This is How You Make Chores Work in a Marriage

a photo of black shoes and pink shoes

There are a lot of things I do fairly well: make money, make sure the bills get paid, keep things tidy. In fact, I grew up in a messy house, and as a result, I’m a compulsive tidier. When the house is a mess I feel like I’m slowly going insane, so I make sure the house stays very neat . What I’m terrible at is cleaning, not to mention cooking.

In our house, my husband runs the ship in terms of actual cleaning, which means I sometimes find myself ordered to mop a floor, hyperventilating because I’m confused about how to do it. Really, we should probably have a chore wheel, but we’ve never gotten around to it. In the meantime, our house is presentable and we’re generally happy(ish). This is how we do it.

Cleaning Myths

Myth #1: It’s not help if you have to ask for it

This is the comment I hear most often. It usually goes like this, “I love my partner, and (s)he means well, but I always have to ask him for help. That makes me feel like it’s all on my shoulders and I might as well do it myself.”

Here is the thing (are you ready?): your partner can’t read your mind.

If you’re dealing with the chore problem in the first place, chances are they are not very good at the chores in question. They are not quite sure how you clean a toilet (even if you’ve showed them), or how often a toilet needs to be cleaned, or when it’s been cleaned according to your standards. This means they are probably not going to volunteer to clean a toilet (they are not stupid, that would just be throwing themselves into the lion’s mouth). Until you get a system in place, you’re going to need to ask for help, and that’s a great thing. We should all get BETTER at asking our partners for help, not worse. Asking for help means you’re good at communicating your needs, not that your partner doesn’t love you.

Myth #2: (S)He’s not that good at it, so I just have to do it over anyway

For those of us that didn’t grow up trained in the art of chores, chores are: unpleasant (just like they are for everyone), embarrassing (because how were we supposed to know that you didn’t clean the inside of a toilet with a scrub brush?), and scary (because we get yelled at for not doing them right). This is not a particularly compelling mix.

If we gather our nerve, and our scrub brushes, and dive into doing chores, and Every Single Time our partner comes along behind us and tells us we did it wrong and does it over, guess what? We’re going to stop doing chores altogether. All that unpleasantness and then it’s done over any way? Just do it your d*mn self, since you know how you want it done.

So here is what I’m allowing you: when your partner is learning a chore, you can give them one simple suggestion each time. “Hey honey, you know, most people don’t clean toilets with scrub brushes. Why don’t you try this toilet bowl scrubber.” If you want to super sneakily improve upon the chore when your partner is out of the house, you can, but you might not want to mention that you did. They will get better, but you have to encourage them.

Myth #3: (S)He’s just not that into cleaning

This is the kicker of all myths. I’ve heard people in the comments say over and over again, “Well, I need to do all the cleaning, because my partner is just not that into cleaning. He leaves his dishes on the living room floor, and that’s all he’s interested in doing.” Because here is the thing: Are you interested in living in a generally tidy house? Is (s)he interested in keeping your rage-full monster self at bay? Then (s)he just got interested in cleaning.

This is the crux of what marriage is about. We’re into keeping our partners happy. We’re into growing as people so that we’re better partners. So if your partner isn’t that interested in cleaning, I suggest you go home and sit down and have a conversation where you explain that you’re not that interested in picking up after them, so the two of you are going to work this out. Now.

Your Game Plan

Have A Game Plan

You may need to keep asking your partner for help no matter what, but it will really help if you sit down and come up with some ground rules. Maybe you clean the house together every Sunday. Maybe you draw up a list of all the chores that need to be done (and how often), and you divide them up. This is helpful because it gives your partner a really clear idea of what to expect, and a feeling that the rules are not going to change on them every two seconds, and that they have to keep reading your mind on a subject they know very little about.

Embrace Roles (Even If They Change)

One of the things that makes household chores such a tinderbox is gender roles. It’s really easy to get caught up in the endless cycle of thinking, “If I’m a woman, and I do the cooking what does that MEAN?” If you and your partner have divided chores along the lines of who is good at what, or a random distribution of the chores that everyone hates… then it doesn’t mean anything. Cooking is only oppressive if you’re feeling oppressed by it. Cooking is not oppressive because you’re a woman. And if you start hating cooking? Switch. You can keep changing your minds on roles forever.

That said, there are good things about clear roles, even if they change over time. I’m supposed to do the dishes every single night. It’s my job. On nights that I get David to help me out, he doesn’t say, “Well of course I’ll do them, the dishes are everyone’s responsibility.” He says, “You owe me one.” And I do. It’s really helpful that I understand that, because it makes us fight less.

Remember To Ask For Help

Even with all this, you’re going to have to keep asking for help. Chores are going to continue to be unpleasant, embarrassing, and scary for the near term, so come Sunday morning, you may need to play cheerleader, “We’re going to clean the house together, and it’s not going to be that bad.” And remember, a little grumbling is par for the course.

Let Them Screw It Up (and be proud of themselves)

Remember how I said you can’t walk behind your partner re-doing all their chores? Well, for serious, you can’t. You need to give them a chore, trust them with it, and then compliment them when they work hard and do it wrong. They are learning. I know chores seem easy if you’ve done them all your life, but trust me, if you haven’t, they aren’t. So when your partner proudly shows you the tub that (s)he just spent 45 minutes cleaning and still looks like a mess to you? Remember, it looks really clean to them, and they worked hard on it. So give them a hug, and tell them good job. The more you do this, the more often they’ll clean the tub, and the better and faster at it they will become.

Lower Your Standards

If your standards for a clean house look nothing like your partner’s standards for a clean house, it’s possible you’ll have to meet in the middle somewhere (or divide and play to your strengths). I like a neater house than David does, so I do most of the tidying. It’s not always as neat as I would like, but we work at it, and I live. David likes a cleaner house than I do. That means he heads up the cleaning effort, and it’s not always as clean as he wants. But we’re getting better all the time. Are our standards lower together than they would be apart? Maybe. But combined, we make a pretty good team, and that’s good enough for me.

Featured Sponsored Content

  • Katie Mae

    THANK YOU. I have been waiting for this post for months! I didn’t know what it would look like, but you hit all of my issues.

    Asking for help is the big thing for me. Chris does this thing where he jokingly accuses me of nagging when I ask him to do a chore. When I ask him if he really thinks I’m being unfairly demanding, he says no, he’s just kidding – but then he does it again the next time. Ladies (and gentlemen?), how do you deal with the perception that asking for help is nagging? How do you make it more pleasant?

    • Kira

      Oh, that sounds so frustrating! My partner doesn’t quite accuse me of nagging, but I’m so worried he will that I think I project all kinds of bad feelings onto him. I’m working on recognizing my guilt as something that comes from me and my fears about my role in our relationship, not something that comes from him.

      Right now I’m focusing on trying to recognize times when I do something that goes against my immediate inclinations in order to help him out, and how I feel about it. This doesn’t need to be a chore in the domestic sense–I’m talking things like going out at night to meet his friends at a bar, even though it’s freezing out and socializing makes me anxious, and I’d really rather be at home reading a book, and why can’t he just chill out and READ like I do? For the first, say, 20 minutes of our expedition, I’m crabby and cold and thinking about all the reading I could be doing and feeling anxious about what I’m going to say to these people I have nothing in common with. And then I chill out and end up having a good time, and I feel glad I went out and grateful that he encouraged me to do something that seemed slightly unpleasant but was, in fact, satisfying and good for my life and for our relationship.

      This is, I think, kind of how cleaning goes. I’m usually the one who gets motivated to clean before he does (though not always), and he is often reluctant to get started, but afterward he, too, enjoys having a clean house and feels satisfied to have cleaned it. In the same way that he contributes to our relationship by encouraging me to socialize even when it’s cold and I’m nervous, I contribute to our relationship by cleaning and encouraging him to clean even when we’re feeling kind of lazy and would prefer to just go to bed already. I don’t resent him for pushing me socially–I see it as one of his strengths, even if it is sometimes difficult for me. So why the heck can’t good housekeeping be a strength I bring to the relationship? (The answer, I think, has a lot to do with ingrained cultural notions of women’s work, which is pretty effed up.)

      So I guess my approach is a lot more conceptual than practical. But I often find it more effective to examine and alter my attitudes toward a situation rather than going all-out to change it, particularly if it involves a combination of necessary facts (the house must be cleaned) and habits that are hard to change (your partner accusing you jokingly of nagging).

      • Veronica

        Thank you, Kira. Between what you just said about good housekeeping being a strength to bring to a relationship & the post above, this is exactly what I needed to hear today. We just had the biggest, most ridiculous argument over taking out the trash last night!

        Thanks–I’m going to go be a rational person again.

        • Oh! I wish I could say this “Thanks–I’m going to go be a rational person again” and do it. Sometimes my irrationality just consumes me. Eek!

    • optathy

      Frankly, I don’t think that the nagging “joke” is funny at all, and I’d tell him so. Repeatedly making that comment signals to you that managing the household is completely your responsibility, and that he’s just “helping”. It’s like when the mom asks the dad for babysitting help. Running a household and rearing a child are mutual responsibilities.

      I’d sit down with him and put together a list of things that need to be done and divvy out responsibility together. It’s up to him when he does it. If he doesn’t do it by an agreed on schedule, then there are consequences, whatever works for your family.

      • I get the “nagging” comment from time to time. Oddly, though, I don’t get it when I’m actually nagging ;)

        I agree with sitting down to review what needs to be done. I’ve also once or twice reminded my Fiancee that I’m going to be his wife. And his partner. And I’m not his mother, maid or caretaker.

        I’ve found that it works to talk to him about everything that’s bothering me. Instead of always offering to help, I sometimes offer to barter “Hey, I’ll take care of XYZ chore that you really hate to do if you would be willing to do ABC for me.” Or, have discussions about how to handle things when they don’t actually need to be handled (talk about the house cleaning schedule when the house is actually clean…so it’s not always “Please clean the toilet.” it’s “We should clean the toilet once a week…” or whatever). That way, it’s discussed and agreed upon at a time that is not the moment that it needs to get done, you know?

    • Marina

      A couple possibilities:
      1) Straight-up honesty. “When you joke that I’m nagging it really bothers me.”
      2) Doing it first. “I don’t want to sound like I’m nagging, but would you…”
      3) Putting the solution in his court. “How would you like me to tell you when I need help so it doesn’t sound like I’m nagging?”

      • kyley

        Perfect. I especially like 1 & 3 because they address the problem at hand, while #2 reinforces that your partner is justified in accusing you (however jokingly) of nagging.

      • RachelLyn

        I would add to this: name his behavior. Tell you why it bothers you. Suggest a behavior you would prefer:
        Ex. When you accuse me of nagging, it hurts me and makes me feel that cleaning our home is my responsibility. In the future, it would be really helpful if you could try to see us as a team who are keeping our house clean together and be more supportive of my efforts to get you involved.

    • LV Anna

      Nagging is as much HOW you say something as WHAT you say.

      At one point I was at my wits end with this very issue and my then-husband. In desperation, tried writing down my requests for help, and re-read them a few days later while tidying up (and fuming, because I was tidying up. Again.). Wow, was that eye opening and not in a good way. What sounded like a simple and fair request for help in my head was actually a badly veiled complaint by the time it got out of my mouth. It wasn’t the words themselves, it was the tone of voice. I got a lot more careful about how I asked for help, and he got a lot better about helping when I asked.

      • Hoppy Bunny

        My in-laws do this and it works great. They also write little encouraging, grateful notes to go with requests. There is something so sweet about getting up in the morning and seeing a note thanking you for a yummy dinner.

        • JT

          I love that idea!

    • Sylvia

      About a year after we moved in together, I asked G how I could ask or remind him to do things without us both feeling like I’m nagging. He said “write it down”. So I do. If we need something from the shops and he’s passing them later, I text him. If there are jobs at home that he said he’d do or that I think he’d do better than me, I write it on our kitchen board. It works both ways, he also puts jobs for me on there too. The best thing about this is that it avoids my worry about how to ask without sounding like a nag and it avoids the uncomfortable conversation when I get all coy about asking and make a long-winded deal out of it and and he gets defensive. Win win!

      It is possible that we are, to a degree, avoiding the adult conversation we should be having but to us it feels like a neat way round one of the conversations that triggers arguments for us. Stuff gets done – eventually – we’re both still adjusting on this one, and no-one gets strangled.

      • My husband has also commented on how he likes the ‘writing it down’ method. I’m used to it because I’m so forgetful that I use that for myself, and now we have a running list for the house. It’s great.

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        We go one step further technology-wise and text each other. Notes and lists always seem to get lost or left behind at our house. Probably because it’s such a mess :)

        But yeah, when I’m working and Husband is at home he’ll send me “We’re out of beer/milk/Cheez-Its” texts and I’ll pick something up on the way home. Same way, if I’ve reached my dirty dishes pile limit I’ll shoot him a text when I get to the office that says “Almost didn’t make it to work – Dishes avalanche almost blocked the Pass.”

        It helps us feel less oppressed by the drudgery to make the messages a little silly.

    • My husband actually refuses to do something when I ask him, because the asking bothers him. Then I stab him in the eyes, and THAT really starts a fight.

      Seriously though, we need to work something out.

      I totally fail at #2, though. When dishes are still dirty after washing? I’m like “What the hell is this?”

      Moral: don’t marry grumpy Italian ladies like me.


        Thanks for the great laugh! I always have the same reaction and only recently have been able to stop the verbal-diarrhea which I’m so accustomed to. I’ve tried to say this a bit more politely, but I think I still need to be much more subtle.

    • I used to have this problem all the time! My husband is super bad at seeing the mess around the house. Unless it’s a pile or dirty dishes or laundry, it’s somehow not visible to him. True story, once I had people coming home with me after work. My husband was home, so I called and asked him to do a quick scan/tidy.

      He did the dishes, but LEFT MY BRA on the sofa. sigh

      So we’ve come to a deal. I am not allowed to get pissed that he doesn’t see what I see. And, on the flip side, he’s not allowed to call me a nag for asking him to pick things up. It took a while for this to work on both ends (three years?), but I think we’ve finally gotten there.

  • I’m terrible at tidy. So is my husband. We’re both pretty good at cleaning, though we don’t do it as often as we should. I don’t mind cleaning, but I HATE tidying, because every time I tidy? It’s a project, because everything is a cluttered mess. (You should see my desk at work.) I tell myself if we had a bigger place it would be “easier,” but I’m sure that’s a lie. (Except, we probably would have cocktail parties more often, which would force us to tidy up.)

    For cooking, he does most of it, because I’m a disaster in the kitchen. I help – I cut vegetables (sometimes), I make rice (if we’re doing stir fry, which we do a lot), I do all of the dishes, etc. It’s an even split, and it works for us.

    • We have a bigger place, and honestly, it’s just meant more things to clutter. I feel like shelling out the money for good storage solutions would help. For real even. The storage we have bought has helped immensely.

    • The only way to get rid of clutter is to get rid of it! Seriously, rearranging and adding more space just rearranges your clutter and gives you more space for more clutter.

      But if it doesn’t seem to bother either one of you, do you really need to bother with tidying?

      • It actually DOES bother me. I go through phases where I say, “THAT’S IT, EVERYTHING IS GETTING TOSSED.” Except now half the stuff isn’t mine to toss. Erm.

        (Not to say he doesn’t ever tidy his stuff … he does. He’s better at it than me, actually. But he also is very particular about keeping certain paper clutter or recycling it. Our building does not have recycling and because we live in a building, we’re not eligible for municipal recycling … so we have to drive an hour to recycle. It makes me see red over his need to be green.)

        And you’re right – a lot of it is stuff we need to get rid of. However, a lot of the problem is, my husband is an English professor. I actually pared down my “book clutter” (donated), down to only the ones I knew I would either a. read again (and again and again, like my hardback copy of Watership Down, my all-time favorite book); or b. are special to me (i.e., my Frank McCourt and William Kennedy autographed editions). I also got a Kindle for Christmas, because I’m too instant-gratification for the Library. (I tried, for a year; I don’t like the main branch in my city, and the satellite branches have spotty hours. I didn’t make it ONCE.)

        Anyway, he has other reasons for wanting his book collection, which is MASSIVE. It takes up most of our wall space in the living room. This has caused most of our problems. However, people “wanting to buy [us] wedding gifts!” actually forced us to both de-clutter and organize our space better. We’re *almost* there, but not quite. There is also all the paper clutter that we need to keep and is just not filed well – we need to work on that.

        So, in the short term, more space WOULD = less clutter … but I don’t think it would work that way in the long run.

        • Haley Y

          Yay, Watership Down! That’s my favorite too, and one of the few books I’ve re-read over and over again. (sorry I’m off-topic, couldn’t help myself :-D)

        • Girl, I hear you. My future hubby and I are both hard-core readers. I’m like you, I’ve pared my book collection down to what’s beloved and what will get reread. Haven’t quite been able to convince him to do the same.

          Sounds like you’ve already made strides, though. Good luck with the rest! It’s a forever ongoing process.

        • Suzanne

          Ha ha ha ha…this made me laugh out loud. My husband and I have the EXACT same situation, just different books. He’s a software engineer so we have almost an entire room dedicated to his coding books that are all titled with various symbols and program names. He wants to keep them as references in case he ever needs them!

          We’re also on a massive over-a-year-long project to try to get rid of “stuff.” This past Christmas we told our families to not give us gifts b/c we just cannot let anything more into the house. The only way we allow ourselves to get something new is if we get rid of something else first.

          It’s AMAZING how much stuff we still manage to bring into the house.

    • I grew up in a HUGE house and my bedroom, at least, was generally a HUGE mess. I actually like smaller spaces because:

      1. There is less to mess up.
      2. Smaller spaces are quicker and easier to clean.

      I used to get really intimidated by my messy bedroom. But now I look at my small apartment living room and think, there’s really not that much mess, it just looks bad because it’s more mess in proportion to space.

      And also, yes! My fiancé and I are both totally messy and both never clean enough. I’m happy to do the bathroom–it’s a straightforward task and I like a clean and shiny bathroom (though I guess I don’t dislike grubby dingy bathrooms enough or I’d clean it more often)–but we haven’t figured out what he can be in charge of to balance it out. Usually he just does other general cleaning while I do the bathroom, which works ok.

      • Ha yeah, bathroom cleaning is my fave because (except for the tub), it’s quick and easy. I can do it in under a half hour, which is a bonus.

  • PLGC

    There’s another option here: outsourcing.

    My husband I spent years sometimes fighting and more often just freaking out together about the cleanliness of our home, especially once we adopted a cute but constantly shedding cat. As soon as it was financially possible, we hired a cleaning service to visit our apartment once every two weeks. (We were careful to seek out a company that’s committed to treating its employees well and using environmentally friendly products whenever possible.) We’re both Megs — we can keep up the tidying in between visits, but scrubbing the floors and toilets is just beyond us. Now the dirt never gets truly terrible, and for a couple of brief moments a month our house sparkles. It is absolutely the best money we spend as a couple.

    • Jessica

      I’d also add that this may be possible for you sooner than you might think. The woman we hired charges $50 to clean our (very small) apartment every other week. I bet it doesn’t take her more than an hour (it would take us far longer, especially once you factor in the procrastinating) and she works for herself, so I feel pretty good about that being a fair wage. It’s nice mostly just because neither of us much likes to clean (and so we just tend not to, leaving me not thilled with the dirty house, plus feeling guilty about not cleaning it). The relationship factors are also a plus- not just because it eliminates a potential point of tension, but also because it gives me one less thing to feel conflicted about from an “am I at risk of being constrained by gender roles” perspective. (I’d say that, overall, we contribute about the same to the household – he might do a little more because he’s more responsible about getting his share done – but I spend more time thinking/worrying about household things.)

      • This is really something I want to look into myself. It’s not a priority/in our budget right now, but I’m hoping in the next couple of years we can do this.

    • Valerie

      Getting a cleaning person was one of the best decisions my family ever made when we were growing up. Cleaning used to drive my mother nuts. My dad and us kids would wind up angry and in tears for not doing things to her satisfaction, and she was miserable with the state of her house. We finally got a lady to come in every few weeks, and family dynamics changed dramatically. My mom became a happier person and we all got along better.

      It isn’t the DIT solution that I’m sure we are talking about here, but the compromises we made (like not going out to eat or to movies) to afford the cleaning lady really worked for our family, and led to a more peaceful home.

      • anonymous

        to validate you, i’d say that making a joint decision to hire something to clean is definitely a DIT solution.

      • Ariel Gore writes in The Mother Trip about how getting a cleaner was waaaaay better value than paying a therapist.

    • i have been wanting to get a cleaning “helper” for quite sometime. i guess the thing i worry about is finding someone who 1) will do a good job 2) we can afford. also,and i’m mostly over this one, but i feel like hiring someone to clean our incredibly small condo is a mark of failure on my part. i know its not, but cleaning feels like something i should be able to do, you know??

      so two questions?
      -where do you find a respectable cleaning service/person?
      -what are reasonable prices?

