Thursday, July 9, 2015

How we do it 2015: Chores

A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts about our household routines, and I figure its time for an update. The discussion of how couples divvy up household chores is endlessly fascinating to me, so I'll start with that one. Future topics include: food, childcare, and "me time".

First off, let me say that I am super lucky in two regards. 1) My husband is in every way an equal partner in domestic chores and 2) We can afford to, and we did, hire house cleaners. There is still a LOT to be done, though and this is how we do it.


First off, to get a sense of what we have to clean, we have a 3 story + finished & unfinished basement row house with a back patio and a 3rd-floor deck. 1800 sq feet. 2.5 bathrooms, 3 bedrooms.

The house cleaners come every other week (they are working on my house this very moment). They do bathrooms, kitchen, dusting and cleaning all the floors (all hardwood that they wet mop with a swiffer, plus 2 rugs that they vacuum). They also change the sheets on the beds if we lay new sheets out for them. We provide all the cleaners, mops, brushes, and rags/paper towels for them. They do an OK job. I think I would do a better job with the bathrooms (there is some gunk in the shower and on the bottom of the toilet that I would've cleaned) and the kitchen never looks as clean as it is every evening after we clean it but I would never dust every 2 weeks.

In between, we vacuum the downstairs at least twice (more often in the summer, when the dog sheds like crazy) and may touch up the downstairs bathroom if we have people over.

Every single day we clean the kitchen.  This means: clean stove & counters, put dishes in dishwasher or wash them, wash dog bowl, clean table/chairs/bench and sweep. We do this after breakfast and dinner (except we skip sweeping in the morning). G usually cleans up breakfast because he cooks and eats it, whereas I grab something to do and often head to work earlier. If I am going in later, I will clean so he can shower and then we all leave together. After dinner we take turns, one of us does baths/bed with the kids and the other cleans the kitchen. The kitchen cleaning sometimes takes 5-10 minutes, and I can get it done while the kids are still finishing up. Or it can take 45 minutes and I am still cleaning when they are done with bath and stories. Depends on what we ate and how many pots and pans are there, whether I also need to make lunches for the next day, if the kids ate at the table vs. outside, etc...

We don't do much "pick up". We used to, but I convinced G there was no point. Toys just sit out there, the kids room is a mess. G & I put our stuff away from when we're done with it so its not too bad. Once every few weeks I'll notice a bunch of stuff piling on the table and will go put it away but there is no schedule for that. If we get a bee in our bonnet to unclutter we do it then and there; its completely random. I come home first so I get the mail and deal with it immediately---shred, recycle, or file (mostly recycle). Whoever is on kitchen duty Sunday night takes the trash out.


This used to be 100% my domain but we are splitting it now, thankfully! There is no sorting, except for towels and cleaning rags which go in hot water. We put loads in either when we note the hamper is full (G does not seem to note this ever) or on the weekend. We probably do 6 loads/week. Putting it away is our nemesis and clean laundry may sit in baskets for days. The kids laundry I divide up and give them to shove in their bins (they like doing this). One of us will put ours away at some point. We don't iron. I take care of my hand washing infrequently. We handle our own dry cleaning on the way to work (I dry clean maybe 3 items/year).

Procuring items

We do our big shop at TJs on Saturday usually. We take turns doing this, based on who feels like it. Its a 1 mile walk, so if I want exercise, I'll volunteer. I often take a kid with me as an excuse to have the stroller to put the bags in! It takes about 1.5 hours door to putting food away and closing fridge door. Mid-week, G will take the boys to WF at least once to restock on things (its on their way home). I walk by the pharmacy on the way home so I'll get anything we need there. Everything else is purchased online. G currently holds all of our subscribe and save items on his account. For one-off things, whoever thinks of it orders it. If its me, I'll put it on a list and get to it during a lull at work or later that night. If its G, he'll go right to his phone, ignore me talking to him, and work on it (yes, it annoys me). Oh, the dog stuff---G goes to the local store to buy dog food and treats because we get 40 lb bags.

Invisible Work

This topic comes up a lot, related to men and women and work-life balance. This "invisible work" that women tend to do---like scheduling appointments, remembering birthdays, etc... I do all the medical/dental appt scheduling (but we trade off taking them, based on schedule), I sign up the kids for activities (I research them and sign them up), I did the after care for next year and will probably do the summer camps. I remember birthdays and send cards, I RSVP to kid parties & get the gifts. I even remind G to get flowers for his mother for mother's day. I come up with the ideas for vacations, research costs and then present them. I found all our sitters and I schedule them. I sign up for rewards credit cards and cancel them on the right date. I learned a LOT about financial stuff this year and helped sort a lot of stuff out for us. So I could feel pretty put upon about how I shoulder the bigger burden in this category.

