No one likes to clean, but in most married households, it's still the wife who does more of the cleaning chores -- and feels the guiltiest if they don't get done. To be sure, husbands have stepped up their game in the housework department in the past half century, but before you dismiss the reluctant hubby as a cultural relic best left to ladies' magazines from the 1950s, consider this: A 2008 Gallup poll found that women are still overwhelmingly more likely than men to handle laundry, cleaning, cooking, childcare, grocery shopping, dishwashing and bill paying, while men more often handle yard work and car maintenance.
If that list sounds as unbalanced to you as it does to us, it may be time to work with your partner to come up with a plan that breaks cleaning tasks into manageable chunks that make housekeeping tolerable (nobody said fun!) for both of you. We can't promise any miracles, but we do have some ideas for five cleaning chores to help you get your reluctant spouse on board.
Cleaning the Kitchen
The good news is that men are spending more time in the kitchen; the bad news is that their master chef talents don't always come with master cleanup skills. In our house, we used to have a rule that if one cooked the other cleaned up. But it soon became clear that one of us (we're not naming names) cleaned up as he or she went along, while the other one apparently made it his or her life's ambition to cover every surface in a coating of olive oil, flour, expertly minced onion and whatever other ingredients went into the dinner.
Now we take turns cooking, and we share the cleanup chores every night. Bonus marriage saver: We make the kids tackle the really messy stuff.
Once you've got the kitchen routine worked out, pick a sunny day and send everyone outside for the next project on the list.
Organizing the Garage
Yes, women can and do use power tools, bikes, lawn mowers and all the other miscellaneous gear in your garage, but chances are your husband thinks of this as his domain, so why not roll with it? Engage the whole family in a quick cleanup by pulling everything out of the garage and sorting it into three piles: one for outgrown bikes, unused holiday decorations and other items to give away; one for things to throw away; and one for everything you want to keep. Then let your husband wow you with his powers of organization as he finds a place for all those items the family can't live without.
Of course, if the Gallup poll responses are correct, your husband might prefer to stay out here all day. But you can bring a dose of gender equality to your chores list when you send him back inside for the next chore.
Cleaning the Bathroom
A little daily maintenance in each bathroom goes a long way. If you and your spouse can get in the habit of swishing some cleaner around the toilet bowl every morning and wiping down the sink, shower and toilet seat once a day, it's easier to avoid battles over whose turn it is to tackle two weeks' worth of mess -- especially if your definitions of "mess" seem to have come from two very different dictionaries.
To make things fair, share the initial cleanup task as evenly as you can, then switch off days (odds-and-evens works) until you find a cleanup groove that works for both of you. Once your husband has mastered this cleaning chore, the next one on the list will seem like a breeze.
Doing the Laundry
To make laundry ridiculously simple, start by asking your spouse to take on just a few regular laundry chores, such as stripping the beds to wash the sheets every Saturday morning or throwing in a load of towels once or twice a week. From there, it's a short learning curve to collecting the hampers from everyone's bedroom and -- yes -- even matching up the socks once they come out of the dryer. And if you're worried about your delicate or hand washable stuff going in with his oldest, dirtiest jeans, you can always sort it into a different pile.
Straightening Up the Playroom
Happiness is so much better when it's shared. So why should you be the one to experience all the joy of finding surprises like half-eaten lollipops or long-lost pet hermit crabs among the Legos, puzzles and building blocks strewn about the playroom floor? With a few storage bins, a dust cloth and a vacuum cleaner, your husband can have this room shipshape in no time. Just don't be surprised if you send him in to clean, only to check on him 45 minutes later and find him excitedly building "the coolest train track ever."
If all goes well, this list will set you on the path to domestic bliss and a more equitable workload. But if all else fails, you can always go for the ego: One creative wife and mother in the U.K. gave her husband his own column on their children's chore chart. Now the kids shame him into action by giving him a hard time when they earn more stars for the week than he does!
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- Dell'Antonia, KJ. "Why Children Need More Chores." The New York Times. March 13, 2012. (July 20, 2012) http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/why-children-need-more-chores/
- Gallup, Alec M. and Frank Newport. "The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 2008." Oct. 28, 2009. (July 20, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=89V-OSF5ig8C&lpg=PA125&ots=9q6iR0ml_r&dq=U.S.%20gallup%20poll%20household%20chores&pg=PA125#v=onepage&q=U.S.%20gallup%20poll%20household%20chores&
- Hartwell-Walker, Marie, Ed.D. "Chore War: Household Tasks and the Two-Paycheck Couple." (July 20, 2012) http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/chore-war-household-tasks-and-the-two-paycheck-couple/
- Jayson, Sharon. "Men relax best when wives are busy." USA Today. May 18, 2011. (July 20, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/wellness/marriage/story/2011/05/Men-relax-best-when-wives-are-doing-housework-chores/47266972/1
- McVeigh, Tracy. "Forty years of feminism, but women still do most of the housework." The Guardian. March 10, 2012. (July 20, 2012) http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/mar/10/housework-gender-equality-women