      • Melissa

        Where to find – ask neighbors, co-workers, friends, etc. That’s how I found my cleaning person. Self-employed cleaners are probably going to be cheaper than a service, although that’s not always true.

        Reasonable rates – I live in the Detroit area and I pay $75 every other week to have my 1100 sq ft house cleaned (2 bathrooms, and I have a St. Bernard).

      • Jessica

        We asked for recommendations from friends. I wanted someone that was trusted by people we trust, since we were giving them keys to our house. We pay $50 every other week for our approx. 600 sq ft apartment (one bathroom, tiny kitchen) in Boston – based on the very little research I did, that seems to be a good price, but not so good that it would be hard to replicate. Another person quoted us $60-80 (depending on frequency), I think, for our previous, similar-sized apartment – that might have been higher to account for the fact that there was minimal free parking in our old neighborhood. That felt a little high, though, and we didn’t hire her.

        Don’t feel like a failure! I am confident that I have every ability to keep my apartment clean, and I am sure you do, too. I probably couldn’t do as good a job (in the same time frame) as the cleaning person, as she is a professional with vastly more experience, but I could definitely keep it more than clean enough. I hate cleaning, though, so I just don’t think it is a good use of my time. Think of it like comparative advantage:

        • Rasheeda

          YES YES YES to Comparative advantage!!

        • Katy

          I’m in Boston and would love to know who you’re using. Could you email me? katherine dot a dot evans at gmail dot com.

      • Valerie

        We used to have two self-employed ladies come clean our 4 story, 6 bedroom, 3 bathroom group-house for $125 plus tip in the DC area. If you aren’t going through a service, ask friends and co-workers, put it out on FB. You aren’t signing a contract, so if you don’t like their work, you can always try someone else next time.

      • I’m right there with ya Sarah!

        I too feel like a failure for not being able to clean my freaking shower! Seriously?! Then I remember that I work and am going to graduate school, it would be totally remarkable for me to have time to clean the shower and honestly I would much rather take that time to make dinner then clean. So, we hired someone. We found her through craigslist she did a really awesome job we were able to work out a deal where we pay her half and traded for the other half of the fee, then she found out we were gay and stopped showing up… frustrating! So, now until we can find someone else I have my younger sister who is in high school and could use some cash come and clean twice a month. She isn’t a good and while it was awkward a first we’ve found a way to make it work and she knows she is a HUGE help to me and I feel good to be able to give her some fun money during her senior year.

        I’ve noticed that prices differ by city, so check craigslist, see what the standard rates are and pay what you are comfortable paying. I’ve also found that it is really important to do a walk-through with the person before hand to point out any specifics you want done or to mention the sticky faucet that only turns off if you do_____. That kind of stuff is really helpful to get the results you want.

      • Annika

        I was a self-employed cleaner all through high school (because I love vacuuming and I’m a complete clean-freak) and I charged $15/hour. If you have any friends/siblings/cousins or other connections to highschoolers or college kids, you may be able to find a good and affordable cleaner. As others have said, if you try them once or twice and they can’t meet your standards, you can always find another.

        I know I vastly preferred cleaning jobs to babysitting! I’m much more of a neat-freak than a play-with-babies person.

    • lolo7835

      So my question to this is-what do you do when your fiance is 100% against hiring someone? He sees it as a class thing (only elites have a person come in clean after them) and really strongly objects to the entire idea. That being said, he doesn’t really help with any of the cleaning as he spends crazy long hours working on the PhD.

      Meanwhile, I’m drowning.

      There’s work, there’s co-planning the wedding (somehow he finds time for THAT), and there’s cleaning a 3 level townhouse. I’ve tried talking to him. I’ve tried going on ‘strike’ but the grossness just drives me insane so I always cave. Help.

      • Erin B

        If you fiance is totally against hiring a cleaner, maybe you should make a chore wheel. I feel like this would be a good time to bring in some outside source, like a book on negotiation, to help the conversation along. Would he do his share if his specific chores were clearly stated on a wheel or whiteboard?

        This is a great conversation to have before you’re married. I’m the non-cleaner in our house, and I resisted getting help for the same reason that your fiance states. It took months of ugly fighting and me acting like a truculent child every time my beau asked me to swiffer before I realized that the easiest solution was the one I’d been fighting against all that time. I think there has to be a way for your fiance to understand that, even if he’s not 100% comfortable with the idea of help, he needs to be 100% comfortable with making you happy, and compromising on what is, ultimately, a very, very little thing. (Reading the 5 Love Languages together and discussing could be a good way into this discussion!) Good luck! This is a bizarrely hard conversation to have!

        • Rasheeda

          I had this same running conversation with the Hubs-Elect until 2 nights ago. When in another fit to find matching socks (I have stopped matching them for him) he exclaims…”First order of business after the wedding is hiring a cleaning person!” AWWWW…Let him come to it on his own. They feel like it was their own original thought and if that doesnt work… Ask for a try out, how does he know he will hate it unless you guys try?

      • Marina

        What does he think the solution should be? Hopefully his solution is not you going insane, right? What would he say if you said, “The cleaning thing is driving me insane. What should we do?” It IS both of your problem. Like Meg said in Myth #3, he is interested in your happiness, therefore he is interested in cleaning. Maybe the two of you together will come up with some off the wall solution you never would have thought of on your own.

      • Valerie

        Being Latinos ourselves, my family has tried to take the perspective that in hiring self-employed Latino cleaning ppl, we feel that we are supporting Latino small business owners. Its also nice to learn names instead of referring to someone as “the help” and remembering to treat them with the same respect and courtesy that you give a handyman, mechanic, plumber or other professional you might hire.

        Sorry if thats a little off topic. Elitism is something my fiance and I discuss often being from two very different cultural backgrounds. I think part of the solution is not eliminating or distancing what makes us uncomfortable, but changing our perspectives and actions in a way that works toward making it right.

        • Jessica

          I totally agree with this. I’ve found the whole thing a little bit creepy in the past, but I am currently quite comfortable with hiring someone that I 1) pay fairly and 2) treat with respect (as, of course, we should always do with anyone, but Valerie’s comment about “the help” illustrate the fact that this is historically not always the case in this particular relationship). I’m not hiring a cleaning person because I think I’m too good to clean and they aren’t, but rather because I use money (which is essentially a way to store time/effort) that I made by spending time on an activity that I enjoy (my job) to free myself from spending time on something I don’t enjoy. An alternative would be to find a job in which I worked fewer hours for a lower total compensation, and then spending my own time on cleaning, but, back to comparative advantage, above, that doesn’t make sense because it doesn’t maximize my talents and interests.

          It’s a little bit like buying food – you can go and buy all raw ingredients, and then spend time washing, chopping, cooking, etc.; you can spend a bit more money to buy prepared ingredients (bagged salad, chopped vegetables), and then just spend time on cooking; or you can spend the most money and the least time and get takeout. In each of those cases, someone else is doing increasingly more work, and you are paying more, accordingly. I make different choices at different times based on how much I enjoy the particular tasks involved and how much money and time I have available at the moment in question.

          • Class of 1980


            It’s no different than any other service we pay for. It’s a “time and money” issue.

      • Sarah

        There’s a difference between doing your own dishes and putting away your own laundry, so that someone can come in and do the deep cleaning, and doing absolutely nothing for yourself and expecting the hired cleaner to pick up after you no matter what.

        Explaining the difference to your guy might help. I know my husband was pretty reluctant to think about the idea (for the same perception reason) until I reminded him that we would still be doing our laundry, throwing away our trash, washing our dishes and generally tidying. If and when we get a cleaner, it would be for what my mom always called “Saturday chores”: scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen, dusting and polishing, vacuuming etc. We’ll still be doing our day-to-day things.

        Putting it in that perspective helped him to make sense of it and realize we’re not looking for a maid … just help with the big tasks.

      • alice

        Wait a second… he has a problem with the perceived classism of hiring someone to do housework, but he has no problem with the sexism inherent in having his fiancee do it all?

        • Heather G

          Maybe I’m more naive, but I necessarily see sexism in lolo7835’s comment. It sounds like a case of one person’s workload may not permit time for cleaning, so the other person is picking up the slack. All of it. So maybe insensitivity or lack of awareness, but I didn’t see it being about sexism. Maybe just me?

          At any rate, I thought Marina’s suggestion is a good one.

        • lolo7835

          Oh no! The Mr is a pretty liberated guy-but as Heather G said between teaching classes and writing his thesis (and doing all the research for said thesis), he’s exhausted and tired when he comes home. Since I tend to be home more often I have more time. I have told him that I need help with the cleaning, and he’s always very helpful, but once the cycle of coursework picks up again….well…..

          I also can’t help but wonder sometimes if it’s the appearance of elitism that he worries about. I mean, how many PhD students have a cleaning person? I also really appreciate Sarah’s thought “There’s a difference between doing your own dishes and putting away your own laundry, so that someone can come in and do the deep cleaning, and doing absolutely nothing for yourself and expecting the hired cleaner to pick up after you no matter what.” I’m totally going to talk to him this weekend and about how I’m going insane and see what happens.

          • My husband and I struggled with this before we hired someone. But ultimately, it came down to a few factors.

            I am miserable when the house is too messy/dirty.

            I don’t have the time to do my fair share of the cleaning at this time, and even if I did, I can think of many, many better ways to spend it.

            It’s not about class, it’s about priorities. When I look at the best ways to spend my time and my husband’s, mopping is not one of them. Fighting over cleaning is not another one.

            We pay $70 every other week to have a self-employed woman come in and clean (plus a new year’s bonus). She was recommended by a friend. How did we afford the extra expense? We canceled our cable/Tivo service.

            And we feel really good about helping this woman make a living.

      • I have to admit, the idea of a hiring a cleaning person makes me feel a little uncomfortable and far too privileged, but I could get on board if I knew I was supporting a small business owner who was working for themselves and I was paying them a fair wage. Now if only I could afford a fair wage! ;)

        • Class of 1980

          Not me.

          Because I remember when women stayed at home, no one expected the men to do much housework, if at all. Working was thought to be contribution enough. He did outside chores, but that never added up to the hours of housework.

          So why are women stuck doing more than men used to do?

          I would NEVER feel bad about getting help when I’m working full-time.

      • Class of 1980

        It is not a “class” thing. It’s a “time” thing.

        Here’s an oldie – Mary Kay, the cosmetics giant, once said that women who are in business need to hire a housekeeper if they plan to succeed in a very big way.

        Think about it. She was famous for creating a multi-million dollar business at a time when only men rose to that level. She knew all those men had someone at home running the household so they could focus on scaling the heights of business. Not an option for her since she was divorced and had children to support too.

    • I actually worked as a “self-employed” cleaning person for a friend of mine for 4 years. She grew up in a clean-freak house and if she cleaned her house and then her family messed it up she got mad at them. To save their family they agreed to hire someone. They generally hired a friend of theirs who they knew could use some extra cash. As a part-time teacher going to graduate school in the evening, I needed some extra cash. I went in for three hours once a week and dusted, cleaned counters, did the floors, and cleaned the bathrooms. I did not do dishes, laundry, taking out the kitchen trash or general tidying. They provided all the cleaning supplies.

      If you are looking for someone, maybe try advertising at the local colleges. My hours with the family were flexible. If I could come on a Friday I did, if not I went on Saturday. I could change from morning to afternoon if I needed to. It’s really not a bad part-time job.

      Doing that also taught me that when I get down to it, cleaning doesn’t have to take forever. I cleaned their house (2 stories, office, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms) in three hours every week.

      Just thought I’d throw out the perspective of the cleaner to this conversation.

    • CAMinSD

      This will be our third week with a cleaning person. She’s just starting out working for herself, and the service she provides us is pretty amazing. In addition to the sweepingdustingscrubbing, she *does* take out the trash, and do dishes if there happen to be any, and throw in some laundry, and do occasional ironing. She comes once a week – it has been a revelation to walk into to a fully clean home!

      An unintended-but-welcome consequence: I, the decidedly not-neat one, am starting to get more mindful about keeping things tidy. Not only because now I’m paying for the place to get that way, but because with everything else looking good it’s not hard to identify what needs doing — and do it — without feeling overwhelmed.

      Another unexpected benefit: it turns out BF loveslovesLOVES coming home to a clean house– even though he has long *said* he doesn’t mind shouldering most of the tidying burden. One day we may have to give up our domestic goddess. If that day comes, I’ll be more aware of how much he actually *does* appreciate the extra help and act accordingly.

      Last bit: for us, it really helped to do a Goodwill purge and invest in a few organizational items. We got two of those Closetmaid Cubicals and some fabric drawers. Those, too have been a revelation– great storage for things we otherwise struggled with: shoes all about, sweaters, toliet paper stored two rooms away, an overflowing medical and first aid cabinet, etc.

      • Anonymous

        Alright, so I hired a cleaning person the month BEFORE our wedding. It was the best. Our house was clean when the hordes of people came over to help with pre-wedding stuff and I wasn’t stuck cleaning or being embarrassed or anything of the sort. We pay $90 for one cleaning visit per month, living in D.C. in a 1200 sqft apartment in the city.

        My mom used to clean offices for money on the weekends when we were kids and she’d always bring us along to help vacuum or dust or whatever and we could see how proud she was after an office was finished. I never felt guilty about hiring a cleaning person because I know that the money goes to real people. In this economy, I’m proud to be able to support jobs for people who really need them. Also, a clean house makes me sane and I’m TOTALLY unprepared to spend the time or psychological energy worrying about whether my house is clean. I’m also not very good at it. (No, the dear husband doesn’t understand the first thing about why cleaning is better than sitting in filth. And he’d argue that an unclean house is “just fine.” Which would kill me if we had to have that talk again. Ever. Ever. We’ve had it quite enough times thankyouverymuch.)

        So recently, my mom has come up on hard times. Hrm…what did we decide to do? We made the uber controversial decision to offer our house cleaning job to MY MOM. (I know! It was intense to even think about at first!) In the end, though, I thought about some things. First, if we lived how people used to live, we’d be supporting my mom and she’d be helping around the house enjoying some family-supported version of retirement. In fact, I think the best kinds of households in any era and in any country are the ones where there are generations of people working together to achieve overarching financial security for the whole family. **By working together.**

        I know it’s controversial, but I’m really pleased with the decision. And she accepted the job offer. And now we’re talking about fully supporting her retirement by hiring her as our at-home daycare provider; we’re planning to try and get pregnant next year, so the timing could work out well for her plans, too.

        I have to say – I know it isn’t for every couple and every mom, but my mom cleans better than I ever will. And she derives a sense of satisfaction from it that I never will. And the same is probably true of day-to-day childcare. If this isn’t as viable an answer for that ever-present question of “who is the wife to the modern-day wife – who VERY clearly needs her own 1950s-style wife?”…then maybe I could hear from the commenters why not? I’m hoping this works out for everyone involved and that we really do find a way to work together to meet our common goal of security and happiness (and community!) for each of us.

    • Fiorentina

      YES! Someday, when we make real money, I am definitely in favor of hiring someone to help with keeping the house clean. Because, you know, we both work full time as it is, and I want to come home to my house and not work anymore. The class/elitism implications of “hiring help” used to give me pause, but in thinking about it, I would be delighted to provide someone with that income and employment if my income allowed. It is another way of sharing the wealth by giving back to your local economy.

      In the meantime, since we can’t afford outside help right now, I will say this. Buying a Roomba was the best thing we ever did for our relationship. We bought it as a mutual dating anniversary present which made BH very nervous after I shared with him the story of when my dad bought my mom a new vacuum. She wanted a new vacuum, but not as an anniversary present, and I think you can probably imagine the rest. That story is legend. But I digress – since we agreed that we both wanted a Roomba, and we usually set aside some joint money for an anniversary celebration/present, that’s what we decided to do.

      Seriously guys, that little robot changed our chore gripes forever. We have hardwood floors and a dog that completely blows out his coat twice/year and oh man, we have weather patterns of dog hair in our apartment. Vacuuming every day really sucks (ha!), and we used to get really pissy at each other about it, but now we don’t have to vacuum because the robot does.

      I feel almost the same way about having a slow-cooker. We both like to cook, but there are some days when it’s just too much. If we can anticipate those days we just throw a bunch of stuff and some chicken broth in the slow cooker before we leave for work and come home to delicious soup/stew.

      So in our case, we can’t afford to outsource, but we can afford to automate (and dammit my next apartment WILL have a dishwasher, because there’s really no reason to have to do that ourselves in this day and age). It is a good thing.

      Now our weekly chores are cleaning the kitchen and bathroom. And doing the laundry. We can usually manage to divvy that up without killing each other. We should probably dust more often but neither of us cares enough to fret about it.

  • Amazing post. I was so relieved to read myth #1. I feel like whenever I ask for help or point out chores my fiance could do, I’m a nag. But if I leave it to him to notice that the recycling is overflowing, I go crazy and get passive aggressive. He’s mentioned that I’m really not a nag if I ask him to do something, and it’s great to see here that it’s not uncommon to have a problem asking for help with these things.

    I also like the “game plan” and “embracing roles” points. Not all chores have to be shared. I actually like cooking and grocery shopping (plus I’m good at looking for deals), so I take over most food-related activities. I’m pretty clueless when it comes to our car, so my fiance gets the oil changed and makes sure our brakes don’t die. It seems a little gender-based, but that’s what works for us. And I think that’s being a modern couple should be about–finding your strengths and weaknesses and working to make yourselves an overall happy and successful couple.

    • Cass

      You’re definitely not a nag because this is so true!

      “Are you interested in living in a generally tidy house? Is (s)he interested in keeping your rage-full monster self at bay? Then (s)he just got interested in cleaning.”

      Sometimes I feel bad for nagging. If he thinks I’m being unfair, I find a nicer/better way to ask. Because making him feel bad about cleaning is a sure way for him to NOT want to clean.

      • Good point about finding the right way to ask! A certain tone or phrase can make anyone feel like they’re pushed into a chore. Asking nicely or a gentle reminder makes your partner feel like they’re being helpful.

        • Dev

          I’ve had a lot of trouble asking for help in the past, but lately I’ve been using a different tactic. In the mornings I’ll tell him that I’ve started loading the dishwasher but haven’t finished it, or that I’ve run the dishwasher but it needs to be unloaded (for example). More often then not, when I get home in the evenings he’s finished the task. I like talking to him about chores this way because it feels like a “household update” and not a plea for help. If he forgets or doesn’t get to it I don’t take it as personally- there’s no “i asked him for help and he didn’t do it so he must not care about my needs” drama.

    • Veronica

      Point #1 really spoke to me. Just a few days ago, I was complaining to my husband that if I have to ask him to do housework, it feels like the onus of cleaning is still on me. And then it turns into a gender-role dilemma and I just shut down..but it’s cleaning the bathroom! And the dishes! Not that big a crisis in the long run, especially as he takes care of the food shopping and cooking.

      I was going to email this post to my husband in a “see, I’m right” kind of way, but instead I emailed it in a “argh, I need to acknowledge that I can be a crazy person” way. And that’s why I love this website – it makes us acknowledge what we can both be doing better.

  • Thanks for mentioning the scrub brush for the toilet bowl dilemma, because that is one of our cleaning issues: differing strategies. My fiance more or less freaked out the first time I used Pledge on a non-wood surface, and I had to show him the little pictures on the back of the can that say it is OK to do that. Similarly, he had to teach me to beat our doormat and sink-adjacent area rug on the porch; I’d been trying to use a vacuum on them with little success. Cleaning is just another way that couples come into sharing a life with different ideas about how to live. It can be a struggle, but it can be great to learn from each other.

    • Amy

      Ha, my husband looked at me like I was crazy when I used pledge on our leather furniture. Its actually a really good way to condition the leather (and less messy than saddle soap), but he always had cloth couches growing up so it looked totally weird to him.

    • Tina

      This is one of our biggest issues too. It has been a long road but we’re finally coming around. I have tried recommending better ways to clean a bathroom (as in not using paper towels and water to clean the sink). However, it does come across as nagging and the boy often shuts down. I know I have to get better at my suggestions and the tone I use. Better that he’s finally cleaning the bathroom, right? His response was always, “You have your way and I have mine.” Problem was things weren’t being disinfected. They were just surface clean. It’s definitely important to understand that there are right ways to ask for help or give tips and their are wrong ways.

  • optathy

    I’ve got to bigtime disagree with you on Myth #1. It is NOT help if you are the only one thinking of and managing what needs to be done. For the first five months of our marriage, my husband never did any cleaning or cooking, even though I asked him to do specific things. Another example: the first time he offered to put a lunch together for me was last week, which is seven months after we married. Being responsible for half of the home stuff is definitively *not* waiting for someone else to tell you when things need to be done; it is looking around and doing what needs to be done without prompting. I understand that people have different standards, but you come to a mutual standard by talking or what we did: we spent a day cleaning the house so that everyone was happy, thereby setting a mutual standard, and then took pictures to document.

