It’s not quite Domestic Blindness... so where do you get Domestic Contact Lenses?
November 8, 2012 4:38 PM   Subscribe

My partner says he simply doesn’t see some things that need to be done around the house. I believe him. He is unhappy about this; we would both like to see it change if possible. How can he learn to see what needs to be done?

SomePartner is being frustrated by his inability to see things that need to be done around the house; I am both sympathetic and frustrated myself by this. On multiple occasions recently, he simply didn’t notice the dishes in the sink, so he didn’t put them in the dishwasher; he worked around them to wash his dishes but left the others just sitting there. He’ll pull shirts/socks off the drying rack to wear for several days in a row if I don’t get the chance to fold and put away the laundry, but it just doesn’t occur to him that if they’re dry enough to wear, he can fold them and put them away himself.

I know that sometimes he literally can’t see what I can; my colour vision is better than his. I can point out where yellow/pink gunk is starting to grow in the shower, but he can’t see it even when I’m tracing the outline of a patch with my finger. So I know to ask him to clean the shower when it needs doing if I want it done before he'll see it. But most of these things aren't that clear-cut.

It gets tiring constantly having to triage, delegate, and supervise every part of the housework, to the point of “There are dishes soaking in the sink; you moved them out of the way when you were using the sink. Next time, could you put them in the dishwasher instead?”

This is all complicated by the fact that I’m disabled; I pick up small pieces of work here and there, but haven’t been able to work reliably in years. I never wanted the role of the domestic partner, and I chafe at it.

I only get a few functional hours in the day, and my capability varies with my health. Sometimes I can't manage more than self-care and a couple of light tasks (folding the laundry, emptying the dishwasher) in a day - sometimes, I can’t even do that.

I do get that SomePartner is working to support us both; he comes home tired and decision-fatigued from a demanding job, albeit one he loves. While he’s supporting me, it seems reasonable for me to end up with the greater share of the housework. But the differences in how much we can do make it difficult to try and find an equitable division. He doesn't want me spending all my functional time on housework, and neither do I! But at the end of the day the stuff still needs to be done.

Since I’m at home more, the environment here affects my moods more. However, I’m not asking for a magazine-perfect home or trying to drag him into the realms of Martha Stewart. I have compromised a great deal since I got sick; I was always the “clean but cluttered” type, but I’ve relaxed further in the name of accessibility and not exhausting us both.

I still think there are limits, though - tumbleweeds of cat fluff rolling across the floor say it’s time to vacuum, the sink and stove should be usably clean/clear, tea drips and food spills should be cleaned up, bedsheets and towels should get changed, we need to do laundry to have clean clothes, and since we’re not ironing anything laundry should be hung to dry in ways that minimize creasing, and then put away. We agree these are not too much to ask, but he can’t see them, and they often go unattended unless I take on the task (either by doing it or demanding it gets done that night and making sure we don’t go to bed without it happening).

We have had a cleaner come in fortnightly in the past and probably will again, but it's mostly the day-to-day stuff that we're having trouble with, and we can’t afford a live-in housekeeper!

Again, this frustrates him as well, and he’d like to change it. But the question is, how?

TL;DR Ideally, I don’t want to add “teaching him to see housework” to the list of things I have to do. I’d love it if he approached this like he would a work problem, by Googling about it, finding books, reading up and then putting it into practice. But do such books exist? Is this a skill you can teach yourself? If you can learn to see artistically from a book like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, can you learn to see housework?

So, if you have recovered from a case of domestic myopia, or you helped someone who wanted to do so, how did you do it? What works and what doesn’t when tackling this meta-chore?

I would like this question to not get sidetracked into debates about who “should” be doing what, whether we need to hire a cleaner, or a referendum on the relationship. As an example of what I am looking for, I’m considering Google Calendar reminders for changing bedsheets & towels, but suspect they’re too rigid and therefore easily dismissed or forgotten if we’re busy when the reminder goes off. I’d love to hear whether they worked from people who’ve tried them.

posted by Someone Else's Story to Home & Garden (34 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a bit like your partner. Cleanliness doesn't matter that much to me, I come tired from work, and I'm just not thinking about my immediate surroundings. The one thing that's worked for me is to have a schedule for various routine chores. I haven't gotten better at noticing things, but I do change the laundry, do the dishes, sweep the kitchen floor, etc. on a regular basis without nagging or resentment because I've gotten in the habit.
posted by Area Man at 4:45 PM on November 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Some people are just not tuned to see work. I wasn't until I cleaned a house regularly (living in a communal dorm). So maybe...

