenced by our gender expectations. (We had just gotten married and only been living together for a short time, so hearing these things was a Godsend at the time.) But now that we’ve done a lot of the hard emotional work of figuring out how to balance our roles in a way that’s authentic to us, I’m ready to shift gears and figure out a tactical system for putting that emotional work to use. Because the reality is, we’re both messy people. Cleaning is not in our DNA. But I think a good system could change that (or least, override it). And I have a feeling that system exists somewhere within this community.

So today I want to shift the discourse we’ve had about this topic a bit and talk about the, well, practical aspects of parsing out chores in your house. What’s your system and how do you keep it working? (The latter half being my weak spot.) Are we looking at chore wheels? Star charts? An inherent desire not to live in filth? And those of us who are still trying to find the balance, share your roadblocks. Maybe there are tidier folks in our midst who can help us get past them. In the meantime, I’ll be here with my steno pad, ready to take notes.

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  • Ellen

    I very clearly don’t fall into the obscenely-clean house category, but wanted to share that L and I just bought a new vacuum cleaner this weekend and I am SO. INCREDIBLY. EXCITED. I also learned that he apparently harbors resentment toward dusting and has done so since he was a kid… I have been living with him for a year and a half now, you’d think I would have noticed that he never dusted! The things you learn…

    • RF

      I never thought this would happen to me, but I also got really excited about my new vacuum cleaner. The chairs are free from cat hair!

      • Ellen

        Right? Buying a major appliance makes you think you are an adult, but getting EXCITED about a vacuum cleaner? Welcome to adulthood for once and for all.

        I could finally actually get my carpeted stairs clean!!

    • For our anniversary one year (I think it was our fourth or fifth? Can’t remember) we got ourselves the Dyson Animal. BEST VACUUM EVER.

      • H

        OMG. This. We got it as a wedding present, and I have never been so excited over an appliance in my life. Seriously.

    • That’s okay; I learned my fiance is scared of dogs after I . . . got one. I mean! he always talks about a few dogs in his life and how much he likes him, and I’ve always said I want a dog (we live apart for right now), so I adopted one, all, “TA DA!” and I found out he’s actually terrified of dogs. It turns out the ones he waxed so rhapsodically about were specifically because they weren’t as scary as regular dogs.


      • Oh no! Maybe he will find your lovely, well-trained dog to be non-scary, like the others? Oh dear.

        • Heh, he’s fine with the doggy now (I’ve had him for almost a year now), but it was pretty weird when I was like, “GUESS WHAT I DID” and he freaked the eff out.

      • I do exactly the same thing as your fiance with talking about less-scary dogs.

        • Slade

          Dude, I do exactly the same thing, but with babies.

    • CW

      One year my mom requested a nice vacuum from my sister and I (we were both already out of college) and many of her friends were surprised by how happy she was with the gift (to clarify, we had asked her for ideas and then asked her if she was serious about the vacuum). What makes it funny is that my dad is the one who vacuums, but the gift was for her because she likes the house cleaner and my dad doesn’t complain/vacuums more often now with the better vacuum, so in the end, it was still a gift for her.

      • Ellen

        I used to have some neighbors where for her birthday, he got her a new grill. For his birthday, she got him a sewing machine. It cracked me up.

      • Rebecca

        I used to swear up and down that I would pay for the fanciest vacuum around as long as I wasn’t the one doing the vacuuming. Glad to know I’m not alone! Somehow I lucked out and found a guy that does the vacuuming anyways (I clean the bathrooms- we’re cool with the trade).

        • Marybeth

          FH and I do this exact same trade. I wonder if this is a common breakdown? We don’t separate out any other tasks, but bathroom/vacuum we do. Is it because they both are weekly events?

  • Megan

    I stink at chores and so does my fella. We both hate them/are lazy. We were much better at being tidy when we lived with roommates earlier in our 20’s – but living together our mutual lack of bother about mess results in SO MUCH CHORE AVOIDANCE.

    Right now, the only real system we have is “let’s have people over so we have reason to clean up our act.” I am not a fan of our system. We want to add a tiny human to the mix within a few years and that’s going to throw many things for a loop. It’d be super great if we figured out how to get our chore doing act together before then!

    Thanks for this post and I’m looking forward to poring over comments for ideas and advice!

    • Hannah K

      hahahaha this is me and my boyfriend to a teeeeee. co-mayors of slobtown. (and we’re having a party on friday to motivate ourselves!)

    • Kara E

      Oh yeah, that’s my methodology (for tidying, not for cleaning).

    • You are *so* not alone.

    • Caroline

      Oh yeah, having people over is big in our how to clean scheme.

      • Zia

        Ha! After 35 years, that’s still my parents too. Whenever I see them cleaning I have to ask who’s coming over for dinner.

    • Tea

      Ha!! So glad we’re not the only ones doing this. Current strategy: Dinner Parties + Monthly Cleaning Service + NO clothes allowed on the bathroom floor ever ever ever (somehow that starts the downward spiral) = Somewhat inhabitable cleanliness? We’ve had to cut a few dinners a month out of our budget to make the cleaning service happen, but g*d knows somebody needs to clean the dang toilet.

      • JessPeebs

        How did you go about hiring someone? How affordable (or not) is that?

        • anon

          I spend $300 bucks a month on cleaning, but My mom says she pays equal in her house and its 3x as big. On the other hand my people do some laundry and dishes when they come (its amazing for me to get a break on those). If you can haggle great, if not do lots of shopping around. Most professional services advertise on craigslist, but so do some individuals – interview some of each to see who is easier to work with / more willing to do the services you want.

        • Jessica

          I got a recommendation from my landlord. In the past, I’ve gotten recommendations from friends. We pay $80 per visit, once every other week, for our small one bedroom, one bathroom apartment. (That said, I think she cleans it in 1.5 hours, though that might be with a second person helping her – in any case, it’s a pretty high hourly rate, so you might be able to find someone for less.)

        • Tea

          We just did a quick yelp search for a cleaning service in our area. We have an itty bitty home and they give us a great deal, but it is only 60 + tip for each visit. Totally worth spending a night in playing board games in exchange for a non-grody tub (not to mention the decrease in bickering).

      • MDBethann

        I hate cleaning and would love to do this, especially since we can afford to do so, but the hubby said no. He hasn’t really given me a reason why, but neither of us seem to enjoy cleaning that much and we force ourselves to do it either when someone comes to visit or about once a month. The thing is, we have cats, so the house really needs to be cleaned more often. But after working 8 hours at the office and a 2 hour roundtrip commute, the last thing I really want to do during the week is clean. Often, chores get done on the weekends, but then my whole weekend is spent cleaning & running errands. I’d rather spend it doing something fun, running errands, and then cooking (the only household “chore” that I actually like).

    • Rebecca

      So, Un F* Your Habitat has a really nice post titled “Why “company ready” is good, but “you ready” is better.” The TLDR is that you spend the most time there- it should be nice enough for you!

      The blog also has some of the most helpful how-to-clean and how to motivate yourself to clean tips I’ve seen.

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        I was trying to summarize that post to a friend on the bus this morning. THIS! Also, I need to go clean my bathroom.

        Edit: I don’t know that my apartment is that much cleaner as I’m trying to adopt this attitude. But I’m not apologizing for it as much when friends come over.

        • Rebecca

          Super secret bathroom cleaning strategy: I keep one of those sponges with the plastic scrubby mesh around it (like these) in the bathroom, and any time I see the start of soap scum in the shower or toothpaste buildup in the sink, I give it a swipe. Most of the time I don’t even need cleaner, and I can clean when I actually notice things are dirty (like when I’m in the shower). And they generally don’t destroy bathroom finishes (even caulk).

          Edit: Cleaner, pshaw. Happier > cleaner any day of the week. (Obvious exception if keeping things cleaner makes you happier).

          • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

            Happier>cleaner Yuppers. Being comfortable with who I am is always a winning strategy.

      • A Single Sarah for certain values of single

        Also! It was easier to adopt this when I thought about whose places I visit. Some friends have places that feel like they could come out of a style magazine (or blog). But many more have places that are various degrees of mess. I don’t get overwhelmed by their mess, why would I think that everyone else will be overwhelmed by mine.

    • Lin

      YES! I was just telling my husband last night how excited I am that we’re hosting people every weekend in May. Finally our house will have to be clean (on the weekends) for an entire month!

  • At first my husband and I kind of let chores lag until the dust/shoes by the door/random spills in the fridge bothered us. Shockingly, that didn’t work so well–I’d feel kind of bitter that he didn’t suggest cleaning but also didn’t want to always be the one insisting that we clean. Now we had a kind of schedule on our shared Google calendar. We’re not too intense about it, but it helps keep the apartment looking nice and doesn’t make me feel like I have to nag. Google tells him it’s time to vacuum instead of me!

    Most chores we rotate on, but laundry is every-man-for-himself. Mostly because we have to lug our laundry to the shared facility a couple of buildings over. I can only carry so much on my own, and am way more likely to make a laundry run than he is. If we had one in-unit, I wouldn’t mind throwing his in as well.

    • Another Meg

      Google calendar to regulate cleaning? Excellent! We use our calendar for so much else, this could be a more elegant way to propose cleaning up the apartment. I might try this.

      • Go for it! Like you guys, we coordinate everything else via Google calendar, so this was an easy way to plan. Originally I looked at other apps and sites, but this was by far the easiest solution.

    • This is BRILLIANT. Totally proposing this over dinner tonight.

    • Sarah

      The Google calendar is a great idea. My husband set up a weekly reminder to do his laundry on Saturdays. I just emailed him to see if he’d like to set up reminders for one or two of the other chores we’ve agreed are “his.” That way it’s the Google calendar reminding/nagging him rather than me.

    • Google calendar chore reminders are SUCH a good idea. I can’t believe I’ve never thought of this before. We’re moving in soon (get the keys today!!!) so we’ve been trying to figure out how to do chores. I’m a neat freak, and he is not, so we’re trying to figure out how not to nag and complain…

  • alyssa

    THANK YOU so much for bringing this up! My hubby likes a clean kitchen and I NEED a clean bathroom, but other than that we are such avoiders of chores. And although the two of us live in it and contribute to the mess, somehow the perception is that I, the wife, should be “keeping a better home.”
    How do we find equality in this? Neither of us likes to clean, neither of us wants to, but we both know that we should. How do we stay on top of the chaos, and what do I say to my mother in law on the subject?

    • You don’t say anything to your mother-in-law. If she makes a comment, she is being rude and you ignore her. It is both of your responsibility to keep your house clean. If she doesn’t get that, you are not going to change her mind. Best you can do is ignore her judgments.

      For how to stay atop of it: try the 15 minutes before bed trick. Both of you spend 15 minutes tidying up before going to bed. Being clean is different than being neat, but it is amazing how much you can get done in a collective half-hour and how being dirty is less noticeable if it is neat.

      • alyssa

        good advice! we’re both definitely clean; neat is what trips us up. I’ve seen a couple of suggestions for setting a timer which could be very helpful.
        thanks for your response! and you’re also right about the MIL – it’s just frustrating sometimes.

        • I’ve got a similar MIL, so I know it is frustrating. It is hard to deal with b/c I know she is judging me when she comes over, but I just keep repeating in my head “not my problem, not my problem.”

          • Amy

            My in laws are much much messier than I am, so at the very least I don’t ever get judge-y comments about how messy the house is. In fact, they seem slightly baffled by our relative lack of stuff/clutter.

        • Jenny

          I’m not sure how much this might help but would having a visible chore list up somewhere- fridge/door etc maybe be a clue that you are splitting the chores? Might be a subtle way to say, hey we are both responsible for the neat/clean/messy/dirty. Then again subtly doesn’t always work.

          • LikelyLaura

            We did this…. and promptly ignored it after about day 2. In fact, we completely forgot it was hanging on the fridge! People would come over, see the chore schedule hanging on the fridge, and say how impressed they were with our time management. Ha!

            (We’re clean before guests come over type of people, too. Though we have people over several times a month, so this seems to work well for us. For now.)

      • Aero

        I have always found the trick to being neat is to have less stuff. I was shocked to have a housemate who put everything away. Every book, every shir, everything. His trick seemed to be if you ten drawers have only enough stuff for nine drawers. Aka allow 10% for overflow.
        That being said my biggest cleaning trick is to throw things out. I do the 15 min before bed thing but at least once a week it’s about putting rubbish in the bin or recycling or sorting for charity. Throwing things out or recycling is by far the easiest cleaning to do.

  • I’m not living with my fiancee yet, but I think we have a sort of upper hand when it comes to who does what because we’re both women and don’t have to deal with assigned gender roles. We both like things clean, which makes things easier, and since I’m on disability and hoping to be a housewife (finances may change this once I’m no longer eligible for state aid), it’s been decided that I’ll do most of the housekeeping and she’ll help out when she can. I have a computer program that keeps a checklist and gives me a pop-up reminder screen, and this helps me feel like I’ve accomplished things. I list even the simple things – making my bed, for instance, something I don’t normally put a lot of thought into – so that I feel like I’ve accomplished something even if it’s been a slow day chore-wise. I do most of my bigger chores on Mondays (laundry, vacuuming, changing the sheets, etc), and on a daily basis I make my bed, do dishes, and at the end of the night do what I call a “five-minute pick up”. I take five to ten minutes out of my day before I go to bed to quickly straighten up the house so it looks presentable in the morning. Just simple things like making sure nothing is sitting on the floor/stairs, folding blankets and placing pillows in the proper area, making sure all the dishes are in the dishwasher or sink and nothing is on the counter… little things like that.

    • Jenn

      I wish my fiancé and I were like this. hah. We both tend to be lazy housekeepers, and passive aggressive at times once we’ve realized the house is out of control. While you’d think in a same-sex couple you could remove the gender role stereotyping such is not always the case. My fiancé tends to feel like I’ve taken her responsibility away if I do any of the more “manly” duties like mowing the lawn and acts like folding and putting away laundry should be my job. I don’t like doing any chore more than another, and even after 4+ years of living together we’re a work in progress when it comes to chores. I suppose as with many other things, we’ll get to a point where we’ll strike a balance and until then keep living in our imperfect sometimes filthy but loving home.

      • Since we’re transitioning to apartment living, I hadn’t considered outdoor maintenance chores, but now that I think about it I’ll probably be in charge of fix-it/”manly” types chores as well. My dad has been a maintenance man for 38 years, so if I need anything done, I can call him and he can walk me through it. Cars will probably be up to her, though. I hate cars.

  • Quinners

    We basically divided up the housework based on who enjoys what/cares most about how things are done. My fiancee had never checked the washing instructions on clothing in her life before we moved in together, so I do the laundry. I let the cat hair pile up until we could make four more cats out of the hair, so she does the floors and the dusting. I’m obsessive about the dishes being perfectly clean, so I do them. She’s a better cook, so she does most of that. Also, I work full time plus overtime, while she works part-time, so she ends up cleaning the bathroom and kitchen more often than I do, but we do both handle that stuff.

    • Kaitlyn

      Oh my gosh, pet hair!!! I have a 15 pound dog but she sheds like crazy, I don’t know where it all comes from. And our fabric couch gets absolutely coated with it.

      Before my husband moved in, I had a system to deal with the hairy-clothes situation: I would take off my “outside” clothes the second that I walked in the door, and put on some hairy “house” clothes. The outside clothes stayed up high in the closet where they were safe from dog hair. I would never, ever wear outside clothes on the hairy couch!! When it was time to leave, I would change at the last possible second and head out the door.