But the thing about this "invisible work" is that you only notice it if you're doing it. And there are apparently all these things G is doing that I had no idea were happening. He changes out the filters every 3 months and the batteries on things every 6 months (and remembers to buy the filters/batteries). He cleans the gutters, gets the HVAC system checked, oils/tightens (or whatever it is that needs doing) the stroller frame/tires and replaces flats (it happens). He cuts the boys nails, I have NEVER done it. I knew he did it, but not that often! He also cuts the dog's claws, brushes her fur and her teeth. He books the dogsitter, and stays on top of dog food. He fixes little things around the house when I'm asleep at night, like 2 fans that weren't working that now are! He fixes ALL technical issues that come up in the house. He refinanced our mortgage this spring; just decided to do it, called around and made it happen (I signed stuff and showed up for the closing). He researches any appliance or tech purchase, and also spends time researching/learning how to do home maintenance.

Reading over this section, it seems we fell right in with traditional gender roles, but whatever. 

Overall, I'd say we average 50/50 when it comes to chores. Sometimes one or the other of us will have more energy (honestly, its usually G) and gives the other a break. We have never formally discussed it, we always divided the chores and continued to do so after kids came along (aside from the times when I was pregnant and sick and I did maybe 10% and he picked up the slack). If one of is away---for a night or for a week, the other takes over everything as best we can. We do discuss whether to outsource something or whether something even NEEDS to be done, but we have not yet needed to have long discussions or arguments about chores.

Oh, there is whining and complaining. Its not all sunshine and roses. And from my viewpoint, the bad attitude seems to be coming more from his end than mine (though sometimes I'll sigh and mope around as I clean the kitchen at the end of a long weekend day, I admit it). I'd really like to fire the house cleaners and get my $200/month back, but G refuses (we clean our kitchen anyways, changing sheets is not a big deal, I can clean bathrooms and he could mop every other week for an hour and who the hell dusts?) I'd also like to NOT clean the kitchen every damn morning when we're rushing to get to work but he insists on  making eggs for breakfast (and spilling some, invariably, on the counter and getting salt all over the stove and...). And we would both LOVE to train the boys to take over at least some of the cleaning over the next few years (wipe down table? dust?).

Right now, its working OK and this is an area I think we've got covered.


  1. Ah, this makes me realize I should have mentioned a couple of points on Not a Wasted Word's post... I am the default for all things financial and he's the default for all things automotive. (We both figure stuff out about the house and kids, though he does the air conditioner filter on a schedule I would have to figure out were he to leave me.) I like doing money stuff. I'm not sure why he does auto stuff, but I'm happy he does.

  2. So true about the invisible work. It's invisible to the person who isn't do it - but that suggests it is quite possible one's partner is doing "invisible work" too. I never change lightbulbs or batteries in toys. Yet clearly they get changed.

    1. yup, more good examples of things I don't do or think about!

  3. We've managed to split the social planning but that might change as the kids get older. My husband is good about making medical appointments and handling gifts and cards (or emails) to his side of the family. As for invisible work, it's good you mentioned all that G does. I feel like I handle more of the invisible work, from making sure we're never out of toilet paper to vacation planning, but after reading your post, I realize that someone (not me) iis changing the air filters!

  4. You guys have a great arrangement. I wish ours looked more like yours!

  5. Sounds like you have a great arrangement. Ours is fairly similar to yours with housekeepers coming every 2 weeks. We do tiny up every evening although kiddos room occasionally has toys left out overnight. Everything else gets put away. We've been slacking on kitchen and our invisible work though, largely because this has been my domain and I've felt pretty crap being pregnant this time around.

    It works well for me to just ask husband to take over things - dog food etc. He's happy to do it once it's on his radar. Our division is pretty similar - I do all financial and child appts, he does yard, pets, and auto.

  6. It’s good that you guys take equal shares when it comes to doing chores, but it must be quite a relief to have house helpers take care of the cleaning front. At the very least, it left you open to deal with other chores in the house, especially those “invisible work” that crop up from time to time. Cheers!

    Bob Wolfe @ The Maids Triad

  7. It’s always easier to clean as a team, especially if you have a lot of space to go through. Cleaning up a 3-story home is no joke, in addition to the usual areas that require a lot of attention, such as bathrooms and the kitchen. With them helping out, you at least have time to deal with some of the invisible work, as well as the more obvious chores that you alone have the experience of doing inside or outside your home. Good day!

    Alex Burke @ ICA Supply

  8. I'll admit this post was pretty thought provoking for me. I had never really thought about that concept of "invisible work" before, but you're totally right that there is that whole area of things that women are just expected to deal with that men aren't. I'm going to have to make some adjustments to that in my own life.

    Lane Pemberton @ Metcalfe Heating & Air Conditioning

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