I have recently gotten the same question repeatedly: how do you make sure you divide chores equally between two people in a household? Often, this question is actually the disguised, “How do I make my partner do as much work as I do at home?”
My answer is two-fold: first, you need to distribute the workload and make sure that each person is doing their part; second, you need to let go of the comparison.
Distributing the workload
It is important, I believe, that everyone in a household has tasks to do. This ensures that they feel like they’re contributing to the home and that they have a role to play as well. I’m not saying that they will enjoy the chores they need to do but rather that it builds a sense of support and responsibility to the household.
This really struck me when we were visiting a friend of ours and his family a couple of years ago. Our friend, a father of two boys, was emptying out the dishwasher, when his five-year-old son came over, took the basket with the silverware, and began putting it away. We thought, “Wonderful that your boy is helping you out!” and our friend responded, “Oh, he’s not doing it out of selfless desire. He knows that this is his responsibility, so he does it.”
We thought this was quite special: a five-year old have a specific chore that is his to take care of. Of course, our friend could put away the silverware faster than his son, but that’s not the point. He chooses to give the task to his son in order for his son to begin learning what it means to be part of a household.
I feel that adults living together should definitely split the housework. This doesn’t always have to be 50-50 (perhaps one person has more working hours than the other, or there may be other circumstances), but it has to be a balance that both people feel happy with.
I’m also a fan of clear expectations when it comes to chores. Whenever possible, there should be arrangements about who does which task when. Then, there are minimal possibilities for confusion, hurt feelings, and blame.
At home, we split some chores in the following way:
- Trash and recycling: Jacob. This is a rather big job because it involves carrying bags, collecting all the paper and cardboard and taking it out once a month, bringing glass to the recycling location, and sometimes driving stuff to the dump.
- Laundry: Marisha (i.e., me). I don’t mind doing laundry, so I’m happy to take up this chore. It takes a decent amount of time, but I’m fine with it as long as I don’t have to do anything related to the trash.
- Folding laundry and ironing: our cleaning lady. It saves a lot of time not to have to do this.
- Cooking: shared. On Sundays, we cook together for about 2 hours; on Tuesdays, we each cook for about an hour but at different times because of our work schedules; on Thursdays, we each cook for about an hour and half, again at different times.
- Buying groceries: shared. I wrote about this more extensively here, but in brief, each of us goes groceries shopping once a week.
- Loading the dishwasher: shared. When you have something to put in the dishwasher, put it in. Don’t put it on top or in the sink. It’s as simple as that. If the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, then unload it and put your dirty stuff in. In case you’re really in a rush, then you can leave your dirty dishes on top, but it shouldn’t happen too often.
- Unloading the dishwasher: shared, but I do it more often. The idea is that when you see the dishwasher is full of clean stuff, you should empty it out. Somehow (I wonder why) I notice this more often, so I do it. However, I don’t mind because…
- Washing pots and pans: Jacob. Our cleaning lady cleans the dirty pots and pans when she comes, but at other times of the week, after other cook-ups, we get many dirty pots and pans. I really don’t like washing them (I much prefer emptying out a clean dishwasher), so Jacob does that.
- Bringing stuff from the freezer: Jacob. We have a chest freezer in the basement, and taking stuff out is sometimes a pain because the thing you need (i.e., minced beef) may be buried below lots of other frozen stuff (i.e., chicken). I don’t like doing this because it’s difficult to find stuff and it’s cold, so I’m glad Jacob does this job.
- Preparing food planner: Marisha. Is anybody surprised that I plan out what we’re going to eat when and what we should cook when? Probably not. For more info on our food planner, go here.
- Vacuuming, mopping, dusting, cleaning kitchen, cleaning bathroom and toilet, cleaning fridge, washing windows and mirrors, folding and ironing clothes: our cleaning lady. She takes so much work off our plate! The things she does in four hours would probably take us eight hours. For us, it’s completely worth the money.
- Preparing cleaning schedule for cleaning lady: Marisha. Clearly, making schedules is my type of job, and I don’t mind making one for our cleaning lady as well. It tells her what to do on each day, and it also makes sure that different tasks get done with the regularity that’s suitable for them.
- Buying and refilling cosmetics and cleaning products: mostly Marisha. I keep track of which cosmetics and cleaning products are running low and make an online order once in a while. I do the same for toilet paper, tissues, etc. and buy them from the store. Jacob keeps track of some cleaning products that are a bit more specialized. I even recently made our first order of diapers and baby wet wipes, woohoo!
- Ordering supplements: Jacob. He knows much more about supplements than I do, so I entrust that job to him.
- Filing documents: Marisha. Jacob doesn’t like filing documents, while I actually kind of like it, so that’s an easy one.
- General tidying up: mostly Marisha. To be honest, I just notice things that need to be tidied up a bit more than him, so I take a few minutes a couple of times a week to tidy up. But if something is really messy and it’s not my responsibility, then I ask him to tidy it up.
Those are a lot of chores… Phew! If you have any questions about them or if you think of something I haven’t covered, let me know!
Letting go of comparison
In the previous step, I described how we try to make sure we distribute the workload equally, so each person has an equal responsibility and contribution to the household. But how do we know if our contributions are exactly equal? What if one person is doing slightly more than the other? Isn’t that unfair?
In a way it is, and in a way it isn’t. It’s very difficult to quantify everything we do for each other and for our household. For instance, last week I had my baby shower, so Jacob took over my weekend groceries shopping session. Did I have to explicitly return the favor? No. This week he was busier than usual, so I packed all of his lunches. Did I ask for something in return? No. Two evenings ago, he assembled furniture while I read a book. It made me feel strange that he was “working” when I was relaxing, but that’s just how it happened in that moment. When he had a small operation a few weeks ago, I helped him with the maintenance of the wound every day. When I have back pain, he treats and massages my back. How do we even begin to quantify these things?
At some point, it comes down to trusting that the other person is helping and even doing extra things that we’re not seeing. When I feel that Jacob is not doing enough, I give myself a little bit of time to see whether I’m just irritated or whether there really is something in the division of chores that should be adjusted. If there is an actual need, we talk about it and make changes.
It’s not difficult to distribute household labor if both people have the same intention: to maintain a pleasant, comfortable space and lifestyle and to help each other. As long as people share this intention and communicate about their needs and preferences, I believe they can find a division of chores that feels fair to both. It’s important, though, to stay open to the other person’s perspective because it may not match our own 100%.
At some point, we need to put down the measuring stick and trust that each person is putting effort towards a pleasant home and lifestyle. Unfortunately, it is never possible to make sure we’re each doing the same exact amount of work, but that’s also not necessary. We each contribute in unique ways, and it’s sometimes difficult to quantify them all.