      After months of trying to get used to this, my husband snapped… turns out he really wanted to walk in the door and sit down on the couch without having to change first!! And, he’s way more grossed out by the hairy floors than I am.

      It took me awhile to understand that this was an issue that needed to be addressed. We did not communicate well: it made him so angry and upset that he could barely even talk to me about it! And I had no idea what he was so upset about. Finally, he got me to understand that he couldn’t feel “at home” while constantly dodging pet hair. So, we’ve both gotten a lot better about maintenance, and the dog is no longer allowed on the couch!

      • Karen

        When my partner and I moved in together she came with two big dogs and two snakes. I like the snakes better than the dogs – they don’t smell and they don’t bark. In any case, she agreed that the dogs can’t get on the couches. It was an adjustment for them but it would be a deal breaker for me since I can’t stand the smell of animals on couches. I’m glad that the two of you figured out the issue and how to work through it. Life is definitely harder when there are issues that can’t be discussed.

        • Kaitlyn

          Downside is that the dog harbors some resentment and will occassionally pee on the couch while we’re out… Luckily, this doesn’t happen often but… eww.

    • Sandy

      This is essentially what we do as well. Generally, we both do everything but at different times.

      We have a large number of pets, who require feeding and cage cleaning on a regular basis.(Our house is gonna sounds crazy, so just bare with me.) In the morning, I feed the birds and the guinea pig and Mike feeds the tortoise and the frogs. In the evening, I feed and change the water for my bird and the cats, while Mike does so for his bird and the guinea pig. One of us feeds the fish every night, but this changes a lot, and Mike always feeds the reptiles unless he’s out of town.

      Otherwise, I cook because I love to and it relaxes me, and Mike washes the dishes because he feels that is fair. He does most of the laundry because he works out in our basement by the washer and dryer. (Do a set a military press, fold some clothes.) He vacuums more often than I do because he hates the carpet being dirty and I sweep and mop the kitchen because he’s kinda bad at it.

      We both hate cleaning the bathrooms and avoid it as long as possible. Then one of us does it. Whoever loses the will to ignore it first.

      It works for us because we both want a nice house but neither wants to work too hard at it. We get into issues when I’m stressed or busy. I don’t always “think” of chores if I’ve got other stuff to do, whereas Mike does. He makes time for vacuuming and picking up around the house. If he’s stressed or busy too, then comes home to the house being messy, it adds to his stress.

      • jlseldon7

        The being stressed about clutter is where I’m at. Sometimes I just have to clean in order to settle my mind down. If I know I have a messy house waiting to come home to -its the worst thing ever

        • Sandy

          And I get that, totally. I feel better when I come home after a stressful day and the house is clean.

          My problem right now is that I’ve been working on my master’s thesis and I write all. day. long. And then Mike gets home and is irritated that I didn’t pick up while I was home. Sorry, I barely moved all day. I’ve only peed twice!

          Then we have to have a talk about it which takes longer than if I had just cleaned up. Ugh, it’s frustrating. Hopefully, it’s a temporary situation.

  • Aubry

    Well, we are obviously not the king and queen of clean over here, but we are gonna have to step up our act soon! We are moving tomorrow (exciting!) to a new place that has no dishwasher and the laundry is shared and you have to go outside to get to it. Sigh. But, we have been great this month because our landlord is selling the house and there have been showings all the time. A morning routine of tidying enough that a stranger in your place may want to buy it has been a great habit to get into. I want to keep it up when we get to our new place. Just the thought that a guest could drop by in 10 minutes and I would spend those minutes on the couch or making drinks rather than running around franticly trying to make the place look ok and wondering when I last vacuumed is motivation for me!

  • Martha

    We have a pretty even split. I feel like, generally speaking, we have the same limit of filth we are willing to live with – though my limit is admittedly much lower in the bathroom than elsewhere. We usually straighten up every few days and vacuum/clean when it needs done. The only real things we struggle with are dishes. We both chip in to get them done, but he is Everytime he does a big load I end up cleaning up after his cleaning up because he gets water EVERYWHERE and always misses spots. To be honest though, this only truly bothers me when I have PMS or a particularly shitty day (which is obviously today, as I am bitching about it).

    • Jennie

      OMG. My boyfriend does the same thing. I don’t know how he can wash the dishes when half the water he’s using is actually getting all over the counters, the floor, and himself… I haven’t nagged him too much about that as I’m focusing on trying to *show* him that the dishes he “cleans” aren’t actually clean!! Drives me crazy. And yes, PMS time is the worst time for me (and him) when it comes to dishes…

  • morningglory

    My fiance and I are getting married at the end of May (yay!) and we’ve been living together for almost a year. In a studio apartment. This brings its own challenges. But one victory we’ve had is with laundry: I do all the stuff that needs to be folded right away (shirts, pants, sweaters) and he does all the stuff that doesn’t really matter (underwear, socks, PJs, gym clothes). It lets me be picky about things that I’m picky about, and lets him get to it when he wants, usually while watching TV at night. Now if we could just figure out putting the clean clothes away after we fold them!

    • kgoesgallivanting

      Both of us could live out of clothes baskets for weeks before getting fed up with it (wait, clothes baskets are to hold dirty clothes? Who knew?!).

      • AManda

        Our secret is that we don’t have clothes baskets. John washes the clothes, then I fold them on the bed. Then they have to get put away before we go to bed.

      • Another Annie

        My dresser has almost no clothes in it, haha. Baskets FTW! Partner and I don’t live together yet, and I’d like to begin using my dresser as clothes storage once we do. But for now, I get dressed from my basket!

      • Jessica B

        My fiance and I got one hamper than hangs on the back of the door. It holds one load of laundry, so when it gets full we know it’s time to do the laundry (though I am more often the instigator in the actual doing). Clothes pile up on the floor for a day, and then we have to get the load done and folded before we can clean up the floor. We have a smaller basket for things that should not go in the dryer/are delicate wash so we don’t have to worry about ruining the other’s clothes.

    • Sarah

      Oh. My. God. Putting the clean clothes away. This kills me every time. Every single time.

  • My guy is the neat one in our relationship and I’m one who could live in filthy constantly (and then clean feverishly once I got sick of it or had guests over). Our house is very clean because A keeps me accountable – and never picks up after me. We are very lucky to have two bathrooms and a guest room that I use as my own when no one is visiting. I do whatever I want to those rooms and A doesn’t care. It’s take over a year to get to a point where we can talk about chores and fair shares without having a big fight about it.

    SOmething I’ve found helpful is to identify things I am better at than him. He’s better at picking up and keeping the house tidy on a day to day basis. I am better at actual cleaning. I grew up in a messy house where we only cleaned in massive one-weekend bursts. So when it’s time to get down to business, I deliver the goods and can make a room spotless.

    What’s been important for our growth is to never get angry at someone for not doing something, but to just ask (which is kind of a hard thing to practice). Some of our biggest fights have been when he got angry at me for seeing something was messy and not cleaning it up and just “walking past it.” But when he asks me to take care of something kindly because he’s done XYZ, things go swimmingly. It’s about tone for me. And to him, when I do housework, he really considers it an act of love because a clean house is important to him.

    A’s made some sacrifices so his house is nowhere near as clean and tidy as it was before I moved in. And I appreciate he’s made those concessions for my messy ways as well.

    • Jennie

      That’s so true how tone and the way you ask can either start a fight or inspire your partner to help out. We’re still figuring this one out!

      • Amy

        Oh geez are you guys peeking in our windows? Tone is a huge thing we fight about and it took us both a long time to acknowledge that how we ask for something can and will start a fight if the wrong tone is used.

    • Rebecca

      Just asking was so hard to start doing, but it got easier to keep doing because we both made a point of doing what the other person asked. Not instantly, but if I say “hey, looks like the floors need vacuumed” they’ll be done by the weekend. And if he asks me to corral my clothes back to the bedroom, I’ll have them picked up before bed. Positive feedback reinforces good behavior- and seriously cuts down on the passive aggressive seething.

  • K

    Two words: help and timers. We have someone clean the house once a week. Other than that, when I get fed up with how messy things are, I set a timer. My husband and I clean as fast as we can for 10 minutes, and then we watch tv together. The timer works because I’m not micromanaging him or telling him what to do, and we don’t resent each other for not cleaning. During the 10 minutes, we can each clean or tidy or organize whatever we want.

    • That is a great idea!

    • Moe

      I had a relative that played this game with her grandchildren. She called it Beat the Clock and she set an egg timer. Then everyone raced around feverishly cleaning trying to beat the egg timer. They’re all adults now but when you mention Beat the Clock they laugh.

    • Laura C

      I love this idea so much.

    • Remy

      I have a couple of playlists — about 15 minutes each, but you can use whatever increment works. When I hit play, it’s time to clean. When it’s over, I can finish up what I’m doing and stop, or keep going if I’ve gotten in the mood. I might be singing and dancing along in the meantime. :)


  • RF

    We tried plans and such and it always failed and ended with me majorly pissed, but not talking about it. So now a few times a week we just set a timer to 30 or 45 minutes and in that time, we will both clean whatever we feel is necessary.

    There are still some semi assigned roles (he does the kitchen, I do the bathroom, I do the cat litter and the laundry), but it works because my sense of fairness means that we both spend an equal amount of time doing the tasks. I also do about 2 of those sessions on my own each week because he does all the cooking. Ideally, we’d do a session a day, but with our schedules it’s just not feasible, and that’s okay.

    We have been doing this for a few weeks and it seems to work. There might be a substantial raise for him in a few months at which point we’ll likely hire a cleaner to come in every week or two weeks.

  • Moe

    Dishes are a hot-button issue at home right now. From this one issue there is a wealth of other things lurking underneath that need to be addressed like gender roles, expectation, communication, responsibilty etc…

    If I start talking about it, I get really mad. I need a guide on how to navigate this stuff.

    • Jennie

      Oh dishes. I used to be the same way with dishes. I didn’t realize how much I hated them. Then one day we were on a weekend trip, using a community kitchen and I asked my then boyfriend to do the dishes because I disliked doing them so much. He told me he didn’t realize how much I loathed doing dishes and since then has been the primary dish doer.

      Not sure if that will work for you, but just coming clean about my dislike for dishes worked for me. I still help tidy the kitchen and do many of the other household chores (I’ll do anything to avoid dishes on a daily basis). Also, my husband works more hours and has a much longer commute than me, so I do dishes sometimes – but if there is a day that I’m feeling particularly resentful of the pile of dishes in the sink, I know he’ll get to them!

    • Jessica B

      Dishes are my least favorite chore. I will scrub the toilet, do the laundry, vacuum, dust, and cook as long as I don’t have to do dishes. This does not work in the real world, so my fiance, our room mate, and I came up with a system of cooking/dishes. Basically, if you cook, you don’t do the dishes. If you don’t cook or do the dishes, you put away the extra food and clean up the table. It worked out every once in awhile the person who cooks ended up doing the dishes, but it’s rare and usually results from someone being out of town.

      In order to make sure people do the dishes when it’s their ‘turn’ the other two will leave the dishes untouched (or will add to them) until said person does them. This is a passive aggressive move, but none of us like talking about it and we all get the message loud and clear.

    • Kathy

      This was me: he would ask me to do the dishes in a nasty tone and I would flip out thinking he wanted me to be Suzie Homemaker and a caretaker and on and on. He had no idea why I was so angry, he just didn’t want the ant problem we had to come back.

      The general system we worked out is whoever didn’t cook does the dishes. It works most of the time. Sometimes someone has to do both because of work deadlines, finals, what have you. But something we learned in pre-marital counseling (highly recommend!) is that we’re a team. It’s not helpful to bean count when you’re a team (e.g. well I did this 5 times and you only did it 4!) because you’re in it together. Just help each other out as necessary knowing he’ll help you when you it. It’s working for us so far! Good luck!

    • Moe

      ok so here is the situation:

      currently I am employed full time. my husband is either working part-time or unemployed and looking for work depending on the day.

      when I am gone, he will cook for himself and leave the dirty dishes behind. when I arrive home from work to cook dinner I will sometimes wash the dishes and clean-up the kitchen so I can begin cooking. I am the type of cook who cleans up while I’m preparing a meal so that when I’m finished there is no clean-up needed other than washing the dishes we ate from.

      sometimes I will ask him to wash them first so that I can start dinner.

      last week I came home, washed his dishes and then decided I needed to speak up about it because expecting him to read my mind is unrealistic. “Can I ask you to do something? When you dirty a dish during the day, will you please wash it before I come home so that I can begin cooking in a clean kitchen?”

      He agreed but then after a long pause he replied “If you’re going to ask me to wash the dishes, don’t wash them and then ask me.”

      I could go on with more details, but I don’t want to publish my dirty dish manifesto today.

      • Green

        The end of that conversation (the don’t ask me afterwards part) reminds me of how my fiancee and I used to end conversations / start arguments a lot. Instead of saying OK, we would grasp at something to throw back at the other person to take the focus away from the issue. Defensiveness escalated the whole conversation into an argument EVERY TIME.

        It helped when we had a conversation about it (started by me, but where we agreed we both do this). These days if one of us gets defensive, the other person gently calls them out on it, or just says no big deal. It has really improved our discussions.

      • Remy

        I work that way, too — often when I am done preparing a meal, the only things that will need washing are the dishes we ate from. But when my wife cooks, she uses twice as many pans and utensils as I do, and they’re all dirty at the end. And I don’t like to get up right after eating to start cleaning, either. It’s very frustrating.

        Generally, it’s been categorized: she washes (most) pots/pans, plastics, and silverware. I wash dishes, bowls, glasses, mugs, and most of the cooking/serving utensils. We kind of split the knives and the serving dishes depending on who’s using what.

        • Rebecca

          You’re not alone! My husband’s ability to use all the bowls in the house while cooking has become a running joke. Luckily we have a dishwasher, and he does more of the dishes after he cooks (or I do his dishes as he cooks so we don’t deal with a giant mound after dinner).

      • Rebecca

        Armchair internet psychologizing here (which I am totally not qualified in any way for, feel free to ignore)

        It seems like he fixed on the dishes that you had just done as the problem- like, those dirty dishes were the problem, not the dirty dish trend in general. So, maybe he read your request as asking him to do something impossible (i.e. do the dishes you had already washed) and felt frustrated because he couldn’t “fix the problem”

        You, of course, wanted the trend to change, not the instance. Nosey internet stranger advice: maybe talk about the dishes in a situation removed from them? Like, weekend breakfast? Or while out for a walk (with all the dishes done at home).

        Solidarity on the whole thing, though- I am totally a “clean the kitchen before cooking” person, and he believes in “batching” the dishes, i.e. “why would I wash one dish when I could just do them all at once.” Of course, my solution has fallen into more of a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” trend, so…I’m probably not much help.

        • Moe

          I hear you! ( I didn’t mean to report your comment, sorry)

          To me it seems as though he gets defensive when I mention it. So I’m thinking of a different approach.

          Last night, while relaxing in front of the TV he asked “did I leave a mess today?” He didn’t, so I took the bait and thanked him and told him how nice the apartment looked when I got home.

          We’re getting there, slowly.

      • Beth

        This! I am a clean-as-I-cook person and he is a leave-them-all-til-afterwards person. In theory I like the idea of having the person who didn’t cook take care of the dishes, but if we did that then I would end up doing twice the amount of dishes as he ever would and I reeeeeaaally hate doing dishes. Not to mention the dropped crumbs and spills that are apparently invisible to him.

        I have asked him before to please help with these things and he usually does for like a week and then it’s like he forgets. The kitchen is probably the area of our house that drives me most insane, but I’m still working out how to approach this issue. I just keep thinking that when we move we have to move somewhere with a dishwasher and this will solve 80% of the problem. Avoidance!