1) Set a 1 week or 3 month or whatever period, where you explicitly mentor him through the cleaning process. He'll be much more aware of what needs to be done, and since it's time limited, you might not chafe at it as much. Also, don't DO all the work, but let him do it. Just point it out to him that it needs to be done.

2) Make him set aside some time each day (maybe just 15 minutes to start each day) when he does chores (either with or without you). That way, he'll have to think about what needs to be done. Or even if something doesn't NEED to be done (some people aren't bothered by cat fluff on the floor), he'll do it anyway since he has to fill the time somehow.
posted by ethidda at 4:46 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I do not get it and think it is soul-sucking nonsense, but lots of perfectly reasonable people are big fans of FlyLady. ("Offers a system for organizing and managing a home, based on the concept of daily routines and a focus on small, time- and space-limited tasks.")

As somebody who can painfully identify with "capability varies with health" I am having difficulty not exhorting you to further downgrade your standards. You say you have been "clean but cluttered" -- I wonder if de-cluttering and planning your home around your abilities would not assist? I am slowly realising I am simply not able to maintain collections of XYZ like I might have prior to physical decay and that I need to plan around ditto. If your partner not putting away his clean laundry is a repeat frustration, perhaps the solution lies in pleasant-looking laundry baskets and a sturdy surface for same next to the dryer.
posted by kmennie at 4:49 PM on November 8, 2012

Would a list help? One for "check every day" and one for "if you have 10 minutes free do one of these things?"
posted by dpx.mfx at 4:56 PM on November 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

I am a lot like your SO, except I'm female. I live in my head and often just don't see things that are right in front of me. I also am a terrible judge of time and generally think "oh, I vacuumed just the other day" but then experience dismay when I check under the bed for an earrings and find holy shit, not dust bunnies but dust elephants. Because "the other day" was actually, um, the other month...

It's his responsibility to figure this out. You should not be guiding him through every step or playing housework cop. I totally get how that would be wearisome and old. He may never see this as you do, honestly, and even two people who care equally about housework will have different ideas of what a good or adequate job means on a given chore. But he can probably get used to seeing more than he does now, and you can support his efforts by letting him know how much you appreciate it - even if it's not how you would have done it. Nothing sucks the motivation out of you like doing a chore and having someone else come along and do it "right."

Does he have a smart phone? Can he set a timer on it? He can make himself a nightly checklist so that instead of trying to notice the dishes *any* time they need attention, he checks everything on the checklist, every night at 8p. The list shouldn't be exhaustive, just a few things that will make a difference for you and will not be as nuanced as noticing mold in the bathroom.

For example.
- are there dishes in the sink? put dishes in dishwasher.
- are there dirty clothes on the floor? put clothes in hamper
- are there books on the couch? put books in shelf

(On preview, like what dpx.mfx is suggesting).

There's an app called EpicWin, that's honestly not as much fun as I would like a chore tracking app to be, but the most interesting one I've found so far. (You just accumulate points ... you can't DO anything with them, like buy swords to battle the demon Zorg - once your chores are done, of course. THAT would be a good app). Maybe you can think of fun points to award him that will make the whole thing more amusing and less GRAR for both of you.

There's also a book called Clean Like a Man that he might find helpful.