    I’ve found that I am not nearly as resentful after it finally got through to my husband that I am not his maid or his mother, and that he was not carrying his weight when it comes to housework. Now that he is doing his portion of the work, I find myself more inclined and able to pay attention to my housework weaknesses. My husband is not as skilled at cooking or cleaning as I am.I hope he gets better in time, but it’s much more important that he a) try and b) take off my plate some of that organizational thinking that I would have to otherwise do.

    • Rachel

      It’s entirely possible I just misinterpreted what Meg was saying (I’m sure she’ll clarify if I have!) but I got the impression in Myth #1 that she wasn’t really referring to a partner who literally does nothing to help around the house, ever, without being asked, but rather a partner who sometimes just needs to be reminded to do specific chores. You mention that your husband still wouldn’t do anything, even when you asked, and I totally agree that that’s a problem that needs to be addressed at a deeper level and definitely warrants a solid discussion about why that’s unfair. However I agree with Meg that if your partner just needs a quick reminder and (s)he’s on his/her feet helping out, that’s not a negative thing.

    • I don’t disagree with you or Meg, but I’ve got a semantic disagreement with the discussion of Point 1. I think it IS help when you have to ask for it, but sometimes that’s ALL it is. It is him/her HELPING you with YOUR responsibility. Because if I’ve got to figure out what needs to be cleaned, set aside the time for us both to do it, ask him to set aside the time, make sure we have cleaning products (because they’re not on his radar) and spend the afternoon telling him what to do (“Oh, you’re done vacuuming? Ok, dust the living room next.”), then sure, he’s helping me – but helping me with something that is entirely my responsibility. And while that’s better than it being entirely my responsibility and my having to do it all myself, it is not good enough.

      When David helps with the dishes, he doesn’t take ownership of that chore – he owes you one because dishes are your responsibility. If you always have to ask for help with everything, it’s ALL your responsibility, and your partner is always going to be in the position of “doing you a favor” every time he/she does anything around the house, and never taking ownership of any of the chores – leaving you with ownership of all of them.

      • Cody

        Hmm. Good point. I have to agree with you. I think a big part of it is if you’re (not you specifically, just “you” in general) reworking the way you and your partner are doing chores, it probably has to be dealing with lots of the issues Meg has raised. Sure, if the only thing you change is asking for help, it absolutely is still all your responsibility. But if you also have conversations about responsibilities, and why you care about chores and why they don’t, and divide up roles and encourage each other, etc…. I really think those responsibilities would start shifting.

      • FK

        Speaking as someone who is really a dim bulb about these things, I think that, unfortunately, you may just have to accept that you need to teach your partner, and it may take a little time and repetition. And/or make a list, print it out, and put it up somewhere so that you don’t need to tell him every week or however often you clean. Although I also think that your semantic argument is pretty interesting, and I’m wondering if I could switch my brain around somehow by adopting that way of thinking. If I think about it in terms of I need to keep the apartment clean and my husband is only helping me, I wonder if I will be more pro-active. Pulling the old switcheroo here. I like the idea of taking ownership.

    • Kayleigh

      Thanks OPTATHY, this is exactly what I was thinking. To me, the most important issue with chores is the mental energy. I don’t want to give up part of my brain to constantly monitoring how clean (or messy) our apt is and “rounding up the troops” to clean it. It helps to have a mutually agreed on system (every Saturday X,Y,Z will be cleaned, every night A,B,C will be completed before bed, etc) but I think it’s also important to not let yourself always be the judge of how clean it needs to be. My fiance and I take turns being “in charge” (usually based on who has more energy that day) which works pretty well for us. When I’m in charge I know the place will get completely clean to my standards. When he’s in charge I know I can zone out to Kardashians and just worry about whatever chores he gives me instead of monitoring the whole apartment. Plus, we have different ideas about which chores are essential (if it was up to me, we would never mop the floors. If it was up to him, the sink would have dried food particles stuck to it all the time), so when we take turns everything is getting clean at some point.

      • Katy C.

        @Kayleigh Amen. I’m completely stuck on the mental energy thing.

        In all our previous conversations about cleaning. the resolution has been that I’ll just ask him to do the cleaning that I’d like him to do. But that leaves me still holding all the mental energy and planning and it’s really starting to bug. It’s still my bag, he just does it when asked.

        I think the chore wheel/schedule is going to be the way forward. I need to outsource my mental energy spent on cleaning and put it in a place where we both are responsible for it.

        • Kayleigh

          Another thing that works well for my fiance and me is to divide up responsibility rather than the chore itself. He hates grocery shopping, so I monitor our food situation and make a trip to the store when we need groceries. Sometimes he comes with me, or meets me afterward to help carry bags, but he doesn’t have to use the mental energy of monitoring the fridge or making up a list. I hate garbage/recycling duty, so my fiance manages that. I like that 0% of my brain goes to thinking about whether the trash is too full or whether it needs to go out tonight before rain storm tomorrow, etc. Sometimes when he’s taking it out, I’ll grab a bag and help, but there’s no resentment involved.

          There’s a big mental shift involved in dividing up Responsibility instead of Work, and it really does change the dynamic. I think when one partner is nagging the other to clean, or even nicely distributing duties, there’s a sense that that partner has a stronger ownership of the home.

    • meg

      Well, thats why I brought up setting up systems. But I still think the bottom line is that, if one partner is weaker at something (say me and caring for cars), you’re going to ask for help and keep asking for it for a while. You need to drill into them that it’s their responsibility too, but asking for help is not the enemy. WE all have to ask our partners for things, and all of our partners have areas of weakness. Asking for help is what we do while they are improving.

      • Kess

        I think this is a good point, but it’s really the one thing I’ve got major issues with because my guy isn’t strong at anything cleaning-wise! His mother always did it growing up – he didn’t even know what a duster was for! At my house, everyone knew how to do everything. Everyone cleaned and started as soon as they could walk – slightly later for jobs involving chemicals. I even had a kid sized broom that I actually used – not just pretend.

        I hope that just keeping at it, asking for help, and someday he’ll realize that the sink is gross or the toilet needs cleaning. It’s just very frustrating in the meanwhile. Also, while we can’t afford a cleaning person, we’re saving up for things like the swiffer vacuum that make things quite a bit easier and quicker.

        Maybe we should look into a ‘system’. I’ll have to see what he thinks about that.

        • kyley

          I think a key part of the solution is involving your partner in the development of a system or plan. For example, in my house I’m the problem with chores. And so we’ve talked about it a lot. and he pointed out that it is emotionally upsetting that I don’t hold up my end of the bargain. And that really stuck with me, so I asked him to refer to that when I was dropping the ball (good old fashioned I statements). Anyway, that’s really worked for us.

          I think if you’re the one who’s bad at remembering to do chores, it is, in part, your responsibility to establish the system, you know?

          • abby_wan_kenobi

            Totally agree. Also (as the disgusting messy partner) don’t consider a failure of the system you come up with a personal or relationship failure. If the first system you come up with doesn’t work, figure out why and try again. I’m terrible at “vacuum on Tuesday” type schedules (sometimes I work late on Tuesday. What happens when the new season of Glee starts? What if we go out for the evening?)

            Having failed at that system I find I do a lot better at “vacuuming must happen at at least every 13 days” because I can mark when I actually did vacuum (gold stars for me) and when I’m at like 9 days and don’t have a headache and Glee is a rerun and I got a good night sleep the night before I can just knock all my sh*t out.

    • Sarabeth

      Oh, do I have thoughts about this. Which are: Sure, it’s help, even if you have to ask. But it’s also WORK to be keeping track of what needs doing on an ongoing basis. And that work should be recognized and taken into account as part of the overall division of labor. In my marriage, I’m the one that keeps the mental list of what we need to pick up at the store next time. This was happening naturally, and it pissed me off that I was spending mental energy on it and my husband would never remember to get anything unless I reminded him right before he went out. But realistically, my husband was not going to change; he has a really bad memory for these kind of things. So we embraced it; now I do the work of keeping track, and he washes my breakfast dishes every morning. I don’t feel resentful anymore, because the mental work that I do is recognized and compensated.

      Oh, and this was actually meant to be in response to Kayleigh, above. Oh well.

  • Rachel

    We definitely both have our strengths and weaknesses. I’m a tidier, I get a thrill out of making everything in my house neat and organized and well-aligned. Chris is unfazed by clutter, but can’t handle a messy kitchen or dishes lying in the sink. End result? He does most of the dishes and general kitchen wipe-downs, I do most of the tidying – it works and we’re happy with it.

    I have an irrational fear of vacuum cleaners, so Chris does 100% of household vacuuming, while I do 100% of the household dusting (I secretly love it, I have an awesome little ‘dust glove’ that I get to wear and I get great satisfaction out of making things sparkle).

    The bathroom is 50/50 territory, as is the laundry. Everything to do with food is shared, from grocery shopping to cooking, because we’re both foodies who adore cooking. That being said, at every meal time, there’s usually a leader and a follower, one person who has the majority of creative control over that particular meal, while the other helps and follows along (and sneaks extra spices into the pan while the other isn’t looking) ;) Of course we split this role evenly, usually the ‘leader’ for the evening is whoever picked the meal for that night, and the other happily takes on the helper role.

    Our system works beautifully and the end result of having clear roles is that I don’t think we’ve ever had an arguement over chores. Sure we have our little annoyances – Chris walks in the door at the end of the day, and immediately takes his socks off and leaves them on the floor, I make my morning tea, and proceed to leaves the spoon sitting on the counter by the sink, where it sticks and leaves a tea stain (oops!) but we’ve both accepted these as quirky habits, not deliberate attempts to annoy eachother.

    • Rose in SA

      Exactly on the socks thing!!

      • Linsey

        When I moved in with my boyfriend he used to do that tea bag thing and it drove me mad!! So I bought a little teapot shaped dish which I showed off to him and now they always go there…mind you, they don’t often make it from there into the bin but every little helps!

      • Kira

        +1! That was the number-one annoying factor in the first year or so of our relationship. My partner has, sweetly, changed his habits to accommodate my annoyance, but he revealed recently that he takes great delight in leaving his socks in the living room when I’m on vacation. I think it’s kind of sweet now.

    • Marina

      “we’ve both accepted these as quirky habits, not deliberate attempts to annoy eachother.”

      That has totally been the key for me too. :)

      • Abby C.

        This one is key!

        My FH is somewhat obsessive about how his socks are organized and once freaked about how I was looping the edge of one over the top to hold both pairs together.

        What saves this and turns it from bad into funny is that he freaked out in such a gentle way that we were able to quickly and easily agree that I do my socks, he does his socks. When he does laundry, my socks go into my drawer and I sort them myself. Vice versa when I do laundry. And we had a great laugh, and there’s never been resentment since.

        • We also quickly agreed that we could not fold each others’ laundry. We did each others’ socks and shirts wrong. So now we fold together.

          • Jo

            Doing it together is my favorite solution. Grocery shopping together, folding laundry together, cooking together – SO much more fun than doing any of it alone. :)

    • I get great satisfaction out of cleaning too, only with me it’s the kitchen. That’s probably why it gets cleaned most often. It’s something that I can see a definite change through my effort and it makes the effort worth it. Instant gratification!

    • ka

      Ooh, where can I get a dust glove?! And no, I’m not kidding. :-D

      • Rachel

        I think I got it at Home Hardware! (I’m located in Canada) I think it’s the type of thing you can pick up at most all-purpose home-type stores – possibly even in the cleaning aisle at the grocery store, if your local store is comprehensive enough. It basically looks like a mitten, except made out of microfibre that attracts and traps all the dust. It’s basically the greatest cleaning invention ever.

  • Kate

    I have definitely fallen prey to the “I do X chore and I am a woman, what does this mean?” trap, and my poor husband has been subject to me freaking out about it from time to time. (Case in point, him making a joke about never putting things in the dishwasher, me going off and saying I don’t do X amount of the chores because I’m a woman, and don’t you forget it buster!) Sigh. But I do cook – and I genuinely love it. But he cooks sometimes too, and there’s certain things he specializes in (like homemade pizza!). He knows I hate to do the dishes, and so he steps up to do that often too. The thing that has made it tougher this first year of our marriage is that he is out of the home a lot more than I am, so in many cases I do things just because I have the time. That being said, he is better at “clean” than I am, so I have gotten some instructions and pieces of advice (like, “The bathrooms should be spotless when we have guests coming over”). We have gotten very good at dividing up the major apartment clean before we have company, each playing to our strengths (which includes him cleaning bathrooms).

    Right now it’s all a moot point because the military has taken him away for a few months, so I am doing everything, essentially living on my own while married. I don’t mind so much (there’s less dishes and laundry to do for one thing), but I look forward to having my helper back!

  • Rose in SA

    Upfront caveat: I have a cleaning lady who comes twice a week (in South Africa this is very common).

    That said, husband and I decided on some broad brush strokes when we moved in together. I am the boss of the kitchen, he is the boss of the garden, technology and big diy type projects. This is directly related to our skills and interests. In practice, this means that I do a lot of day to day stuff (grocery shopping and dishes), but he is a great and interested cook so we split that fairly evenly, and he makes amazing things happen in our house and garden (like building our deck from scratch). When I get frustrated that I’m doing the dishes AGAIN, it helps a bit to look at the really big picture (like over a year for example) and see that we both contribute a lot, just in different ways. (That said, neither of us has to clean toilets or do laundry – best money we spend every month!)

  • anna

    There was an NYT article recently that said (as far as I remember) that couples who had clearly assigned chores/tasks felt the least resentment & that both were on board, even if they weren’t doing the same amount. THe key is apparently having the jobs set out rather than up for constant exhausting negotiation.

    • Carbon Girl

      We do have very well delineated roles with some chores, but others are more fluid. I love vacuuming (absolutely love it, I have no idea why) so I do all the floor sweeping and vacuuming. Early on, he got assigned to clean the bathroom, which I despise doing. Does he do it the way I would like? No, he uses the most toxic cleaning products and sponges in the toilet but I keep my mouth shut. But does it get clean enough? Yes, and I never have to worry about cleaning the bathroom, which is awesome. Also, I dust because I don’t think he even notices dust.

    • Mallory

      I think this is so key! My partner and I have another roommate at the moment so it’s hard to really divvy up the chores like that, but once we live by ourselves I think it will really benefit us to have a clear division of chores. I like the idea of some chores that are always yours (like I’ll probably do most of the laundry and he does most of the yardwork) and then some chores that maybe alternate on a weekly or monthly basis like dusting or cleaning the bathroom.

      I think that really helps with the “is this my job because I’m a woman” issue, also. No, it’s my job because that’s what the chore board says this month, internal struggle dissolved.

    • meg


    • lolo7835

      That article was awesome.

    • I’d love to read that article.

      My husband and I are actually pretty great with chores, but now that we’re living out of a van on the road, we’re discovering other things that wouldn’t necessarily be classified as “chores” but if we divided our roles and understood what they were, I’m thinking that it’d make some things a lot less stressful.

      Kind of like, “okay, we’re arriving in a new town tomorrow. I’ll find us an Internet cafe and lunch spot and you can figure out where we’re going to sleep.” The constant searching for where to eat, work, sleep, run, etc. is surprisingly exhausting.

      Thanks for the perspective… I believe there’ll be a conversation in the very near future. :)

      And then when we finally get to set up a campsite (darn this cold weather in the South!), we’ll be able to assign some of the upkeep chores as needed.

    • Sarabeth

      I also find this true in my own experience. But I think the relation to gender roles can legitimately be tricky. I think that I, and I imagine others, often end up doing more “feminine” tasks like cooking, grocery shopping, etc just because we were raised as women and got more familiarity with those tasks and in many cases came to really enjoy them. Ditto for men and DIY, yardwork, etc. Which is fine if it works for a particular set of heterosexual partners. But I think that such divisions can *look* more or less even, while the traditionally feminine roles actually are harder because they involve 1) expending more mental energy keeping track of stuff on an ongoing basis, and 2) tasks that just MUST BE DONE every day, or at least very regularly (cooking dinner, for example) and therefore cramp your schedule much more.

      This is not an argument against taking on specific roles–my husband and I definitely do, and I do think that it has allowed us to minimize conflict about housework. But it’s an argument for making sure that your responsibilities are balanced not only in terms of total physical labor required but also in a number of other ways.

  • Carbon Girl

    I love that you distinguished clean and tidy. I swear I have been trying to figure out that distinction for years to try to articulate what I need to roommates and then my partner.

    Now I have no problem asking for help and my husband usually does what I ask him to but we get into fights every once in awhile when I do the chore I have asked him to do before he does. I realized why I do this last night. It is because he usually complains and claims the mess is not his before relenting and cleaning. I find myself just doing the chore because he is complaining about it. I think in the future I will have to ignore these rants of his and just wait it out.

    Also, I just need to rant, so thanks in advance. I sometimes come home from work and there is mud all over the floor or crumbs all over the kitchen that I knew was clean when I left. I will ask my husband about it (nicely, mind you, usually it is a gentle nudge so he cleans it up) and his answer is always “I don’t know, it wasn’t me.” Well, I know it was not me. So who was it? The “trash-your-house” fairies? Ugh! Is he that clueless. It makes me feel like I am losing my mind. Rant over. Thanks.

    • Amy

      Wait it out. I watched both my father and brother get out of cleaning my entire childhood because they complained about it and dragged their feet, so my mother guilted me into it because it was easier than nagging them through the entire process.
      Now that both my brother and I are grown and out of the house my father no longer has the extra help to rely on and *magically* has become capable of food shopping/vacuuming/cleaning. Granted, he still back-seat cooks from the living room but I blame that on the advent of the food network.

    • Hahahaha, “it wasn’t me.” Well I’m glad THAT settles it!

    • I remember reading a NYT article a couple of years ago where the author worked on ignoring these kind of actions from her husband that drove her crazy. She ignored them consistently for a while and he eventually stopped doing it because he wasn’t getting any kind of reaction from her. I don’t know if that will work in the muddy floor situations, but maybe when he complains about doing chores that you’ve asked him to help with it will?

      • Emily Rae

        If it’s the same article I’m thinking of, the basic idea is to reward desired behavior and ignore undesired. It’s a really interesting article published as part of the Modern Love series, and the author got her ideas from, of all place, animal trainers. It’s called “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage.”

        • YES. That’s it! Thank you

    • Courtney

      My boyfriend uses the “I don’t know, it wasn’t me” line ALL the time! I’m so happy to know he’s not the only one. He does little absent-minded things all the time without noticing what he’s doing, and then when I point them out, he insists he didn’t do them. And I feel the same way – did the fairies do it? ‘Cause it sure wasn’t me!

      But anyway, regardless of who made the mess, someone obviously has to clean it up, and him complaining about it just pushes more of the responsibility to you (similar to the way “I didn’t do it” pushes more of the blame to you). That’s what I’m trying to get my boyfriend to understand lately. For example, I thought he said he’d pay the cable bill last week. He thought I would do it. It didn’t get paid, so now we both have a problem to fix, no matter which of us is right. (Although, of course, this time, I’m right!)

      • abby_wan_kenobi

        Baby, now that we’re married it isn’t your mess or my mess it’s *our* mess. And it’s your turn to clean it up.

  • YES! #1 is definitely a problem for me – I sometimes freak out that by asking Eric to do something, I’m fulfilling the archetypal Nagging Woman role (complete with Marge Simpson grumble). To which, because he is swell, Eric always says is ridiculous, and that asking does not equal nagging.

    I’m getting a lot better about being upfront about chores, because when we first moved in together i had a tendency to walk around the apartment picking things up and sighing loudly (NOT my most attractive quality, ha!).

    Other than that, though, our system is really good. We share daily stuff pretty evenly split, and then every weekend we clean together – we crank up the tunes, make some more coffee, and get it done in less than an hour.

  • I’m so glad that you started a talk about this. I can’t wait to see the other comments. In our house, I’m more of the cleaner, but he usually helps cook and does the dishes daily. Sometime’s he’ll suprise me by cleaning up our office area or sweeping up, which is great. But I think it mostly evens out in the end. Now that I’m unemployed, I’ve taken on a little bit more of the home stuff, but when we’re both working we have a pretty equal split. We never really formally came to an agreement on who does what, but it ended up workin for us.

  • Harriet

    This was a really helpful post! I have one comment about switching roles: you can switch roles or pick up extra chores temporarily, without one partner owing the other. Usually, I cook, and my partner does the dishes. A few weeks ago, I made a fairly elaborate dinner, and afterwards he installed a bunch of kitten-safety-locks on the cabinets. While he was doing this, I did the dishes. He said, “Those are my job–you didn’t have to do those.” But he was doing another chore, and I was happy to pick up his usual job for the night. So he didn’t owe me one–but he did do the dishes the next night.

  • Erin

    “We should all get BETTER at asking our partners for help, not worse. Asking for help means you’re good at communicating your needs, not that your partner doesn’t love you.”

    Thanks for this! We’re of the chip-in-when-you-see-a-mess, split-duties-when-we-decide-to-clean, discuss-when-we’re-feeling-resentful/taken advantage-of persuasion. It works really well for us (for now). But your reminder that asking for help is beneficial for couples’ communication is a blessing!