    • Hannah

      Ughhhhh dishes. Neither of us likes doing them. The thing that REALLY drives me insane is he leaves the dirty dishes everywhere. I just came home and there was a plate on the couch. WHY? I have asked him over and over to at least put them in the sink, but he says dirty dishes in the sink get “gross” because anything stuck on them gets all mushy. I don’t think we will ever come to a compromise on where the “correct” place for dirty dishes is. He leaves his on the counter, which drives me crazy, and then ultimately I end up doing them. Dishes are the spawn of satan!

      • Aubry

        Yes! Dishes=satan spawn. I HATE dishes (actually have to supress my gag reflex the whole time) and he really dislikes folding laundry so we generally do the thing the other person dislikes and consider it a fair trade.
        And can I take a moment for ones spouse not putting things “away.” Wether it be dishes in the sink (or near it even!) or my biggest one is garbage not in the garbage and recycling not in the bin. Seriosuly, you already rinced out the can, how freaking hard is in to extend you arm 2 feet to the side and put it in the bin, rather than on the counter!? And why do you hang your jacket on the closet door rather then in the closet? So when I go to close it later the jacket falls on me and I have to put it away? OK, so that’s taking it a little personally but it drives me crazy!

        • Lauren

          Do you live in my house? This sounds like what my parents do (leave junk on the counter, not hang up jackets) and it’s driving me bonkers! It’s not just significant others, people! Chores are awful no matter the relationship!

        • You mean I’m not supposed to just hang my jacket over the back of a chair/on the railing/anywhere that’s not a coat hanger? I am terrible at putting any item of clothing away, ever, (seriously, I keep a basket of clean clothes because I’d rather do that than hang them) but my warning sign that it’s getting bad is that I have three coats around the house. Which means it’s time to put things away before everyone else freaks out.

    • rachel

      Dishes are a beast. My husband and I both loathe doing dishes, and for most of our marriage, the dishes piled up in the sink until they were a bio-hazard. It didn’t help that he was in grad school and I was working 60+ hours a week. Finally, just a few months before our son was born, I laid down a hard, fast rule because I couldn’t imagine dealing with toxic sludge dishes and toxic sludge baby poo at the same time. All dishes went in the dishwasher as soon as they were finished serving their purpose, all pots/pans used for cooking were cleaned promptly after dinner by whoever didn’t cook. Clean dishes were emptied right away so that dishes didn’t pile up in the sink. It took us a few months to get into the rhythm but by the time baby arrived, our dishes system was a well-oiled machine. That saved us so many arguments, and made life so so much more sane, since it was a pretty equal division of labor.

      • rachel

        I should note that the cleaning up post dinner has changed post-baby- He hangs out with our kiddo, since it is really his only chance to spend time with him during the work week, and I enjoy a chance to clean in peace and quiet, and have a break from the non-stop stimulation of dealing with a toddler all day. Then I feel good that our kitchen will be functional the next morning, and cleaning doesn’t take away from that precious relaxation time after our son goes to bed.

      • Kara

        Arrgh, didn’t mean to report. I like it!

    • B

      Dishes are the worst!! I don’t understand how my boyfriend can call dishes clean when you can still feel grime on them! After months of arguing, we made it a point that when our current lease was up the next place has to have a dishwasher. We move in on the 17th and I am BEYOND ready.

  • I feel like I’ve been kind of a jerk about the cleaning/house maintenance lately (in that I don’t do much of it), and I feel *super* guilty. We had talked about getting a cleaning person but with our finances in a rather precarious position a the moment it doesn’t seem like the right time. I work more hours than my wife does (although she’s a pastry chef, and I’m a lawyer – so I think she has harder job physically speaking), and have a 1 hour commute each way, and need to be in bed at a certain time to get up in the morning. Lately (like the past 4 months) it’s devolved into her doing EVERYTHING in the house – feeding the cats, scooping the cats, laundry, dishes, etc. And even though I *know* I should help, I’m just tired and I don’t want to, and as long as she’s doing everything happily (or at least without resentment) it’s impossible to make myself do it.

    In more balanced days, we each fed and scooped about evenly, and we did about the same laundry, and used some FlyLady/UFYH techniques (e.g., vacuum the middles, laundry=wash/dry/put the f*** away, etc.). I enjoy dusting, so I do that, and she handles any of the handy stuff (fixing the AC, etc.).

    We have talked about this at length, and she doesn’t mind what she does. But I do – I feel like I’m not contributing in the house at all. So I guess my issue is that I either need to accept what she does and not feel guilty about not doing it, or I need to get up off my ass and just *do* stuff. So hard!

    • Shiri

      “We have talked about this at length, and she doesn’t mind what she does. But I do – I feel like I’m not contributing in the house at all. So I guess my issue is that I either need to accept what she does and not feel guilty about not doing it, or I need to get up off my ass and just *do* stuff. So hard!”

      Yup, this. This this this this this this THIS. Get it? This.

      I mind. I mind so much. And on the rare occasions he does mind, I then feel so guilty I hate myself and get angry. I feel like I’m taking advantage of him, since he doesn’t normally resent it. I don’t have the job stress/requirements you do (I have a pretty normal 9-6, barring summer work travel) but I have an illness, which means pain and exhaustion. And he has less of a structured job, but still, it doesn’t seem fair that he does so much and I do less. And my mother gets on my case about how lazy I am and how sick of it he’ll get and… ugh.

      I need to get off my butt when I’m being lazy, and forgive myself when I’m being sick. But sometimes, when you’re inside it, it’s hard to tell which is which.

    • How long are her days compared to yours? Being a lawyer with an hour long commute each way, they sound pretty long. My husband has really long days, often 12+ hours, and I do most of the housework. I see it as fair. I am home by 5:30 each day and can do more (house)work before he is home. I don’t see it as having to be 50/50 but that we are both giving 100%. He is working really hard and is tired when he gets home. On the weekends we will do some stuff together or he’ll work on a house project while I’m cleaning. Again, we are both contributing. Does that sound familiar to you? That might be the place your wife is coming from.

      • Brittany

        Right now my husband is freelancing between jobs and I am working full time, plus three nights of night school a week. This means on those nights I don’t get home until 7:30-8 pm. Because of this, he does a lot of the chores right now (dishes, laundry, general house cleaning). Basically the only thing I end up doing is dinner, which generally isn’t a chore for me because I love to cook. I felt really guilty about this, and when I mentioned that to my husband he told me he would prefer to do the chores for now, since the schedule I’m working already limits our time together. His reasoning is that in the little bit of time I’m home at night before bed, the last thing he wants to do is watch me scramble trying to get 50% of the chores done, when he can just do them during the day, and we can do fun/relaxing things in the evening.

    • CII

      This! In a similar job / hours balance with the fiance, and spend a lot of time feeling guilty about the chores I don’t do. Part of the issue is that there are things that, when I lived alone, I would do at night after I came home from work (putting the breakfast dishes away, making the bed, putting away the clothes I tried on when getting ready for work but rejected) that he completes during the day. I try really hard to remember that it’s because he’s home more, so he would have to look at those things and ignore them all day long. I also try (but often fail) to at least go half-way (i.e., pulling the bed covers up a bit, not leaving my pjs on the floor, rinsing out the breakfast dish even if I don’t put it in the dishwasher).

      I also say thank you. A LOT. And still probably not enough. I try to make my comments specifically, and cheery…(e.g., “The kitchen looks really great, that’s going to make it easier to get dinner done so we can spend more time together tonight” or ” .

      I also try really hard not to critique the way he does the chores, provided they are accomplished reasonably adequately. For example, I have the luxury of not quite even knowing how the washer / dryer in our house works even though I’ve lived But you know what? That means sometimes a dry-clean item accidentally gets washed (turns out that is rarely an actual problem), or a tank top that I want to wear hasn’t been washed yet…well, that’s just tough poo for me. This “refrain from critiquing” is a much, much, harder thing for me, but it seems important to both of us.

      • No criticism on how the chores are completed is key. Once I’ve gone to the effort of cleaning something, if I hear bitching about just how I missed a spot or I should have done it a different way I’m pretty likely to never do that specific chore again. Ever.

        Keeping the “why didn’t you do it this way” comments silent is hard, though.

      • As the person on the other side of this (there are no jobs here for me, so I’m home and do most of the chores right now) I just wanted to say that saying thank you is huge, and especially when it’s specific to one thing done well. It’s hard when you’re used to having a rewarding career to suddenly have no professional accomplishments. I’ve had to convince myself that it’s ok right now to take pride in keeping the house looking nice and cooking good meals. It doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my ambition to accomplishments outside the house, just that whatever I’m doing, I can and should do it well. It really does help that my husband thanks me specifically for doing chores during the day and tells me when he notices that the kitchen looks really good or something. I do also make sure to thank him for the things he does, even when those things are his job like taking out the trash. And it helps that he does the dishes most nights since I’m the one cooking. I think if he didn’t do that, I’d feel treated like the little woman. As it is, I’m ok with this being how it is right now because it’s what makes sense.

    • i am just coming to terms with our completely unequal chores arrangement, primarily by admitting that it is the case and i don’t inherently mind. which has been hard in itself, because i feel like i *should* mind: i work full-time and do almost all of the housework (she cooks).

      as a wanna-be housewife, i actually like doing most household chores.

      i am just now realizing is that i don’t hate that she doesn’t do housework, the things that upset me are peripheral:

      1. i hate when she says she’s going to do a chore and doesn’t (i have major issues with upset expectations)

      2. i hate when she feels guilty about not doing things (i think i am just too stoic for this; i would much rather do an extra concrete chore than have to figure out how to repair her guilty emotional state (which brings us to: it’s not like other parts of our relationship are all equity either =))

      3. i *seriously* need acknowledgment for my work. we talked about that this weekend, she had *no idea* and of course she’s super impressed with me, didn’t i know!? so, talking, right. instant improvement (also, *i* had no idea how big this was for me until i got a compliment on the house from not-my-wife that totally sent me down the rabbit hole.)

      edit to add: also, i have tried for four years alternately bringing myself down to her level of acceptable cleanliness and bringing her up to mine. the results are unsurprisingly bad.
      (p.s. i feel as though i am bragging on my housekeeping skills, which are, um, not brag-worthy. but have been much better in the month since i had the realizations above.)

  • B

    Ugh, we are still fighting the chore battle constantly. It sucks.

    My one real success is with cooking/meal planning. We alternate weeks, so when it’s your week, you do all the shopping, cooking (or otherwise providing meals), and running/emptying the dishwasher (everyone still needs to clean their own messes/load their own dishes). Not working perfectly, but so much better than attempting to coordinate efforts.

    My other big “epiphany”: if you’re the one stuck doing more of the chores, drop the ones that don’t benefit you. I did all the laundry for three years, all why grumbling about my husband not doing his agreed-upon chores. So I finally stopped doing his damn laundry. Not sure why that took me so long to figure out…

  • Also, not sure if people have fights about the cat litter, but we’ve switched over to a Breeze Box for our two cats and it’s taken a lot of stress off cat maintenance! I really recommend it for couples who fight about whose turn it is to change the cat litter. Much cleaner system too!

    • My manfriend and I have a great rule for this. I do the day-to-day maintenance. Every other day I scoop the two litter boxes, and I sweep any litter that has gotten astray into a little corner. Then once a week I do a full general clean of the area–I still scoop both boxes but I sweep all accumulated litter into a dustpan and I also disinfect the floors around the litter area. I also clean and disinfect the litter scoopers.

      However, once a month to every six weeks (just depends on how bad the boxes are) the manfriend gets to do the Big Nasty Litter Change of Grossness. This involves dumping the litter out and hauling it to the dumpster, washing and disinfecting both boxes, sweeping and disinfecting the entire litter area, and then putting the fresh litter into both boxes.

      This works out well for us–every now and then he will do a daily scoop for me (such as if I am out of town or if I am working really really late) but mostly this is how we stick to it. I am fine doing daily maintenance, and he is fine having to do a bigger clean but only doing it every now and then.

      Our dream, however, is a self-cleaning litter box. One day, one day…

      • We just got a cat. I really wanted one, my husband didn’t really (he doesn’t dislike cats but would never get one on his own). I pitched the idea when we were having a mouse problem and promised promised to always do the cat litter. He brought home a stray kitten as a surprise last fall (best surprise ever!). Flash forward six months and the cat adores him and he loves her (she is definitely his cat) yet I have to do the litter. (I don’t mind, if you scoop every other day and fully replace the litter every few weeks it is not gross at all).

        • Yes, like most things that are unpleasant if you do them frequently enough it just becomes habit and you get over your dread. I never want to do the cat litter but this is what comes with having small furry creatures.

          Manfriend was on board with the cat thing but I don’t think he anticipated how much our furry babies would love him (and vice versa). They definitely prefer to chill with him than with me although they are pretty friendly cats in general. We are definitely gross and crazy cat people however like 100% to the point where our owning cats was incorporated in his proposal because we are weird like that. If that isn’t eye-roll worthy I don’t know what is!

    • My husband brought his cat to our relationship. It has always been his chore to deal with cat litter. While he was in grad school (which I talk about in a comment below) his ONLY CHORE was to scoop the cat litter daily.

      He did not even come close to meeting that need. Not even close. We had so much other tension and stuff going on that I never really made a thing out of it. It came up once or twice, but I never spoke up about how betrayed I felt that he just continually let that thing–the ONE THING I asked him to do around the house for 21 months–go.

      On the plus side, he had his last class ever on Wednesday, and I believe he’s been scooping daily since.

      Still. Ugh.

  • Jolie Kerr’s late and lamented Ask A Clean Person column on The Hairpin is (was?) amazing, and here is a link to the more or less archives:

    But there is an actual article by her for your specific inquiry ie: how do I keep my house clean/handle this chore thing (like that is basically the question the reader asks), and that is her “The Basics” article and I recommend it hugely:

    My Spousal Candidate and I are instinctively clean people who have gotten a little laxer because life and stuff but there are things we just do naturally that a lot of people don’t from what I can tell (maybe because we were raised by mothers who would yell at us if we left a stray sock on the floor?) For instance, we don’t leave things on the floor, dirty laundry is immediately in the laundry basket, dirty dishes straight into the dishwasher, litter box cleaned every other day with a full-area sweep and clean at least once a week, house regularly vacuumed, etc. I think that the above list is helpful for those who need help establishing a general routine. In terms of big cleans, like super all over dusting, window cleaning, floor washing, etc., I look at my house and think to myself: “Would I be okay having people who are not Jon or me in here right now?” and if the answer is “No” then a clean happens.

    But basically Jolie is amazing and you should read all her things.

    • Amy

      We got a cleaning crew a few years ago and I swear it is vital to our mental health and our marriage. I got so so tired of fighting with a husband who *likes* a clean house, but didn’t grow up with one, so the know-how of maintaining a clean home was beyond him. Like, he didn’t get why I flipped out over dirty dishes being left in the sink for a day or more when we had bug issues. I still do more of the cleaning up after cooking/day to day straightening, but as long as I don’t have to clean bathrooms/vacuum I’m cool with that.

  • Lib

    The boyf and I are moving in 2 months from tomorrow. Thank you for all of the good advice. We have been trying to envision how to divide cleaning. Thankfully we are both about medium on the clean scale. We also currently live with roommates who are messier than us (his are far worse than mine) so we are each the neat freaks in our respective houses.