Also How to Clean Your Apartment in 20 Minutes a Day.
posted by bunderful at 4:59 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think regardless of whether he doesn't notice it or can't see it, he just doesn't care about it in the way you do. Some people are neat and tidy and some people prefer messy or prefer to spend their time doing something else instead of cleaning and straightening things out on a frequent basis. But to better address your question, what I'm not understanding is why does he feel frustration? Is he frustrated with himself for not being able to change, or is he frustrated with you? If the former, maybe you can make a game out. Make something dirty or messy and then see if he can spot it. I know you don't want to spend time training him, but frankly it sounds like that really might be the only solution, and if you can make it fun and positive, all the better. Of course having a clean up schedule would probably help too, as others have suggested.
posted by Dansaman at 5:00 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think having tasks for given days can be helpful in your case. Monday - laundry; Tuesday - vacuum; Wednesday - clean bathroom; Saturday - change bed sheets; etc.
posted by shoesietart at 5:01 PM on November 8, 2012

Can you streamline your "machine for living?"

Modern dishwashers using modern cleaning compounds do not require that dishes be pre-soaked. Just put all of the dishes directly into the dishwasher, they'll be fine. If there is some sort of dried and baked egg yolk, it's easier to just clean that off afterwards.

Maybe socks and underwear don't need to be folded. If they are clean, and dumped into a drawer, he can just pick them out as needed.

It does seem that some regular maintenance could be done with occasional help.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:04 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure you can teach him to "see" it, but you absolutely can agree with him on a cleaning schedule with assigned responsibilities and parameters. It can rotate if you guys want, or you can keep each person's jobs the same.

In other words, it doesn't matter at all if he can see the mold in the shower or not as long as he follows the cleaning chart and scrubs it down once a week.

There are plenty of templates for cleaning schedules, or you can just make up your own. I'd suggest something laminated and on the fridge, so it's visible and you can tick things off with dry erase markers, but whatever works for you is what you want to be using.
posted by Forktine at 5:04 PM on November 8, 2012

I think part of the problem is that he's used to living in the mess. He doesn't know what it looks like when it's not messy because he hasn't seen the place in pristine condition in a long time. He thinks he lives in a clean house, even though there are dirty dishes in the sink and dust bunnies everwhere. Ergo, having dirty dishes in the sink and dust bunnies everywhere mean the house is clean.

So rather than trying to get him to see what's wrong when he has no frame of reference for it, it's probably easier to give him a list of tasks to work on each evening that establish the new status quo. After a week of following through on those tasks, the visual indicators of clean vs messy should be fairly obvious.

For example:
1) Is the sink empty?
No: Wash dishes until the sink is empty.
Yes: Put away any dry dishes. Move on to step 2.
2) Wipe down the counter. Move on to step 3.
3) Is there any laundry on the rack?
Yes: Fold and put them away.
No: Move on to chore three.
4) How long has it been since the house was last vacuumed? Ask Someone Else's Story if you don't remember.
If longer than a week, vacuum.
5) Etc
posted by rhythm and booze at 5:06 PM on November 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

he worked around them to wash his dishes but left the others just sitting there

This sounds disingenuous, but if he is genuinely willing to change, write two lists for him:

1) Ad hoc things to check for whenever he has 15 minutes free: wash any dishes in sink, fold any dry clothes on rack, etc.
2) Scheduled things: clean the shower every two weeks - he may not be able to see the mold, but if he cleans the shower regardless, mold won't happen
posted by orangejenny at 5:08 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with suggestions to try a written schedule or checklist, or both. Learning to stick with a schedule may be easier for him than learning to see the housework that needs doing. Especially if he's decision-fatigued, a checklist can take the stress out of housework by removing any need for decision-making or judgment. It will feel artificial at first, but hopefully he can get into a daily routine with it.

Any chores that don't absolutely have to happen on a daily basis should get divided up on different days. So for example, checking for dry laundry and folding it might be on his Wednesday and Saturday checklists. The laundry might hang out unfolded for a few days, but you don't have to feel like the task is getting dumped on you by default, because you know when Wednesday or Saturday rolls around, he'll take care of it.
posted by Orinda at 5:12 PM on November 8, 2012

Was going to say exactly what orangejenny did. I also think if he really does want to change, having a list and a schedule will help with the fact that he's tired after work. It's mentally (and probably physically) more tiring to be always alert, trying to remember or look out for what needs to be done. If it's all written down already, he doesn't have to make more decisions when he gets home, he can just do the chores mindlessly.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 5:15 PM on November 8, 2012

Ugh, my husband is like this. I call it "dirt blindness."

