by Liz on 05.24

This little diddy goes out to a special lady. She knows who she is.


Josh and I didn’t have a rough move-in transition. The truth is, before I moved in, the only time we didn’t spend together was the time spent at work or sleeping. So, I was already pretty used to seeing that guy’s face all day long.

Of course, there are always transitions when living with somebody. And a big piece of that usually has to do with division of labor.

In my house, I’m the neat freak. Josh has certain little particular quirks, but I’m the one who NEEDS things to be clean and clutter free for sanity. I need my home to be a calming, peaceful sanctuary. And part of that calming peace is cleanliness.  When the house is a mess, I can almost physically feel my stress level rise.

It’s sick.

So, we both had some adjusting to do in the beginning. I wanted things *just so*, but he didn’t do them *just so* so I needed to do everything myself, and then I’m irritated that I’m doing everything because, what the hell, can’t he pitch in?

This is one of those times where the solution is just as simple as you’d have guessed.

We talked about it.

1. Because I was doing the majority of the cleaning, when he would leave his shoes in the middle of the floor or stack a pile of dirty dishes on the nightstand, it felt like I was being taken for granted and the work that I was doing wasn’t being respected or valued. We talked about that. This is back to top importance again now that I’m home all day and doing the majority of the cleaning.

2. Because keeping the house clean was so important to me, I asked him to make it important to him. In that, “if it’s important to you, it’s important to me, because you’re important to me,” sort of way.

3. Because being a grown ass man is important to him, I needed to not nag him about every little thing. Okay, so shoes are in the middle of the floor. The rest of the house is immaculate, so I need to choose my battles and trust that he’s going to eventually move the damn shoes (rather than pounce on him as soon as he drops the first shoe to the ground). (Unless I trip on said shoes which makes them FAIR GAME.)

Then, we set guidelines. Of course, this is altered depending on who’s employed and who isn’t (right now, I’m mostly not, so I’m mostly in charge of a lot of the cleaning). We don’t have some overly complicated chore chart on the fridge or anything like that. We just decided, “I like cooking, so I’ll do that. But I have no upper body strength whatsoever, so you take out the trash. …Also it smells bad. So.” By dividing those responsibilities up front, I relinquish control of certain things. Now that garbage is his job, I trust him to notice when it needs to go out and just do it rather than wait for me to say, “Jaaaaahsh, the garbage needs to go out.” He’s a grown up. He can tell when the lid won’t close and the apartment smells like funky old cheese.

The other thing about these chores? Is they’re not set in stone. If there’s a day when the garbage is overflowing and Josh hasn’t carried it out yet, rather than text him about it five times until he remedies the situation or passive aggressively continue stacking things on top with growing impatience and aggravated foot-tapping, I simply carry it out. But that’s unfair! you say. But feminism! you say. The thing is, Josh does the same for me. I’m “the one who cooks,” and yet, sometimes he sees that I’m wrapped up in painting and I turn around to a breakfast of avocado toast and a cup of coffee. We chip in because we, hullo, love each other. Of course, if ignoring the trash becomes a habit, that’s a different problem altogether. But, a problem that’s best handled with (you guessed it) more talking, not nagging or harumphing. And if he chips in and takes care of something I normally do, it’s not intended as a critique of my housekeeping skills (I really easily slip into that trap).

In addition to all the stuff we had to talk about outright, I realized recently we have a sort of unspoken agreement. Rather than turn into my mother and try to clean things as people use them (ugh, Mom), “Are you done with this coffee? You just finished? Can you throw the cup in the sink then? Thaaaanks…” We live and make a bit of a mess, and then right before bed, we do a sweep and clear. It may only be a few things- a book on the coffee table and a jacket by the door. But, pitching in together to grab those last few things before bed makes me feel like I’m starting with a fresh slate in the morning and helps me to keep from nagging during the afternoon (because I know there’s an end to the clutter in sight).

So, that’s how things have panned out for me. Of course, there’s always adjusting and flexing and renegotiating- depending on who’s got a job and who has a busy week and what guidelines we’ve set that just don’t seem to be working out as planned.