    I kind of like the idea of dividing chores based on who is good at what. Like Martha’s partner, he never gets the dishes quite clean enough for my liking so I wouldn’t mind taking that over. I hate laundry with a firey, burning passion so I would love to get him to at least do our household laundry.

  • my partner and I have never been super tidy people, and now that we’re hitched – surprise! nothing changed. we both have long days at work, long commutes, and have more than half time custody of the kids… so we have a housekeeper that comes every 2 weeks. They do kitchen and bathrooms and living room/dining room. it takes care of the scrubbing and gives us a reason to put our stuff away from the tabletops on a regular basis. I know that suze orman will never say to do it this way but I even reduced the $ into my 401(k) so we could afford this.

    THAT SAID I have had recently had to have a discussion that I never thought I’d have to say out-loud, and it went like this: “Sweetheart, if I cook dinner IT IS YOUR JOB TO CLEAN THE KITCHEN AFTERWARDS. I can’t do it all.”

    and it’s THAT stuff that I hate. I hate feeling like I’m the one who keeps track of what needs to be done and having to point it out so it will happen. It makes me feel like a nag, and I hate that. I also hate feeling like I’m devoting more of my precious brain space than he is to keeping tabs on the house, or when the laundry was done last, or how much food we have left in our fridge.

    but it turns out I am the natural planner and he is not. I have to get over the “feeling like a nag” thing and figure out how to effectively assign him enough work that I feel like my brain space/planning is compensated for by his hard labor… I think? any tips?

    • Jessica B

      I agree with the annoying-ness of having to remind, because it feels like keeping score, even if it’s not technically.

      I get irked when he doesn’t do things that our roommate and I both do (vacuum, sweep, clean the toilet) because we are all planners. He likes to think he’s more of a neat freak than I am, and will sometimes start cleaning up after me WHILE I’M STILL MAKING THEM MESS (omg so much rage). He has told me before that if I want something to get done by him, I should just ask him, but holy balls do I feel like a nag. I operate under the (sometimes flawed) mentality of “if it’s bothering you, take care of it.” This has led to me feeling like I’m sharing the majority of the apartment cleaning with the other woman in the house, and that’s just not cool.

    • Anon

      “I hate feeling like I’m the one who keeps track of what needs to be done and having to point it out so it will happen. It makes me feel like a nag, and I hate that. I also hate feeling like I’m devoting more of my precious brain space than he is to keeping tabs on the house, or when the laundry was done last, or how much food we have left in our fridge.”

      You took the words right out of my mouth. I want him to see what needs to be done and do it. I don’t understand why I can do that and he can’t. I know that it’s wrong to want to change your partner, but how do you deal with this?

      It helps that when I ask him to do something, he does it. Usually right away. I think I just need to get over the fact that I need to ask. Also the Google calendar might help.

      • Angela-Benangela

        LISTS…for the love of all things clean and tidy and fresh-smelling…LISTS.

        Ironically, I actually got divorced over the exact thing you all are talking about. The “feeling like a nag” bit. Well, okay, in all fairness that was just a piece of the pie but a very much stress-inducing one. I HATE, hate, hatehatehate!! having to ask someone to do something in OUR house. I live here, you live here, no one reminds me to pay the bills or cook the dinner or feed the dog or wash the clothes because they are all just a part of life, all part of existing in a space together. So why in the hell should I have to remind/ask/nag/poke/prod or otherwise hassle you to do it??

        So, now that I am with a wonderful man who actually talks to me and communicates with me we’ve come to the solution of lists. I’ve made lists of things that need to be done every day and then things that need to be done every week. There are separate but equal tasks for each of us to do after a long discussion about how much he hates washing clothes and how much I hate folding and putting them away. He dusts, I vacuum and mop.

        We each check off the item on the list when it’s done. The daily stuff has to be done before bed, that’s the only requirement. This actually works extremely well because I know it will get done and I don’t have to ask. The lists were done as a collaboration so I don’t feel like I’ve “assigned” chores to anyone.

        • B (the other one)

          This is exactly our problem right now! We both equally cook/clean up and he is solely in charge of vehicle maintenance and I am in charge of laundry (because he hates laundry and I hate washing my car!).

          BUT when it comes to anything else its up to me. Up to me to think about it, plan when to do it and get it done. Because we have dogs I vacuum about twice a week and mop once a week. When he cleans up after a meal he doesn’t clean the counters/stove etc so I end up doing that nearly every day. Dusting gets done once a week, bathrooms once a week and I also do the errands and grocery shopping. It just drives me nuts that he can come home and not SEE that things need to get done. I have no idea how to get him to know/see that things need to get done. Not to mention all the random things that get done only occasionally like baseboards or duvet cover or windows. I have a high standard of cleanliness, but our current situation doesn’t even meet it, and I know its a new thing for him because he grew up with a SAHM who did everything and he never even saw it getting done!

          any advice?

          • Angela-Benangela

            My advice, just talk to him. Tell him that cleaning the counters/stovetop is part of cleaning the kitchen. If he had a SAHM it’s probably not that he doesn’t want to do it…it’s just that he was never taught that it’s part of the chore. You are going to have to show him what needs to be done (and probably how to do it) because he just wasn’t taught any of that. And I’m sure he wants to make you happy so once he learns that this is important to you then he’ll come around.

            My other advice, you’ll have to just accept that he will never-ever SEE that things are dirty or need to get done. Never. It’s just not going to happen. Men generally aren’t made like that. Scientifically they have better depth perception and sense of direction than we do. We have better detail sight, which translates into him walking into the living room and seeing the television and you walking in behind him and seeing the 45 million dust particles ON the television. ::le sigh:: It’s just the way it is sister. I went round and round with my ex-husband over this. To the point that it caused high blood pressure that I had to take medication to control. He just didn’t see it. (He was also a lazy slob that refused to even clean up after himself…but I digress).

            You’ll have to come to a compromise on your standard of cleanliness and find a happy medium that’s enough. You might have had a squeaky clean house when you lived alone but now there is another person with an entirely different set of standards and you’ll have to meet in the middle somewhere. I know it’s tough, but the sanity of your household depends on it.

  • Honestly, we just have people over often enough to make us do a basic tidy-dust-and-sweep/vacuum about once a week.

    For more involved stuff that happens less frequently (scrubbing out the fridge, deep cleaning the shower and tub), I’m definitely the one who notices when that stuff has to be done, but we either trade off tackling it (“Hey, you scrubbed the grout last time, so I’ll do it this time”) or we do it together and make a kind of game out of it. It also helps that we have designated spaces that are “ours” that we can do with as we please. If he wants to shove all his clothes and shoes willy-nilly into his closet, it’s not going to cause me a panic attack as long as the door is closed.

    We also try to take the view that marriage is long and we’re still working these systems out (I think a lot of times there’s this pressure that “OMG, we created this system/these charts/this schedule, it has to work perfectly!” that doesn’t allow room for things like someone’s work schedule suddenly getting way busier). We pick up each other’s slack, knowing the other person will do the same when the time comes. For example, I’m in the midst of the final push before my qualifying exams for my PhD right now, so my husband’s done basically ALL of the cleaning and grocery shopping in the last month, and taken responsibility for about half of the meals. Once I’m done with the exam, things will normalize again, and when he goes through busy seasons at work, I’ll take on more. It’s easy not to get entrenched into worrying about what this all means re. our gender roles and larger ideologies when we just view it all as taking care of each other.

    • Claire

      I love what you said about taking the long view. So true!

    • Cassy

      I went through the exact same situation with PhD qualifying exam studying. My fiancee also took care of the cooking, cleaning, and grocery shopping for the last month before the exam, and for a while after that I tried to do most of the cooking and cleaning to make up for it. But you are quite right, marriage is long and we try to do the things we are more comfortable with, and trust that it balances out in the end. We usually alternate doing the dishes and cleaning the litter box for the cats. I often do big cleaning jobs and he is better than I am with keeping things tidy day to day. We tried to be open with what we like doing and what we hate doing, and what’s important to us, and so far we haven’t had much friction with chores.

    • Diana

      This. My husband and I (married one year, been together 9) have been together long enough now to know that we’ve got each other’s backs when it comes to chores (save for the litter box which I rarely do…and if I do, you can bet I tell him! ha!) When I was just writing my thesis and not working while he worked full time, I cooked, cleaned, etc. I had more time, so why wouldn’t I? But now that I’m working and busier, he’s taken on cooking and cleaning more. There’s the occasional “I’ll clean the bathroom if you take the dog out” or “If you vacuum, I’ll do the dishes” etc. And weekends – they’re wonderful “ok, no really, we’re going to deep clean now” times. (we’re also the type who sees having people over as an excuse to clean! love those comments.) Why I think this works out so well – our chore divvying being so lax and whenever the person who is less busy doing them – is that we thank each other. If the kitchen is immaculate when he comes home, he thanks me. If he finally cleans up his laundry, I thank him. We don’t take cleanliness too seriously, but we do show our gratefulness when things get done.

      • Not taking it all too seriously/having a sense of humor about it has been key for us, I think. After a couple freak outs in early marriage that he had people over when we hadn’t had the chance to scrub from floor to ceiling, I realized, “Hey, no one died/everyone still had a good time/no one noticed the dust on the bookshelves.” I mean, I don’t notice dustbunnies when I go to my friends’ places unless they’re literally about to eat us alive, right? I need to remember that the friends we have over see us through the same lens of grace.

        The other thing that really helps us is that we have similar ideas of what clean means. If we had drastically different views on this, I would probably hire help, honestly. He can live with more clutter than I can, but all it takes is a “Hey, can you clear your stuff off the coffee table? It’s stressing me out” to remedy that situation, so why fight about it?

        • Jo

          I love how on some level we just had to learn that saying something like – “hey your stuff on the coffee table is stressing me out” – was even an option, and then, poof! instant results! Communication is so often the unexpected, yet effective, solution. And not overdramatizing. That helps too.

  • Claire

    This was a huge issue for us for the first few years of living together. It still comes up occasionally but has gotten so much better. Here are my quick & dirty tips:

    1) If you feel like you’re doing All the Things, don’t give up the fight for household equality. Be persistent. It IS going to take more than one conversation to solve it.

    2) If at all possible, hire a cleaning person. It may not be as unaffordable as you think — we pay $80 once a month for someone to come and get the grime out, and while we still have to clean in between visits from the housekeeper, it cuts WAY down on the amount of work we have to do to make things presentable. This is actually the #1 best thing we did to reduce the number of fights we had about cleaning.

    3) Lower your standards for what counts as “clean.” No one should have to live in filth, but letting a few things go can make a huge difference in your stress levels.

    Good luck to everyone struggling with this! It is such a tough issue.

    • Flamingo

      Agree with #2 – I totally realize it is not an option for everyone, but if you can hire someone once a month, I would recommend it. We still have to clean in between, but it has made things a lot easier. Some of my friends think we are total divas for hiring someone, and at least one has commented about what it says about me that I am hiring a fellow sister to clean the house (long, long discussion). But honestly, it works for us much better than the way things were (not) working before.

      • B (the other one)

        don’t you feel that hiring a cleaning person is a cop out to actually resolving the issue? I feel like if I were to get a cleaning person, it would just be letting my boyfriend ‘win’ because in the end, he still wouldn’t be contributing in any way…which is the point of the arguments.

        • Claire

          I totally get where you’re coming from, and I think a lot of people feel that way — that throwing money at relationship problems isn’t a good way to solve them. For us, the housekeeper didn’t make it so that we NEVER had to discuss/negotiate chores and work through this stuff together; there are still a lot of discussions that take place around the things we have to do in between cleanings. What it did do, however, is take the edge off so that our chore negotiations became manageable for us.

          Maybe an analogy would be hiring a marriage counselor — the counselor doesn’t solve your problems for you, but he/she helps make them manageable so that it becomes possible to solve them yourselves.

  • APW Lurker

    Laundry: I am still in New York mode where I pile dirty clothes up for a month (or run out of underwear), haul it down the stairs to the laundromat, and have someone nicely fold them all. Now that I’ve moved in with my fiancé in Houston and we have our own machine, it is very hard to get into his groove of weekly washing. So we live in a constant limbo state of clean clothes needing to be folded and dirty clothes needing to be washed and the machine always going.

    Dishes have generally been a lot better now that we have maverick.
    Hubby: can you put the dishes away?
    Me: can I take the dog out instead?
    Hubby: you’ve got yourself a deal

    Now all we need is a Roomba for dog hair….

    • Claire

      The deal-making is a great tip; I use a similar strategy with my husband. I’ve found that it’s a way of asking him to do things that doesn’t make me feel like a nag. It usually goes something like me saying, “I’ll make you a deal — I’ll clean the countertops if you take out the garbage” (or whatever the task at hand is). For some reason that always works better than me just asking him to take out the garbage (and I was going to clean the countertops either way!).

    • We sometimes employ the same strategy. “Would you like to cook or do dishes?” And since I’m the one with the internal we-need-to-clean timer, if there’s a bunch to do on a weekend “Would you like to clean the kitchen or the bathroom? Vacuum or trash? etc”

      Less successful, but sometimes helpful: I just remember when the bathroom was cleaned and who did it. I just do. But rather than stew over him not realizing it’s his turn and needs to be done, I ask him to do it within a timeframe: “Could you take time this week to clean the bathroom?” I don’t feel guilty for nagging, because he can do it in his own time. I only get annoyed when Sunday evening rolls around and it’s not done, so I may throw in a reminder or two during the week “Don’t forget, I’d like you to take care of the bathroom at some point.”

      • Eenie

        Our rule is whoever cooks doesn’t wash the dishes. This is a reward for cooking! Of course it’s kind of flexible, and it only works if you cook for both people. If I make myself breakfast and leave the dishes for him at night, he doesn’t like that too much. Now that we’ve moved to a smaller kitchen I tend to clean up a lot of the dishes while I cook, but I still think it’s a fair deal.

    • Rebecca

      We settled into bi-weekly laundry days- every other Sunday we do all of the laundry, together. We sort as we go throughout the two weeks, so usually he grabs a pile, washes according to agreed upon settings, and then I fold (and put away, when I’m ambitious). Laundry is outside down a flight of stairs, so it’s a fair split. Doing all the laundry at once is the only way I’ve ever been able to get laundry done, even when I’ve had laundry machines just feet from my bedroom.

      Plus, since we’re in team laundry mode, we do general straightening cleaning while we’re waiting for everything to finish. Somehow just having “team clean day” makes doing all the chores a lot less awful. Although it really does pretty much eat a day.

    • Brenda

      I have this problem too. We just have separate hampers and do our own laundry on our own schedules. Which means he does his what seems like every other day to me, and I do mine what seems like never to him, but we’re each happy with the amount of clean our clothes are.

      I do take his to the laundromat to dry (because we live in the UK and only have a washer in our flat) all the time, because I’m home from work earlier than he is, but I view it as something nice I can do for him and I don’t mind so much when I think about it as a gift. And he always thanks me.

    • We bought a Roomba (the model for pets) with some wedding money, and it is 100% completely and utterly worth it. In case you’re wondering :)

  • The big sticking point for us is the laundry. I hate having to lug it three blocks away to the laundromat, plus for some reason when I am doing my laundry is when I attract the most street harassment in my neighborhood, so I don’t want to do it alone. He hates to do it, period.

    If we had an in-unit washer, or even one we could use in the building, I would be doing the laundry happily (like, all the time) and there wouldn’t be a problem. However, with out current situation we sometimes go 2 weeks between laundry trips. No bueno.