Here's my theory on my guy. We are both absent-minded nerd types, so I don't think in our case it's just a question of demeanor, but training. My husband is a self-described feminist and, I think, genuinely believes the housework is his responsibility as much as mine. But the thing is, when he was growing up, his mother, who is fairly traditional / conservative, never ever treated him like she expected him to ever have to be in charge of cleaning his own house, and though she did make him do basic chores like laundry, she never taught him how to plan and manage housecleaning -- he was always given a list of chores with very specific instructions on what to do. Meanwhile, I, as the oldest daughter in a divorced family, was given a ton of household responsibility at a very early age. He was just expected to occasionally throw pre-sorted laundry into the washer -- I was expected to figure out when the laundry needed to be done, collect and sort the laundry myself, and then fold the clothes and put them away. And finish my homework and get some dinner on the table, too, while I was at it.

So here we are adults, and my husband is still waiting for someone to give him directions, while I'm so used to managing housecleaning as just part of daily life that I often get very angry and frustrated about feeling like I have to tell him how and when to do things, and wind up feeling like I'm nagging him / feeling like it would actually be faster to just do everything myself.

What has helped in our case has been me expressing again and again just how much annoyance and mental fatigue it causes me to have to remind him to do things all the time, and him trying hard to create regular cleaning routines for himself. Because the simplest solution to not seeing / thinking of dirt is to make a regular effort to clean certain things at certain times regardless of whether or not you think it's actually needed. So the dishwasher gets loaded every night. The trash goes out every other day. Etc.

I've also managed to train him in a typical "people are coming over so we need to pick up" routine -- we have a rule for example that THE BATHROOM ALWAYS GETS CLEANED when people are coming over whether or not he thinks it looks dirty. (And also a rule that "the bathroom gets cleaned" means you do not just wipe down the mirror and the sink but also do, in fact, scrub the toilet and Swiffer the floor, because if you didn't do that, THE BATHROOM DID NOT GET CLEANED.)

Yes, I said train him. Sometimes you wind up giving your partner the home training they never got at home. (My husband trained me to be better at keeping a budget. So it's not a one-way street.)
posted by BlueJae at 5:15 PM on November 8, 2012 [17 favorites]

I think a lot of this is socialization. My partner also does not notice floorboards or grout or the dust on ceiling fans. If I didn't grow up with my mom pointing it out every time it was time to divvy up chores, I probably wouldn't either. Think about it. I've got 25 years on him being taught to notice these things, most of that during an age when my brain was still developing and most able to absorb that knowledge.

But it's still easy to get caught up in either feeling like an unwilling homemaker or a nagging mother figure.

I find what works best is cleaning separately at the same time. Once he thinks the place is clean, I'll rattle off small concrete tasks. By asking him to "dust the floorboards" or "vacuum the stairs" or "clean the gunk behind the toilet", he has to go look for it and gets in the habit of seeing it.

The nice thing about this strategy is that you can go at a much slower pace and not use up all your energy. (For me, it's ADHD, so folding the laundry quickly becomes organize the craft drawer while he cleans the rest of the place) I've noticed that after just a few months, he's picking up a lot of those smaller things on his own.

OR what BlueJae said.
posted by politikitty at 5:16 PM on November 8, 2012

I have been your husband. I was poor at consciously noticing.

What worked for me was putting aside a small portion of time ever day for 'doing'. I put aside 5-10 min in the morning and the same in the afternoon or evening. My goal during these 'doing' times is to get XX clear, clean and uncluttered.

For example, mornings. I don't leave the house unless all cups/dishes from around the house have been collected, the sink is empty, the dishes done (or dishwasher on), and the benches and stove wiped down. If I have a minute or three left over I may poke my head in the fridge and see if it needs some clearing out.

Evenings. I don't go to bed unless all the dirty clothes are in the laundry, the washing machine is on or emptied and the dry clothes are folded and put away.