    Good post :)

    • Love your description of your persuasion. I was about to write a whole paragraph about our balance and that sentence summed it up perfectly!

  • Jess

    I am closer to Meg on this than I am to most of the other women who have posted so far. I am not domestic AT ALL, and I am the one who ignores the chores. My husband does all of the cooking, and while he is not an obsessive cleaner, he does do most of the cleaning too.

    I know this isn’t fair to him and that I need to pick up the slack. I hate hearing about men who leave all the chores to their wives, but….a tiny part of me feels not so bad about ignoring chores because I’m the woman and it’s going against gender roles for me to ignore the chores. As in, men should feel bad about leaving chores to wives because they’re reinforcing the patriarchy and whatnot, but that point does not apply to my chore slackerdom. I’d be curious to know if any other women on here feel that way, too.

    Before I get yelled at by anyone, I know that “subverting gender roles” is not a real reason to be a jerk to your spouse. Time to make the chore wheel this weekend! :)

    • I’m not of the same camp, but I totally understand what you’re saying when it comes to feeling happy — proud, even? — about going against the prescribed gender roles. I feel that in other aspects of my life, and I’m sure it’s something with which many of us struggle.

    • Starling

      Hey, that doesn’t mean you have to embrace the lady roles. How are you at gadget, computer, money and car chores? I am the official designated checkbook balancer and car-registration-getter, while the future Mr. is the cook.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I totally do this too. I’m a disgusting person to live with, I never clean and rarely tidy (my 10 former roommates can attest to this). Husband just does the lion’s share of the housework and sometimes when he starts attacking a giant pile of dishes that I created I think, “Hm. This is really crappy of me. I should help him. But I don’t want to.” And about half of the time I ask if he wants my help and he usually turns me down. I think because he knows how much I hate it and he doesn’t have strong feelings one way or the other.

      Anyway, Husband knows that he can always ask for help. And he does. Some days he looks around and says “Okay, this has gone too far” and then we do an hour long blitz-clean and I don’t complain at all.

      Other than that I justify myself thinking about all the other stuff I bring to the relationship. I provide 60% of our income. I set up the house – finding someplace that meets our needs, arranging everything inside it in a way that is aesthetically pleasing and functional. I make sure we see our families often enough and I do all the gift-buying, calendar-keeping and birthday-remembering. And frankly, Husband hates that stuff as much as I hate cleaning.

  • I like that you differentiated between cleaning and tidying as well. I’m a cleaner and my boyfriend P is a tidier. One day while I was at work he told me about how he had spent all day tidying the apartment, yet when I got home everything was still dirty. Dishes still in the sink, bunny hay still all over the floor. And I just thought, “so…what did you DO all day?” But then I came to realize the difference between the two. Very enlightening.

    I have no problem asking for help, and P doesn’t have any problem fulfilling my requests. I don’t really think we split the chores evenly, which I didn’t mind when I was working part-time because I could clean things the way I wanted them to be clean (I’m so particular). There will be some shifting of responsibilities as I’m starting to work more hours now, and I’ll just have to give up my particularity. Right now he cooks almost every night, does the dishes sometimes and tidies the apartment when necessary. I do the dishes the other half of the time, vacuum and clean the apartment (like scrubbing, washing, etc).

    What irks me though is that whenever I’m trying to clean up the house before people come over, and I’m freaking because I don’t have time to get everything done, he’ll always say, “Did you see Dan’s place? Guys don’t care about that stuff?” Dan’s place was vile. Everything was dirty, every dish in the apartment were piled in and around the kitchen sink and some nasty smell was coming from the kitchen. And that’s fine, maybe Dan likes his apartment that way, and doesn’t mind visiting other people’s place who look the same. BUT, I DO care. I hate going over to someone’s house and essentially sitting in their filth. It makes me uncomfortable and unwelcome. I don’t want people to feel the same way when they come over to our place. So I say to P, “That’s fine that Dan doesn’t care. But it’s not just Dan coming over tonight, and maybe some of the people coming over DO care. So can you please help me [insert chore here] so I can relax before they get here.” I’m learning to become less anal about the place being picture perfect when guests come over. It’s okay to have stuff sitting out, if it’s in neat piles. But essentially like kitchen, bathroom and living room still need to be clean, to me. End vent.

    • Emily Rae

      Did this Dan have a washcloth MOLDED onto the shower wall? Because I stayed there once, for sure.

  • When my (now) fiancée moved in with me, we hit the ground running with chores and who would do what…He grew up in a family where the women (no matter how many hours they worked inside or outside of the home) took care of all of the cleaning, cooking, laundry and whatever else needed to get done. I grew up in a home where my mother worked part time, took care of the food/laundry and my father took care of the home/cars/lawn. That was fine, it worked for our parents, but I knew that we needed to find something that worked for us (me: the tidy construction manager who is better at building a home than keeping one truly clean, and he: the good at a little bit of EVERYTHING man who has a higher tolerance for mess than I do). It’s evolved a bit since we first created our home together, and I’m sure it will continue to change as we change, our family changes, and our home changes, but for now, it’s working out quite alright.

    I think the most important thing in setting up your house chores is to keep the communication open, like Meg said. Asking for help is so huge in a relationship. I started out asking once in a while, but other times getting frustrated and upset that something wasn’t done that I would huff and puff about it while I took care of the chore. His response was always “I don’t know that you don’t like when I do/don’t do _____. If you need help, tell me you need help, don’t get mad at me about something that you expect me to know that I need to take care of without telling me I need to take care of it.” I mean, apparently he’s not a mind reader. Who knew?

    In our house, one person cooks, the other person cleans the dishes afterwards. We both help to empty the dishwasher when it’s clean because we both hate doing it. We both spend time doing the deep cleaning that is required of the house when it’s required. We both make the bed together. He grocery shops while I fold laundry. It’s beginning to turn into a very workable rhythm.

  • I second embracing the chores even if they change! We’ve been through a LOT of changes in our short (almost 2 years) of marriage… job loss, etc… which has really changed how things are run in our house. My husband and I talked about it the other day and both agreed that it was perhaps a blessing in disguise (for lots of reasons) but also on the chore front, because early on in our marriage I was trying to be “super wife” for some reason – which meant I was doing a majority of the chores & all the cooking. Then my husband lost his job and my business started to take off (& I was working full-time besides that)… so he was forced into taking over the household duties for the last year. He loved it because it kept him busy and made him feel like he was doing something to contribute to our marriage, since he couldn’t contribute money at the time. He mentioned at the time that he had no idea how much work and time I was putting into keeping the house in order… and said he’d never let that all fall on my shoulders again. *yay!*

    Now he’s back in school and working part-time and our chores are still wonderfully divided. If it hadn’t been for his lay-off I’m not sure we would have addressed this issue head-on so early in our marriage. It helps to have things separated too – like Meg said… that way if you do help out with one or the other’s given chore – the “You owe me one” card can be pretty fabulous. We definitely use it in our house. :) And sometimes we do things without saying “You owe me one” too… of course – because we just feel like being helpful and sweet to each other now & then. :)

    • m

      Very cool it worked out that way! I have known women whose husband is laid off, while the wife still works full time. The husband lays around all day watching t.v. etc and the wife comes home from work and still has all of the cooking/cleaning responsibility. I would go mad! Glad that didn’t happen to you!

      • Morgan

        When my then-boyfriend was laid off, it started off like that, and after a month, I realized what was happening and called him on it. He then realized how unfair it was, and totally shaped up. Two plus years(and full time work) later and I still don’t do dishes or vacuum and he still pulls his fair share of the work. Sometimes you just need to call someone on their sh*t to make them change.

      • Don’t get me wrong, there were moments of that and some growing pains along the way… but after a bit of adjusting to the changes we were both happy and good to go with how things were arranged. :) Now I’m the one getting in trouble for leaving my clothes on the bathroom floor! haha My how times have changed… :)

  • So Moose made salad last night and I just about pooped myself with excitement. I kept looking at the vegetables and going “You CUT these? OMG!” Not because he doesn’t cook, but because the thought of having to cut vegetables is reason enough for me not to ever prepare my own food.

    On the other hand, our dishes went directly onto the living room floor when we were done so clearly there is work to be done here.

    How long do you think we can get away with pretending like we’re still in college?

    • Kristin

      “How long do you think we can get away with pretending like we’re still in college?”

      Exactly to this!! My husband and I are both busy, un-organized, messy and untidy people by nature and we’ve sat down multiple times about how we’re not in university any more now that we live in a “real” house that we’re trying to make into a home.

      It has been quite a struggle to get ourselves motivated to keep the place clean and tidy, especially when neither of us is very invested in the outcome.

      I’ve found that having guests over is the best way to get the place clean, because while we don’t mind the mess- it’s kind of embarrassing to have other people come over and see it.

      • (Other)Amy

        I’m secretly terrified that having children means I’m going to have to start planning out proper meals for dinner instead of our current system of fixing something from cold cuts/veggies/heating up soup/and or having cereal. Seriously, we eat like 6 year olds left to their own devices (but slightly healthier) during the week. I just can’t be bothered to make dinner knowing we both try to go to the gym 2-3 weeknights each. Sigh.

        • Emily Rae

          When I found myself in a similar situation, I used Sunday evenings to prepare a few things to eat throughout the week — roast chicken, casserole, soups. It took me a while to figure out how much to make (not meals for the whole week, because I won’t eat all of them) and what I liked heated up later and what languished in the fridge. But it also became an unwinding time — I had time to myself, doing something I like but don’t always have time for (and yet is necessary). It was a nice cap to the weekend before the work week started again.

    • Morgan

      Well, I turn 30 this year and we still eat on a coffee table in front of the tv in the basement and forget plates down there for days.

      So, um, I vote a while.

      • Amy

        We eat at the coffee table too. (It’s three feet away from the dining table.) I vote that coffee tables are completely acceptable and normal dining surfaces.

      • We recently completed our lovely dining set (got the table last summer and the chairs last month). I believe we’ve eaten at it maybe twice since. It’s always at the coffee table for us, or the kitchen counter. I imagine when there are small people in the house we’ll move more towards the table. But right now we get dinner ready right about the same time prime-time TV comes on (which also contributes to eating at the couch).

        • abby_wan_kenobi

          We usually eat on the couch, but when one of us goes “all out” cooking grown-up food with 3 different food groups represented we eat at the dining room table. It’s kind of fun and it turns dinner into an at-home date night. Plus I know when I’m the one that made the effort I like that we sit at a real table and pay attention to the meal (as opposed to shoveling it mindlessly into our faces while watching tv like usual).

  • I love this post! Thanks Meg. What’s been working for us (living together for just over a year) resulted of a major meltdown. The Vikings were playing but the apartment was filthy and I got all “I am cleaning this house ALONE and all you can do is just watch football?!?!’. During halftime, I wrote down every chore that needed down by sundown on sunday (including both cleaning and tidying and now our weekly shoot-to-be-done by time) and we split them up. It has to be fast before the Vikings came back on so we couldn’t really stress over who got what, just 50/50. Now I can do my half when football is playing and M can do his half whenever he wants and I don’t worry about it getting down. That was probably the toughest part for me, the learning to trust that it will get down, even if I don’t constantly remind him to do it.

    • Kate

      Ha! I always do my chores during football too. :) Or hockey, or soccer, or baseball.

    • In our house, we both respect the sports-time rule. Nothing gets done when a live game is on, generally speaking. Unless it’s random teams playing. And even then . . . questionable.

      • Morgan

        The only problem, at least for me, is for 7 months of the year, there’s hockey on for ~8 hours a weekend day…

        • Thank goodness for commercial breaks.

          • Morgan

            With Centre Ice, there’s always another game. :) Nah, that’s what lame parings like Tampa -Atlanta is for…

        • During football season, Saturday and Sunday afternoons are laundry time, i.e., I take stuff out of the drier and heap it next to him on the couch. He mindlessly folds (not so well, but hey, don’t look the gift horse in the mouth, or whatever that expression is) while I do other things. It’s beautiful.

    • abby_wan_kenobi

      I can never get miffed at “wasting time watching sports” because you will be killed on sight if you interrupt American Idol. We’ve come to an understanding that we each have our own sacred time that shall not be sullied by multitasking. It isn’t wasting time when it’s the thing you love.

      We have the same perspective on his golf-playing and my going to watch bands play at bars. Very little is so pressing that we’d ask the other to skip that.

  • clampers

    Man, this is AWESOME. My favorites are “Have a game plan,” and “Lower your standards.” Having a game plan is like having a business plan! You gotta have it to succeed and make a profit, and your profit is a clean house. And I think lowering your standards is key. So you think that having a huge stack of magazines on the coffee table is unacceptable, but your partner thinks it’s perfectly fine? Both opinions are equal. You aren’t right just because you’re tidier.

  • shorty j

    amen to #1! like many folks here, I worry SO MUCH about being a nag when really it’s just about standards and practices–I am much less comfortable with dirt than my partner is, and I’m much more invested in preventative maintenance, whereas he prefers to wait until things are extremely dirty before he cleans them. He also has the attention span of a goldfish–in my bachelor days, I would clean once a week and spend basically 4-5 hours cleaning the hell out of everything in my apartment, but he just can’t focus for that long and thus if I give him a laundry list, it ain’t getting done.

    After a positively embarrassing amount of trial and error, we finally just sat down and had a conversation wherein he volunteered that it was totally okay for me to tell him to do things and that I shouldn’t feel like I was nagging him. It still took some getting used to but I’m much more comfortable with it now–we work opposite shifts, and so when I get up in the morning, I’ll come up with one or two things for each of us to do around the house and text him midday asking him to do the dishes or fold the laundry or take the books back to the library or whatever. And it gets done!

    In turn, though, we had to trade–I have OCD and am extremely neurotic about “my stuff”–don’t touch it, don’t move it, don’t do anything to it or I will freak out. I had to work very hard on gradually allowing him to actually touch my belongings, because one of the reasons he’d struggled with the housework in the past was because he knew if he touched anything that was “mine,” I would stomp my feet and yell about it later.

    anyway, my point is: have lots of awkward conversations. try stuff. if it doesn’t work for you, try moar stuff.

    • Katie Mae

      “have lots of awkward conversations. try stuff. if it doesn’t work for you, try moar stuff.”

      Love this.

  • Lindsey

    Great post! We are a little more lax when it comes to roles – we both take turns cleaning the bathroom, kitchen, etc. whenever we have the time and feel it needs to be done. We will often spend Saturday mornings cleaning together – usually if we are having people over. I think I fall into more of the tidying role while he falls into the cleaner, although neither of us is super strict about that.
    I do all the cooking and grocery shopping because I enjoy it – I’ve definitely felt the “oh no am I just conforming to stereotypes!?!” but then I realized I really enjoy both of those things, so who cares?
    The only thing I’m trying to get him to help more with is the laundry…this is the man who would let all of his clothes pile up for a month then just do 12 loads in a row. Yep. Not happening anymore.

    • Wow, you almost described my marriage right here :)

      We also usually have a Saturday morning joint clean – which usually involves standing in the middle of the apartment assessing the damage and then divying up the chores (taking turns with the least liked ones like cleaning the bathroom).

      I also do all the laundry because I actually love it – am I the only one?! The smell of freshly tumbled clothes and the folding process gives me such contentment!

      But then that also equals out because he’s more tidy than I am and will go round picking up after me every evening. At the start of our marriage I got really insecure about him tidying my stuff, assuming he was resenting having to do it (my former room mate used to do this too in a totally passive-agressive way!), but he just said he knows he likes it tidier than me so when he does it he’s doing it for him, not me, therefore doesn’t feel pissed off. Huh, I married a mature man :)

      • oh, and what I meant to say before I got distracted by the thought of clean clothes…
        I also have crazy moments of thinking “I do all the laundry! What about my feminist credentials?!” And then realise that’s just rubbish because a) I enjoy it and b) it’s part of a bigger share of chores which I am happy with.

        • (Other)Amy

          I actually really like folding laundry (and doing the laundry now that its in my apartment). Its so fast and easy compared to other chores it almost feels like cheating. Plus any chore that can be done mindlessly while watching tv and having a glass of wine almost doesn’t count as a chore in my book.

          • Yes, now that I have a washer and dryer in my apartment, I enjoy doing laundry. But before, when I used to have to go to my old apartment building’s dark, dirty basement with a low ceiling and bugs on the floor? Yeah, then I didn’t like it at all. And a year and a year after the move, I am still so happy to have a washer and dryer. I guess 8 years of going without can make a person pretty thankful. :)

  • Jen

    One major thing that was missed is positive feedback. You have to thank them and give them positive feedback when they are doing something well. That alone will make them more inclined next time!

    Also, check out this interesting article: Her premise is that she trained her husband like she trained animals. ONLY positive feedback. If her husband was doing something she didn’t like, she ignored him. No negative feedback, just nothing. Then, when he was doing something good, she gave him positive feedback. Its a way to reinforce good behavior while not creating hard feelings.

    • Jo

      As long as they never find out that you “trained” them.

      I sort of use this and have over time, but I try to always think of it as just focusing on the positive instead of the negative. I make it a point to say “Thanks for emptying the dishwasher!” not because he never does, but because I appreciate not being the one to do it. And I don’t remark on negative things unless we are actually having a calm, sit-down division-of-labor discussion.

    • Dev

      I definitely agree that positive feedback works better than negative feedback…but the tone of this article gives me the creeps. I hate it when people talk about “training” their husbands. He’s not a puppy, he’s a human with strengths and weaknesses just like you. And if I ever heard by husband claim that he was training me, ooh boy, would there be trouble.

    • Hmmm. I thank, but I don’t think of it as positive feedback . . . just being appreciative. He thanks me for doing some things, and I thank him for doing other things . . . because we are genuinely grateful to the other person for doing it. The idea of training is kind of dangerous territory, IMHO.

      • Exactly. Thanking each other for what we do is key to keeping resentment away.

    • Yes – I was scrolling through the comments to see if anyone mentioned positive feedback and gratitude.

      We thank each other ALL THE TIME. If I walk in and he’s doing the dishes, I say thank you. If he walks in and realizes that I straightened up the living room, he says thank you. We probably say thank you to each other 10 times a day. But it doesn’t seem weird or forced because we’re used to it. And you would think that once you’re used to it, that hearing thank you wouldn’t have an impact, but it totally does.

      Hearing thank you makes me feel appreciated. Saying thank you reminds me that he’s contributing to our household and makes me feel grateful. So it is actually beneficial whether you’re saying it or hearing it.

  • as an addendum to point #2 “she’s not doing it *right*” is an issue i have. it’s me being ocd, but the *way* things are done is important to me. i mean, it’s important to my crazy-brain, though i really recognize that it doesn’t matter. my main thing is the dishes. so, once i realized that i was standing around wincing about her doing the dishes “wrong” – but perfectly *well* – i just left. i go into the other room, because my crazy-brain just can’t watch my ocd methods not being followed. so i don’t watch. and i come back when she’s done and give her a kiss and our dishes are clean! perfectly clean.

    this also applies to more mundane concerns like “i don’t like to use bleach in our house” but, if you are cleaning the bathroom, not me, and using bleach is how you clean the bathroom, then it’s my job to let it go. at least until we’re better at this. right now we are baby chore-doers, and i think trying to do everything the (nontoxic) way i would like is just asking too much. when we “grow up” a little, this is something i will probably bring up again. but not the dishes – they’re fine.

    • Jo

      I think it’s awesome that you do that! C and I are both particular but totally opposite ways, to the point that I’ve asked him to leave the room while I wipe the counters. :)

    • I do this as well. Can’t watch! Walking away is great in a variety of situations.

    • JEM

      This is how I am with cooking and dishes. My fiance makes turns the kitchen into a Disaster Zone while doing both of these things (water everywhere, grease/sauce splashes, etc.). So I just leave because, ultimately, he cleans up his Disaster Zone and we have a clean area again.

  • Meg, your set up is the mirror image of ours. I cook – he washes up. He tidies – but I clean. I cook because I like it, and because if I never washed up again, it would be too soon.

    I thought this was pretty traditionally divided, but I get rounds of congratulations any time I mention that J is washing the pots, as if I have somehow tamed a caveman. These come from all sorts of women, including J’s mother. So even though I cook and clean, the expectation clearly is that I should do all of it.

  • This is fantastic. My fiance and I have been shacking up for about 10 months now but we’ve never had any sort of conversation about who would do what, aside from kitchen-related stuff: He loves to cook and is great at it, whereas my presence near a stove makes him visibly nervous, so I almost always do the dishes. The rest of it kinda falls to our natural tendencies, which are basically him not caring all that much and me tolerating clutter up to a point and then going TOTALLY BONKERS and needing to tidy like my life depends upon it. It took me a little while to figure out how to express this to him, how to let him know I wasn’t passive-aggressively cleaning or mad at him for contributing to the me. I remember he was even trying to call me away from it one night and I was like, “No, I really just need you to let me do this right now”– kind of a watershed moment in our domestic life, for me at least.

