My lesser half and I argue all the time about household chores: Who’s going to fold the laundry, load the dishwasher, clean the johns, take out the trash, vacuum, mop or dust the house? This clown has been retired for eight months (myself for four years) and he doesn’t want to do squat, other than exercising his eyeballs on the TV. Help! How can we share these chores equitably?
– At wit’s end in California
Are you kidding? Many men retire and get so bored that they’d kill to be able to clean the toilets, go shopping for dental floss and underwear at Costco, or spend six hours on the phone dealing with an insurance company over a disputed ten-dollar claim for a dental cleaning. Evidently your guy isn’t one of them. It is time for drastic action!
You can take multiple approaches, task by task, or create a general agreement about who’s going to do what when. Let’s discuss a few examples of how you can handle specific chores.
• Taking the trash out. You can go easy on him and simply ask politely if it’s his turn. Or you can post a note in a place where he is likely to see it, like on a beer can in the fridge or on his box of Ring Dings. If the idea still does not get through, don’t wait five years for the next step – be creative! For example, you refrigerate some leftovers in a giant zipper container for a few days. These could consist of large chunks of old limburger cheese, sardines, tuna fish and half of last Friday’s enchilada platter. When he snoozes in his favorite chair, open the contents into the trash bag, leave the bag open enough to spread the delicate aroma, and drop it right next to him. At this point, you may want to leave the house. Go visit your sister. For maybe three days. Guaranteed, the trash bag will be out of the house before you return. Note: You will need to do this only once before the message sinks in.
• Cleaning the toilets. You can issue a gentle reminder and leave the Lysol on his toilet seat, with the brush next to it on the floor. If this doesn’t work, pour the blue liquid into the john and remove both seats. He will brush like hell next time he needs to go. Plus, the seats will be back on quickly. If he still forgets or fails to follow through after this? Unplug the TV cable with a minute to go in a nail-biter of a football game. Feign ignorance and say, “Damn. Well you might as well clean the latrine!” He may guess that this was deliberate, but he won’t know for sure. Once he stops wailing, he will never again forget this task.
OK, enough nasty thoughts. Here are some general guidelines for sharing chores:
• Psychologically, keep in mind that you are retired, and you don’t have to cram everything in on the weekends. This should decrease the stress level to begin with.
• Create a list of tasks and keep it in an area you both go by often. Keep track of jobs that you need to rotate. If neither of you is particularly well-organized, you can make multiple copies of the chore list and put initials beside each item every week so that you can keep track of whose turn it is to do what.
• Set aside time one day a week – the same day will help, like between noon and 2 p.m. on a Wednesday – for things neither you is dying to attack. Decide who will do the dusting, vacuuming, mopping and other dreaded activities. You can rotate these lovely endeavors each time. Negotiate diplomatically and try your best to be agreeable and willing to compromise.
• Split individual tasks. For instance, put the clothes into the washer, dry them, and each of you can put away his or her items. He won’t mind doing just half the folding, hanging, or crawling around the floor under the bed searching for his missing sock. And no doubt he’d just as soon stuff his underwear in his own drawer and not have to fold your panties just so.
• You can take turns loading the dishwasher every night. Or, if you do the cooking, he can do the cleaning. And vice versa. Whoever has breakfast first the next morning and dirties a plate or a bowl can empty the dishwasher.
• Divvy up tasks by level of interest. If one of you enjoys paying the bills, or grocery shopping, or yard work, or making the bed, and the other hates to do these things, you’ve got a good start toward household harmony, so long as the other person takes care of other tasks and suffers other indignities equally.
• Create an atmosphere of shared responsibility. If you ask Dear Hubby for help washing the family room windows, you have communicated that you own this task and that his role is secondary. Don’t create that impression.
• Agree on a timetable. Remind each other, if you have to, but in a supportive, rather than critical, way. You don’t want him to wake you up at 3 a.m. to tell you that you missed a spot on the granite countertop in the kitchen, for example.
• Re-examine your standards – do you need to vacuum the shoe closet every week? Does it matter if you do windows once every four months? If you both hate certain chores, don’t waste your time doing them regularly simply because they’re on a list. If you can, you may also want to hire a landscaper or someone to mow the lawn or clean the floors.
• Offer praise and gratitude for a job well done, particularly on difficult duties that you enjoy about as much as you would cleaning the garage floor with a toothbrush.
To Wit’s End, good luck and please write the Sage in six months for an update on whatever drastic measures you had to take. If you find yourself watching TV all day and he ends up lovingly doing every single chore, then you will have succeeded in creating a proper domestic partnership. All the very best to you both.