    • Can you schedule laundry so that he can go with you? We had a similar living situation our first year of marriage and we’d always try to go to the laundromat together. It didn’t make laundry the best thing ever by any means, but a lot of times we’d try to time it around a meal so we could grab takeout and eat and chat together while waiting for our clothes to finish. Or we’d each bring a book or even share headphones and watch an episode of something on a laptop. Being *together* really helped us both feel a lot happier about the situation, kind of a “Hey, there are sucky parts about being a grown up, but at least we have a teammate in it!”

      • Another Annie

        I love the laptop idea! Awesome, awesome, awesome.

      • That’s what we do now, when we do it, but his HATRED of laundry combined with my not wanting to be a nag (ick) means even when we do schedule (it’s on our gcal, every Monday night is supposed to be laundry night), it doesn’t get done if he’s not feeling it.

    • Moe

      Neither of really like doing the laundry but we do make it as pleasant as possible. We take turns buying each other sodas from the neighboring liquor store while folding clothes.

    • I have been known to throw temper tantrums about how much I hate doing the laundry when we didn’t live with a machine. Even having a machine I still hate putting away clothes. Which led to the agreement that crying over hating the laundry is perfectly acceptable and that if either of us is stuck with that chore we can complain as much as we want about it.

      Also, we decided that we will buy a washer and dryer when we buy our own house. A thousand dollars is worth our (combined) sanity.

  • S

    Great topic…We’re still trying to find a balance…mostly due to me. We’ve lived together for 1. 5 years but our chore list is very individual where as we each do our own laundry and clean our respective bathrooms (best decision ever was to get a house with 2.5 bathrooms!). However, when it comes to general household cleaning, I’m still getting used to his mess (i’m the neat one). I don’t know what it is about guys; used glasses and cutlery all over the counter, food on the counter, empty cookie boxes in the pantry, dog hair everywhere until there’s massive hair balls rolling all over the hardwood….and he’s fine with it all! I do feel as though I do the majority of cleaning/cooking because I cant stand the mess and I’m home earlier but I don’t feel that just because my schedule allows it that I should do more. It should be equal. But, I have resulted into sticking to the camp of not cleaning it if its not my mess (i.e. empty cookie boxes, cutlery on the counter, etc.). He will clean on weekends but not much during the week. I’ve vocalized my concerns and he’ll do more when I ask but its like he sees no wrong with filth. I once jokingly said that he wont clean anything until things become moldy and his response was “mold takes 10 days to grow”. Oy!

    • kgoesgallivanting

      It’s not just a guy thing… I hate doing dishes, so I tend to leave them all around, especially cups. I also have no issue with hair (although I don’t have any pets, so it’s all people hair). I’ve been known to put empty containers back into the pantry or the fridge.

      Whenever I think about this, I remember the How I Met Your Mother episode where Ted and Robyn fight over milk cartons left in the fridge. She views it as a way to remember to buy milk and he sees it as a tidiness issue. We all have different thresholds.

  • Tegan

    Married almost four years, with a baby, our system is as follows: the kitchen is his domain (he does all the cooking as well as related cleaning), and I take care of everything else. It actually winds up being pretty even.

  • Megan

    This is so much more of an ongoing issue than I would have ever dreamed before I lived with my fiance. My life generally looks like a bomb has gone off in all of the major areas that I occupy (my office, my bedroom, sometimes my kitchen…). I’ve had roommates all my life, but when I lived with roommates I would generally keep the common areas neat and let the explosive mess happen behind my closed door. Once I moved in with my fiance two years ago it occurred to me that maybe this was not going to be a sustainable setup, especially since my fiance is atypically neat.

    Things I did not know about myself before he and I moved in together: I leave shoes everywhere, it takes me at least a week to unpack my bags when I get back from a trip, I always leave my wet towel on the bed, and dishes that are not in the sink when its time to wash dishes get lost in my blind spot and do not get washed. All of these said things drive his inner neat freak slightly insane. Living together has involved a lot of me trying to be way less messy (and succeeding maybe half the time) and him trying to be happy when we achieve an average/acceptable level of neat, even if it is not quite how he would have envisioned it. We seem to have hit our stride recently. He cooks all the time so I take laundry duty. I try to do most of the dishes and keep my wet towels off the bed, and he picks up the apartment, which usually means moving my shoes and being so kind as to not get on my case for leaving them everywhere :)

  • LondonSarah

    I cook = you wash up, you cook = I wash up. Which is great is theory and most of the time in practice, until I cook AND wash up because he’s home from work after I’ve gone to bed or because I do it for expediency and more snuggling on the sofa time and in either eventuality I have to keep remembering to keep forgetting to keep count of the more times I’ve done this than he…

    • Eenie

      YES! We do the same thing. I do most of the cooking. And I sometimes end up doing the dishes, but I’m not resentful of it. He is so good about cleaning the dishes, and always thanks me when he sees the stack of clean ones I’ve washed.

      My parents do the same thing. It makes cooking so much nicer, which is generally what I do since I have weird food sensitivities.

      We also have a new scale for rating food: was the food good enough for the amount of dishes it produced?

      • LondonSarah

        Ah, interesting, I think maybe we’ll try this rating system too!

      • LondonSarah

        I should probably say that my washing up is faster and possibly (slightly) less effective than my husband’s, so there are times when he actually wants to do the washing up so that it’s done 100% effectively.

        I also have a friend who *accidentally* shrunk her partners favourite sweater in the washing machine, which has meant that he now does all of the laundry. Quite effective I think!!!

  • Laura C

    I followed my best friend’s example and made my boyfriend read Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift before we moved in together.

    He’s still messy to a sort of epic degree, but having read Second Shift he much more gets that when I’m annoyed with his messiness (and it’s not like I’m very tidy myself), it’s bigger than that I want that right there not to be on the floor or that I just find it inconvenient to remind him of the tasks he’s supposed to do. So the practice is a work in progress, but the understanding of why the practice matters is in place, at least.

  • We were calling him a little on the OCD side until we realized that, no, he wasn’t– it’s just that having a clean home is his primary way of feeling like he is secure and loved (Acts of Service) and that if I neglected to do certain things, it was akin to him forgetting plans to hang out on Friday night (Quality Time). Ah, those amazing love languages.

    Now, if you’re both messy…. I don’t know! Here’s what we do:

    -We take turns cleaning the bathroom. (I grew up in a household where my Mom did ALL the washing of the floors, scrubbing the toilets, and I knew I wasn’t having any of that).
    -Last one out of bed makes the bed. (me)
    – We both do the grocery shopping (since we have to drive 2 hours to an actual grocery store and buy 3 weeks worth of food)
    – He does all the driving, trash/compost, splitting / chopping wood
    – He makes the brunch on Saturday (or else we eat cereal, if left to my own devices)
    – I am a pinner, so I come up with ideas of what to cook, mainly cook esp. during the weekday, or ask him to be sous chef
    – I mainly do the laundry, hang it and fold it, put away
    – We both vaccuum
    – I pay our bills and manage our money
    – Dishes *in theory* are shared, or whoever didn’t cook, but I can pile up a sink like no one’s business.

    When do we do this all, what with having full time jobs? Mainly on weekend mornings. Pump up the music and each get a chore done. Bathroom twice a month. It helps that when we notice the other person doing something, we yell “One -Ups!” to acknowledge it. I think the crux of chore angst is resentment and lack of gratitude… communicate, people!

  • Sarah

    I agree with everything Claire said.

    Recently I thought about giving up our housecleaner every two weeks because, well, it’s a lot of money for something I could do myself, but it makes an unbelievable difference with the equity issue. Things aren’t even between us and we have a lot of work to do making the housework fair but I’ll tell ya, every two weeks someone else takes the edge off and it’s wonderful. I realize that it’s not feasible financially for everyone but there’s a lot of things I would give up before the house cleaner.

  • Shiri

    My general rule (for cats, kitchen, and hoping it sticks for kids later is): the person who deals with the input doesn’t deal with the output, i.e. I cook, he does the dishes; he feeds the cats, I do the litter. It doesn’t work as well for laundry or bathroom cleaning, obviously, but it’s a start. I figure if I set it up now, I can hold him to every diaper if I’m breastfeeding a baby?

    • I know of several couples for whom that *has* worked! Mom feeds, dad changes the diapers.

  • Jennifer

    My fiance and I are mostly terrible at this. We have been living together for the past year and a half, but have not gotten much better at cleaning. It started with us cooking together, and me mostly cleaning. Then I got upset that I was doing all the work (and unreasonably mad at him for it). Now, we have moved to a system where he cooks, I clean or I cook, he cleans. Sometimes changing based on our work loads at school. Sadly, we are both pretty lazy with cleaning and the mess kind of just builds up until one (or both) of us decides to clean it. It’s a messy and unorganized system.

  • Beth C

    Like some of the other commenter, our approach is:
    a) focus on the cleaning tasks that you don’t mind/avoid the ones you hate (he hates laundry so I do it, I like cleaning the bathroom so I do it, he doesn’t mind dishes/kitchen so he does that).
    b) when the house is getting messy one of us will suggest we do a quick clean and we will spend 30-60 minutes focused on whatever we think is important (he usually cleans the kitchen and I wander the house putting random things back in their place)
    c) thank each other for doing chores – it seems silly but everyone likes to be appreciated even if it’s just for doing their regular chores.

  • KTH

    Like many others, we have some clearly divided roles:

    I handle all the laundry (I don’t mind it, and he’s terrible at it) and he handles all the garbage (same thing, reversed). This means that the one responsibly handles ALL aspects of it, so he handles recycling and breaking down boxes, etc; I handle putting all the clean clothes away.

    He handles most of the cooking (I’m terrible at it, he loves it) and I handle subsequent dishes (same thing, reversed). HOWEVER! Like many posters, dishes outside of the ones used for specific meals are still an issue.

    Re: “nagging” — I feel like that’s a frustrating cultural thing that APW has discussed in various forms, but I’ve also seen a lot of discussions here that break the cycle and the key realizations for me were:
    1. Asking is not nagging, it’s communicating
    2. He can’t read my mind, so I need to communication verbally
    3. Ask nicely (that’s really a life rule…)

    Outside of those big chores, we tend to clean in bursts, with him focusing on organizing and me focusing on cleaning. I’m both a bit messier AND have more stuff, so when we both leave our shoes around, my 8 pairs create a bigger problem than his 1. This makes it blatant that I’m messier, and therefore guilty about not picking up my things.

  • For us, it’s partly finding what we like/what matters and what we can’t stand to do. I *abhor* scooping the cat’s litter box; my fiance doesn’t mind at all and does it daily. I actually like cleaning bathrooms and kitchens, so that’s mine, but I hate to dust, so that’s his.

    Our big problem, though, is “stuff.” I don’t like “stuff” being left out (you know, a glass by the bed, a teacup in the sink), even if it isn’t actually dirty. He doesn’t mind stuff being left out for a day or two. So there’s a lot of me picking up after him just to soothe my own “neatness” issue, and then I get a bit resentful about it.

    • Jo

      I came to a point in our relationship (married for 4 years, together for 9) where I realized I was the one suffering when I cleaned up his crumbs on the kitchen counter (or picking up his stuff, in your case) and felt resentful. I had to step back and realize that it’s not that he didn’t care, or that he didn’t contribute, he just had this serious blind spot about crumbs on the counter. And that while it bugged me that he didn’t seem to get the message about that, he did respond to other requests… and since I was the one who truly cared about it, maybe that made it worth my while to just deal with it. Swipe the counter. Grab his stuff and drop it in a spot where he will put it away. Just do the little thing and choose to let go of the resentment if it’s not truly a bigger issue. I don’t know why we humans were created with these preferences, but it’s up to us whether or not they make us miserable. :)

  • Emily

    We’ve tried a bunch of approaches and the most successful by far has just been assigning responsibilities. So, barring major disruptions (someone is extra busy or sick or trying to be nice) then he is responsible for All Things Dishes (cleaning up after dinner, emptying dishwasher, etc) and All Things Sweeping. I am responsible for All Things Laundry and All Things Bathroom. We share the tidying responsibilities using a similar method to the timer discussed above–basically, frantic tidying episodes every few days.

    We’ve been using this approach for about nine months and so far it has gone great! We both feel like we got the better deal, which is awesome.

  • So timely! My husband just had his last ever graduate school class last Wednesday! For the 21 months that he was in the program, it’s safe to say that I did ALL the chores while working full time. Except for those times when I broke down and didn’t do the chores, and then NO ONE did them, and it was terrible.

    We had a pretty equitable division before grad school, and now we’re trying to set up a similar one. It’s tough, though.

  • Kara E

    We definitely have different levels of “stuff” that bothers us. His: lack of neatness, Mine: lack of cleanliness. And while it’s imperfect, umm…we have a once a month cleaning service. The night before, we both tidy/sort/put stuff away. I do one room, he does another (and gets faux-mad if I cross boundaries) and we work up that way. I’m responsible for my (home) office, and we both are for the master bedroom. Unfortunately, 1x/month isn’t enough clean for either of us, so bathroom and kitchen wipedowns get done by whomever has time (or gets annoyed first). Kitchen is relatively easy because if one of us makes dinner, the other usually does cleanup. Not sure how this is going to work once we add a kid–and he adds more travel. I’m guessing it’s going to fall on me more; hopefully I remember to think of it as a labor of love.

  • Katie

    We have also struggled with the whole division of labor issue. We’ve been living together for about 2 years and it’s definitely gotten better but we still have our challenges. It’s amazing how fraught with crappy gender stuff chores are.

    The thing I am still struggling with is this idea that because I am the vagina haver I am the only human in the house capable of noticing that there are dust bunnies rolling down our hallway like tumbleweeds. Somehow it’s become my role to always initiate the chore doing and I have a lot of trouble communicating my frustration around this with him.

    He’s fine once we get going and we’ve found making a list at the beginning of the week and each picking a few of the things as our responsibility really helps. I definitely have the lower dirt tolerance and he’s been good about respecting that but we still have a long way to go.

    Any tips and tricks or even guidance about ways to talk about the underlying issues around chore sharing would be much appreciated!!

    • Ros

      What worked for me was a 3-step approach, basically:

      1) Discussion about what constitutes “clean”. I like to walk barefoot on my floor without my feet being brown by the end of the day. I like to cook, and need a cleaned-off counter space to do it. The house shouldn’t smell like cat litter, period. He likes a bed not full of cat hair, so the sheets have to be pulled up the bed to keep the cats out. Basically, sit down together and establish standards and expectations.

      2) Discuss how that can be achieved. For us, that means we split up the chores we each disliked least and then hired out/machined those that we both hated equally. Basically: have a plan, and make some stuff HIS RESPONSIBILITY. Aka: if the floors bug you, that’s fine, but then you do those and he does dishes, or bathroom, or whatever. Alternately, if they’re his responsibility, it’s also his responsibility to pay attention.

      3) This is the tricky part, but was totally key for me. Give it a month or two. He’ll lapse, and the agreed-upon plan will stop working, and the house will be a mess. Take deep breaths, calm down, and have another discussion. The trick is for this discussion to stick. I’ve found that a language of respect works (aka: “if you play computer games while I do chores despite us both working the same amount, what that says to me is that you value your games more than you respect my free time, that’s a problem for me.” <– That specific line worked miracles for me, FYI).

      Good luck!

      • [taking notes on this]

      • Katie

        It’s like you are in my brain! The line about the video games is my life! Thank you!

        • Ros

          Glad to help :)

          Honestly, I resented that so. effing. much. Partially because I felt like my (very limited) free time got taken over by chores so that he could play games (grrr), and also because the chores vs games thing made me feel like someone’s mother (not ok!!)