    That said, um, cleaning? Toilet scrubbing? Vacuuming? I am kind of feeling gross, having read this and some comments, because I’m realizing… that doesn’t happen too much at our place. Just when things get really obviously dire. I think my natural avoidance of cleaning is actually exacerbated by him not really caring. Although, man, the quickest way to his heart is not through his stomach– because, like I said, my cooking is not exactly encouraged– but through his eyeballs, specifically at the sight of a totally empty sink and a full dish-drainer. Swoon.

    • Hypothetical Sarah

      “The rest of it kinda falls to our natural tendencies, which are basically him not caring all that much and me tolerating clutter up to a point and then going TOTALLY BONKERS and needing to tidy like my life depends upon it.”

      Oh, I’m totally with you there. Plus we both grew up in households with cleaning ladies, so there are probably things that we’re missing in cleaning that I’m not even aware we’re supposed to do. I keep rationalizing that we still live in student housing and, someday, when we have REAL place of our own, things will be different. Or, more likely, we’ll keep it tidy and hire someone to help clean.

      • (Other)Amy

        A girlfriend of mine once casually mentioned that she was washing her walls as part of spring cleaning. What?!?! You mean people actually set aside time and energy to wash down their walls, with like, hot soapy water? This concept was so entirely foreign to me I can’t even tell you. And then I felt like pigpen in comparison for days.

        • For what it’s worth, I had no idea that anyone would ever wash their walls. Unless like… toddlers had drawn all over them with crayon?… I don’t even know.

          So anyway yeah, I think you’re probably normal. :)

          • Emily Rae

            I wash my walls (guilty as charged). Mostly I’ll wipe around lightswitches, doorposts — places more likely to be touched and thus pick up oil from our skin. I’m also a housecleaner by trade, so I notice. I never would do it except now I SEE these things. It drives me bonkers sometimes.

        • I washed my walls for the first time when I moved into our new apartment this summer. But it was because there was tons of dust/dirt/visibly-not-clean-stuff stuck to it. But now that I have done it once, I don’t plan on doing it again in this apartment. My mother-in-law, however, makes it a part of her spring cleaning. In fact, it had never occurred to me to wash the walls until she came over to help us clean the apartment before we moved our stuff in, and she volunteered to help wash the walls. :)

  • Jo

    Meg, only you can make chores posts awesome. I was laughing out loud a bunch and just have to say hell to the yes. :)

    I was always the partner sighing and fixing things and nagging until one day I realized that I hated feeling like the mom and that it was really bad for my significant other. So I just did my thing and stuck to our agreement. Then I met C and he is older than I am and very particular about things and we’ve had to have the “if you fix what I put in the dishwasher ONE MORE TIME I’LL SCREAM!” conversation. :) We’re both tidy and we both cook/clean, but he tends to the be the instigator about cleaning everything but the bathroom (that’s me).

    Over the summer we were laying out long-term chore plans, and I flipped when he started to say that he’d do the yard stuff and I ‘could garden’. I grew up in a family of women and I was the one to do the traditionally male chores and I hate to be stereotypically female. I had to accept that if we divide things up and they happen to fall in typical gender roles and I still like what I’m doing, that’s okay.

    (I kind of love that you aren’t awesome at cooking. I think I would cry if you were fab at every.single.thing).

    • Hehe, YES with the dishwasher comment. I think it’s his engineer brain but my husband has a very exact way of fitting things in that I am somehow incapable of figuring out :)

      • Morgan

        I think I married the only engineer who can’t optimize a dishwasher… :)

        • JEM

          this is cracking me up! I’m marrying an engineer who asked me “not to put things in the dishwasher all weird.” …ok?

        • LifeSheWrote

          Morgan, I’m with you – my engineer boyfriend can’t seem to grasp the concept of a space utilizing dishwasher load. I think maybe we should get some diagrams involved so I quit spending my time reorganizing!

          • Class of 1980

            I call it having different “dishwasher religions”.

  • In the last couple of weeks David and I have really been trying to get this down. Before we moved into together we decided that I would be the cooking boss and David would be the cleaning boss but somehow that ended up with me being the cooking and cleaning boss and every week Dave freaking out because he hadn’t cleaned anything and it ALL needed to be gone and there was pet hair everywhere. So we did as Meg suggested. We made a chore wheel. With two chores a night. And David does his two chores while I make dinner. At first he was really really down on the idea because it made him feel like he was eight or something but now he’s way down for the cause. For us, not being structured didn’t work.

    I also have a chronic illness and David had has to pick up a lot of the slack with me being pretty damn unwell recently so he’s getting a better idea of what it takes to keep our house on a roll. I’m still in charge of managing our money and doing most of the grocery shopping but David’s been cooking a lot and doing almost all the cleaning and taking care of our pets and worrying about the car maintence etc.

  • We divide chores similarly. I’m a cluttered sort of person. It’s just the way I am. I tend to have a few little projects going at a time, scattered around. However I have pretty high cleanliness standards. My husband on the other hand, has lower cleaning standards than I do, but hates a mess. For instance, he’d be likely to say “Why are you cleaning the tub/stove/etc?It doesn’t look dirty!” Or I’ll say “I’m going to flip through those newspapers for coupons, really I am!” and he’ll give me a look and ask me when exactly, since they’ve been on the table for a week.

    So I’m in charge of the scrubbing, he’s in charge of the tidying. Overall, it works well for us. Neither of us feels like we’re picking up the other’s slack. Instead we recognize that we compliment each other well.

    • Meaghan 2

      My husband and I are the same way. He doesn’t want anything sitting on the kitchen table unless we’re sitting down to eat (which rarely happens) but dust on the bookshelf he’ll never care about. So he picks up and I scrub, with one exception. I hate to clean the bathroom and he does an excellent job and he doesn’t mind doing it.

  • OMG, welcome to my life! My partner and I have different messiness thresholds and growing up with a cleaning woman and living with a neat freak aunt means that I crack first. We tend to have a fundamental difference in that she can read a book or play on the computer, while I am preoccupied by the things I need to do around the house, so I’ll stop after a chapter, get up and tidy for half an hour before I can go back to it. (Or if I’m mad, I’ll tidy to give myself something to do while I process)

    I can’t really be upset with the dynamic that we have because it’s one that I set up – after we were dating for a while, I started doing her laundry, taking the dishes out of her room to the kitchen, emptying her dishwasher… partly because I wanted clean dishes but partly because I wanted order. But the dynamic we currently have is me doing a lot of the household chores and being quietly resentful and it has to change. I’m trying to get better about voicing what I need (an issue for me in general) and she’s trying to do more. It’s just hard. There are times where we sit around and go ‘we really need to clean in here.’ Sometimes it’s just hard because I’m the only one to get up and do it. And I say that it’s OK that she’s doing something that’s not cleaning and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

    This… probably makes no sense.

    • ka

      I get it. Our dynamic is very similar, and also needs to change. I think coming up with a game plan and adding structure is probably the best bet for us. But yea, what it comes down to for me is that it’s hard to be the partner with the “cleaning initiative” all the time.

  • I know this might sound odd, but Ilya and never discuss whose going to do what. It just kind of happened. I love cooking so I do most of it and I don’t mind even cleaning up. He does the laundry because its so hard for me to carry our stuff down the stairs and to the laundry room (we live in an apartment). The big cleaning stuff we assign a day to clean together so we just kind of do it together, although he ends up doing more of the heavy lifting. I think it makes us bond because believe it or not, we have fun in the process. Anyone else bond over cleaning?

  • Meghan

    Yayayayayay this post is awesome.

    You had me at “leaving dishes on the living room floor.”

  • When my husband and I originally moved in together, it was he who moved into my house. Somehow, that implicitly made me the one “in charge” of the housework. My house, my mop, I guess. Several house moves later it had become an ingrained resentment in me. We tried hiring someone, but it never met my standards and it really wasn’t what we wanted to spend our money on.

    I should point out that we are both quite tidy people, and other household chores (bill-paying, laundry, lawn care, cooking, dishes) get split up amicably. It was just the cleaning. Finally, six months or so ago, we adopted the Saturday morning cleanup routine. We start at 9 AM at opposite ends of the house, and keep going until we meet in the (approximate) middle. Then we’re done for the week. Total time invested? About 1 1/2 hours each. It’s the perfect solution and we haven’t had a fight about housework since.

    • ka

      Yes, I literally JUST figured this out as I was reading down the page! He moved into my house, and so yea, it’s remained all MY stuff to deal with even though he’s lived there for 3 years.

      I do most of the cleaning because I’ve been cleaning this house for years and have “methods,” I put away the groceries because “I have a system,” I pay ALL the bills because they’re in my name (including renegotiating insurance rates, cable packages, ordering heating oil, etc.), I take care of the car insurance/inspection/registration because it’s “my” car, and when we did renovations last year I managed the entire thing from taking out a loan to picking out finishes to coordinating the contractors because it’s “my” house…

      Definitely something to be discussed…

  • Rhiannon

    I love this post, it’s perfectly timed! In the interest of keeping my “rage-monster” at bay I might just have to make my husband read this post!

    The key to this conversation for us is going to be that we are both imperfect. He needs to carry more household weight and I need to let go and stop correcting everything he does. Even though I try to be really nice about it… in the end, it’s still negative feedback.

  • I mostly cook but occasionally Nick steps in because I run out of ideas, I’m working late, etc. The man…wields kitchen utensils…and most produce…like a space alien. He chops an onion in the most complicated, inefficient, and cartoonish way possible. I used to belittle him about puzzling kitchen habits and “incorrect” cleaning methods but I got sick of feeling like a huffy know-it-all. I was channeling the naggy, chore-prescriptivist household I grew up in.

    He still occasionally catches me wide-eyed, observing his food prep, and playfully says, “Walk away! Walk away!”

    With chores, I really cling to that “protect the relationship” chestnut. There’s no right way.

    • Hear hear . . . the “right” way is the way that gets it done!

    • Class of 1980

      “Walk away! Walk away!”

      I love it.

      • I never thought about it before writing this comment, but the playful “walk away! walk away!” is a really helpful signal. For us it has come to mean “I know that what I’m doing is insane…I need for it to not matter right now”. It’s not defensive or hostile, and it often preempts the nag.

      • (Other)Amy

        I have a stated vow to never become my mother, who, though well-meaning nearly reduced a girlfriend of mine to tears in high school because that friend was somehow making cookies wrong. No, I’m not entirely sure how its possible to screw up chocolate chip cookie dough batter but apparently it is.
        My adult version of “walk away mom” involves strategic deployment of glasses of white wine and photo albums.

    • JEM

      “The man…wields kitchen utensils…and most produce…like a space alien.” LOL!!!!!!!!!!

    • Fiorentina

      LOL! Like a space alien…hehe!

      I sometimes have the opposite problem. BH will (without even realizing it) stand there in the kitchen while we are cooking together and ask me HOW to chop a GD carrot. WHAAAT!?!? This from the guy who far supercedes my cooking talents. It’s not that he doesn’t know how to chop a carrot, and it isn’t that I tell him he’s doing it wrong (I asked him about this because I really didn’t think I did that and it turns out I don’t). When he does this “how do I chop the carrot? should I put the milk back in the fridge? where does the salt go?” kind of questioning, it is totally maddening! Seriously? Yes, the milk should go back in the fridge – I can’t believe you just asked me that. And why do I need to tell you that.

      We’ve come to the conclusion that when he gets in this mode it’s just because his mind is on other things and it is less mentally derailing for him to request very specific instructions about things he is quite capable of doing himself than it is to interrupt his train of thought to arrive at that himself. Either that or he’s really just talking aloud to himself about what needs to get done and it comes out in the form of a query to me. Weird, and for some reason totally gets on my nerves.

      But the humorous deflection like you’ve described works here too.

      “Should I put put the milk back in the fridge?”
      “No you should either put it in the oven or pour it over the cat that is begging at your feet. Your call.”

      The unexpected response usually snaps him out of it and gets us both laughing rather than annoyed with each other.

  • My internalize mother makes me feel guilty for not keeping a clean house. You see my mother was a killer housewife. When all of her peers were getting promoted and being really successful working women, she left all of that to be a mom. And while I know she loved the mom part, I think the probably hated every minute of the housewife part, but she was really, really good at it. Fresh baked bread and cookies every week, the house was always clean even if it wasn’t tidy, home cooked dinner every night and she even cleaned up afterwards most nights. She even homeschooled all three of us kids for 10 years! So, as far as housewife I feel like I have HUGE shoes to fill, and I really don’t even know if I want to fill them. But it is what I’m used to.

    My partner on the other hand had a working mom, who hired help and brought home take-out. I’m certainly not saying that either one is better then the other, just very, very different. So, now an adult myself with a house, and a job, and graduate school, and a blog that deserve more time then I give it and I feel guilty for not filling my mother’s shoes. My partner’s offer to help is to call for take-out and hire someone to clean. Which, my internalizes mother sees as a failure. (Just to be clear, I really don’t know what my actual mother thinks, haven’t asked her…)

    Sometimes, we are out own worst critics. I need to find a way to be okay not being housewife of the year without being a workaholic. I think accepting that I am doing and accomplishing a lot is really important, and if paying someone to come and clean twice a month makes it so my partner and i can spend our evenings curled up on the couch together instead of standing on our heads cleaning bathtubs, I think that is something we can work with!

    Awesome post Meg, thanks for getting us thinking and talking about chores outside of fighting with our SOs :)

  • Faith

    “Myth #1: It’s not help if you have to ask for it
    This is the comment I hear most often around APW. It usually goes like this, “I love my partner, and (s)he means well, but I always have to ask him for help. That makes me feel like it’s all on my shoulders and I might as well do it myself.”
    Here is the thing (are you ready?): your partner can’t read your mind.”

    Annnd that’s as far as i got….amen!! this is true for so much. If you voice your thoughts or wants/needs/desires, it’s not genuine when your partner fulfills them.

    Agree times a million!!!

    Back to reading…

  • Class of 1980


    This is so wise and well-written I don’t want to add one single word.

    Best advice: Read Meg’s instructions over and over until it becomes second-nature. It will avoid a lot of fights. I could have used it decades ago myself.

  • Kate

    Someone recommended to me when I moved in with my fella, and I really love it. We sat down and agreed on how often we’d like each task done, and how hard on a scale of 1-10 each thing was. The website generates a “fair” schedule that we just print out and post on the fridge. So I never have to feel like it’s ME telling him to do things- it’s a totally impartial computer thingy that we set up together.

    • Chantelle

      OMG, this is going to change my life! Thanks so much Kate :)

      • Anne

        I love Chorebuster as well! My boyfriend is pretty good about doing chores, but we used to have a roommate that would only chip in if told. We still use it and I like it because we can do a few chores a day and not wind up having to spend hours at a time keeping our apartment clean.
        And it’s free!

  • This may be one of my favorite APW posts ever.

    I completely agree with the playing to your strengths thing. A completely even 50/50 split on every chore could never work with us (or, I suspect, with most couples). Mark does pretty much all the cooking because he’s badass at it, but I’m slowly learning to cook (and enjoying it) so our roles might change as the years carry on.

    The thing I’ve always struggled with is having higher clean and tidy standards than him. Lowering my standards while he raises his has been the thing we’ve most struggled with in the great domain of Chores. But we’re getting better.

  • I’m also the tidier, and he’s the cleaner. I don’t care if dust is on everything, as long as everything is in its place. And while it drives me bananas that everything can’t always be put away (for the love of God, why are receipts always ALL over the house?!?), I try to keep in mind that it drives him nuts that the floor hasn’t been cleaned in months. (Shhhhh, it happens.) That being said, we’ve kind of developed rules that work for us. He makes awesome eggs and sandwiches, so breakfast and lunch are usually his domain, whereas I’m usually the Queen of Dinner. We try to let the person who doesn’t cook do the dishes. I told him I’m never cleaning a bathroom again in my life, so he scrubs the tub and toilet. I’ll clean the stove because I care about it, but he does all of the ironing because I have absolutely no patience for that. The vacuum cleaner makes him want to throw things and punch holes in walls, so I do that. And on and on and on. It’s not perfect, but it seems to work well for us and even out well. I actually consider myself pretty damn lucky.

    What I have learned along the lines of not following behind your partner and “correcting” them . . . yeah, try really, really hard to avoid that. Even though I don’t like to clean and I like it when he cooks (a lot), I do like things being done just so. You know, why are you making such a mess when you cook?, and this rag needs to be used for that, but baking soda has to be used on that with this sponge, always in a clockwise motion (okay, I’m not that bad, but you get it). It was getting to the point where I would annoy myself. So if he’s doing something, I just go about my business and leave him to it. It’ll be done, and it’ll be awesome, and we’ll both be happy.

  • Diana

    I love this post. One thing jumped out at me –

    “Asking for help means you’re good at communicating your needs, not that your partner doesn’t love you.”

    This little nugget of logic makes perfect, clear, wonderful sense when I read it – and I’ve had this realization before – but somehow asking for help always becomes an awful emotional mess! I either feel guilty for having to ask for help, or attempt to guilt-trip my partner for failing to read my mind. I might have to print that statement out and post it above my desk.

  • OMG!

    It just occurred to me that after the wedding I won’t have to do it all myself!


  • Sarah M

    This is a little off-topic, but a little food for thought this morning :)

    We are both terrible tidiers. We have several piles around the apartment that are just clutter and overflowing with stuff stuff stuff. I got a gift subscription to Martha Stewart’s Whole Living, which I really wouldn’t recommend in general but had a GREAT article on reducing clutter in the most recent issue (March 2011 “Cleaning House” by Susanna Sonnenberg). I can’t find a link to it, but it gave great advice on how to declutter your life and the effects it can have on your mental health. The author said many of the things that other commenters here have said– that she felt guilty for not cleaning the piles and just avoided them and was unable to use her house for things like parties and entertaining because she was so embarassed. She said that as she slowly decluttered, her family’s living space became a much more calming environment to live in; the free spaces she created in her home helped her create free spaces in her mind that gave her the ability to open herself up to new opportunities and experiences.

    The practical approach to decluttering was to look at each item and question its: 1) Use 2) Monetary Value and 3) Sentimental Value. This broke down into asking yourself: Do I use this? How often? If it has a monetary value, but I no longer use it, thrift it! No monetary value? trash it! The author said if an item sustains you emotionally, great, keep it, but think long and hard about it. Does the item have a negative association? Get it out.

    The author also talked about the value of “nothing” and our urge to fill any empty space with more things– photos, shelves, knick knacks. She said she fought that and instead brought in house plants, which futher enriched her living environment.

    The article really inspired me to start on my own clutter, tackling a little bit at a time and free up physical and mental space. Like I said, a little food for thought about the benefits of chores!

    [The book that the article referenced was called Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, by Karen Kingston.]

    • Kate

      This reminds me of that William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

      • Sarah M

        Love it! I might have to make that my mantra on my De-Clutter journey!

  • I love this post, Meg. LOVE IT. Because I am the bad chore one of the couple. I like actual cleaning (scrubbing, dusting, mopping, you name it) but I hate tidying and I tend not to clean when it’s not already tidy. I think another thing that’s really important to mention when having this talk is being realistic. My fiance is so ambitious when it comes to these discussions, whether it be finances or what we’ll accomplish, that the goals he has in mind are rarely attainable. That makes it so easy to give up on.

    Just curious, do you think how we clean has any reflection on our parents? I grew up watching my dad clean the house every week, so I never had any preconceived notions of my partner not having a responsibility to help around the house. Of course, some days I feel like I need to whip my own ass into gear and do a better job at keeping up!

    • Class of 1980

      We didn’t have a lot of chores in my house growing up and I now think it was a real detriment. I had a friend growing up whose mother said she believed she would be doing a disservice by not teaching her children how to do chores, because they’d be overwhelmed when they grew up.

      As children, whenever I’d go over to their house to play, my friend could not play until she finished whatever task her mother had given her. Sometimes that meant I’d help her fold clothes so we could move on to our own activities.

      Although she divided their chores according to traditional roles, there is no denying that those kids became super competent. Her daughter married young and had a large family. She didn’t bat an eye at running a household and always seemed so relaxed as a consequence.

      Funny thing, every time she gave birth to another baby, her husband ran the house and it turned out that he ran a spotless house!

      Yeah, I do think we are products of our environment for often than not. But we can change.

  • Elisa

    In general, our chores are evenly distributed, even though we don’t have assigned tasks. We do have different standards and methods. I tend to think I get things done more quickly and a little more thoroughly; but if N cleans the bathroom, even if he doesn’t scrub that spot off the shower curtain, I’m happy that the bathroom is mostly clean (and certainly MUCH cleaner than when he started).

    The part I struggle with is “Embrace Roles (Even If They Change).” I really like meal planning, coupon clipping and cooking. I also really like sewing and decorating and arranging our house; very stereotypically “woman’s work.” When it is just N and me, I don’t really think twice about it, because I know he doesn’t expect me to do all of those things just because I’m the wife. But we both come from pretty small towns and our in families, gender roles are clearly defined, especially in his.