How have you negotiated splitting up housework? Was it a hard adjustment?


You also may be interested in reading this post about learning to live with the way your partner does things and this one about martyrdom.


Your Comments | Add a Comment

Beth says:
May 24, 2012 9:51 am

Honestly? After 3 years of living together we don’t have this totally ironed out. Forrest doesn’t mind clutter, I create a ton and then madly clean it once a week. He just sorta creates a mess and it never seems to grow so he doesn’t worry.

He’s also a boy who doesn’t notice scummy rings in the tub. But he mostly does dishes. And always takes out the trash. And usually lends a hand with laundry. So we’re getting there.

We’re also sidestepping the issue and moving in to a van. Because it’s like a dorm room–it’s too small to let it get messy. We’re both wayy to OCD for that.


Kerry says:
May 24, 2012 10:56 am

Housework has been one of our trickier adjustments since moving in together – mostly because Craig and I hold “opposite” traits than those that traditionally linked (stereotyped) to our gender.

Craig is the clean freak. I’m not a filthy person by any means – in fact, I always thought I was pretty neat. (ha), I like minimalism, and I like to handle the “tidying. ” But Craig is a “get out the bleach and the gloves and a toothbrush and some kneepads because that’s the type of clean I want to give this floor/counter/toilet every couple days.” Luckily, he is fully aware that it’s HIS peccadillo, and he is more than happy to do that kind of work himself – he never bothers me about it.

But I still find myself curiously upset sometimes, thinking “geez, what’s wrong with this picture? Am I a bad wife? Is he ‘better’ at this than me?” Mostly because it’s a joke with all of our friends/family – how Craig is nutty about domesticity in that “housewife” sort of way. So if he is the “clean one” does that make me the “slobby one?” Does there always have to be one of each? (of course not, but I think the common rhetoric says that there is and sometimes it gets the better of me)


Erin says:
May 24, 2012 11:07 am

We never explicitly negotiated anything for housework, but we did have our months of testing the boundaries of livability, and hesitant outbursts when we tripped each other’s triggers (less hesitant when we got over the newlywed restrained arguments). We both have pretty similar living standards with our own quirks (mine: Why don’t you clean the goddamn stove when you’re done with it? his: You loaded the dishwasher wrooong again!), but it’s gotten to the point where we know and respect each other’s preferences, AND can take a little bit of joking about the whole thing.
No assigned chores in the place, but we both pitch in pretty fairly. And, like you said, whenever we feel overwhelmed, underappreciated, or disrespected, the best solution is always talking about it. Sometimes, more loudly than others.


Sheryl says:
May 24, 2012 1:35 pm

“Because keeping the house clean was so important to me, I asked him to make it important to him. In that, “if it’s important to you, it’s important to me, because you’re important to me,” sort of way.”

This really made me stop and think. Bunny and I have definitely approached housework this way – I do things that I couldn’t care less about because he does care and vice versa. There’s definitely some negotiation in things that we both have to just let go a little, but it’s such a team effort.

The interesting contrast in my head, though, is I would have never done that when I lived with roommates. I had crazy clean roommates who drove me nuts, but I wouldn’t do their stuff for them if I didn’t care about it myself, and when I had messy roommates I never felt like I had any right to ask them to care about my own cleanliness standards.


Caitlin says:
May 24, 2012 7:17 pm

I think I could have written this post. This is my EXACT life.

“So, we both had some adjusting to do in the beginning. I wanted things *just so*, but he didn’t do them *just so* so I needed to do everything myself, and then I’m irritated that I’m doing everything because, what the hell, can’t he pitch in?”