Once this became a regular pattern, it got really easy to notice when stuff was out of place, and the stuff that needed doing was much less of a burden because I hadn't let it get out of hand. And out of place stuff started to bug me! (consciously noticing). I've come to realise that by refusing to consciously notice I was trying to negate, by ignoring the clutter, the anxiety that the mess and clutter caused. Now I have discovered that the anxiety is ameliorated because instead of ignoring it, I have a set time to embrace the mess and fix it. So satisfying!

So maybe you could encourage your husband to spend a small amount of time twice a day on a specific, regular clear, clean and declutter goal. Not lawn on Mondays, garage on Tuesdays etc but one that is done the same everyday (eg: kitchen & sink, laundry & folding). That way he can become more adept at consciously noticing what needs to be done in his goal area.
posted by the fish at 5:18 PM on November 8, 2012 [6 favorites]

If I were in your position, I'd get him to install google calendar on his phone and put in rotating appointments: once a week, vacuum; once every two weeks, change the sheets; every day at 8 pm, wash dishes.

This way, he's still reminded but you don't have to nag.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:20 PM on November 8, 2012

Similar to what other's are suggesting, what about if he had a Nightly Five -- 1) All dishes put away or in dishwasher, 2) Counters wiped, 3) Kitchen floor swept, 4) Trash taken out, 5) Clean laundry put away. (Or whatever is important to you guys). Then he could even have a Saturday list -- vacuum the middles of the floor, clean the shower, wipe down sink and toilet. That should mostly hold you until a biweekly cleaner could come do the deeper cleaning. If he got in a routine of doing the 5 things after dinner, but before relaxation time, it really shouldn't take too long.

I too have health issues and struggle with getting all my chores done. Although pre-disability I was pretty tidy and liked all my stuff put away, I'm learning I need to keep a basket by my chair with all my bits and pieces in it like earbuds, phone charger, nail file, etc. Also I had a revelation that towels REALLY don't need to be folded so those are dumped into a basket in the floor of the linen closet. Although they are not environmentally friendly, I keep a canister of clorox wipes by the kitchen sink and the bathroom sink. Its much simpler for me to grab a wipe and wipe down the counters than to run water, find a clean dishcloth, wring it out (something that's very hard for me) and then put the wet dishcloth in the proper place.

So, in addition to what your husband is doing, maybe you both together could look at streamlining some of your routines and using all the shortcuts you can devise.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 5:22 PM on November 8, 2012

I'm like your husband, except female, and my fiance is more like you.

The thing that has worked the best for me is checklists like others have mentioned. Specifically I have this little iPhone app called ReDo (Repeatable To-Do). I set it up with a simple basic nighttime and morning routine. For example my nighttime routine is:
Make bed if not made.
Wash dishes
Remove makeup
Set alarm
Turn on fan/humidifier
Make hot drink if wanted
Change into nightclothes
Clear up kitchen
Turn off outside lights
Plug in laptop if required
Recharge phone
Brush teeth
Recharge toothbrush if required
Put glasses on bedside table
Painfully detailed? Yes. Does it actually get me to bed at a decent hour and with most things put away? Yes. Every night I check off each item and only then get into bed.
I have a similar morning routine. It would be easy to incorporate small cleaning activities into such a routine e.g. wipe off sinks and toilet or take out trash.
posted by peacheater at 5:36 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

I hate to say this, but does anyone in your husband's family have a history of being passive aggressive or avoidant? I am finding it very, very difficult to believe that he could work around dishes in the sink if he knows they're dirty unless the two of you don't have an explicit distinction that says dishes in the sink are dirty, dishes elsewhere are clean. If there are dirty dishes in the sink and its his night to do the dishes, I don't understand why he doesn't do them all. That smells of passive aggression to me.

What does he like to do in his spare time? Does he enjoy games, does he like puzzles? Could the chore routine manifest in the form of a puzzle or game? Could you have a checklist that must be accomplished every night before bed, where both of you rotate on 10 things that you split between the two of you? Would you be able to take on the things he is not able to do, like discern where mold and dust is, if he takes on tasks that aren't easy for you to do?