          Making him realize that the time he spent doing games was directly linked to me NOT having spare time, and therefore to the amount of respect I saw that he had for me, was really key – I think once that clicked, everything else went a lot smoother!

    • What helps me when I fall into this spiral is taking the time to remember how many things he *does* keep track of. The car maintenance schedule is all him, and he also stays on top of and pays our bills and takes the lead on researching large household purchases. I tend to notice dust faster than he does, but invariably he’ll clean our stovetop before I even realize it’s gross.

      And yeah, there’s certainly a way of reading these things along gender lines (i.e. it’s probably true for us that he was taught by his dad to think about oil changes and tire rotation while I was taught by my mom to notice the ring around the bottom of the bathtub), but at least for me personally, I see it as more efficient for us to just take care of those domains that we’re naturally more aware of rather than try to reroute our brains through lots of added work. If, God forbid, anything happened to my husband, I would know when to get the car checked out. And if it were the other way around, I’m sure he would clean. The key for us is — 1) does everything get taken care of one way or another? and 2) does it feel fair, overall? Obviously, if one partner is just completely not pulling his or her weight, then that’s a separate issue, but for me at least the larger fight of feminism isn’t “I need to get my husband to notice when things get dirty the exact way I do.” I know we’re equal partners — his other actions speak to that, so I’m not going to make this particular issue hold more weight than it has to. (Though for sure if/when we have kids we’re going to teach all of them how to do All the Things. No point in replicating the problem further! ;D)

      So I wonder if there’s, like you said, more of an underlying issue here than just chores. Do you feel like there’s an imbalance in your relationship? Do you feel like it falls explicitly along gender lines or gender assumptions? Maybe it’s then more useful to start the conversation with the larger question of “How do you view male/female roles, particularly around the house? What made you come to those views? How did your childhood models influence those views? How can we make our situation feel more fair to both of us?”

      • Katie

        Your totally right, he does do lots of the things. And part of this is certainly managing my own expectations when they get out of line with reality – the sink being clean is not more important than spending Sunday hiking together. I think it is about an underlying issue I’m struggling with that relates to always being the planner for all the things, trips, budgets, dates, meal plans. Definitely another thing we are working through now and I didn’t really realize it till writing this out but it’s totally manifesting itself via the chores as well! We are having a talk tonight! :).

        • Oh, we had the “I plan EVERYTHING” fight so many times! (Once resulting in a game of brinkmanship around our first anniversary. Not fun.) I’m the planner in our relationship and felt a lot of frustration initially that either a) I planned everything or b) he would offer to “plan” but it would involve asking me so many questions that I would feel like I was doing it anyway. (Note — my husband likes doing everything together, so that was his way of including me in planning, haha. I just saw it as work!)

          So we had to have a few talks about what kind of activity planning even was to us — stressful? Something to be shared? Something that feels like work or play (especially when planning, say, a date or a vacation)?

          Our solution, which may not work for you but could be worth a try, is that I plan most things with an itinerary. My brain just works that way and I’m more efficient at it. So for, say, a trip, I’m the one who comes up with “Okay, this is the route we’re going to drive and how much time it takes. These are our options of things to do and see once we get there, with their respective price points. Here’s my ranking in terms of importance to me of what we do/see if we can do/see it all. Here are three options for dinner.” And then, on the actual trip, he is in charge of executing the plan. (Hence my leaving in options and leeway.) I don’t like the pressure of keeping us on a schedule/making sure we catch transit, so it’s really worked for us to have the more rigid person (me) come up with a loose itinerary and the more flexible person (him) present the options on the day of and take care of travel logistics, etc.

  • EKS

    I think that a tricky part of dividing chores and keeping up on chores is recognizing which chores are really important to each of you. Both my partner and I are mid-range messy (or mid-range clean?), but have strong feelings about what chores are most important. I really really like a tidy kitchen with no dishes in sink when I go to bed. My partner could care less, but thinks the cars should be kept clean. We happen to have professions that cause us to move a lot, and move every four months or so. At each move, we talk about the last place we lived in, and what did and didn’t work as far as chores and organization goes. While living in a place, we both notice the specific chores that really aren’t getting done that we care about, and talk about those when we move. It’s a nice way to focus-in on specific chores, without overwhelming each other about a whole bunch of chores that aren’t getting done to satisfaction. And there is no nagging, because we mostly deal with the other person’s mess until the next move. Most people don’t move as much as we do (and hopefully we won’t move so much in the future!), but you could plan a monthly or every-two-months, or however-many-months-you-want meeting, with the same idea.

  • Ros

    Oh, man, the chores. After a year or two of blow-ups, The Husband and I have come to the following agreement:

    1) There is X amount of work to do (chores, errands, planning, office work, work-related travelling… it all counts). We are each expected to do half of X. If one of us has a frantic work-week, the other kicks in more on the housework. Half of X is the goal. This is explicitly agreed upon.

    2) We’ve each divided up general responsibilities based on logic and preference. I drive the car to work, so I do groceries on the way home. I’m better at cooking, so I make dinner and pack lunches. He hates doing dishes: I do those. In the meantime, he does all the laundry, irons my dress shirts, cleans the bathroom, deals with the cat litter, and keeps the place tidy.

    3) There’s X amount of work to do in a day, so neither of us sits down to relax while the other one is still working. I’m done dishes and he’s still folding laundry? I’ll help fold the last load and we can sit down together after, and vice versa if he’s done before I am.

    4) We hired a cleaner who does the deep cleaning. She does in 4 hours what it takes us 6 hours of cleaning and 4 hours of arguing to accomplish, and it’s 60$ every 2 weeks. We also got a dishwasher.

    Functionally speaking, this means that the dishes are always done, laundry doesn’t pile up, and the house is always presentable (well, mostly. Word to the wise: never leave your toys to dry in the bathroom unless you’re absolutely SURE no one is going to “just drop by”).

    We slip up sometimes, but honestly, maintaining the general pattern keeps things under control and keeps us both from resenting the other person and feeling overwhelmed by chores and not generally respected. It works for us!

    • Hahaha, that’s a great story. At first I was like “oh what’s wrong with leaving your kid’s toys in the bathroom” but then I noticed that you mentioned nothing about having kids…ha.

    • Shiri

      This is brilliant and definitely would help ease worry/resentment: “3) There’s X amount of work to do in a day, so neither of us sits down to relax while the other one is still working. I’m done dishes and he’s still folding laundry? I’ll help fold the last load and we can sit down together after, and vice versa if he’s done before I am.”

      Also, because you were talking about a cleaner when you said “We also got a dishwasher.” I thought you meant you also got a dish-washer. Like, a person who washes dishes. And was flabbergasted that people do that freelance! Then I realized my perception has been warped by living in New York for too long.

    • [taking more notes]

    • Mallory

      1 and 3! Yes! I have definitely been the hardcore pusher of the 50/50 workload in our marriage as a knee-jerk reaction to my mom doing nearly everything growing up. I remember being flabbergasted (in a good way) when reading an earlier APW post on chores that people divided them based on which ones they liked/disliked the least because I am sensitive to feeling resentful for doing xyz more than my share. So, we’ve divided the weekly chores in half and alternate with cooking, dishes, laundry and groceries nearly always done jointly. We also had to learn to define clean. Me = clean, him = tidy, so I work hard to put my stuff away and he tries to notice the dust bunnies.

  • I am going to read and take notes here. Fiance and I are moving in together in August, and I know he is a messier housekeeper than I. Also, I have usually been the cleaner/dish-doer in almost every roommate relationship, too. (I’m not a super neat-freak, either, I just usually live with people who are much messier.) Part of me feels like cleaning is just my lot in life.Part of me wants to learn a better way.

  • Laura

    I second (third? fourth?) the bit about getting a housekeeper if you can afford it. We have help come once a month, and it completely obviates the “whose turn is it to clean the bathroom” argument. It’s a major improvement in our relationship. For the rest of the month, we’re pretty clean people, so we just wipe up as it seems to be necessary. Also, if I start to feel like I’m slacking on, e.g., laundry, I’ll feel guilty and try to pick up the slack, and I think he does the same thing. The only thing I wish were slightly different is that he never cooks our joint meals (he’ll even puppy-dog me into microwaving things for him if we’re both eating)… but he will almost always pay for dinner if we go out, so I’m more or less OK with that.

  • C

    My fiance and I both like things clean. That said, he can let things go for a longer time than I can. I generally pick up after work every day. It’s usually my cool down after I work out, and it’s great. We don’t have a system of who does what, but he likes to dust, and I hate it, so I let him (even tho, he doesn’t do the best job). I figure, I don’t expect him to meet my same standards of cleanliness and vice versa… if I clean something, it’s because I want it that way. I don’t expect him to do it for me. He’s great about keeping his own things picked up and in their place too, tho. But really, in the end, it’s not a big deal. Things will get cleaned when they get cleaned.

  • Chalk

    I finally broke down and hired a maid.

    I’m very clean, my husband is not. We spent the first year and half of living together arguing over chores. I tried bringing my standards down a few notches and asked him to bring his up a bit so we could meet in the middle. While this sometimes worked, he couldn’t be consistent about it, and I grew resentful that I was cleaning up after him. He used his free time to watch hockey, I spent mine cleaning. We had contracts, chore lists, calendar “cleaning” dates, I even threw in some bribes.

    The maid is the best investment I make every two weeks. And on those evenings she’s cleaning the apartment, we go on a date. Win/win.

  • Kristen

    My husband clearly expressed his desire to help with housework and his complete disinterest in figuring out what to do and where I want things so he asked me to dictate what I want done. That’s super uncomfy for me, but a skill I need to develop in life, in general so it worked out nicely. I’ve expressed I prefer my dish washing method so I so those. He likes doing the bathroom and I don’t so he does that, for the most part we just kind of work in what we care about and it balances out. I’m also fully shocked and in awe of my husbands willingness to do anything I ask as far as chores and try to be influenced by that and more generous and willing like him. In essence, we allow ourselves to be motivated by each others willingness to not be a lazy slob and encourage each other to do more by stepping up more ourselves.

  • We take turns cooking and doing dishes. Generally he’s better at getting leftovers actually put away. Dishes do tend to pile up (and to think, after moving in to an apt without a dishwasher, we both agree they must be done every. night. Ha!), but that’s mostly a timing issue. I’ll gladly do them when I come home from work the next day, but immediately following dinner I just want to relax. He also does a better job cleaning up all the counters after dishes are done, but I try to keep up with it, too.

    We take turns cleaning the bathroom, though I’m the primary initiator, reminding him it needs to be done. I refuse to be the only one cleaning it, but I do try to make it happen more often so that it’s an easier task. Also, I know if/when we get pets, there will be many negotiations. I’m a dog person, he’s a cat person. I hate cat litter, period, while he thinks dogs are generally messier.

    He does most of the vacuuming because we use a shared one (thanks, great landlord!) and it’s a pain to drag it up the stairs. He’s also more apt to vacuum really well every time, where as I’m mostly a middle vacuumer. I try to avoid taking out the trash, but we both do it when it needs to be done.

    We split the laundry, though he does is much more in the winter, since we have to walk outside and through two locked doors (basket in hand) to do it. I really don’t mind doing laundry, but I hate having to go outside to get to it (even though I’d prefer if we could line-dry everything) and feeling like I’m trapped at home until it gets done. He has given up attempting to fold most of my clothes, as he doesn’t understand how to fold long sleeves at all. We had to have a couple instructive/reminder sessions on how my bras are taken care of, as well as what shouldn’t go in the dryer so it stays nice. I’ve successfully taught him how to fold my underwear. I do my best to try to fold his clothes the way he likes, not the way I like. (Boy, was that a realization when reviewing my laundry wishes one day)

    In terms of Helpful Tips: Someone mentioned it upthread, but Un-Fuck Your Habitat is a fantastic site to follow. They recommend timed cleans, and daily routines to “un-fuck” a room and then maintain it.

    Also, it was insightful to learn how my partner managed chores with other roommates/living situations. He didn’t even know HOW to clean a bathroom (I about died of shock) because his mom always did it, then with his first roommate they divided kitchen/bathroom responsibilities, and the roommate did the bathroom. When I met him, NONE of them cleaned, period. It got gross. I eventually intervened so I could at least feel *clean* after showering. Personally, we always had set chores to do as kids, and every summer had to do deep cleaning and multiple chore lists both at our house and at our grandparents’ while we were out of school.

    • I realize I already wrote a lot, but also, lately I’ve been dissecting a little of my own approach to cleanliness. Do I really need to keep house exactly the way my mom and my grandma did? We are different people with different lifestyles, so of course our households will be different! Recognizing whether something is important to me because I feel like I “should” take care of it or whether it actually bothers me is helpful. And to know that in a more permanent home, I plan to employ different strategies when I have the control to do so.

      The mom/grandma thing is huge for me, though, so I’m just starting to dip my toe in that.

      • Jen

        I have just recently had this revelation also – i grew up in a moderately tidy home which would become messier when our family was busy or working more than usual. During times of stress, mum would become overwhelmed by how messy the house was and demand immediate action. I now recognise that i do exactly the same thing – when i’m stressed, the state of the house can send me in to a complete frenzy, which of course adds to my stress levels. Its only just occurring to me now that can change my habits and break that cycle. I vacuumed before bed last night (which i would never normally do during the week) and felt so happy when i came downstairs to a clean carpet this morning!

  • Anon

    We currently live in Latin America and have been married for a year. We have a maid that comes one evening a week and one full day a week. Yes we are lucky and I love/hate it and it costs $120 a month – eeeek. There are many factors here for us as well will be moving to the US for the first time in a few months!

    One is that he grew up with a maid and wasn´t really responsible for anything in the house. This scares me to death as I grew up in a family where chores were a big deal and my dad and brothers did a ton of chores. He hates when I characterize him like this and always points out that he lived on his own (England and Germany) and was fine during those years.

    When I lived on my own, I could be a little messy and lazy. Since I´ve been married and been living with him I have tried to be less lazy and concentrate on the keeping things tidy factor. We both do dishes frequently. I usually put the washed clothes away. He makes the bed. I have even instituted the 15 minute clean up rule that I read about here on APW and he will always do that willingly. (He gets my coffee ready the night before :)).

    One big thing that we have fought about frequently is his lunch. Its a love/hate thing for me. He is used to taking a healthy lunch (real food – meat, beans, salad…) to work every day and I want to do that for him. Sometimes though I don´t have time as Im not used to cooking that much and I get mad at him and tell him to make his own lunch. He never does of course and will just get an unhealthy lunch at work. (I have help from the maid, but not every day). So anyway we have come to an understanding that I try to get his lunch most days, but if he doesn´t have it one day, then its not big deal. He has never said I have to make his lunch for him – I just want to. Anyway I have calmed down about it and not put so much pressure on myself. He absolutely loves it when I make lunch for him and has told me frequently how loved it makes him feel.

    Another big thing for my husband is that he does a lot of financial type chores which I have never thought of as chores. He pays bills and does a lot of administrative tasks and bank things which I HATE doing. He goes to hours long meetings for our apt and insists that I count this as chores.

    I definitely don´t think we have it solved and I think it will be a huge adjustment for us once we move to the US. I think I will investigate just how much it costs for a maid to do the heavy cleaning because as much as I hate it – I think I have gotten way to used to having a maid for the past 5 years.

  • LikelyLaura

    My favorite “line” about our relationship is “I make messes, and he cleans them! It works VERY well.” *GIANT SMILE*

    Of course, it’s not entirely true. I do make messes but usually it’s because I’m cooking us healthy meals (he’d eat Wendy’s everyday if I didn’t cook). Also, I’m extremely allergic to dust and actually have doctor’s orders to not dust or vacuum – which usually has to be done while I’m out of the apartment. He’s also doesn’t mind cleaning.