    For example, not long after we sent out the thank you notes for our wedding, we went to his cousin’s wedding. I got multiple comments about how people received our thank you note, and they could tell N helped and how nice it was of him. First of all, my handwriting is awful, so I’m sure some of those notes had actually been written by me (mostly I just think that part is funny). The thing that bothers me is that we BOTH received the gifts. They are for OUR life together. Shouldn’t we BOTH express our gratitude? Why is it the woman’s responsibility to write the thank you notes? We work the same number of hours outside the home; we both have other interests and responsibilities outside of work. We have exactly the same amount of time to write thank you notes.

    So I feel all this pressure and expectation to be a good little wife and keep a tidy house and keep my man fed and fat and happy, and mostly it just makes me want to rebel. My instinct when visiting my in-laws is to bring some food item to share to maybe ease the burden of entertaining and to show gratitude for their hospitality, but then I don’t want to bring food, because I feel like that reinforces their idea that it is my responsibility to cook because I’m the wife. I know it’s somewhat petty; I know I shouldn’t let what other people think of my marriage and/or what they expect my role to be to get under my skin, but that is easier said than done.

    Another example, just because I’m bad at letting things go… We were talking with N’s parents about remodeling our kitchen and N mentioned how nice it would be to finally get a dishwasher. His dad gestured toward me and said something like, “You’ve already got one.” or “Isn’t that why you got married?” My blood boiled. It was meant as a joke, but it was a hard joke to take, because I know that is how my father-in-law actually sees me.

    So my problem isn’t really getting caught in the “If I’m a woman, and I do the cooking what does that MEAN?” cycle within my relationship. When we are in our own little world, I know it means I like to cook and N is grateful. My problem is that I get too caught up in the vicious “what does it MEAN” cycle when I think about the outside world and others’ expectations of my role in the relationship. Why can’t it just be as simple as, “I like baking and I like to do nice things for people when they let me stay with them for the weekend, so here are some lovely muffins.” I try not to let it get to me, but it really does drive me crazy.

    • Kayleigh

      Yes! I hate when being a nice person is at odds with being a feminist. Like if you go to someone’s house for dinner and then afterwards all the women jump up to clean. You feel like a jerk if you just sit there and don’t help clean, but then you feel like you’re betraying feminism if you head off to the kitchen with the other women folk.

      • Class of 1980

        Kayleigh, that’s a pet peeve of mine too. I seem to have fairly recently gotten into a circle where the women clean up after dinner – especially at one house. It bugs me on two levels.

        First, my understanding is that a guest invited to dinner does NOT clean in the first place. This issue shouldn’t even be coming up.

        Second, as you said, you look like a jerk if you don’t help the other women.

        I’m out of luck because in the house where this occurs the most, the hostess evidently isn’t bothered by the division between men and women, and she doesn’t know etiquette.

        Not my house, so I just go along.

        • Heather G

          Class of 1980, This is exactly how I feel at the future mother-n-law’s house. I respect her role in the house and it’s how it’s always been. At the same time, I feel resentful if I’m the only person helping with cooking, cleaning, etc. I think she expects it because I am the only other woman (all brothers and no other girlfriends/wives). Or maybe she doesn’t and I’m just ultra sensitive. At any rate, my guy and I have an equal division of labor (thankfully), but he tends to fall into his “role” when he goes back home. So, I’ve dealt with this in a couple of ways. First, I remind myself that I have a choice and that I am helping because I want to help someone. Second, I enlist my guy. So it’s often the three of us, while the rest of the dudes hang out. :)

          Oh, and when it was suggested that I make my boyfriend’s sandwich for him, I replied, “No, thank you.”

          • Class of 1980

            I know, I know.

            There are two of us in this house, but when we had to have it spotless so the landlord could show it to a prospective buyer, he kept thanking ME afterward for how fabulous the house looked!

            It was both a compliment and a source of irritation. I am not the only person responsible for how this place looks!

      • Sarah M

        I struggle with this too! (This discussion is JUST what I needed in Month 5 of Baby Marriage).

        I’ve come to terms with it– for now– by reminding myself that I’m a feminist, a wife, a daughter, an employee, a Dog Mom, etc. I wear a lot of different hats but I can’t wear them all at once- whichever one I’m wearing though, I want to be a Good Person. Sometimes this means getting in the kitchen and doing dishes, not because it’s “Women’s Work,” but because I appreciated the dinner and want to express my gratitude by helping. Does this chafe a bit? Yes. But I think we are all here (at APW) because we are struggling to find a feminism that is practical, that works in every day life. A feminism that we can apply in everyday life, not just theory based.
        Put another way– I don’t want to be a feminist if it means that I can’t enjoy my kitchen.

        Theories are very pat. They are logical. They are black and white. Which is great, except life is messy and hard and full of things I don’t want to do (taxes? get up at 6am?) and is full of grey areas. Strict feminist theory, to me, is no better than strict traditional roles… it doesn’t take me as a person into account, with my various interests and dis/likes; it doesn’t account for individuals. Feminist theory is not a guide to life, it’s just that– a theory, infinitely adaptable. And if I want to go from baking brownies to my boxing match, or do the dishes before APW Book Club, I refuse to see a problem!

        • Class of 1980


          I’m really good at decorating and some people would find that stereotypical. But I can’t figure out how having an eye for design could be anything but artistic.

      • Other Katelyn

        I’m in the get-up-and-help camp, but damned if my boyfriend isn’t expected to help out in our kitchen when we’re the ones hosting. If he gets up and starts taking dishes in, the other guys usually take their cue from him and help out too.

  • Cassie

    I just gave pretty much all of this advice to a friend a few days ago who is struggling with this issue. She works full time, commutes long distances, has a 18 month year old, and is around 5 month pregnant. She and her husband recently bought a home and he is not holding up his end of the bargain. He is a wonderful man, but he majorly slacks. The problem is she has already gone through most of these steps and still nothing is happening. I think the problem is he can’t see why this is important. His mother did everything for him growing up and he’d rather just live in messy home than do it himself. I wish he would just see that it’s important to her and do it.

    She is a smart woman and although he’s being a jerk in this regard, he is generally a loving and supportive spouse so I don’t know what else to suggest – beside making him pay for a cleaning service since he’s the one who can’t come through.

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention Reclaiming Wife: Chores « A Practical Wedding --

  • Dang. My husband and I are far from perfect, but I’m really effing glad that we don’t have conflict around “chores.” I also really effing hate the word “chores,” because they invoke images of being 8 years old and being bribed, blackmailed or forced to do something, begrudgingly. Chore WHEELS also make me want to vomit, because they invoke images of being 24, living in a group house in DC with 6 other grown ass adults who never learned to clean up after themselves and require color coded instructions in order to do so. The idea of implementing such a system with my husband makes my teeth itch.

    Our house is generally tidy and clean, although it certainly does get messy and dirty from time to time. But ultimately, we both have a vested interest in not letting things get out of hand. After all, we bought it, and we love it, and we realize its our responsibility to take care of it, and that doing so makes us feel good, grown up, accomplished, and peaceful.

    We’ve sort of fallen into patterns in terms of who cares for what – he deals with all garbage and recycling, the bathrooms and vacuuming, while I do the sweeping, mopping, dusting and cleaning of the cats’ litter box. The kitchen is shared territory, with him cleaning it a little more than half the time, which works out great, because I do the cooking a little more than half the time. We each do our own laundry and never, ever, under any circumstances touch each others (his rule, not mine).

    One of my philosophies in life is that you’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask for it, and as such, I’ve got no problem asking him for help or to take on additional responsibility, although I AM guilty of telling him he’s doing something the wrong way – namely, folding towels – as if there’s a “wrong” way to fold a towel. He pointed out that they all end up the same general size and shape and will be doing nothing more than sitting in a closet, and I realized I’d turned into a crazy person.

  • ka

    Haven’t read the comments yet, so apologies if this has been mentioned, but what if you both really really hate doing something, like erm, cooking? And one of you does most of it anyway because theyre interested in being alive and healthy and the other is really keen on the cereal diet -which does in fact involve 3+ bowls a day. But you care about them so you keep cooking even though its driving you closer to the loony bin each day. One day we will make enough money that I can pay for the zone diet or something, but I don’t know what to do now! We actually just had a huge fight about this last night…

    • Morgan

      You both suck it up and do it, I think. You figure out some sort of system – maybe you develop a repertoire of 10 easy meals and rotate until you can’t bear the thought of eating one again for a while, but at least it’s easy. You take turns cooking. You can totally add cereal days, too. Or accept that once a week a Subway sub equals dinner. You plan it out a week in advance and make sure you have all the groceries you need to you don’t have to think about it midweek. (“What do *you* want for dinner?” on a cold Tuesday night after a long day at work is the worst conversation.)

      Dinner is harder than dusting, because really, you can go a year without dusting and no one will die. Eating, less so.

      • ka

        You’re right, I know, I know. :) Teeny bit more venting: but the only thing I hate more than the physical act of cooking is recipe hunting/menu planning! And I know I need to enroll him in it and make it more of a team effort. But it comes back to Myth #3 – he’s just not interested. He LIKES eating cereal 3 times a day. So part of me feels like I should just make myself a little meal (why is cooking for 1 easier than cooking for 2?) and let him do what he wants. But then he complains he feels like ass (thanks to the cereal-induced gluten coma), and I feel guilty.

        Regardless, yes, you’re right, we both have to suck it up. Maybe I suck up the planning and he sucks up the actual cooking — since he’s the one that can actually cook while last nite I ruined microwavable frozen asparagus wrapped in prosciutto. I mean, it’s 2 steps, microwave, wrap, hahaha.

        • Chantelle

          Here’s something I found that helps with the planning, it’s a weekly meal planner/recipe database. You basically let it know the types of food you like/dislike and the health choices you are making and it send you an automatic meal plan every Friday for next week, broken down by cost, grocery list and even grocery store specials in some areas as well. You can always skip recipes if you don’t like them, but it would save you from over thinking :)

          Kudos to you for being commited enough to eating well that you do something you dislike.

        • I gained 10+ pounds after we got married because for me cooking for 2 is so much easier than cooking for one and I stopped eating so much cereal. :)

          We have a four day rotation, Sunday through Wednesday, where we eat the same thing. Sunday is waffles. Monday is tacos. Tuesday is spaghetti. And Wednesday is the leftover waffle batter. Saturday when we’re planning our grocery list we pull out the list of meals we like and we figure out what we’re doing Thursday-Saturday.

          And the first week we were married I burned a pan. Not the food, but the pan. And part of the ceramic coating on the bottom of the pan is now permanently attached to the burner on our stove. Who does that?!

        • Alexandra

          Also, if you can make the investment, and have ~10 minutes for prep time in the morning, there are some Super Simple crock pot recipes that just involve throwing chicken, or ground turkey, plus some seasonings, in before work, and then you’ve got a nice hot meal when you get home from work, without having to be a Serious Business Cook. ;p

      • m

        “Dinner is harder than dusting, because really, you can go a year without dusting and no one will die. Eating, less so.”

        haha YES glad someone said it. I enjoy cooking, but find the responsibility of planning lunch and dinner for someone besides myself a little overwhelming at times. I’m hoping to negotiate this as my main chore. Besides, if he doesn’t clean and the house gets dusty, we can deal, but we can’t deal without 3 meals a day.

  • Kathryn

    Mom said the biggest mistake she made in her marriage was correcting my Dad when he cleaned/built something (they were together for 40+ years before Dad died). She’s a big do-it-over kind of gal (Myth #2), and she said it was really emasculating and made my dad not help at all eventually. She’s always telling me to let my partner take care of me. Anyway, I think that when you ask for help in that way “Hey babe, I really need some help. I’m feeling really overwhelmed by the house, and work and the kids etc., do you think you could take on (insert chore) for now? I do it (insert time frame – once a week etc.).” That makes it more about caring for you and less about cleaning the toilet. Then thank them when they’ve done the chore and don’t redo it. Not foolproof I’m sure, but it works for me!

    • Morgan

      I don’t want to have David clean the toilet to help me – I want David to clean the toilet because it’s dirty.

      • ka

        Yes. This is my big disconnect between Myth #1 and Myth #3. Apologies if this gets a bit meta: If he doesn’t see the toilet as dirty, than he IS cleaning it just to help me. And that’s where my issues with asking for help come in. Because it is asking for help just for me, not for the toilet. It’s asking for help to meet MY standards of the toilet being dirty, as the actual dirtiness is totally relative. OR is it? I mean if one person sees it as disgusting, and they are positive that society agrees with them, but it doesn’t bother the other person in the slightest, is the toilet actually dirty or not?

        Did I just take this to a graduate-level chores discussion?

        • “Did I just take this to a graduate-level chores discussion?”

          Yes. But we’re right here with ya.

        • meg

          But that’s the point, it really doesn’t matter why he’s doing it, if he’s doing it for you, himself, or the tolet. And he doesn’t have to like it. You just have to figure out a system of cleanliness that you can both stand, and then make happen.

          Who cares why? I was never good at philosophy.

        • N

          I agree that this is a strange disconnect. One of my tasks was doing the dishes as a kid, which I HATED, but eventually as I grew up I started doing it without having to be harangued. But then my father started saying that I should be doing so with some happy grin on my face because I loved my parents and doing something for them should make me happy. Which, at the time, drove me mad. But now…I kinda get what he was saying. Doesn’t make it less likely to drive someone crazy though.

        • z

          I think the OP isn’t very clear on what “asking for help” means. I think when there’s been a genuinely mutual agreement on chore expectations, nobody should have to be “asked.” Rather, they should do what they have agreed to do in a timely manner. Sounds crazy, I know. But it’s humiliating to have to constantly prod someone to keep an agreement.

      • Kathryn

        Morgan, I completely understand, unfortunately he just might not care that it’s dirty. I guess that’s the part Meg talked about where we have to adjust our standards.

        Haha KA, I didn’t see your post before I replied. The Philosophy of Chores is awesome… and that’s a really interesting point. I guess I would offer there that what we want is for everyone to be happy and for the house to be clean (to a certain, negotiated standard). I personally don’t care how we get there – asking or not.

  • Vee

    This post REALLY resonated with me, because I, too, am a Meg. I’m not much of a cleaner. My mom was a SAHM and, maybe because she had the time to do it on her own or because she wanted it done her way every time, never taught me how to do chores. Didn’t teach me how to wash my clothes, didn’t teach me how to scrub a bathroom or mop floors, didn’t teach me how to cook. Because I find cooking fun, I taught myself. Scrubbing bathrooms and mopping floors are not fun chores, and I’m not exactly a clean freak anyway.

    Living with my husband was an adjustment because he knew how to do all these things, liked a clean house, and was willing to do half of everything but expected me to help (shocking!). He has definitely had to ask, he’s definitely had to instruct, and he’s definitely had to cajole a time or two.

    Though we’ve fallen into roles, there are still some chores that we both hate to do: case in point – cleaning the bathroom. But we do a lot of bargaining. Sometimes I’ll bargain with him to do one or two of his chores if he’ll clean the bathroom. Or when we make football bets, if I win, he has to clean the bathroom. (I am forever trying to get out of my chores!)

  • Aline

    I love things tidy, and my husband likes them clean. Currently, we are living in a messy, dirty house (*shame*).

    We are in the process of figuring out a system. We can never get a full day of cleaning done because 1) we usually don’t have much free time during the weekends, between extra work hours and social/family lives, and 2) it’s booooring ;).

    I saw somewhere (maybe apartmenttherapy?) a suggestion of cleaning for 20 minutes a day for 30 days, which seemed reasonable. They even had a suggested schedule. Someone in the comments suggested each partner/roommate do 10 minutes of whatever they thought was most important everyday – no nagging. I think this might be starting to work for us. We decided that when one cooks (usually him), the other does the dishes (usually me), and that doesn’t count towards the 10 minutes. Then each one has to do something to tidy and/or clean. That way, it doesn’t seem like too much of a waste of time, it’s not that overwhelming and noone has to nag the other (though I admit that, since we are just starting this system, I sometimes have to “remind” my husband of his 10 minutes).

    We are also looking for a reliable cleaning person to do the heavy work once every week or two – otherwise we might never get rid of all the pet hair (we have 3 cats and a dog)…

    • A-L

      Very interesting. Do you find that larger tasks get done? (Like vacuuming, or do you do one room one day and then pull out the vacuum the next day to do another room?) I fear I’d be like, oh, now that the vacuum’s out let’s do all of it. (Can we bank extra minutes for other days? As in I cleaned for 30 minutes one day, so the next two days are free.)

      • Aline

        Like I said, we are starting to try this… So far, I’ve been vacuuming a room a day. My vacuum isn’t very hard to pull out and store again.

        I thought about banking the minutes, but haven’t tried it, yet. If you do, please let me know if it works. I thought of having a chart containing 7 squares a week for each person; each square would be for 10 minutes of tidying/cleaning. Then we can cross out 2 squares in one day, for example, and have a day off later. That would be great especially if you want to do something a little more time-consuming or in order to avoid tidying/cleaning after a especially tiring day of work (and then make up for it later)… Plus, crossing off squares always gives me a satisfying sense of accomplishment… :)

    • This might be a wonderful idea for my house. I think that I can handle 10 minutes! Because I am not even the Meg “tidy” one. I think that my new husband feels that all the chores are on him, because I would just let things go. Partially because I don’t like cleaning (who does?) and partially because I got into the habit of having him do them because he was home.

      Meg, that’s a sticking point – if someone works from home (as my husband does sometimes when he isn’t out teaching or performing ) is it fair to assume that they will do more of the household chores? Would you change your chore task lists if there were weeks when one of you was stay-at-home? Obviously the smart thing would be to have an adult discussion about this, but I wondered if anyone found that they fell into the “you’re home, you do the housework” trap. Not sexist in my case, but maybe still unfair?

      • Sarabeth

        If they’re actually working from home, then I don’t think that implies any extra responsibilities (other than to clean up whatever messes they make while working). I’m a grad student, but it’s a full-time job, I get paid for it, etc. I would be, honestly, really steamed if my husband expected me to do more than half of the chores just because my work happens to take place in our house.

        • As the one in my marriage who works from home one day a week (my husband does not get to work at home ever – everything stays at the office) I will say that absolutely, working at home is working, and it is not free time that can be spent doing chores.

          That said, there are some things that someone working at home is just plain better positioned to do, such as be the contact point for service people coming to the home (it took me about five minutes away from my work to deal with the chimney/furnace inspector the other week – it would have been stupid for my husband to schedule a day off work instead of scheduling this for the day I’m home, even though in general the chimney and furnace are more in his domain) or throw low maintenance laundry (sheets and towels that don’t need special care or prompt folding) into the washer/dryer (does not apply if travel to a laundromat is required). So, I did take on a bit more once I started working from home one day a week — but it’s specific tasks that make sense, rather than just that I am in the house more, therefore I do more chores, and if you count the hours spent commuting as hours spent supporting the household, I’m probably doing a bit less than I did before.

          Similarly, on non-telecommuting days, I am always the first one home (even if I’m not done working – I have the flexibility to leave the office and then do more once I’m home, which my husband doesn’t), so more of the day-to-day stuff is most logically done by me, since I can get it out of the way before he gets home, and then we get to spend time together. He deals with more of the “weekend stuff” than I do (and I often will be getting work for my employer done while he is attacking the bathtub with bleach). It’s not entirely person who is home = person who does the housework, it’s just the most logical way to allocate household tasks given the limitations on where and when we can each meet our obligations to those outside the home.

          I think it’s different when one person is home more but not working at home. Right now tax season is ramping up, so my husband is working crazy long hours, and I’m doing more around the house than I usually do. (He still does his own laundry though – I don’t see either of us giving up control over our own wardrobe cleanliness unless it’s a matter of disability.) We’re both spending more time and effort supporting our household than we do the rest of the year – it’s just that his extra effort is spent in the office, and my extra effort is spent picking up his end of the chores.

  • Meg, thank you SO MUCH for busting Myth #3. My heart breaks when I hear women say something like “well, cleanliness is more important to me than it is to him, so I should take responsibility for that.” Really? Your happiness and comfort IN YOUR HOME isn’t important to him?

    You never ever hear that argument when the gender roles are reversed and the man is the neat freak and the woman is messier. Just saying.

    I’m not saying the neat freak should always trump the messier partner. Both partners will probably need to compromise in order to keep each other happy and as a neat freak I’ve learned to let some of the smaller things go (e.g. crumbs on the kitchen counter). But when you live with a partner, it is unfair to expect that your partner will be the one to do all of the compromising in order to accommodate your preferred level of cleanliness/preferred level of effort put into chores. My husband and I have both adjusted our expectations — for example, he likes to leave the dishes in the sink for 2-3 days and do a ton of cleaning up at once, and I like to do them the second after we’re finished eating so that we never have dirty dishes in the sink. (Did I mention I’m a neat freak?) We compromised on getting them done every day before we go to bed at night.