I am very, very careful to avoid this trap nowadays. When I feel this rant coming on, I open my (normally rather big) mouth instead. It works better, mostly. Except on shoe-throwing days…


Sharon says:
May 24, 2012 8:36 pm

We tend to divide by skill/inclination first — I like cooking, he doesn’t mind doing the washing up, vaccuming is a matter of who-hates-it-less etc. — and also just try to communicate really well and clearly if something chore-related is bothering us. I’m definitely the cleaner one of the two of us (Jason’s not *dirty* but he can live in messy all day long) so at first I wondered if I was turning into a nagging wife stereotype since it felt like I was always the one who was going, “Um, can we clean? Can those wires find a home please?” but it helped to realize that nope, it’s just a need-more-cleanliness/need-less-cleanliness paradigm. I think I probably end up cleaning more because I’m home more and it matters more to me and I feel a sense of accomplishment at a sparkling stove in a way he doesn’t, but I really appreciate that Jason takes up the slack when I’m in finals mode or if I ask him to. I’m pretty proud that we’ve never had a chore-related argument, especially since so many people (gleefully!) predicted doom and gloom for us for not cohabitating before marriage.

I laughed aloud at the bit about tripping over the shoes left in the middle of the room. Jason does that too (maybe it’s a guy thing?) So while we’ve never fought about chores, I’ve definitely called them his “stupidf*ckinggoddamnf*ckme shoes” when tripping over them for the umpteenth time in our narrow hallway…


Maggie says:
May 25, 2012 11:22 am

The closest thing I’ve read to our approach to dividing (or rather, not dividing) chores/housecleaning was from an APW comment a while back:

“I will freely admit that the reason my husband and I don’t fight about chores is that we are so equally ambivalent about mess. [...] That, ultimately, is our driving mantra: ‘If I do it, you can do it, and if I don’t care, you don’t have to care either.’ [...] it’s a team effort, and we’re pretty evenly matched in our assessments of when it’s time to take an hour on a weekend and clean the house dammit, and when it’s time to just kick back and realize we don’t have to be perfect or ready for Apartment Therapy.” -HAYLEY

This is pretty much us. We have our own styles, but generally we’ve got a similar level of mess-tolerance. i.e. B likes to make sure the dishes are done immediately after dinner, I could let them sit… but when he starts doing them, I jump up and pitch in; I like to rearrange furniture and do an “underneath cleaning” every season, B jumps in to help, even though the idea wouldn’t occur to him. We don’t like clutter, but we can tolerate some dust bunnies. We both like to veg. A lot.

B did more cleaning when I was in grad school, I do more now because I only work part-time. Our place isn’t sparkling top to bottom, but we could have company over with maybe 15 min. warning (but maybe don’t open the closets ;)), and that’s acceptable to both our level of personal cleanliness.

In other words, I am no help, haha.


Hannah says:
May 25, 2012 11:33 am

Living together was so much harder than I thought it was going to be. We’re both children of big families and after living with three sisters, a brother and my parents for so many years I thought moving in was going to be easy. Not so much. I’d had a whole year of living completely alone before we moved in together and I love it. I loved eating whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, cleaning when I wanted, getting as much alone time as I wanted. It’s definitely something we’re still working out. I don’t think it helped that we moved in together and I immediately read “The Bitch in the House”…. thanks Meg. It was a hot mess.


lizzie says:
May 25, 2012 1:59 pm

I couldn’t be more with you if I was you.

We had the exact same story. Fight about a toilet seat up? No thanks. Living with Isaiah was much easier than it was living without him and I didn’t want to waste the time we gained by moving in together by fighting all the time.

In an ideal world … obviously … sometimes my nagging nature got the best of me.


liz says:
May 25, 2012 2:02 pm

Whaaaat? New blog?! Look at you go!


Maggie says:
May 25, 2012 7:11 pm

“Fight about a toilet seat up? No thanks.”

This was the ONE thing we discussed before moving in together. I told B I thought it was goofy that the guy was supposed to leave the seat down, but the girl wasn’t supposed to leave it up… didn’t seem fair. So we decided both of us would leave it the way we used it. ;)


Beth says:
Jun 4, 2012 11:59 am

As far as toilet seats go, I my line as an RA back in college was that girls should just be happy that they put it up. Grousing about putting it back down was just bad form (and asking for it to be peed on).


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