The Drama-Free Way to Divide Housework Fairly
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When one partner feels burdened with most of the housework, it can lead to relationship problems. Here’s how to divide chores fairly without a power struggle.
Who Does Most of the Housework?
According to a Gallup survey, men claim they’re doing more than half of the household chores. But a public health study in The Lancet found women do most housework, even if they have jobs outside the home. And if they out-earn their partners, they compensate by taking on still more of the burden.
The Lancet study found the unequal division of housework is damaging women’s mental health. Some scientists believe this is why women experience depression more frequently than men. Many women also say it’s destroying their relationships. As one mega-viral article put it, “She divorced me because I left dishes by the sink.”
Steps to Divide Housework Fairly
If you want to rebalance the division of housework with your spouse or partner, what follows is a drama-free way to divide the chores, and tips to make it work long term. Further below, there’s also a printable list of household tasks to use in your discussion.
Step 1: Make a comprehensive list of tasks.
Together, list everything that must be done and how often. Both of you may have been doing invisible labor, so it’s important that you both contribute to the list. It doesn’t matter who has been doing a task until now, but it can be eye-opening to realize how much work is involved in running a household.
Step 2: Identify the essentials.
Once you’ve listed all the tasks involved in running your home, it’s time to identify the essential ones. These include non-negotiable chores that keep your home healthy and pest-free, like doing dishes, taking out the trash, and cleaning bathrooms. There may also be tasks that are important to one of you for other reasons. For instance, maybe you have strong feelings about making the bed every morning, but your partner does not care. To you, this is an essential task, so it should go on the list. Your partner may have powerful feelings about laundry being put away instead of left on the sofa. This would also be an essential task.
Step 3: Eliminate the non-essentials.
Next, look at the non-essential items on the list. Does each make sense since you both want to save time on housework? Does making the bed have to include six different pillows, or could you get rid of some to speed things up? Do t-shirts really need to be “file folded” or can someone hang them, which is faster? Cross off tasks you agree aren’t necessary, no matter what the rules about keeping house say. While you’re at it, discuss if you can afford to hire help for tasks like lawn care or pet grooming, even grocery delivery. Remove those items from the list, too.
Step 4: Claim the tasks you enjoy doing.
For this step, both of you are to lay claim to the tasks you enjoy doing. People tend to be good at things they enjoy and don’t view them as work. Maybe you actually like folding clothes, or your partner enjoys planning and cooking dinner. Sign up for all the ones each of you enjoy doing, and don’t worry about dividing housework equally yet.
Step 5: Rotate the objectionable tasks.
Tasks that involve smelly things or take a lot of time are particularly unpleasant. When one person has the responsibility for most of them, it contributes to cleaning burnout. Work together to identify the disagreeable tasks and rotate them, so neither of you is always the one doing them.
Step 6: Divide the list.
Now, begin dividing the tasks, starting with the unclaimed essentials, and continuing through the list. If your kids are older, assign them tasks, too. Giving younger children age-appropriate chores is helpful to their development, but they’ll need parental supervision, which is itself another task.
Step 7: Post the list.
This visible reminder helps each person understand the tasks they’ve committed to and reminds them that the other has taken on obligations as well. Someone taking the kids to soccer practice, for example, isn’t doing a favor for the other parent—it’s their task. Period.
Tips to Make This Work
If all it took was a list to divide chores fairly, there would be no more talk of chore wars or moms going on strike. There are a few things you should know to get this to work.
First, know yourself.
Before you ever sit down to have a discussion about dividing household tasks evenly, know what you want to accomplish. Is it to be recognized and have your efforts appreciated? Or do you feel you’re doing most of the work and want the burden shared? You need to identify a specific reason and goal so you know when you’ve reached it.
Understand your standards.
People often believe the way they grew up doing things is the right way, but sometimes those things make little sense in your adult life. If you had an exacting, perfectionist parent, you may not realize that other families don’t spend their entire Saturday cleaning every inch of the house every week. Other times, someone may have experienced trauma that makes certain chores emotionally painful. A healthy relationship takes things like this into account.
All time is equally valuable
You both have only 24 hours in the day. Paid work outside the home is no more valuable to the household than unpaid work staying home to raise children. If anything, the outside work would earn less or be impossible without it. So earning a paycheck is not, on its own, justification for not dividing the housework evenly each day. But having only two available daylight hours after work may be.
You each own your tasks
A task involves more than the execution of a few steps. It also involves setting aside the time and mental energy to handle it, and then carrying through. If you’ve taken on grocery shopping, for example, you must know everything that needs to be purchased. Plus, you have to know what you have to avoid buying duplicates, and remember to take the list to with you to the store. Each of you will have to come up with your own systems and routines for your tasks.
Let go of controlling things
Trust your partner to come up with routines and systems that work for them. It may take a few attempts and revisions. Let it. Overseeing or micromanaging them is essentially taking back that task. Just as you must own your tasks, you must let them own theirs. So, for example, do not rearrange the dishwasher after they’ve loaded it. The worst that can happen is a dish breaks, and that happens rarely. Show confidence in them and go do something else.
Remain a team
Remember, you are not adversaries. Nobody should try to get a better deal. Seek a good deal for both and realize you each deserve rest and time for personal enrichment. That is the true goal of dividing the housework fairly: to give both of you more time to enjoy life in the comfort of your home.
Printable Housework Sharing Worksheet
Note: The following checklist is for personal use only. Not to be distributed or sold. Copyright 2023 Katie Berry.
On desktop: download or print from the screen.
On phones and tablets: download then print from your device.
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