    That said, he will throw anything anywhere as long as the door can be shut to hide it. So I usually try to organize a closet every week or so. And when the tub/fridge/baseboards need scrubbing, I do it. Add that I do 90% of the grocery shopping, and I’d call our chore loads pretty even.

  • My husband and I mostly have set tasks that we each take care of. I don’t mind laundry, but he hates it, so I do that. I also clean the bathrooms once a week and pay bills that are not away. He usually does dishes (which I hate) and takes care of house garbage and the cat boxes. We both cook and feed the cats, and we share actual ‘cleaning’ duties. We’re both messy people (and busy people!), though, so we mostly just clean clutter when we’re going to have people over. If he doesn’t do his stuff, I don’t deal with it (exception: cat poop scooping). If I don’t do my stuff, he doesn’t deal with it.

  • Hannah

    I know the chore wheel comment was supposed to be a joke, but…yeah, we pretty much have resorted to a chore wheel. After living together for five years we really never worked out a good balance. We both suck at doing laundry, but he’s a bit better than I am. About even on litterbox. I generally would do most of the other chores because they bother me more (and I have a hard time letting other people do things…god forbid he dusts “wrong”). Since I love planning, a chore schedule seemed like a great idea to me, and thankfully he agreed to try it. It has worked really well. It gets rid of the “clean when it’s dirty” problem (and the fact that my threshold for dirty tends to be lower than his) – now it’s clean when you are supposed to.

    I printed out a big version of our schedule using a fancy font and taped it front-and-center on the fridge. Not that we have stuck to it 100%, but it has definitely made the apartment cleaner and made the division of labor more even.

  • rowany

    I cannot overemphasize how important THINGS have been for instilling better habits in us. We’re both inherently messy but want to keep things neat (if not clean) but didn’t have the habits or streamlined system to maintain the house; dishes would pile up, clothes would end up on the floor etc. Our fixes so far:
    1) Collapsible dish pan in sink (for those without doublesinks) to keep dirty dishes in – my guy does most of the cooking so I do the dishes, but if I let them pile up it there was no space to actually DO the dishes, so I avoided the task even more! The dish pan lets me keep a minimal amount of soapy water in the bottom for utensils and some in bowls to soak, and I can take it out to clean in an empty sink. It has made a world of a difference.
    We also found that using the dishwasher doesn’t work for us- it would take too long to fill it with just two people’s worth of eating, and then too long for the dishes to dry, leading to a huge backlog. Instead the dishwasher acts as our giant drying rack.
    2) Robot vacuum – we have hardwood floors and 2 cats. Enough said.
    3) hampers for clean towels- Amazon has a small/large duo, for the small one i put in a cardboard divider to keep dirty dish towels on one side, so I wouldn’t leave it on the counter.
    4) hamper for socks: we share all the same black socks, and after laundry we just throw them in- no sorting, no folding- keeps them off the floor
    5) hanging closet sweater organizers and multi-pant hangers – It always took me forever to take hangers in and out of the closet to put away clothes – clothes thus ended up on the floor instead waiting for the right time for me to put away my laundry. Now I just roll my shirts up and stack them. bonus – really easy to transfer to travel bag!
    6) Cat litter solutions – litter everywhere was driving me crazy – We replaced our litter boxes for omega paw ones (the kind you roll) facing a wall, got litter genie trash cans and yoga mats underneath–makes the area a lot less smelly and it’s easy to vacuum up the litter on the yoga mats with a hand vacuum (which is another huge help)
    7) 3 bag laundry hampers (I love hampers)- we each do our own laundry, and take turns with towel/sock laundry.

    Continually finding these kinds of solutions has really helped us overcome the initial hurdle to get into cleaning more often.

    • Hannah

      Yes! Hampers! I’d rather have 5 hampers with dirty clothes in them, then 5 hampers worth of dirty clothes on the floor! A sock hamper is an awesome idea. He is so bad about leaving them everywhere (and I feel ridiculously cliche when I nag him about it). Maybe we need a little sock hamper….

  • CII

    I was thinking about it, and I realized that (focusing on the “good”), we do have an informal system that works well for us:

    1. Each person does things they prefer to do. I love cooking and don’t mind paying the bills (so I do those things), but I hate vacuuming or laundry, so he does those things. I don’t think he’s very good at cleaning the bathroom, so I do that, but I won’t clean the litterbox frequently enough for his tastes, so he does that.

    2. We try to set aside a designated time each week to clean for a bit. Usually this is Saturday or Sunday after breakfast – I’ll pick up the mail clutter and the clothes I’ve left scattered throughout the house, and he’ll vaccum and/or launder the bedding. We turn music up loud and its somethings even pretty fun. Then it will be like noon on a Saturday and we’ll feel super accomplished.

    3. If you see the other one engaged in a surprise chore, help out! If he notices the trash needs to be taken out and does it, I try to hold the door open, or get the water running so he can wash his hands. If he notices that I am pulling things out of the refrigerator that are starting to grow little fuzzy friends, he’ll get out a new compost bag. Obviously we can’t do every chore together, but it really helps make it less awful when it’s a team effort.

    I’d be interested in a whole other post about how to work as a team to clean comprehensively before you are having a party (or say, a wedding, or a wedding pre-party or post-party) This is typically where we end up bickering (“that needs to be put away” “why didn’t you iron the tablecloth before you put it on the table?” “this bathroom is every day clean, but not appropriate for guests clean”).

  • I am a systems person and my husband is not. I am a mess and my husband is not. There are certain things that need to happen for my husband to feel he is in a clean, orderly house (kitchen MUST BE CLEAN AT ALL TIMES), and there are things that I need (tidiness and clean bathroom–minimum requirements for guests coming over).

    What changed the discussion was both admitting that really no one wants to spend their time cleaning up, but that we each need certain things to feel comfortable to do other work. Having that conversation makes it a lot easier for me to clean the kitchen because I’m facilitating my partner’s work that he loves. Likewise, he keeps the place tidy so I have room to do my work.

  • Carissa

    Before we got married, my husband and I worked through a book called “His Needs, Her Needs” by William Harley. It talks about how everybody (regardless of gender) has certain needs that need to be met in their marriage, and names the top 10 most common needs, with the idea that usually 5 are more/most important to each individual (if you’re curious, they’re Sexual Fulfilment, Recreational Companionship, An Attractive Spouse, Domestic Support, Admiration, Affection, Conversation, Honesty and Openness, Financial Commitment, Family Commitment). I found it refreshing that even though it’s written from a pretty traditional Christian perspective, it names the fact that sometimes women have a greater need for sex, etc. (for example).

    Anyway, in the back of the book, they have several exercises that they recommend working through with your partner. One of them has to do with chores. Here’s how it goes:
    1 – write down ALL the chores that have to happen in your household, indicating what they involve/how much time they take
    2 – have each person in the partnership rank each chore in terms of level of importance on a scale of 1-5 – for instance, it’s really important to me to have a clean kitchen (5), but not so important to me that the bed’s made (1).
    3 – take turns volunteering for chores, writing your name next to chores that you’d like to handle
    4 – once you’re down to the few chores that neither of you wants to volunteer for, the person to whom they’re more important is responsible for doing them. for instance, if neither of us volunteered to clean the kitchen, it’d be my chore because it’s so important to me.

    This worked out pretty well for us, although admittedly there have been challenges here and there. But it’s a good starting point, especially if you’re detail-oriented/Type A like me!

  • Lauren

    We are still working through this on a very superficial level (since we don’t live together yet) but the chore issue is the one that frightens me the most about getting married.

    I am obsessively clean and he is, not exaggerating at all, a slob. So the whole “do what’s important to you” bit falls right out the window. Thankfully, after many tears and lots of fights during weekend visits he has finally gotten it in his head that clean room = happy me, so he now makes his bed, washes towels and sheets, and gives the bathroom a once-over before I visit. That’s true love.

  • Stalking Sarah

    The problem in my house: When things get cluttered and messy, it affects me more strongly than my wife. Eventually (when it’s enough of a disaster), she’ll clean it, but I have the urge to clean it before she does. Of course, this leads to the classic nagging/resisting/negativity scenario.

    Her solution: Every Saturday morning, before we leave the house, we set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes and we both clean together. It doesn’t get us a deep clean, and it doesn’t get us to perfect, but it DOES get us to a world in the apartment is clean enough for me. We do deeper cleans together before parties or Thanksgiving, but we needed a maintenance routine. This one works great!

  • Mr. Husband does about 75% of the cleaning and 100% of the laundry.

    I do about 75% of the cooking/bills/organizing life and 100% of the cat box.

    I hate cleaning, he hates doing bills/planning so it works out well.

  • Tania

    Very shortly after M and I moved in together I discovered that he was really very fussy about how his laundry was done. We’ve each been doing our own ever since! When it comes down to it, I like looking after him and he likes looking after me. We don’t have a chore wheel, we just do our bit because its a nice thing to do for someone you love.

    • amy

      Yes. Love is separating the laundry – so many rules!

  • amy

    My partner and I have an agreement:

    He feeds me and I make the things clean. It works well for both of us as he loves to cook and I can’t. I enjoy cleaning and details are not his strength.

    I tend to stress clean so there have been several days when he has come home to me scrubbing the bathroom tile with a toothbrush. He knows this is a sign to give me all his love :)

  • Megan

    I definitely have a higher need for cleanliness than my partner, but after living together for a few years, I think he likes it now. When we’ve visited at friends’ houses that are a ‘mess’ he’ll whisper to me about how grateful he is our house is so much cleaner. : )

    Our strategy is that we have a google calendar we share for each other’s schedules anyway. So we added a reoccurring chore ‘event’ that alternate our chores every other Sunday. It’s great because before I’d have to ask him to help with this or that. Now on the weekend, he just checks out the calendar and knows it’s his turn to clean the kitchen. I no longer feel like I’m nagging and he too holds me accountable when I forget my own chores.

  • R.M.

    Here is the honest breakdown of chores in my apartment, with my fiance. The laundry gets done once a week (at the laundromat). The person who doesn’t do the laundry is supposed to vacuum. That person does not always vacuum. I make the bed, and pick clothes up off the floor and do the general tidying in the living room, because if I did not do it, it would not get done. I have decided that I am ok with this, because it is not that much tidying. We alternate cooking on a nightly basis. Whoever is cooking decides what we eat for dinner and the other person is not allowed to complain (although it is understood that the cook will not make something they know the other person does not like, like asparagus or peas or shrimp). We grocery shop together, otherwise one of us will bring home way more strawberries than we can possibly eat in a week or the other one of us will bring home only steak. Dishes are washed every day or else we run out of counter space and pots and pans. We pretty much alternate washing dishes. The bathroom and deep cleaning of the kitchen happens as a joint frantic effort before company comes over. Company comes over once a month or so. We realize that we should clean the bathroom more frequently.

    I think the best way to have a happy AND clean living space is to put things away as you go as much as possible, and clean together (even cleaning different areas at the same time) so that it feels like a group effort and not like a chore.

    Or hire a maid. If I could, I would hire a maid.

  • Teresa

    It took years, but, with the exception of when I’m all “Time to clean!” and my husband huffs even slightly and I totally lose it, I think we’ve got a system kind of figured out. We tried to base things on what we hate to do and what we don’t really mind. I like to cook, so I do all of the cooking and my husband does all of the dishes. We grocery shop together b/c it’s faster and more fun that way (they play such silly music at our grocery store!). My husband HATES to dust, so I do all of the dusting and sweeping and then he follows with the swiffer (cat hair…too much for only a broom!). My husband cleans the bathroom and I mop the floors and do the heavy scrubbing of the shower. My husband does our laundry, but I hang up the hang dryables (hanger nipples are the pits). My husband cleans the cat litter and takes out the garbage and I am in charge of general straightening up daily. We do one big clean a week, and, with my general straightening, it mostly works well for us. But, like I said, it took years of arguing. I really was afraid of feeling like I was doing all the chores b/c I was a woman and because I have the summers off. I think we’ve really come to a balance, which has made me more comfortable doing the bulk of the cleaning during my summers off so that we can spend more of our weekend time doing fun stuff.

  • Rowany

    Ooh, I forgot the most important aspect of keeping our house running: our chore game. We have a nice big white board, and at the top we’ve the categories “health” (exercise, or taking care of ourselves when we’re sick so we don’t feel like we’re bringing the team down), “home”(chores, DIY) and “heart” (reading relationship books, wedding planning). We have a weekly tally and a cumulative tally. We have a list of running ‘to-do’ items, as well as weekly chores. We get 1 point for every 30 minutes we individually spend on any category. Accumulating a certain number of points gives us a reward like a weekend getaway, and getting high scores one week gets us ‘power-ups’ that will help us get even more points– our most recent being our robot vacuum! Our future power-ups probably won’t be such a splurge, we’ve just been craving one for a loong time. My guy really works better with lists he can see, so we placed it right next to the TV.

  • Sarah

    My husband and I just somehow sort of fell in to our household roles, with no real fights. He says I do laundry like a 5-year-old, so he usually does laundry. I take care of the yard. I cook. He vacuums. We split the dishes – whoever is home in the evening does them. I tend to leave coffee cups and jackets around the house, which drives him insane so I try to make a conscious effort to pick them up. On nights when I am working late, he cleans. On nights he has school, I clean. He knows I like to have the bathroom counter clear, so he makes an effort to keep it clear. I’m not sure how this happened, but I’m guessing it’s because we both have pretty similar standards as to the level of tidiness our living space needs to be.

  • B (the other one)

    Can we please do a talk about money? I would really love to see how everyone handles finances…to split or not to split, joint and split accounts…

    • Hannah

      We just opened a joint account and it was the best decision we’ve ever made about money. He makes significantly more than I do and it was always a source of stress for me. Now we both put 70% of our paycheck in to the joint account – it doesn’t matter that the dollar amount I put in is much, much smaller, it’s the same percentage for both. We pay rent, bills, buy groceries and any other less regular couple-related expenses (like getting the car’s oil changed). The remaining 30% of my paycheck goes into my personal checking account and is mine to do as I please with. It’s nice because the joint account usually have money left over at the end of the month, so it also acts as the joint savings for our wedding. That means the money in checking really is mine and I don’t need to stress about saving additionally. If I really want to book that trip to see my girlfriends, and I have the cash to do it, I can. No stress.

      • grace b

        We had a joint account but found it way, way too stressful. Our bank expected us to make a total of 10 transactions via debit card and we both really prefer to spend cash amounts.

        So now we each have our own accounts. And because I am unemployed it is still a fairly sensitive topic. My boyfriend uses his account to pay our rent (via check because that is all they take) and our electric bill. I put some money into my account (from his) each month to pay my student loan bill and our water bill each month.

        Once I am employed we plan to split the rent check between the two of us and I’ll also have some of my own money to do things with. I also do online banking and my boyfriend does not so I like to be able to SEE all my money while my boyfriend relies more on bank visits.

        Nice tangent subject!

        • B (the other one)

          We had seperate accounts in the beginning but last year we took the plunge and move to the UK from Texas, since then we’ve been completely joint. We’ve also both been unemployed, underemployed and working full time this past year and a half so what we each bring definitely goes up and down.

          I like that we follow a budget together but it doesn’t really leave anything left over for individual things. I really like the 70% idea, it seems like a really simple way to be joint but maintain a personal savings.

    • Sarah M.

      Yes, please! I’ve really appreciated the open forums (fora?) on sex and chores; a finance one would be awesome.

