Splitting up home chores

A friend of mine was recently talking about how she splits up various household chores with her husband, and so I’ve been thinking about it myself. I thought I’d share it here because it’s interesting to me how different things work for different people. To give you an idea of how long we’ve been working on our own balance of chores: Husband and I have been living together for 3.5 years but have only had our own apartment and the chores that go with that for 2 and a half years. And we’ve been married for a year and change :-D.

For Husband and I, it’s always a bit hard to tell if we’re splitting work equally, because we both tend to consider not only effort but pleasure or nuisance level as well, and our individual perceptions of that are not straightforward. So instead of just saying “You spend x hours and I spend y hours and they’re even (or not)” we look at how much we like or dislike those hours.

With cleaning, this has led to an imbalance in hours spent because Husband has a much lower cleanliness threshold than I do. It’s hard to make him clean a room constantly and in a timely manner when I can tell the disorderliness doesn’t disturb him at all. So I settle for asking him to help clean up sometimes, when it reaches a level that I dislike, and he doesn’t mind, although sometimes he’ll ask to do it later in the day. It’s like that for lots of chores – I can get him to split cleaning the dishes (no dishwasher) with me, but it requires that I not mind them sitting there for up to a day. Sometimes, I just feel like I don’t mind it as much – I don’t always see it as a nuisance (sometimes I even find it a bit relaxing), so why should I make him do it when it’s clear he really dislikes it? So I guess we maybe split the dishes like 10% him 90% me in the long run, unless I’m going through a stressful time and ask him to help with it more.

However, he does help out with things that he doesn’t enjoy doing. We don’t have laundry in our building so we drop it off a few blocks away and pick it up the next day or two. We agree for him to do it because neither of us likes it but it requires lugging a heavy cart up two flights of stairs on the way back.  He always makes the phone calls (deliveries, bill pay issues, troubleshooting, etc) and takes the trash out (down the stairs and around the building into the alley…fun).

He never cooks dinner for us both (maybe once a year he’ll make a tortilla pizza that he gets into), but I don’t cook when I don’t want to. He either makes himself something simple (his menu options are usually: ravioli; beans, cheese, tortillas; cereal and milk) or orders food. He’s a creature of habit so this is good enough for him. He never asks me what’s for dinner, and genuinely treats it as a special thing when I do make dinner, even when I do it as often as 2 or 3 times a week. But the rest of the time we just take care of ourselves for food. Sometimes if he wants something and I only sort of want it, I’ll agree to make it if he keeps me company in the kitchen, but he doesn’t help cook. We just talk while I do the work.

So our cake-cutting algorithm has led us to this, for most household chores: It likely won’t get done if I don’t ask for it to be done. Sometimes it’s done better and faster if I do it myself (cleaning bathroom, floors, dishes; cooking). But, he always acknowledges the work that I do, and would never, ever ask me to do any of it because he wanted it done. He says thanks when I do different things around the house, and I make sure to do the same for him, even when they’re small things. (i.e. Thanks sweetie for remembering to refill the ice cube trays!) This definitely helps us to avoid feeling unappreciated.

My point is, if you just look at what he does and what I do with regards to cooking and cleaning, it would seem uneven. But, we talk about it often enough, and he takes on some chores I don’t enjoy and runs various errands for us both. We’ve tried out arrangements where he did higher amounts of housework, but I was constantly being the household manager and it just didn’t feel right to me because it was adding stress. He always appreciates when I do do things and never minds or asks about them when I don’t do them, so up to now, this has worked for me.

A big thing is we don’t have kids yet, so who knows what will happen then?!

What is your household chore split up like, or if you live alone, what would you think is acceptable?


8 thoughts on “Splitting up home chores

  1. Mr. Jane and I are probably pretty close to 50/50. We split the cleaning duties pretty much evenly. One of us will cook and whoever doesn’t cook, does the dishes. He probably does more of the “outside” work, but I do all the laundry to compensate. The funny thing is that it’s not something that we ever sat down and discussed; it just sort of evolved that way. (And it’s worked for almost 10 years now for us.)

    As long as you’re both happy with the arrangement, that’s all that matters!

  2. well, I live by myself, so what gets done gets done by myself or not, and I have my own self to blame. I tend to be neat and tidy but living without running water for 5 years increased my tolerance in keeping dirty dishes in the sink. It was worth it to have a full load before doing them otherwise it just required excessive vists to the water wagon.

  3. I hate housework and Dr. S probably does more around the house than I do. He almost always does the dishes; he cooks dinner every Friday and usually once in the week and we eat leftovers the rest of the time; he sweeps every week and takes the trash out. We trade off on laundry, though several garments had to die before the ‘what doesn’t go in the dryer’ algorithm was perfected. I pay some of the bills; he pays the electric, balances the checkbook and handles our investments. I buy us both clothing because he hates hates hates shopping, but he goes to the grocery and gets the car fixed. He makes breakfast every morning, but I pack lunch. I fold socks.

    Much like you, we divide things based on who hates what; fortunately we loathe different things so it’s fairly easy. However, I get so incredibly upset about dirt, mess, and clutter that he’s changed his cleaning habits to keep me happy, which is really nice of him.

  4. I could go on a lot here so I’ll try to keep it short.
    I think I do most of the day to day, keep the house in order things, while my husband will disagree. But like you said about yours he has a different idea of what a house should look like and that’s something I still struggle with accepting. But how we did the main chores was once a month we’d set up a day and then scrub away. We would divide the chores evenly and then rotate who did what month to month. At first we had a dishwasher but we then moved and had to do dishes by hand. This was a big pain and we tried rotation ideas such as I do Mon/Wed/Fri he did the other days, ect. but then he wouldn’t do his day on his day and everything would get screwed. Or he would complain that I made more dishes on his day, ect.
    In short I feel like the household police, always telling him when his chores should be done. For example we made him in charge of taking out the trash, since I stay at home and everyday he goes into the garage where the big can is and can more easily throw away the trash. So the trash will really start to smell and I get annoyed he hasn’t taken it out so he tells me I should put it by the door so he’ll remember. Um, why can’t he just be in charge of the chore and do it properly??
    We had hired a maid service and they started in August and came once a month (we hoped for twice a month but I was traveling a lot). We canceled them now since I didn’t think they did a good job and we’ve decided that every other saturday we will go back to our divide and conquer method. (this july we moved from living in small one bedroom places to a 3 bedroom house, thus the desire for a maid)

  5. Yeah, Husband and I would definitely hire a maid if we had a little more money – not even a lot. We’d consider it a worthwhile expense. Couldn’t you just find a different service or tell them what they’re not doing well enough? As an undergrad I once took a job helping out around a house that involved light cleaning – perhaps you could find a college student to do it.

  6. Hi,

    I’m a producer with the nationally syndicated public radio show “Weekend America.” We’re produced out of Los Angeles by American Public Media, and air on 150+ NPR stations, and cover news, culture and the interesting miscellany of American life.

    The University of Michigan just released some data that basically says that being married increases a woman’s housework is significantly increased when she gets married. We are doing a segment on “chore wars” and division of labor, or lack there of when it comes to housework. I would love to talk to you further in hopes of including you in a segment that is scheduled to run on our show this Saturday.

    When you get a chance can you please email me back with a way to contact you. I look forward to speaking with you.



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