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On Housekeeping

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Housecleaning is a subject that has been the subject of lots of arguing between husbands and wives for many years.  Women have typically been in charge of cleaning the house, doing laundry, and preparing meals, while men have traditionally been the “breadwinners.”  With the advent of the feminist movement, this arrangement began to be cast in an almost sinister light–housecleaning became viewed as drudgery, a symbol of subservience and bondage, while working outside the home was viewed as more stimulating, satisfying, and even glamorous.  Women began resenting what they perceived as their husbands’ greater freedom; he was “free” to leave the home, spend time with adults, eat meals out, etc. while the wife was tied to the home with no escape.

On the surface, it does seem to be an incredibly unfair situation:  a mother who stays home is constantly doing very physical work, of the kind that could be done just as well by an uneducated person as by an educated and cultured one.  The work can be exhausting and backbreaking, particularly if young children are involved.  A woman sees her husband leave the house, perhaps in suit and tie, and return at the end of the day looking very much the same as when he left, while she feels (and probably looks) pretty disheveled, bearing the unpleasant odor of peanut butter, diapers, and baby spit-up.  He expresses how difficult his day has been, changes clothes, wants a snack, and perhaps sits down to read the paper or watch the news on TV while his wife continues to prepare dinner.

As a young mother, used to my freedom and ill-prepared for the sacrifices of motherhood, I viewed this as unfair, and spent way too much time feeling sorry for myself.  In reality, however, my husband had to deal with unreasonable bosses and unpleasant co-workers much of the time, had to fight traffic to and from work, and had to deal with many work-related headaches during the course of the day that were just as frustrating and exhausting as what I had to deal with.  He had much less control over his schedule than I did, could not choose to take a break whenever he wanted to, and had no freedom whatsoever as to the way he dressed. 

I could read or rest while my children napped, could brew myself coffee mid-day, could listen to music or spend time outdoors, or arrange play dates, during which I could be with friends.  None of this was an option for him.  In addition to his regular job, he was also responsible for maintaining our finances, cars, the yard, and the exterior of the home, none of which I had the desire or ability to do, and  most of what he earned was consumed by insurance, taxes, and the necessities of life.  He wasn’t any more free than I was, it just seemed that way.  Yes, the housework usually fell to me, but it was simply a matter of the division of labor.

Staying home is a far less common reality now than when I was a young mother.  With more and more women working outside the home, this division of labor isn’t as obvious; each couple has to work through the arrangement that best suits them. What I would like to do is to make some suggestions and offer encouragement to those who participate in the process of house-keeping, whether women or men. 

Hopefully, the following ideas will help you avoid the necessity of all-day, comprehensive housecleaning every week, or at least make the task an easier one.

I.  Start Fresh

When I was expecting my first child, my mother came to my house, helped me to de-junk, and spent an entire day helping me thoroughly clean every room of the house.  It was an enormous help to me, both physically and emotionally, helping me to face a new chapter of life from a position of confidence and rest rather than feeling overwhelmed.   

I recently returned from a trip to DC to help one of my daughters in a similar way; she works full time, and her husband has had to be away for several weeks; because she’s in her third trimester of pregnancy, it has become increasingly difficult for her to clean house.  My assistance helped her to get to a place where she can more easily keep house, maintaining a fairly consistent level of cleanliness rather than letting it go and starting from scratch each week.

If you can, arrange to help a friend clean her house thoroughly in exchange for her helping you.  It’s easier to clean somebody else’s house for some reason, and lots more fun with a friend.  Alternatively, hire someone to give your house a thorough cleaning.

II. Tools and their Placement

There are a few inexpensive tools that can help make cleaning easier.  A Swiffer-type tool for sweeping, along with a big box of refills, a roll of paper towels, and a bottle of spray glass cleaner will cover just about any maintenance job.  Keep paper towels and glass cleaner in every bathroom, and a Swiffer with refills in an easily accessible place on each floor of your house.  You can use the refills for dusting as well as sweeping, and quickly wipe counters, sinks and mirrors with the glass cleaner and paper towels.

The one expensive item you should invest in is a good vacuum cleaner.  Get the best one you can afford–a clean floor helps everything look and feel cleaner.  If you vacuum a room or two every couple of days, things look a lot better, and it’s not such a huge job.

III.  Quick Improvements

There are a few little things you can do to instantly make your home look and feel cleaner, and they just take a second.  You’d be amazed at what a difference it makes when you dust things like picture frames, lampshades and bases, window sills, and baseboards.  Another thing that’s easy to overlook are the things like dust on perfume bottles and knick knacks, gunk on hand and dish soap dispensers, bits of food or water spots on the underside of your kitchen faucet, and fingerprints on the front of the microwave.

IV.  Strike When the Iron is Hot

Keeping your house in decent condition is simply a matter of being aware, and taking the opportunity when you think of it.  I hate cleaning schedules, personally, and magazines like Martha Stewart Living drive me nuts!  Looking through them makes me feel like a failure, so I just don’t do it.  However, every now and then I notice gunk forming around the bottle of dishwashing liquid or dust accumulating on bottles of perfume in my bathroom, so I reach for the paper towels and take care of it.  If I notice dust in the corners of the bathroom floor, I squirt and wipe.  Mind you, this takes all of about 5 minutes max, and I do NOT do this every day.

V. Just Ask

If you’re feeling like a martyr regarding your house, and after stepping back and looking at things it actually seems that the division of labor is out of balance, ask your spouse to help.  Not vaguely, and not in a passive-aggressive way, but directly and specifically–“Honey, would you be willing to be in charge of unloading the dishwasher every morning?  It would really help me!”  is better than “How come I have to do all the work around here?  Can’t you help out?”  or ” ‘Sigh!’  I am SO tired at the end of every day!  The housework is really piling up!  (hint hint).”  Direct communication, adult to adult, is always best.

You’re still going to have to clean the toilet and shower, mop the kitchen floor, and do other more thorough cleaning from time to time of course, but if you stay aware of little things like these, your big cleaning should be less of a big deal.

If you start with a clean house, invest in some simple tools, keep them easily accessible, and take advantage of opportune moments to touch things up a bit, you can keep your house in pretty decent condition without wearing yourself out.  Of course, if you love deep cleaning, or don’t mind doing all your cleaning on one day, great!  For those of us who like a clean house without lots of effort, this is a good compromise.  I hope it works for you!

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