It ultimately is his responsibility to train himself to be more supportive in this area. Have you sat down and explicitly detailed how you need and expect him to do his part regardless of the income distribution in your household?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:41 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's an example of a regular, weekly cleaning schedule that takes about a half hour per day.

Turning it into a routine instead of a reaction will go a long ways.
posted by ikaruga at 5:42 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

My husband is "dirt blind" but motivated to help and pull his weight. I am certain that the "motivated to help" part is crucial to our success.

One key to our success is our system by which we both have certain chores we're each responsible for on a weekly, repeating schedule. This isn't "enforced" or written down or anything, it's just habit.

Some examples of his chores are:

Saturday morning: strip the bed and do all the laundry loads that we've built up over the week
Sunday afternoon: cook the chicken we eat for lunch all week
Every morning after breakfast: put all dishes into dishwasher - if dishwasher is occupied, then unload dishwasher first and then fill it
Tuesday night: Empty all wastebaskets, take the garbage bins to the curb

These are simple chores and they're the same every single time they need to be done. In addition to my own schedule of chores, I tend to handle "heavy lifting" tasks like organizing.

The absolute #1 secret to our chore harmony and household maintenance success is to do the same chores every day, every week regardless of how "needed" they appear to be at the moment. Some things (like vacuuming) are done monthly and just have to fit in wherever, but those chores are the exception to the rule.

I learned this approach to chores from the family of a boyfriend I had in college. In particular, they would clean their kitchen and take out the garbage every single evening. I thought this was strange at first because my family cleans the kitchen about once a year, and it's an unusable, cluttered disaster the rest of the time. Their family actually got to cook and enjoy their home, mine just sat around griping about how miserable the house was and how terrible us kids were for not cleaning it up.

The lesson seemed to be simple: if you get a good grasp on routinely doing the little things, the big messes don't seem to appear. If the big messes don't appear, friction over chores doesn't appear.

Good luck!
posted by paris moon at 6:10 PM on November 8, 2012

There is such a thing as Slob Vision. Mr. Good and I both have it. He'll empty the dishwasher and be proud that he's done it, but the things he can't identify homes for stay on the counter until I put them away. I will clean the laundry room/dumping ground, but the items with future destinations may sit for some time, until they look like furniture.

If I say something, it impacts mrgood's negative face, and it does not go well. However, he love loves LOVES action plans and to-do lists. So, if I want to "deal in his currency", or "speak his language" I make a list on the chalkboard in the hall by the front door, and things get done. I am not bossing - they are suddenly things that need to be done by anyone. And the person who does them gets to check them off like a boss.

If there's something that mrgood needs for me to get done, well, my currency is more like "bad dog, no biscuit." However, if I send that invoice, finish those reports, and prep the coffee the morning, nobody can deny me that $3.25 cappucino. Nobody. I work for treats. Saying the words "Out of the strain of the doing and into the joy of the done" are powerful reminders for me.

My advice is to speak his language, and find his currency, and deal in it.
posted by peagood at 6:16 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Try taking pictures?

In a past relationship, I suggested we use "target" pictures of the common rooms. Each room had two shots -- okay and good. It provided a visual check on how we were doing.
posted by 99percentfake at 6:51 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Along the same lines as FlyLady, but less precious (and with more profanity): Unfuck Your Habitat. It's more about creating new habits, a little bit at a time, rather than trying to to do huge amounts at once.

She posts lists of things to do every night before bed, weekend challenges, and has a lot of readers/commenters who also deal with things like depression and chronic fatigue.

There's also an iOS app (Android version on the way).

Plus animated GIFs!
posted by mon-ma-tron at 7:08 PM on November 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seriously, just schedule it. If neccessary, make an itemized, obsessively detailed list to refer to, to ensure that all components of a task are getting done. Does he always fail to notice stray socks when cleaning the living room? Put it on the "clean living room" list. Does he only forget to look for socks in the northeast corner? Put THAT on the list. Keep the list in the appropriate room at all times. (I favour a room-by-room approach to tasking. YMMV. Make whatever kinds of lists work for you guys.)