    Aargh. I feel like I’m not being very articulate here. I just hate Myth #3 so very, very much.

  • heck yes! i used to be of the “he’s just not that into cleaning” persuasion and i ended up feeling bogged down and burdened by all of the cleaning i had to do alone…any resentment i felt toward him because of that was my own fault too, should’ve just spoken up!

    on the FLIP side.

    after you have been in the “i have to do everything” role, i’ve found at least, that it’s easy to keep your mind there…even now, while isaiah is badass at picking up the house and cooking and taking on his general part of responsibility in the house, i sometimes feel like when i get home from a long day of work and the house is a little messy that i have to do EVERYTHING myself…even though, in reality, i hadn’t contributed in the least to the house that day…only at work.

    anyways, my point is that after you’re convinced that your partner doesn’t help you out equally, it’s easy to fall into a mind-pit of constantly believing that, you know?

    • So true! For about two months during our engagement my husband was trying to finish his dissertation and apply for jobs and I took on almost all of the shopping, cooking, and cleaning (oh, yeah, in addition to all of the wedding planning!). He picked up his share again but it was a long time before I really internalized that things were once again equal and I *wasn’t* doing 100% of the household stuff. I think it’s so important to notice and acknowledge the things your partner does to prevent unfair resentment from festering.

    • Chantelle

      That’s sort of the mental state I’m in now…my partner is a student and during the school year is pretty much MIA, leaving me to do EVERYTHING. It switches around in the summer, and things get better (I didn’t have to clean a bathroom once last summer, I enjoyed that!) but it’s really hard to keep that in mind when I’m slogging it out alone. So it is one of our recurring issues with a lot of “it’s just not fair” from me, and him feeling that when he does do stuff he’s not getting credit for it, because I have some sort of “debt” in my mind that he’s working off.
      This post has been great, really got the wheels churning with new approaches to our situation.

  • A-L

    I’m glad to see this post, and all the comments. It’s interesting to hear how everyone’s system works (or doesn’t).

    Neither my husband nor I are neat freaks, though I’m probably interested in a tidier place than he is. About the only thing we have set is that I cook (which I usually enjoy) and he does the dishes. But if something is air drying, it’s somehow become my de facto job to empty the dish rack (dishwasher also tends to be one of my duties, but often it’s split).

    And cleaning for company is usually when our house gets cleaned. I’ll have vacuumed and he’ll clean the public bathroom areas (but not the tub so much…at least not that I can tell). I’d like us to have some kind of a schedule and task list, but I’m so uncreative that it basically boils down to cleaning, cooking, and dishes. I forget about things like tidying, paying bills, taking trash out, etc.

    Does anyone know of a list online somewhere of household chores so we could use it when divying up tasks?

  • Morgan

    One thing I’ve had to learn it that once things are divided, I can’t quibble about timing. I cook. He does dishes and tidies the kitchen. We are both totally on board with this division of labour. If he wait 10 days to do the dishes, I cannot and will not complain about it. Because it’s his job, and I know it will get done, and if I start demanding it happens when I want it to, then I start to become the nag.

    (Our kitchen is small and weirdly laid out, so he can’t clean as I cook.)

    • Chantelle

      This is the hardest thing! It drives me nuts as I work on a basis where I’ll notice something needs doing, and ask for help, and I want it done NOW. And most of the time it just doesn’t work that way. Patience is not my strong point, but it’s amazing that you’ve wrapped your mind around just being able to let go and trust that things will get done.

      • Morgan

        It does help that I know he WILL do them. That when he has the time and inclination, they’ll get cleaned. (We’re out 3-5 evenings a week right now, so clearly he’s not going to come home at 10:30 and start doing dishes, when we have to be up 8 hours later. ) Also, I know that when he does get around to doing them, I know he’ll do a way better job than I would have… :)

  • BRILLIANT! Just all over brilliant!

    I too start to slowly go insane when the house is messy – cluttered house = cluttered mind for me. Which is why often my homework procrastination looks an awful lot like house cleaning.

    Along with asking for help, if your partner offers help don’t say, “no, I got this” because then they stop offering. Instead say, “yes, could you ….” and then you get to do something together.

    If you ever have kids, they aren’t going to do it perfectly either, and not giving kids chores should never be an option. Teach them how and don’t let them see you re-do it later. Yes it might take more time initially than doing it yourself, but perhaps a clean house isn’t the ultimate goal every time.

    Isn’t the gender role of cooking=women interesting since most professional chefs are men? That stereotype is all kinds of messed up.

    And now, I have a whole stack of papers to grade, which means I need to go clean our bathrooms.

    And I’m thinking I might make up a chart of chores and how often they should be done and then laminate it so we can check it off with a whiteboard marker and I can remember the last time the bathrooms actually got cleaned.

    • meg

      Yes, I think this is such a good point. I thought about it while writing and didn’t say it specifically, so I’m glad you did. Kids have to be taught things too, and sometimes teaching your partner something they don’t know is a little like teaching a kid something. You have to allow for them to not be that great at it, and still be encouraging. And it’s good practice, because one day it might be your kid doing a terrible job of scrubbing the tub, and you saying, “You’re doing such a good job, you worked so hard.” Not “Well d*mn it, next time I’ll just do it myself.”

      • CW

        I’m hesitant to be okay with likening my spouse to a child. I get that the spouse might not know how to do something, but if you hand some scrubbing bubbles and a rag to an adult I would hope they could figure it out. I’d try not to get nasty with them if they couldn’t do it, but I’d really start to question how hard they tried. I hate cleaning floors and I’ve been known to pout about it and act like I don’t know how to properly sweep and swiffer. But lets be honest, it’s not *difficult*, it just sucks. I don’t need to be taught how to sweep, they way you’d have to teach an 8 year old – I have fully developed fine motor skills. I just need to quit whining and DO IT.

        • Emma

          This is a good point in that these tasks are not “difficult”, but I would argue that some people actually do need to be taught! (Granted, not in a condescending way.)

          As someone who has trained adults in a workplace, you’d be surprised how many people DO have a difficult time figuring out what to do, how to get the job done, and having the work ethic or wherewithal to get it done completely. I have witnessed “sweeping” that begs for a lesson, or mopping that is a glorified mud-swishing. They are physically competent but at a loss for a tactic or plan to accomplish the task. (Most people with a good attitude would figure it out quickly, it’s not rocket science, but also might appreciate a heads up about an efficient way to do it.)

          • I did not know the proper effective way to sweep until someone taught me. Nor did I know how to best chop an onion.

            Are those tasks hard? No.

            Was I doing them efficiently before someone showed me how? No.

            Am I a reasonably capable adult? Yes.

            I got the hang of it eventually, but really, sometimes you do need to be taught.

        • Nobody said you had to belittle your spouse, and you shouldn’t be belittling your children either. But if you like things done a certain way because that’s how you’ve always done it, odds are your spouse did not grow up in your home and they have a different way of doing them.

          • meg


        • meg

          If you handed me scrubbing bubbles (what the heck is that, by the way?) and a rag, not only would I have no idea what I was doing, when you came back and I was a stressed out mess with bubbles everywhere, and you started questioning how hard I tried, I’d probably start sobbing and throw something at you.

          These tasks are not as easy as you think they are, if you have no background in figuring out how. So, I assume you’d treat your child with love and respect and care, and really walk them through a task without belittling them, or questioning how hard they were working or how smart they were. So do the same with your spouse. I thank you on behalf of all of us un-schooled on chores.

          • z

            I really, really disagree. There are tons of books and websites explaining how to clean, and anyone who genuinely wanted to figure it out could research it.

            It’s fine to initiate a discussion of mutual agreement on proper cleaning methods, but setting up a system of “you must show me over and over and over because I can’t possibly take responsibility for developing skills on my own” just doesn’t make sense to me. There is a big difference between asking whether a particular cleaning method is appropriate and satisfactory, versus making the other person spend time teaching. It’s a difference of initiative and of recognizing that your lack of skill is your own responsibility to overcome.

            Meg, maybe you could share why it’s so difficult for you to figure this stuff out. Have you tried Googling the products? A reference book? Or reading the back of the package? Why must you be shown?

          • This is in reply to Z, but there is no reply button in Z’s post.

            I will be honest with you. Some of us are not really well-equipped in the spatial/motor skills area. If you showed me a website on how to mop, I would NEVER be able to figure it out. It wasn’t until someone physically put my hands around the mop the right way that I figured it out.

            Same with chopping an onion. My fiance literally turned on a cooking show where the guy (I think Alton Brown?) demonstrated the best way to chop an onion. I watched it and then turned to my fiance utterly flummoxed. He had to show me, and then stand next to me while I tried it out. And even now, I still don’t always remember exactly what I need to be doing and I go to him for a refresher.

            I know this may make me sound really incompetent, but I’m really not. I’m plenty smart. But I have not great motor skills and hand eye coordination, and I’m not terribly spatially aware. Ya know … I’m un-athletic, my friends and family mock the way I walk, I fall down a lot, and chopping an onion correctly doesn’t come naturally to me. I can’t read “how to mop” on the internet and then translate that into my muscles … I just can’t.

            Which isn’t to say that I can’t learn, but I learn through rote muscle memory. So the more that my fiance stands by me while I chop the onion, the better I get.

            Sorry. I feel like this post makes me sound really incapable, which I swear I’m not! I’m not! I am just not smart in this way, so it IS harder for me to learn.

          • z

            And Meg, not to be all over you here, but the original post doesn’t even attempt to point out ways in which the less-cleaning-oriented person could attempt to do better. It’s like it didn’t even occur to you! The cleaner person should show, teach, compromise, encourage, applaud, settle for mess, and oh-so-patiently ask for the same obvious help over and over and over, apparently, but are you planning a companion post with the other half of the suggestions?

          • Z – Being uncoordinated and not having a brilliant spatial awareness is not a serious medical condition that needs professional help. It just is what it is. Not everyone is coordinated enough to hit a ball with a bat, that doesn’t mean we all need to get therapy to help us deal with it.

            I understand how to drive a standard car, but because I’ve only done it once I’m no good at it in practice (and most people don’t want me practicing on their car). I know exactly what to do with a plunger, but hand me one and ask me to unclog a toilet and I’ll just stand there and laugh at you. Plungers do not work for me. Knowing what the skill is and being able to reproduce it are two completely different things. So my husband is in charge of all plunging that will be done in our house.

            Ruchi – Your onion is my plunger. :)

          • z

            Some call it Motor Planning Disorder, others call it ataxia or proprioceptive dysfunction, but they definitely offer occupational therapy for it in the school district where I live. Maybe yours isn’t so bad as to warrant intervention, but it’s definitely a known thing.

          • CW

            I think the problem I have with the kid/parent analogy is that I think a lot of women end up as the defacto boss of house keeping – not because they’re better at it or care more about it, but because they’re women and our ingrained image of a good home is one that is kept clean by a woman (mother). I don’t want to be my husband’s mother. Meg, I know your house is the opposite of this, but I think a lot of women get stuck “teaching” men how to clean because we think of cleaning as something mom does. I don’t have more experience or training or skill at house cleaning than my husband. I saw a commercial for scrubbing bubbles (a spray cleaner), bought it, read the directions, and cleaned the tub. I don’t know if I did it *right*, but there’s no dirt left in the tub. I imagine most adults could figure out a way to remove dirt from the tub if they really had to – I don’t need him to do it *right* I just don’t want it to be my defacto job because we both grew up in houses where women were in charge of cleaning. I guess I just sort of resent the idea that I have to teach my husband how to clean a house and maybe I’m over analyzing the situation, but I really think its because I’m the girl. And that just sucks.

          • Amanda

            Z – My fiance cannot iron to save his life. He actually irons wrinkles INTO the shirt. But he can play the guitar really really well. I can iron like nobody’s business but my fingers just don’t move like they are supposed to to play a guitar. Does this mean either of us need occupational therapy? NO. It means that I iron his clothing and he cleans the toilet.

          • CW – In my house growing up my dad did the dishes because he knew how to do it. I learned how to load a dishwasher from my dad. I learned how to do laundry from my mom, not because my dad couldn’t, but because that was how they divided those chores (dad dishes, mom laundry, and they had a fight over who did what because they both wanted to do the dishes).

            You do not have to be the defacto house cleaner and you do not have to teach a husband how to do everything. If given the chance I’m sure the majority of husbands could teach a thing or two about cleaning, but our society standards say they shouldn’t.

  • Amanda

    This post could not have come at a better time as we had yet another argument over housework while I was in the shower (!) this morning. We have very different definitions of “clean” and even “tidy” which is frustrating but I suppose lowering my standards would be helpful. I don’t think he was ever expected to clean anything growing up although we both came from very untidy houses.

    Is anyone else in a situation where one spouse is incredibly busy and not often at home? Where as the other spouse gets home at a much earlier time yet still deserves to relax a little at night (especially since their job is much more physically demanding)? I’m sometimes gone for 15 hours between work and school and by the time I drag my tired little but in the door at 10:45pm all I want to do is eat a sandwich and fall into bed. We have divided up our chores nearly evenly but I feel like all my time spent AT home is taken by cooking dinner (which I do enjoy doing), making our lunches, doing laundry, iron clothes for work, picking up, etc. So I cycle between feeling like he’s done nothing (“oh, you fed the cats AND did the dishes in 6 hours?”) to feeling incredibly guilty because I don’t have time to do anything. And he constantly feels like I don’t appreciate anything he’s done even though I really do try and thank him, etc. (even though there is always more to do…. ). argh.

    • Amy

      Amanda, I completely sympathize with the not home enough thing. I am the major breadwinner in our household, which equates to 10+ hours a day, and I spend 2ish hours a night working on my graduate degree. The only chores that I complete with any degree of consistency are cooking dinner and paying bills. My husband works 25-35 hours a week and takes care of everything else around the house–cleaning, tidying, laundry,etc.

      I can really identify with vacilitating between guilt (“I should be doing more around the house. It’s really lazy to lie on the couch and do nothing while he does the dishes.”) and irritation (“You were home all day and didn’t have time to unload the dishwasher?”). We’re finally hitting an equilibrium (me = gratitude and acknowledgement, him = reassurance), but it’s been an internal struggle that I never expected.

      Thanks for sharing…it’s nice to hear that others are in the same boat.

      • meg

        Agreed. When I was working non-stop, David basically did the bulk of the chores – laundry, cooking, cleaning, the whole nine. That meant he worked a lot of the time I was out of the house (he did his school work, and THEN the chores on top of it). But it meant that when I got home, we could both collapse in an exhausted mess together.

        If you’re gone all day working really long hours, I flat out don’t think you should have to do chores when you get home. Not if your partner has down time before you get home… no matter how tired they are.

        That, and you can totally let chores slide.

        • Amanda

          Thanks guys. The smoke has cleared for at least today (he cleaned the bathroom while I made chili – I stayed home from work for a “mental health day”) and it’s just going to take some work from both of us to make it work (whether it’s the physical work of doing chores or me remembering to thank him and make him feel appreciated). It’s just really nice to know I’m not alone.

        • @ Meg, I think I agree with you here, but just to play devil’s advocate, would you feel the same if it were a husband gone all day and a stay at home mom? If the husband works really long hours does that mean that he doesn’t have to do any chores/look after the kids when he comes home from work?

          Or does the equation change when kids come into the picture and we all need to give up on the idea of flopping in front of the couch when we have kids? ;)

          • On this point, I will say that I agree that the person who works less outside the home should do more inside the home, EXCEPT

            One of the major issues my bf and I had when I was working part time and looking for full time work was that all my days off would be spent running errands for our household/doing chores instead of looking for work. The whole reason I had gone down to part time was so that I could have time to focus more on my job search, and yet my job search was always getting put on the back burner. We had to have some talks to the extent that while, yes, I was home, I was not available to take the car in for servicing or do the drycleaning or go to the post office because literally stuff like that was coming up EVERY DAY.

            Similarly, if one partner works from home, they are actually WORKING, and the expectation shouldn’t be that you come home after an eight hour day and all the chores are done. Do you sometimes have time to run the dishwasher in your spare fifteen mins from work? Yes. Should you count on it? No.

            Our problems got solved fairly quickly because I got a full time job and we then decided to get a cleaning man (yes, a cleaning man and he is SO awesome and does things like clean our shower curtain and dust the top of our chandelier). But for people who have unemployed, partially employed, or working from home partners, I think it’s helpful to remember that when you come home and nothing has been cleaned … they might well have been doing their job all day, whether that job is sending resumes or an actual work from home job.

          • Me again. I just want to clarify that I don’t think the above is what Amanda was talking about, so I guess it was more of a slightly tangential mini-rant.

          • meg

            As a stay at home parent (assuming you don’t have help), you’re probably working non-stop. What I’m talking about is evening out down-time, and you have to evaluate how much of that you have.

            Right now, her partner has down time and she doesn’t. That’s the issue at play here, that should be somewhat evened out with how they tackle chores, I think.

        • We just “split the work” by amount of time we put in. That includes house work, and jobby job work. We both try to put the same amount of time as each other, just doing different things. I am the only one with a paid job right now, I do about 35 hours of that and 5 hours of house chores/week. Husband does about 40 hours of house stuff a week.

    • Sarabeth

      I advocate strongly for a chore division in which each partner has the same amount of time for him/herself. So one partner might be working longer hours outside the home, and the other doing more domestic labor. That’s fine, as long as both partners are down with the arrangement (ie, it’s not the case that one parter would like to be taking on more responsibilities at work but can’t because s/he’s stuck doing all the household labor). But both partners should have about the same amount of time to spend on themselves, whether that’s going to a yoga class or reading the internet or whatever.

  • Class of 1980

    I run a household with my business partner. It’s a great way to be single and still have a lot of help and support. He cooks and does most of the kitchen cleaning. He’s fabulous at the cooking and so-so at the cleaning.

    Anyway, we are having the stupidest argument in the world right now over pots and pans. I’m getting ready to buy new ones and I’m already worried. He truly believes that you don’t have to get them spotlessly clean because he worked in so many restaurants when he was young where the pots and pans looked like they’d gone to hell and back.

    He seems to believe that is a sign of a good kitchen. I know better. I know that you can keep quality pots and pans shiny if you just treat them right – and they’ll cook better too. The argument always ends up the same way – he says “Well then, YOU clean them.!”

    That’s nice, but I offset not doing very many kitchen chores by doing a lot of other things he doesn’t do. So Meg, I think I’m going to take your advice. I’m going to properly clean those pots and pans myself and show him how it’s done just to prove to him it CAN be done.

    And then I’m going to let it go.

  • Anna

    We were at my in-laws place over Thanksgiving and my mother-in-law was complaining that she’d asked my father-in-law to vacuum and he’d agreed, but two days later he still hadn’t done it. They were both frustrated that she was reminding him repeatedly to do it, but he still kept putting it off. I think that’s definitely another issue in asking your partner to do a chore–the time that it will get done.

    We’re big fans of the cleaning together system. It probably doesn’t happen often enough, but for the real cleaning, we start on a Saturday and both work until we’re done. Then we have a beer. We both hate cleaning (but both like to tidy), and it’s most irritating if you’re cleaning and your partner is sitting around watching TV. The simultaneous effort keeps it feeling equal.

  • elyse

    ha. great timing. i got back from a business trip late last night after 2 days away and the dishes in the sink (which for full disclosure, included some of mine that i ran out of time to deal with before my flight out) were still sitting there. within 5 minutes of me being home, he loaded them into the dishwasher. but it never would have occured to him that it should be done right away. so yeah, we’re still working on the chore front of things. luckily, we were both raised with chore requirements so he knows how to clean a toilet and is a master at taking out the trash without asking, which i hate to do. its just a matter of us both realizing that our ‘free time’ could probably be better spent doing more cleaning and less sitting around watching tv!

    (when it comes to cooking though, its basically all me since i enjoy it. when i’m away, he conveniently heads to his parents. at least that leaves less dishes lying around our place!)

  • Can I say amen to the idea of lowering your standards? I’m a bit of a neat freak and my partner is… well… not. I’ve learned that accepting piles of mail on the counter or an unmade bed are a fair trade for an evening of relaxing instead of fuming and compulsive tidying. Things get done eventually, and if they don’t it’s not the end of the world.

    In our relationship, I’m the chef and my partner does the dishes. But he usually does something useful while I’m cooking – mostly walking our two giant dogs. He’s also in charge of the bathrooms, which I think is just awesome. Toilets. Gross!

  • Jillian

    Wow, what a perfectly timed post! My fiance and I had this discussion like a week ago, fought it out, and came out with a game plan for tackling chores without driving the other insane.

    The biggest revelation for us that came out of it was this: You will always OVERESTIMATE the amount of effort you’re putting in and UNDERESTIMATE the efforts of your partner.

    I think it’s just a natural instinct that we discovered. While I thought I was doing the brunt of the work, my fiance thought he was doing more. That’s why it’s so important to discuss these things and come up with a solution that works for both of you.