      Check out this series Slate did on married finances:

      My husband and I are sometimes sharers: we each have our own checking accounts and credit cards. Each month we do a reconciliation: I list all of the shared expenses I paid for, he lists all the shared expenses he paid for, and he transfers me half of the difference. For some couples that’s too much work, but we both use to manage our finances, and it’s good to review all of our transactions at least monthly.

      We just opened a joint checking account in the last month. I calculated our total recurring monthly payments (mortgage, gas, electricity, internet, etc.), and we each contribute 1/4 of that amount per pay period. Once we had a $1,000 cushion built up, I scheduled our joint payments to come from the account.

      I was already making a little more than my husband, and I’m getting a raise this July. We’re still paying our shared expenses 50/50, because I have more debt than him. We’ll probably blend our finances more in the future– certainly when we have a baby–but I think we’ll always have at least one separate account each. That way I don’t get upset when he buys more cables, even though he has boxes and boxes in the garage, and he won’t mind when I buy more yarn. It also lets us buy each other surprise gifts.

  • A

    Arg. I hate chores. It seems like no matter what I do I’m going to end up spending more time on them than he does, and it’s a major source of stress for me (and has resulted in at least one meltdown). The main issue is that I’m “better” than him at most of the around-the-house stuff, so dividing it along lines of expertise doesn’t really work.

    For example, he usually cleans the bathroom on the weekend, and I only do it once every couple of months. But he doesn’t ever sweep the floor or empty the trash or wipe down all the bits and pieces of trim that get dusty (it’s an old house), so when I do it it takes twice as long. He also does the dishes more often than me, but never wipes down the counters, so I’ll come in to the kitchen and there will be soapy water and breadcrumbs everywhere, and a few things that aren’t completely clean, because he was in a hurry and not really paying attention. Or he’ll sweep but only do half the apartment. So I end up feeling like I’m picking up the slack and doing all these “invisible” things that he doesn’t notice, while he feels like he’s doing his fair share. And that’s not even counting all the stuff that I do outright, like planning and organizing meals and groceries, doing most of the cooking, and all of the laundry, or the little things that I’ve successfully learned to ignore.

    I don’t see a way out of it that isn’t me just listing a litany of ways that he is failing (as I did above, sorry) or constantly nagging him about how he does chores. And I know the rule is “you get to control how it gets done, or have them do it, but not both” But at the same time, I don’t see how I can just let it all slide–I’m not expecting immaculacy at all times or anything, just a job done to completion. Maybe I’m just picky or need to pick my battles, but I need to figure some way out of this, because trying to accept it as it is ain’t working.

    Ugh. Sorry for the rant, I’ve needed to vent about this for a while. And it’s not all bad–we’ve gotten really good jointly at keeping things tidy/uncluttered, and the apartment generally looks pretty good.

  • deeanna

    I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but we got a housekeeper this year and it’s been one of the best decisions for our sanity that we’ve ever made. He comes every other Friday and mostly does the deep cleaning. Doesn’t pick up clutter, doesn’t do our laundry, but he vacuums, cleans the cat hair off of the furniture, cleans the bathrooms, makes the bed (changes the sheets if we leave him a clean set), that sort of thing. It was more affordable than we thought it would be and given that in our relationship, we don’t always have a lot of free time together (I’m a medical resident and my husband commutes so that we can be near my work), the amount we pay to have a base level of cleanliness without having to spend our free time together doing this is key.

    In terms of other chores, we both cook together, and we have a cleanup system (he does pots and pans, I pack up the leftovers and clean up the surfaces). Laundry is whoever has time to get to it first, and we discuss it when it is approaching laundry time.

  • grace b

    Gah, chores.

    I don’t really think that my boyfriend and I have worked out a true “system” exactly.

    We had a brief conversation about it once: you clean the bathroom, I’ll vacuum the carpets.

    But I think we are at the point where we need a chore chart or wheel or whatever. The both of us have a tough time acknowledging that we actually need concrete routines and expectations in our relationship. We like to think that we can just “go with the flow” and that the cleaning will take care of itself.

    I hate working in chaos so I like to have my space cleaned up a bit each day. But I also neglect the chores I dislike the most: like the stupid dishes. My boyfriend on the other hand, tends to work better in chaos so he doesn’t really care if the house in clean while he is in it. He’ll clean when guests are coming over.

    Basically: we are both procrastinators and will drop something on the floor and walk around it for DAYS before cleaning it up. I recognize this more so I try to fix it (like putting clothes away asap after doing laundry) but will leave my dishes out way longer.

    So thanks for writing this today Maddie because I think one of the best parts of living together is that your habits and attitudes are on full display and are really up for discussion at any time. At least that is how it feels to me.

  • Nic

    We’re like a number of couples here – we’ve each decided what we care about most/don’t dislike as much/enjoy doing and have split things that way (I’m in charge of bathroom, mopping the hard wood floors after they’ve been vacumed, dusting and laundry; he vacums, irons and takes out the trash). As we’re both lawyers and generally aren’t around for meals, no one is in charge of cooking, though he eats breakfast at home and therefore deals with the dishwasher. And we got a Roomba, because I hate vacuming and he works lots of weekends, so to avoid my weekend being totally taken up by housework, I use that.

    But the biggest problem isn’t any of the actual cleaning, where we both have similar expectations, but clutter and tidyness. I’m a firm believer in cleaning thoroughly once a week and am fine if that involved moving piles of books and magazines and mail and articles I want to read around, whereas he would rather have tidy flat than a clean one, if there’s limited time.

    So doing chores is fine, it’s more a question of how often do they need doing.

  • A-L

    I’m on my lunch break so I don’t have time to read the preceding 191 posts, but I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve been married nearly two and a half years, and we don’t have it quite worked out either. I’m “neater” than my husband, but neither one of us are super into cleaning. It’s not a major problem yet, but there are times that I start to feel resentful because I feel as though I’m pulling more of that wagon (though maybe my partner feels the same way).

    BUT…we don’t have kids yet…and we’re thinking about starting to try in the next few months. Reading a recent post (or comments on a post) there was a conversation about how necessary the partner’s help is when pregnant and once the child is born. And I don’t want to go into that with the chores issue hanging over our heads like a dark, gloomy cloud. So please, dish out the advice!

  • Gina

    This struck SUCH a chord with me. I grew up as one of 5 kids. My mom’s philosophy was “clean the house when the kids move out”–even though she still always seemed to be cleaning up after someone– and my dad seemed physically incapable of putting a dish in the dishwasher. So I wanted a more equitable (and sane) division of labor in my own life.

    My fiance and I have been working out a system since we moved in together last year. It’s usually something like, whoever cooked dinner doesn’t have to do the dishes, and I won’t wash his work clothes because they smell like manual labor sweat, and he hates washing floors but he will sweep them before I wash them. Also, I refuse to clean the chicken coop because it was his idea to get freaking chickens.

    I think it’s important to figure out what chores you loathe, and hopefully the other person doesn’t loathe them quite as much and will do them, and it can feel like you’re both winning.

    Of course, everyone hates cleaning toilets.

  • Holly

    This topic makes me want to burst into tears. I’m not a compulsively clean person. My mom is a hoarder (like, seriously). So I am trying not to be like that but I’m not the best at organizing. When I lived sans partner I cleaned on the weekends while my son was away and everything looked nice and neat. We had no pets. It was easy. The house was also 1/3rd the size of the one we have now. We live together, and he came with 2 (50ish lb) dogs that are black and white and shed so much they leave a clone in their wake. My FH is not a clean person either. He will admit he’s lazy.

    I cook because I am better at it. I grocery shop because I cook. I do laundry because he just throws everything in together and didn’t realize there were labels or things called “Fabric Softener.” I used to deep clean one room in the house every weekend. I’ve gone on strike, though. I started only doing things that benefit or bother me. The strike has been going on for about 2 months. It’s awful.

    I basically do ALL THE THINGS. I resent him for the chores. I resent him for asking me to help him out with things (like picking up his dry cleaning) because he doesn’t help me out. And it’s out of my way, and he just wanted to sleep in that morning/afternoon (he does shift work). All the books say thank him for helping me when he does a load of dishes, but I resent that no one thanks me or gives any notice when I’ve done them without help or complaint for the past 2 weeks straight. We both work outside of the house for about the same hours. He gets 3 days off a week but I only get 2.

    This has become a consistent fight in our house. To the point where I want to leave. Honestly, everything else is wonderful. When he complains about the state of the house I start looking at moving boxes longingly.

    • Kat

      This sounds like a difficult situation. I don’t have wonderful, all solving advice, but I would suggest rethinking the “I cook because I am better at it”. If you like cooking that’s a good reason to be doing it, but if it’s simply that you cook better than your partner (or are a more confident cook, or similar) you could discuss that he starts cooking sometimes to make the chore division more equitable. Cooking is a skill you can learn, so you may have to be patient as he learns, but it could mean you don’t end up with the cooking forever.

  • Alexis

    My fiance and I have lived together for a year and I have been so amazed by how easily chores just fell into place for us. I do a lot of the cooking and hate doing the dishes; he does the dishes. When he cooks, usually about 1-2 times a week, I do the dishes. I work full-time and he works part-time so he has more time at home. Because of that, he does the majority of the laundry and does the daily picking up (putting away dishes, wiping off counters, tables, stove after cooking/eating, taking garbage out, etc.). I do a lot of the big weekly/monthly type cleaning (bathroom, kitchen, dusting, mopping) but he does some of that too.

    I think it helps that we’re both relatively clean/tidy people and we’re both fairly laidback about most things. If I can’t clean the bathroom before people come over, he doesn’t mind doing it, and if the dishes are piling up because he’s been busy, I’ll get to them. We both recognize that we each contribute more or less equally most of the time, and that sometimes one of us will have to step in and do a little more.. and it just works! No resentment, no fights about “You never do ___!”, no one feeling guilty for not pulling their weight.

  • Jessica

    Let’s see I do laundry, most tidying/organizing around the house, all Target runs. He does the trash, most mopping/vacuuming, picking up/dropping off dry cleaning and filling up/emptying dishwasher. My big issue is I do chores as my first thing on a list of many (i.e. first thing in the am or when I get home) he likes to leave them last on a list (go to gym, cook dinner, then clean). We’ve tried timers- 15 minutes, google alerts, chore lists. Nothing has worked yet. I’m an admitted obsessively organized person who feels most calm when things aren’t a mess. I’ve tried to corral items to specific areas of the house, but need to do a better job of just getting rid of things. It’s a constant tug of war after more than 4 years of living together.

  • The fiance and I have an agreement where he deals with the landlord (finances, maintenance needs) and the cable company and anything else that involves talking to someone on the phone because I HATE dealing with any of those things and they’re major anxiety triggers. He also does “projects” (hanging picture frames, putting together furniture) because he likes that stuff. Laundry is on your own — you want clean clothes, you wash them. Otherwise, I basically do everything (vacuuming, dishes, floor-cleaning, taking out trash).

    This means that generally I spend way more time on household upkeep than he does, but without any pressure and guilt because I just clean however often I think it should be done and he doesn’t have any say in it (unless he wants to do it himself!). Sometimes he’ll take care of something if he knows I’m having a tough day/week, and if I ask him to do something specific like take out the recycling he always says yes, but having a default where I do almost everything really works for us. I don’t like washing dishes, but I’d much rather spend my time doing them than worrying about who should be doing them or who’s better at it or whatever.

  • Kat

    Late to the party, but anyway –

    We moved in together after flatting as students and I think our chore system stems from that. When flatting we had the inevitable chore list and rotation and there was always someone who didn’t do their chores for no particular reason. When we moved in together it was almost a relief – ‘hooray, there’s just to two of us so we don’t have to rely on anyone else to clean!’

    So we split almost everything evenly –
    We each have cooking nights, and Fridays rotate between us. Whoever cooks, cleans (dishes etc) (also a hangover from flatting, it prevents a tidy cook from cleaning up after a nessy one).
    We’ve divded up the weekly chores (vacuuming, mopping, tidying, cleaning bathroom/kitchen, laundry etc) into two groups and alternate each week.
    Most other chores we also alternate (mowing the lawns etc).

    This works well for us as we have a reasonably similar idea of what clean is and neither of us have jobs we love or hate much more than the other. For a couple of things we needed to compromise on how often it was done, but once we agreed we both just do it.

    This sounds super organised, but it’s actually a bit more relaxed. Some weekends we don’t do our chores, or only one person does, but we make up for it later. If the house gets really messy, or we have people coming over, we both do a blitz clean – both working until it’s done.

    There are a couple of things we do based on individual talent/interest. I bulk cook and freeze things we can have for lunches, he maintains our computers and other technology. I deep clean the frypans when required, he sharpens the knives.

    Things have evolved a bit now that I’m pregnant. He does the cat’s litter box every night (as I’m not supposed to do that) and I’ve picked up Friday night cooking. I imagine this will change even further when my main job is caring for a new baby.

  • Sarah M.

    After reading this thread earlier this week, my husband and I sat down with a glass of wine and laid out a chore plan. I was worried about the emotional content of talking about chores, but it was a really great discussion. We agreed that things were already pretty equitable, but it was nice to have everything on paper (in a color-coded spreadsheet!).

    We had been cleaning on Saturday mornings, because that’s what my mother’s voice in my head told me was right. The thing is, my husband likes his Saturday mornings for gaming and hanging out. I would clean, feeling resentful that he wasn’t. Then immediately after he’d clean and I’d feel guilty. We now agreed to make Thursdays our co-cleaning night. That way (1) we both have our Saturday mornings back, and (2) we clean at the same time, so we feel like a team and don’t keep score. We had our first cleaning session this week, and it went so well. We just need to decide on a name for our Thursday-night cleaning sessions. I like Home Love; he likes The Consecration.

    We also set up Google calendar reminders to change the sheets, air filters, etc. so it’s the calendar reminding us and not me. Thank you so much for starting this conversation!

  • Katie

    While we don’t live together, my other and I spend most of our time at his so the mess is shared. Every Friday we have an at home night and turn up the music, set the timer for twenty minutes and go at it. We listen to mo-town and it turns into a part dancing but mostly cleaning activity. We have enough fun that we outlast the timer. Still the timer continues to be set for twenty, because it feels manageable (making us more motivated to do it) and any extra we do makes us feel ultra proud of ourselves. I tend to pick up clutter and organize because that’s what drives me up the wall and he does the washing up. He dusts because I’m allergic, and while it never bothered him before he realizes it makes me feel better and he is driven to look after it even beyond our Friday cleans. I also vacuum because I enjoy it and he does the toilets, I do the counters and the bath. He does the toilets because I sit down to pee and so anything gross happening there is his fault not mine. Okay, that’s not entirely true because my toilets at home need looking after… anyway it works enough but I’d still like for us to do a more heavy duty clean periodically because it piles up.

  • Jannell

    Buy flowers once a week. Seriously. Do it. Every week. I do it on Friday afternoons, after work. Put them in a lovely vase on the coffee table. Or the kitchen table. Just somewhere very visible and central. When one thing in your apartment is pretty, it makes you want to clean up the rest of it, too. It works for me, at least. I guess that doesn’t really address the dividing chores issue, so much as the getting the motivation to do the chores issus… but it’s a start?

  • Anne

    I love having a clean apartment, but don’t like giving up a day to do all of the chores at once. I highly recommend I started using it to get my roommate to chip in, but now that I just live with my boyfriend I’m still using it. You put in the chores and it spits out a schedule. This way I can devote 5-10 minutes a day and know that we’re both doing out part.