How to organize a household... with wildly different planning styles
September 15, 2021 8:25 AM   Subscribe

Spouse and I have similar household goals, but different communication and planning styles. Looking for some ideas for how we can organize and communicate household tasks that will fit both of our styles.

I am much more of a planner/organizer/communicator. Spouse is much more of a fly by night/do things when feel like it/hates being told what to do (and admits to not doing things because of being "told" what to do because he feels like I'm nagging). This isn't a great match for keeping our household running, so we're trying to figure out a better method. Both of us are still WFH and we have a 1 year old who is home 5 days, with in-home child care 2 of those days.

-Neat, organized house
-Household chores completed in a timely manner
-Neither of us feeling an undue burden, though not actually worried about how equal the division of labor is

Currently, our household is much more of a tasks get piled up/ignored til one of us begrudgingly deals with it. We get annoyed/resentful at the amount to be done, and have different priorities of what to do first.

I personally need some sort of concrete system/plan in place with a way to communicate. He'd rather just take personal initiative for doing things when he wants to. In the past, we've done "Reminders" lists as a way for me to list out what needs doing, and he can look at it by choice. However, out of sight, out of mind. I'd also like a way to put more seasonal/periodic chores in that default to me because I think of them.
posted by DoubleLune to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Separate spheres.

Negotiate a common set of endpoint standards for major areas of household and family work (yard, groceries, short-term cleanliness, deep-cleaning, repairs, organization, bills, etc...). Then each of you picks a set of areas and gets 100% of responsibility for making sure shared standards are met in those areas. The other partner can object where end goals are not being met in a timely manner, but does not get a say in the process or the day-to-day timetable.

If there's an area where you can't agree on compromise standards, then the partner with the higher standards takes that set of tasks.
posted by Bardolph at 8:53 AM on September 15, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Are there times of day that would work better for each of you?

We have times of day when each person is the most chore-oriented and all basic chores get done then. Spouse has before bed chores that are done with podcasts as company -- dishes (there is a tub of water and all the dishes go in there to soak), wiping down kitchen counters, scooping the litter box, taking the kitchen trash to the dumpster, making coffee (don't tell the coffee snobs but we put ice/microwave day old coffee and like it). I have morning chores done with the Korean language news as company -- putting away the dishes, running the robot vacuum, scooping the litter box, cleaning out the fridge, feeding the worm bins any grody produce, wiping down the desks and dining table (so much cat fur).

Laundry and getting groceries are harder to schedule since they aren't daily chores in the house, but the Sunday farmers market is a regular excursion and the whiteboard on the fridge keeps a list of things we need to get.
posted by spamandkimchi at 8:54 AM on September 15, 2021

Mod note: One deleted; OP is explicitly asking for specific ideas for how to make this work better; please keep the focus on constructive concrete ideas.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:56 AM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Things that have worked for me in the past (various spouses):

- Saturday mornings were for weekly tasks, sweeping, vacuuming, dry mopping wood floors, and bathroom cleaning. One person would clean the bathroom(s), the other would do the floors, and dusting. Of course, the kitchen was probably swept more often, I'm talking more deep cleaning.

- One spouse didn't cook, so I did all meal planning and cooking. He was responsible for taking the trash to the outside cans and then taking it to the dump (or curb, and then retrieving said cans).
He also did the bulk of the snow shoveling, tho' sometimes I'd clean off the car for him and we'd shovel together if it was a lot of snow. If I didn't feel like cooking, I would tell him what I wanted, and he would call and run for takeout.

- We did laundry together at the laundromat. He folded his clothes and I folded mine, then we'd put our respective clothing away when we got home. Times I've had a washer/dryer at home, I usually ended up doing it and putting it away. He'd often refold his shirts because he liked them done a specific way, so I'd set them on the bed in that case, so he could refold and put away himself. It got done because he'd have to put the clothes away in order to get into bed.

- We generally did grocery shopping together. If I went on my own, he'd be waiting to help carry the bags inside. I put things away, as I was the main cook and had my own preferences for where things went.