I can happily walk past a mountain of dustbunnies without once noticing or thinking to dust. So I schedule it, and it gets done whether I notice it or not. (It's also important that the task be done whether or not it "needs" doing. This is the key to maintenance.).
posted by windykites at 7:30 PM on November 8, 2012

rhythm and booze speaks truth with the detailed list. My husband and I kept bickering about the kitchen -- he was trying to clean, he just didn't see stuff -- and finally said, exasperated, "Just make me a list so I know what to do!" I was like, "Oh!" Because I would have found a list condescending so I never would have thought to make him one, but for him it was a relief to know and just run down the list, especially at the end of the day when he was tired.

So I made him a list, fine-tuned it to be adequately detailed ("dishes in dishwasher" became "all dishes in sink and on counter in dishwasher, start dishwasher if full"; "take out trash if necessary" became "take out trash if more than 75% full"), and that basically solved it. Sometimes there's a mess not on the list, and it's about 50/50 whether he'll realize it needs to be cleaned, but that's okay, the kitchen's 90% clean, so I don't mind doing the last bit.

I also set him recurring appointments in Google calendar for less-frequent tasks. Like he changes out the litterboxes, so there's a google alert to his phone at a time of the evening he's usually free, the night before trash day. He feels nagged if I remind him, but if nobody reminds him he frequently forgets; the impersonal google reminder turned out to be perfect.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:38 PM on November 8, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yep. Write a simple checklist that makes it impossible to miss things.
"The sink is 100.000 percent empty. (If there was anything in the sink, I moved it to the dishwasher.)"
"I have swept every inch of every tile in the kitchen and put all of the swept dirt into the trash can."
"I have mopped every inch of every tile in the kitchen. You could now eat off the kitchen floor."
posted by pracowity at 1:13 AM on November 9, 2012

We love our Roomba. If I can't get it together to do anything else, I can at least clean the floors by just pushing a button.

Is there any way that you could take your laundry somewhere to be taken care of?

If those two chores were off the table, I think the rest of it would feel more manageable.
posted by katieanne at 7:07 AM on November 9, 2012

Make a list, and then it's "no fault."

My wife is like you, and I am like your partner. If I could glance at a list and be reminded what to check, it would help. The writer Atul Gawande wrote a whole book explicating how checklists improve thoroughness, remove a big source of human error, and relieve pressure from individuals to perform. Check it out:
posted by wenestvedt at 7:30 AM on November 9, 2012

Honeydew list. He accepts you know what needs to be done, and he wants to help get it done. Make up two lists - one for stuff you'd like him to do right now, and one for stuff he needs to do daily/weekly/monthly. For space-cadets (and lord knows, I'm one) this is a godsend - you don't forget to do stuff, and you find out what needs to be done that you weren't even thinking about in the first place.

Feel free to put an extra chore or two on his list that you'd normally be OK with doing - it's good to be the listmaker.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:19 AM on November 9, 2012

I am a lot like your partner, and my partner is a lot like you.

Something that helped me is realizing that there are two classes of things I "don't see":

Category 1: Things that gradually build up, like dust bunnies and shower mold. I legitimately don't notice these things at all, and I need to be told about them.

Category 2: Actual messes that somebody makes, like dishes in the sink or clothes on the floor. I've come to realize that I do actually notice these things but subconsciously decide that the hassle of ignoring them is easier than the hassle of fixing them, and I let them "disappear" again.

I've gotten better at fixing Category 2 uncleanliness by noticing this pattern in myself . It also helps to know where Category 2 things are likely to occur (the sink, the bedroom floor, the desk).

Also, I got motivated to get better at Category 2 because it eventually sank in that my partner wasn't asking me to clean up because he wanted to hold us to some abstract ideal of a perfect house, but because the dirt and clutter *really made him feel stressed, anxious, and claustrophobic.* It took multiple conversations about this before I got it. If you haven't said this to your partner in a while:

Since I’m at home more, the environment here affects my moods more. However, I’m not asking for a magazine-perfect home or trying to drag him into the realms of Martha Stewart.