  • Another thing that helps our house is that we consider “earning money to support the house” part of the household chores. And he definitely does the lion’s share of that chore. Viewing it that way makes me much less likely to be resentful if I do all the vacuuming and toilet scrubbing.

  • This post (and all subsequent comments) has inspired me to quit dragging my feet, sit down with the hubbs, and make a darn chore chart! Thank you, Meg, for addressing the good, the bad and the ugly. We just settled into a new place, and it’s about that time for a deep clean. Good habits begin with fresh starts, right?

  • Carrie

    I’m very lucky…my partner and I rarely argue about chores. I think the suggestion of a list of chores and how often they need to be done would be great for us just b/c I don’t think we do them often enough. While my partner doesn’t usually start the cleaning process, when I start cleaning he ALWAYS asks if he can help. Some things I just like doing on my own, like the laundry, however, I hate putting all the clean laundry away, so that’s his job. We do a lot of things together. For example, one of us will run the vaccum cleaner while the other person moves all the chairs or whatever out of the way to vaccum beneath it (we have 4 dogs and dog hair loves to hide under furniture) or one person will wash the dishes and the other person will dry and put away. I find that doing chores together makes them go a lot faster and we always mix it up so I don’t feel like I’m always having to clean the shower or whatever.

  • I read something very similar in Laura Shlessinger’s “Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” book (OK, OK, not everyone throw food at me at once… yes, she can be horrible woman but occasionally makes sense). As long as the other party (in this case, my husband) is trying to help out and even though his idea of washing the dishes means washing ONLY the dishes that are in the sink (WTH?) and not the ones on the stove, on the coffee table, etc., we gotta be thankful for small victories and not quash a cooperative spirit, right?? And he gets better all the time. Now, after dinner he dutifully stands there like a small child waiting to be excused but always asks, “Is there anything I can do before I go upstairs?” Excellent.

    And I just recalled this hilarious exchange from the movie “The Break Up” with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn:

    Him: “OK I’ll do the dishes.”
    Her: “I want you to want to do the dishes.”
    Him: “Why would I want to do the dishes?”

    Sometimes it’s just as valuable when our partner does stuff for us–not because they love the act itself–but because they love us.

  • LBD

    We’ve struggled a lot with this in our long cohabitation. For us, a lot of the problem is that we are both quite messy, yet we love having guests. We’d happily wallow in our own filth, but feel that no one else should have to. So, generally what happens is, someone is coming to visit, so the weekend before we attack the house. I guess it’s good we have friends, because otherwise we’d never be motivated!

    The problem comes up, that even though we’re both messy, when it comes to cleaning time, my standards for what defines clean is much more stringent than his. I’ve learned to back down, and be glad that he is helping. I hate cleaning the toilet. I try to take refuge in the fact that it was cleaner than it was before, and I didn’t have to do something I really hate.

    I agree what people have said about small spaces vs. big spaces. We lived in another house before that was bigger. TOO BIG. The thought of cleaning it was always overwhelming. Then we bought this house, which is just the right size. It’s so much easier, and less overwhelming. Another thing that helps, we’ve found, is coming up with systems for the places that attract the most clutter. The mail table: I bought three stacking inboxes, one for things that need to be dealt with, one for things that need to be kept and filed, and one for wrong address stuff (the old owners apparently never filled out a change of address). Then below it is a recycling bin. This has reallllllyyyy helped with the mail table clutter, without requiring a lot of extra work or effort. Except it may take 6 months for me to actually do the filing…

    What I’d like to work on is figuring out how to do things in smaller doses, so we don’t have to do these big ole everywhere cleans. I’d love to hear more about other people’s systems for weekly chores. It’s really something neither my fiance and I are well versed in.

    Also I totally get what other people were saying in regard to #1. He will help when I ask (I find it helps to give some days notice, like “On Xday we are going to do some cleaning”), but it frustrates me that *I* have to be the one in charge. I hate cleaning just as much as he does, and there are certainly some things he’s better at than I am. I like people’s suggestions of creating a plan, so that we both have expectations, so asking doesn’t really have to happen. But yeah, we just have to figure out how to transition to a more weekly system.

    • Class of 1980

      LBD, I could have written every word of your post myself. Evidently, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.


  • april

    Such an awesome topic!

    I have always felt secretly guilty that chores / housework / car maintenance, etc. has never been an issue for me and my partner. We don’t love housecleaning, but we like a clean, tidy place and just sort of gravitate to what needs to be done and we do it. No fuss. Part of this comes from the fact I grew up in a large family and EVERYONE pitched in and helped with chores. (Altho I gotta say: being the chief laundry person in a family of six just might put you off folding clothes forever which is why I am NOT a fan of it now.) My husband grew up in a single parent home, so he was expected to help around the house too. Which is great, because both of us are more or less equal in terms of “neat-freakness”.

    BUT: it’s still not perfect. While we share the chores without much discussion on who does what, we totally disagree on the LEVEL of cleaning. So the paragraph about “lower your standards” is one for me to learn from. Personally, I’m a “white glove tester” when it comes to cleaning. I like a spot-less house. The husband runs a damp cloth over surfaces without any soap or whisks a sponge round the sink and pronounces it “good enough;” which drives me insane, and I wait till he’s gone so I can re-clean it. Yeah. I know. I need to work on that.

  • Calum

    If either my partner or I has an extra-busy week we’ll ask if the other person can “help hold up the house more” that week. This usually means the big stuff (like mopping) goes on hold for a week and the not-as-busy person takes on more of the day to day stuff (like dishes or sweeping or making lunches). Or you can help by doing one big project, such as the week’s laundry or groceries.

    This feels like a good way to ask because it makes it about holding up OUR house. And holding up our house means doing all the things both people need to make the house feel safe and home-like.

  • Krista

    Okay, this was perfect! My husband and I have only just figured out in the past couple of months that he’s a better tidier and I’m a better cleaner. I had never differentiated them before and always got upset when he would tidy the kitchen when I asked him to clean it. Conversely, he was (and still is) frustrated by my piles of things that I hadn’t yet dealt with.

    Now, I just have to stop criticizing his cleaning when he does do it. Ikes!

  • ALSO! (Apologies if someone has mentioned this already)

    Re-nest has tons of tips on how to clean and how to green-clean (as in, less environmentally damaging cleaning) all over your home. They’re gathered here:

  • Brandy

    Great post Meg. I just married the man who has successfully broken me of both disorganization and general hatred of tidying and chores. You know how he did it? We did things together. Suddenly the dishes weren’t so bad when we turned it into our time to talk and did them together. Bonus. They got done more quickly! We divide and conquer on the major cleanup, and can get the house done in about an hour together.

    I’m so thankful that we can both throw out the “Hey, I have no clean panties/underwear, can you throw a load of laundry in when you get home?” text and know that it won’t be received as anything more than it is. A request for clean panties. ;)

  • Hoppy Bunny

    I feel like just reading this post made me a better person! I am a cleaner, he is a tidy-er. And… it balances out. Funny how it takes the internet to point out the obvious for me. I feel like I can stop feeling guilty about being sloppy with my dirty laundry–after all, he doesn’t even see the shaving mess he makes every morning. We compensate for each other’s weaknesseses!

  • Jen

    I laughed out loud at rage-full self and then tweeted it. :) Ha!

    Sooooo well said! I am the neurotic cleaning one (although I’ve got NOTHIN’ on my Dad, folks) and I have shed many a tear because I feel like I’m the cook and maid. However! My fiance and I are getting much better about balancing responsibilities and this article is so perfect for both of us to read. :)

  • Ariel L-S

    What a timely post! We totally just made a chore calendar yesterday.

    Amazingly, once it was written down on the calendar that Wednesday is his day to cook, he just did it with no questions asked! It only took me two years begging him to help to figure that one out :)

    I’m totally guilty of following him around and re-doing chores, but I’ve never really thought of how that must feel on his end. I’ll try to stop doing that. Thanks.

  • Seaurchin

    I work on boats; mostly educational sailboats actually. We take 15-25 college kids out sailing for 6 weeks at a time, teach them how to sail, operate research equipment, rely on each-other and also clean. We clean heads (bathrooms) and showers every morning and the galley (kitchen) every evening. The heads and showers are a full-fledged anti-bacterial wipe down of every surface; sink, mirrors, bowl, And the bulkheads (walls) and soles (floor). Once every week we do all of that And Every Other Surface on the boat; Really Truly deep cleaning. Everyone is assigned a job or two and encouraged to ask what else they can help with once they have finished. While we are having our “Field Day” we Crank the tunes (usually non-exisitant aboard) and pass out candy. Like Meg said, It’s usually not up to the professional crew’s standards at the end of the first Field Day, but we reward everyone (usually with a saltwater shower and freshwater rinse) at the end anyway. By the end of their time aboard, most of our students secretly look forward to Field Days, and a few are Actually enthusiastic….of course, some never ever enjoy them, but those are actually the exception to the rule.

    Luckily B and I are more on the same page about cleaning and so we agreed to “I’ll clean the bathroom and you put away the dishes/scrub the kitchen floor” but the Field Day option is a surprisingly effective way to get all in the house involved.

    • Sarabeth

      This brings back fond memories of the deep-cleaning my undergard coop did at the beginning of each semester. Hard work, but also, so much fun.

  • z

    What I really, really hate the most is that the cleaning agreements never seem to stick. We have a system that every weekend, we tidy up, and each person cleans either the kitchen or the bathroom. It’s not rocket science. And when he does it, he does a pretty good job. But sooooo often, despite explicitly agreeing to do it, he often fails to complete it. And then we have to drag ourselves through the boring little drama of him apologizing and me having to say it’s ok,, because what am I going to do, make a huge deal over the bathroom, when really he could just do what he said he would do and not put us through the same stupid conversation for the millionth time. And no matter how many times I explain that it really, really pisses me off to have this happen yet another time, that it’s not really about the cleaning it’s about respect, somehow it’s just impossible for him to remember to do 30 minutes of cleaning into a weekend. What to do? I’ve tried reminding him nicely, although it infuriates me to have to remind him, and it doesn’t even work. I feel like I have to be his mom about it, and that makes me want to throw up, it’s like he’s a child. If he was like this about commitments at his job he’d be fired, but because it’s a commitment to me, it’s fine to ignore it, I guess.

    And he claims to be a feminist!!

    • Agape

      I’ve been there Z. And yes it is incredibly hurtful. It also makes it very hard to ask for help when you don’t really feel like you can count on someone even after they have agreed to do something.

      My fella has lots of other lovely qualities, but this chore thing has been a huge issue from day one. I’ve finally started to see some changes, but I don’t know if that has to do with anything I’ve done specifically or more just that he is in the right headspace to change behaviour right now.

      If you are looking to at least mix up the discussion, you might want to show him what you wrote. You express yourself well and maybe something will stick when reading it in black and white.

  • How did this most amazing post happen to fall on a 13 hour work day??? I’ll have to read it again on Saturday, when I will (hopefully) be able to see straight again… and make it through all the comments.

    But, in advance, thanks for the wisdom.

  • Marisa-Andrea

    Ohhhh…this post makes me feel…embarrassed. Our house is generally NOT tidy and my husband is most of the time slowly going insane because of it. My husband is a very tidy person and was in the military so he has very set ideas on things being in their place and neat and orderly and all of that. I, on the other hand, am messy. Not nasty or a slob, but just…messy. I might leave my heels under the coffee table in the living room for a couple of days or not hang up my coat, etc. It drives my husband batty and to be honest, we have a blow up about it every couple of month after which I proceed to make an effort to be neater, stop making the effort and the boiling rage begins all over again. This also means that my husband does most of the tidying up and feels overburdened by it most of the time.

    We have never really found a system that seems to work, but I also realize from reading this post, that this is going to take some more emotional effort on both of our parts. For me, it’s going to require me to understand that the messiness DOES really drive him crazy and if I don’t want a crazy upset husband, I can really take the extra step and put my shoes AWAY and not under the table. And maybe he will be a little more patient with me in reminding me — Marisa, put your shoes away. Sigh.

    I’m a work in progress, ya’ll.

    • z

      At least you appear to get it– it’s not just the messiness, it’s the super annoying cycle of promising to do something and then not doing it, and having the same conversation over and over again, about utterly trivial things.

      It’s really humiliating to realize that promises made to me aren’t considered important, even after so many huge discussion/fights, you’d think it would stick eventually but it doesn’t.

  • Lisa B.

    So, what happens if you and your partner don’t balance each other out? Neither of us are naturally cleaners *or* tidiers. We both cook, we can both do things like pay bills, take care of our cat, I don’t need him to take care of my car, and we live in an apartment, so no lawn to mow or sidewalk to shovel. He’s completely apathetic to the state our home is in, and I can only take it being a mess for so long before it makes me crazy. The problem is that I have a chronic pain/fatigue disorder which makes it nearly impossible to have the motivation to clean or tidy anything. And when we discussed doing chores together, he said that to him, it feels like if one person is working, then that’s enough, he doesn’t need to join in. And how do you work the equal hours angle when he works 40+ hours a week, and I work about 35-40, but he has 3 and a half days off in a row, and I work Mon-Fri?

    Basically, we’re both lazy as sin, he doesn’t care about the mess and I can’t muster the energy to do anything about it.

  • I’m thinking about getting a Chore Robot. Unfortunately not one that actually does housework, but it has flashing eyes, one red & one green. Just press the button, and if the eye ends up green I do the job in question, if it’s red then Owen does. If more sensible tactics (like splitting tasks or cleaning the house together) don’t work, this just might :)

  • Kayla

    Coming up with a chore system was one of the best things my husband and I have done for our marriage. I’m not even exaggerating. It took us close to 3 years to figure it out. We both do our chores on Saturday or Sunday (although we don’t necessarily do all of them every week; we’re not that clean). Just for fun, here’s our breakdown. Him: clean the bathroom, vacuum, make the bed every day, change the sheets, load the dishwasher, mow the lawn, do the white laundry. Me: clean the kitchen, dust, cook, put dishes away, handwash pots and pans, do all laundry except whites, go grocery shopping (I’m counting that as a chore, because otherwise I think our sides look a little lopsided!)

    Before we had a system, I found myself getting very resentful over the amount of housework I was doing. I assumed my husband was just being lazy. After we implemented this system, though, my husband told me that he had been feeling terribly guilty about the imbalance of household work. He just didn’t know how to jump in because I always did everything before he got a chance to. We both feel more like equal partners now. Plus, our house is consistently clean, which is a huge stress-reliever. It’s been about 14 months since we started our plan, and we’re still going strong.

  • Goose

    *Slinks away to do dishes* Chores are difficult in our house. We tend to hate doing the same ones, and it becomes a bit of a battle at times to get them done.

    I find that its hardest when we are both working really hard (we work together, so that happens a lot), and the chores just fall by the wayside. How do you all deal with that issue?? When the apartment looks like a tornado ran through it and we both get home at 10pm, aaaaargh

  • Agape

    Oooooh this is creepy. Good creepy.

    Myself and himself have finally made a break through on this chore division thing this week, but I want to solidify the success and here comes Meg with the suggestions. Very timely.

    Not too much to add really. I just appreciate and enjoy the comments.

    Tidiers, cleaners, ocders, whatevers – shine on you crazy diamonds!

  • Erika

    Gosh, I’ve only skimmed the comments, but I didn’t see this point discussed: since I’ve been living with my now-husband, I have not scrubbed a toilet. I have not scrubbed a toilet in FIVE YEARS. When you’re single you do all of your own chores, even if you’re not good at them or don’t enjoy them. Yes, on your own timetable and according to your own standards, but you do them all. Now, we’ve got them divided up into strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and we really don’t fight about chores too much anymore. Do I want a night off from cooking sometimes? Yes. Am I sometimes annoyed that laundry for two is twice as much to wash as laundry for one? Yes. But then I remember that I never ever clean my own bathroom. I don’t mop or sweep, which I used to hate because those chores hurt my back. And then I shut my mouth about having to cook dinner again.

    • I’ve thought of that from time to time as well. Since getting married there are a lot of things I really haven’t done. It really is great.

  • Marchelle

    All I have to say to this one is AMEN to the idea of a cleaning person.

  • Beth

    We set the expectations really early on in our relationship. I suffer from severe clutter blindness and readily admit that my “time to clean” triggers are upside down and backwards. He forgives me a few cluttery spots and keeps up with the general cleanliness of the place on his own for the most part. I’ll offer to help when something is daunting or is clearly my mess to deal with, but the day to day stuff like laundry, dishes and trash are all his domain simply because his triggers work and mine don’t.

  • I tried to divvy up the chores by giving my fiance a few steady responsibilities. He cleans the litter box and empties the dishwasher, while I tend to do everything else unless I ask him (repeatedly) to help me. He doesn’t clean the litter box as often as he should and rarely remembers to empty the dishwasher before dinner, so I can just load everything in as stuff is cooking, but I do appreciate his effort. Even if it’s not loaded properly. We do laundry together and he does most of the grocery shopping alone. I’m not perfect either, my dirty clothes are on the flood by my side of the bed and I leave plenty of stuff around, so I try to cut him some slack. It was harder to be patient when he was working a total of 15 hours a week vs my 40+ and he spent his days sleeping late and playing video games. But, now that he’s working full time, I’m trying to be less of a nag.

    I think this is great advice because it’s real advice. No one wants to do any of this stuff so I can’t blame him for attempting to avoid it. I’m also making sure I do show plenty of appreciation for the things that he does do. It goes a long way.

  • juniper

    My sophomore year of college, I shared a house with 2 fellow slobs and a neat-freak. All of us slobs had been raised by indulgent mothers, so we had no idea that the neat-freak was driving herself insane trying to keep the house in order. After one disastrous semester, we worked out a system. We divided all of the chores into roughly-equal units (ex., scrub the bathroom, edge the front lawn, make food for housemembers) and made a chart with chores on the side and our names on the top.

    As we finished a chore, we made a tick mark next to it. At the end of the month, whoever had the most tick marks was treated to a drink or an inexpensive meal by the rest of the household. In moments, you could see if you were pulling your weight, and if any necessary chores had been skipped. It worked beautifully.

    Of course, then my baby sister moved in and didn’t give a darn that she wasn’t pulling her own weight. Which is why (among other reasons) I wouldn’t marry my baby sister.

  • Kaitlyn

    Thanks for this post. I somehow find myself on the “sloppy” side, and it really rings true. I always thought that I was above-average in the neat-and-clean department, until I met my immaculate partner.

    For example, I can do laundry, keep my clothes organized and not leave things lying around – this has felt like a major accomplishment in all my former living situations, as my siblings and roommates have always left stuff strewn all over. Meanwhile, my partner is older and comes from a culture where the details of presentation are more important; he can iron like a pro, remove absolutely any stain, fold things so they never wrinkle, keep shoes in brand-new condition for years…

    I love having him help me, but feeling incompetent – like I can’t even take care of myself, like I’ve been doing it wrong for all of these years – is rough. He doesn’t make a big deal about it; he likes me plenty just how I am, and has no interest in nagging me or treating me like a child. But, I can tell he’s put off by the gray bottoms of my socks and the hairs that get stuck in my fleece. In other realms, like heavy-duty floor-cleaning, I’m just not sure where to start and I don’t want to cause a problem (what if water seeps under the moulding? what if it’s not a good day? what if I use the wrong product? what if the smell’s too strong?). He knows how he wants it done, so even if I can tell it’s becoming necessary… I’m hesitant to get going on my own, but I’m also not going to ask him to do it!

    I’ve found that if I can do what I do in caring for our shared space with just a bit more flair – putting some flowers on the table, switching to different colored sheets, washing the dog with great-smelling shampoo, playing some happy music in the morning – I feel more ownership in our life and I’m less likely to feel bulldozed and belittled when he makes his own gesture, like caring for my shoes or scrubbing down the floor.

  • Pingback: » Heirloom Magazine | Vancouver Vintage Weddings | DIY Weddings()

  • Lea C.

    I know I might be a little late in the game here, but we’re on the side that both of us hate doing chores- but I’m the one that notices and I’m the one that knows how to do it properly. Our rules are simple and it helps us maintain.

    #1- We call this one “The 10-minute rule”. We set the timer on the oven for 10 minutes nearly every day and go to town tidying. Sometimes it’s putting a load of laundry in, sometimes it’s wiping down the bathroom sink and sometimes it’s going through a stack of mail. Either way, we make sure that we do it. The glorious part is that sometimes, 10 minutes turns into 20 and suddenly the apartment is clean. This one is really the golden rule.

    #2- Keep the sinks clean. Dinner isn’t done until the dishes are put away. There’s nothing worse than going to cuddle with your glass of wine at the end of dinner and then looking over at the dirty kitchen. This also applies to the bathroom. I make sure I put away my hairdryer and products, and he makes sure to put away his razor.

    #3- If you’ve done the stuff above- maintaining is pretty easy. From this point, we generally set aside a couple of hours every month to make sure the deep cleaning happens.

    Sure, there’s exceptions to every rule, but these ones really seem to work well for us. It’s definitely eliminated some of the communication problems and allowed us to appreciate each other for the work that we do around the house.