- Dishes, one spouse would do dishes, especially if I cooked. The last one, I cooked and did dishes the next day, because I had more time and also preferred them done a certain way. But he had back issues, so it was a mobility thing as well. But I didn't have to deal with going to the dump, so that was fine with me.

In general, it was routine that kept things sane. Not to say there was never any arguing or reminding involved, but say, if I didn't feel like vacuuming, he'd do it, or wouldn't complain if it didn't get done right away.

I usually ended up doing the checking account and paying the bills. I like to pay things early or on time, and being late or worrying about it drives me nuts. Some people are fine with paying things the day they are due or a few days late.

If the other person agrees to do the dishes, then lets them sit forever, that's an issue, especially when they pile up or the dishwasher needs to be emptied, etc. In that case, they should do something else (diaper change or bath time for kid, for instance) or perhaps agree to you guys getting a month's worth of cleaning service for chores like bathroom cleaning. It doesn't really matter how it works, as longs as it works for both of you (one does one chore all the time, or you trade off daily or weekly). But in general, divvying up tasks and getting into a routine is what worked for me in the past. I've also done the paper calendar and writing things down (Joe: Dishes on Mon/Wed/Fri, Jane: Dishes: Tues/Thurs/Sat (Sunday day off, paper plates) etc.), and then once there is a routine established, people know it's their day and that becomes unnecessary.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:10 AM on September 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Separate spheres is what works for us, too. That does include seasonal/periodic stuff - whichever one of us thinks of a task we haven't yet divvied up brings it up and we decide together who's going to take it moving forward. We're each responsible for managing our task lists as we see fit.

Mostly we do this stuff on our own separate time tables, but once in a while if we're e.g. binge-watching a show together we might decide to alternate episodes with ten minutes of chores where we each run around doing our various tasks in parallel, which can be kind of fun.

If there are chores that one of you really dislikes and the other doesn't mind, you can get a lot of mileage out of divvying those up accordingly. Does it drive me wild inside that my partner loads the dishwasher like a giant weirdo or lets the cardboard recycling pile up way too high for my tastes? Sure. But then I remember that I could go the entire rest of my life and never have to run a vacuum or take out the trash again except when my partner is sick or travelling, and I suddenly do not care even the tiniest bit if there's a little too much cardboard sitting in the hallway. I fucking hate taking out the trash and my partner gets so much goodwill out of being willing to take that one on.
posted by Stacey at 9:18 AM on September 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Unfuck Your Habitat has some cleaning checklists you can start from - they're pretty simplistic if you're dealing with a home with many rooms so you may need to flesh those out in order to break up larger tasks like vacuuming into rooms/quadrants.

I strongly recommend having him participate in this process so he has part ownership of it and he is assigning himself tasks that he is agreeing to do.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:22 AM on September 15, 2021

The way to avoid feeling an undue burden is to split up the chores by who hates each one least. So for example, I like cooking. I cook even when my wife offers to make something or order takeout. Even though I’m doing 100% of the work 100% of the time, it doesn’t bother me because it doesn’t (usually) feel like work. On the other hand, I HATE doing dishes. My wife doesn’t mind, though, so she’s usually the one to do them. Not always, though - if she works late, or if she has a bunch of other chores to do, she’ll ask me to help, and I will. Me not helping would be an undue burden on her. But if she’s just sitting around watching TV and doesn’t feel like doing them one night, that feels like an undue burden on me. I’m doing something I hate doing when she could be doing it and just doesn’t want to.

I like what was said about the person with higher standards taking responsibility.