I'd say it again. And then maybe again.
posted by JuliaJellicoe at 8:52 AM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

First -- and I mean this in as nicest possible way: let go of the idea that noticing dirt and clutter, then acting to correct it, is the right way. There are lots of options that can work, even for someone who genuinely doesn't notice the mess. Assume that you and your partner will have to try a few (or several) before you hit on what works best for the two of you. This is a big change for him, so don't pile on everything at once, even if he volunteers.

It's good to have a schedule of some nature -- some things are done daily in am, some in pm. Others are done weekly on a particular day. It won't work for him to say he'll do them as needed. Don't you set the times; it's better if he does that.

He'll need to have specific, discreet tasks. "Clean the bathroom" or "clean the kitchen" has too many sub-tasks for now. When I did this with my husband, we started with the kitchen: put stuff away; gather up all dishes, glassware, and pans; scrape dishes; wash dishes; dry dishes; put dishes away; wash, dry, and put away pans; wipe counters; sweep floor. He said he really hated washing pans and he was lousy at wiping counters and sweeping the floor, but he could gather, scrape, wash, dry, and put away dishes. He agreed to do this every evening without being asked. I agreed to do the rest of the kitchen list -- I really preferred tasks anyway. We found out that we preferred to be in the kitchen together while most of this is going on.

"Tidying the living room" is too vague. Break it down: gather up the stuff that has to go to other rooms. Put living room stuff in its proper places. Gather trash and empty waste basket if necessary. Arrange cushions, throw pillows and blanket, and books in an orderly way. Distribute stuff that needs to go to other rooms. All this could be done once a day, and takes less than 15 minutes.

Are there other things he could do to make housekeeping easier? Like turn his clothes right-side-out before putting them in the hamper? Parking his stuff in a particular (or better) location when he comes into the house?

He's not going to fold clothes and put them away unless it's his own job. He's not going to notice a full hamper and then wash some clothes. How you two divvy up laundry depends on both your personalities. In my house, it's totally my domain because I'm good at it, don't mind it terribly much, and he just has trouble following through to take care of an entire load from start to finish. But if I became unwilling to do it all, he could take ownership of some laundry categories -- sheets and towels are hard to screw up, as are jeans and casual clothes.

Have him participate in the decisions. Renegotiate when he's ready for more jobs, or if something's not working. Keep telling yourself it's better than it was, rather than that its' still not good enough. Express appreciation when either of you does housework... "It looks nice in here" is okay if you did the work yourself!
posted by wryly at 11:59 AM on November 9, 2012

Hm, I must be much harsher than most other folks around here, because my first thought is that your partner is just waiting for someone else (you) to do it. And not consciously or spitefully or with any evilly plotted forethought. It's just what he's used to. Especially with his more traditional upbringing, he assumes those kinds of things will take care of themselves...which they don't, of course. Someone else takes care of them for him.

It's what most people go through when they grow up: When we're kids, we leave dirty dishes on the dinner table, dirty laundry on the floor, throw our backpacks on the ground when we get home from school and never give it a second thought. Kids don't understand the idea that if they don't take of their own stuff, something bad will happen. Because mommy or daddy takes care of it behind the scenes, right?

Then along comes college or something like that. You suddenly realize that when you wear your clothes, you have to do laundry. So we try to find workarounds like buy 50 pairs of underwear to avoid laundry day or we wear the same shirt 5 times. And you learn to live with roommates and share stuff...and that's when a lot of slobby people's slack are taken up by the neater people around them (and what causes a lot of roommate strife). It's at this point we're supposed to become more self-aware of our own habits and adjust our own standards.

I'd guess your partner is having a delayed "college" phase, and it's about clarifying responsibility. I wouldn't suggest a rotating schedule or general tips for your partner to keep in mind. I'd divide up the chores between the two of you--and whatever that chore is, it belongs to that person. So, dishes could be your partner's responsibility. Dirty dishes in the sink, running the dishwasher, etc. It's his job; no questions. Conversely, you could be the laundry person. That way when you see a dirty dish in the sink and point it out to him, he'll understand that he messed up on that one, and not just take it as a nag from you.
posted by dede at 3:32 PM on November 9, 2012

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