The other thing that has caused issues for us is timing. My wife is a morning person and would do all the chores first thing in the morning. I’m not, and working in the morning feels awful to me. I’m not even very productive in the morning at work, let alone at home. So you can split up work by when it has to be done. Taking my example of the dishes above, there are a lot of nights where I end up doing the dishes, just because I stay up longer after dinner than she does. Dishes are a late night task. So is taking out the trash. Vacuuming is more of a daytime task. She ends up doing that most of the time even though I generally like vacuuming, because if I vacuumed at 11pm it would wake up the kids. A big part of this is trusting the other person to do their task at some other time, which of course is a bigger issue in a relationship as well.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:25 AM on September 15, 2021

Best answer: Can you throw money at some of this? Hiring a house cleaner will take a lot of this burden off the two of you.
posted by radioamy at 9:43 AM on September 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

+1 throw money if you possibly can. I'm a frugal person but early on I figured out that I needed to think of certain expenses, which I'd previously considered wasteful/avoidable, as investments into the health of my marriage -- which ultimately is the biggest financial security vehicle we've both got.

Otherwise I like the idea of agreeing ahead of time that a certain time each day is chores time, and you do what you've agreed to do. It is psychologically helpful, when delving into your own pile of chores, to see your partner also doing theirs. Hopefully this will also serve as a reminder-without-nagging should one of you forget what time it is.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:08 AM on September 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

I suggest you look back at what your homes were like when you were single and figure out what each of you actually did when there was nobody to do it for you. If, for example, your spouse always used to do a big Saturday kitchen clean up and mop the floor that day once a week, and you never mopped the kitchen floor unless the landlord was coming to do an inspection, it makes more sense for him to do the kitchen floor mopping than you. He can get back on a schedule of once a week more easily than you can rise to achieve that. Neither of you are going to be highly motivated to meet standards you don't set yourself.

Watch out for passive aggressive situations where you are both letting the chores slide. If you would normally mop the kitchen floor only when the landlord is due, but never drop anything on the floor without doing a quick wipe with wet paper towel, you could end up looking at all the splatters created by the toddler and the spouse and concluding that you have been doing your part and feeling that you are living with a slob, where as if he is the only one ever mopping the floor he can start to feel it is your turn, and start skipping alternate Saturdays because he will be darned if he is the only one mopping. And then you are both feeling hard done by and grossed out and all of you are getting used to living with a tacky kitchen floor. Often there is emotional stuff like this going on. Keep in mind that both of you maybe assuming the kid's mess is really the other person's mess. "You were in charge of the kid when the mess was made." "It's not fair for me to have to be on kid duty and also have to be the one cleaning the kitchen." Subtext like this can result in a very sticky kitchen.

In my experience usually there is someone coasting. The one to whom a dirty kitchen floor is less annoying will leave it longer every time because if the other person is always doing it they stop being aware of just how bad the grime is getting and stop being aware of the fact that there is such a chore as mopping kitchen floors at all. It's really easy to get into a pattern of not worrying about things. The clean laundry fairy will take care of it. If magic fails to happen the laundry crisis has become so bad that it will take more than an evening to sort out how to deal with it and figure out what needs to be washed, so it has to be postponed to the next usable large block of time, and the kid gets put to bed in an adult t-shirt. Laundry tonight is insurmountable and with luck magic will occur.

The solution for this is for the clean laundry fairy to inform their spouse that they have been doing all the laundry for the last six month, and for the next six weeks expect to do nothing except their own minimum, as they have chosen to divert their energies to some other function such as working on deep cleaning the basement or sorting their Magic the Gathering card collection, or putting in overtime. They'll need to be forceful and stick to their guns. If six weeks go by with the one coasting not picking up the slack, then when the clean laundry fairy goes back on duty almost all the clothes get send to goodwill. There is too much inventory for your household to deal with. You need to run out of spares so that there is no way to build up a backlog of dirty laundry anymore. One towel each, one set of sheets and no more clothes than will fit into one, or at most two loads of laundry will keep the problem from getting out of hand and over burdening the only household member willing to do laundry.

The same solution applies to the dishes. If you are using more than you can keep up with, reduce what you have until you can keep up with it. You may end up with one mug each, one plate, one bowl, one fork, one spoon, and a shared frying pan, a pot, a cutting board and a knife. If that is what it takes to simplify the job so either one of you can do it, then you may need to do it. You can always negotiate. If you never use the rice cooker but are always having to wash it, you can suggest that either it goes in the pile for goodwill, or your partner agrees to always wash it.

Consider splitting the chore list down the middle and assigning half to each of you, and then three months later swap lists. If one side is unfairly long you will both be motivated to renegotiate before the next swap at the six month point, and you will both have a better idea if you are pulling your own weight or not.

It is very possible you will discover that one of you has much, much higher standards than the other. Let's say it turns out that one of you will not cook. Meals are take-out or eaten cold out of a can. You'll only frustrate both of you if you try to make either one of you conform to the other's standards. You'll need to both accept it instead. When you are on dinner duty dinner is going to be biscuits straight from the package, bananas straight from the banana stand, and tuna straight from the can, and you will wash the necessary forks. When he is on duty there will be a full three course meal and he's responsible for all the washing up. If he gets sick of the washing up he has the option of not cooking, or of only cooking for himself and the child.

It's perfectly acceptable to say, "I'll cook tonight if you wash up," but if you say no to the meal and the dishes, it's up to him to accept your preference and not try to make you change.

If you agree to the dishes but then leave them for three days until he has to wash them all himself you've broken your word, and again, acceptance is the best path forward. He needs to be aware that you are unreliable and not count on you doing things you won't. It doesn't matter if the reason you leave the dishes is that you got sick, or failed your executive functioning test, or are a creep who never even meant to try to wash the dishes. He needs to know and change his own behaviour accordingly. Recriminations don't help. Maybe a compromise, like him cooking dinner and all of you eating it out of the pot will work. But otherwise he has to decide for himself if making and sharing a dinner with you is worth getting stuck with the dishes.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:46 AM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Spouse is much more of a fly by night/do things when feel like it/hates being told what to do

My partner is like this. We do not live together but we do work on household projects of one or the other of us. We do not have children. I think my first question for you would be: do you both share these goals? Because I agree with other people, a lot of the time things get done by who cares about them the most but that can be difficult when one person (in this case me) wants to have a plan and the other person (in this case him) wants to feel unencumbered by plans.

Honestly the way we dealt with this was kiiinda separate spheres but also thinking about what we could contribute that to the other person was a big deal. In my case, I don't really love driving and he doesn't mind it at all and kind of likes it. So we have an LDR that involves him doing a lot more of the driving. He doesn't like to cook (I don't mind it) but is happy to order take-out and/or do the dishes. For certain things where he is "out of sight out of mind" about it, we've had heart to hearts about it and really came down on "Hey sometimes in order for a thing to happen, I will be telling you what to do. Unless you can plan another way for this to happen in a timeline that we both feel is reasonable, this is the way." So something like "Hey you need to do these dishes before we go to bed otherwise we'll get mice" is a reasonable thing. And sometimes it means we're waiting to go to bed until he does the dishes last-thing but that's not as big a deal for me as not having to do them if I cooked dinner.

Because, sure, he feels how he feels and you feel how you feel. However your feelings approach is more geared towards a situation where household things get done and happen. He can also come to the table with suggestions, but they can't just be thoughts and prayers type of solutions. So if you're not worried about the division of labor, you can handle more of the "executive function" things which would be making deadlines, making a family calendar, setting up a schedule, setting up team meetings. He can do more of the drive-the-car, lift-the-box stuff as long as it happens within the time window you agree on. You can meet at a regular interval just a ten minute "OK what is up next" which I'm sure you already do for child discussions and responsibilities. Because it's fine to want to do things when you feel like, but once you are coordinating with other people you need to take their feelings into account.
posted by jessamyn at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Gretchen Rubin's 4 Tendencies framework might be helpful. Sounds like your husband is a Rebel. Here's some 4-Tendencies relationship advice.
posted by BrashTech at 3:45 PM on September 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the suggestions - I think we'll be able to incorporate some of these strategies for our common goal of a cleaner/happier living space.

Gretchen Rubin's 4 Tendencies framework might be helpful. Sounds like your husband is a Rebel.
This is frankly fascinating and spot-on for both of us. I'm a questioner and that definitely comes through in how I talk and approach things.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:45 AM on September 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

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