The Dividends of Cleaning House

This coming weekend, our oldest child is having some friends over. Which, for us, means that it’s time to clean the house. Or at least the living room. This time, though, it’s the end of the semester, coming up on summer, and the kitchen and a few other specific areas are really quite unpleasant, and so it’s house-cleaning time.

And so I spent about an hour and a half just now cleaning house, in the middle of the day, with no one keeping me company. Which is a thing I hate. But I think it’s worth it.

Some of you may, perhaps, have entered a marriage where one of you liked house cleaning, or at least was good at doing it pretty much as a matter of course. This was not the marriage I entered, nor (if that was not obvious) the marriage my spouse entered.

There are, as you may have imagined, varying strategies to deal with this kind of situation. We have tried several of them:

  • It’s my/her job — The time-honored, gender-role-division strategy. Works for some, a horrible idea for us — partly because both of us have actual paid work, but mostly because we find it unutterably depressing to be “the one” whose job is to keep the house clean.
  • Divide up chores — a fine idea, except that both of us have erratic, boom-and-bust work cycles. Also, I personally don’t react well to “this-is-your-job” pressure, preferring to do things more or less at random (and yes, I actually will do things at random, though not enough to keep our house consistently clean, alas).
  • Make the kids do it — To our discredit, this is a thing we have tried, and almost entirely failed at. Cleaning the house is hard enough; finding the energy to make someone else do it is considerably worse.
  • Hire someone else — Believe it or not, we have actually done this from time to time, paying people to come in and clean. But… Aside from the financial cost, I find this doesn’t actually save much time. Supervising, making decisions, preparing for the person to come over, and (in my case) stressing, however illogically, about someone else seeing how dirty my house is eats up as much time and energy as I save by not doing the housework myself. I get a cleaner house, but not much else.
  • Put up with clutter — A strategy much-practiced by us, but there are limits. One of them comes when a member of the family wants to invite someone over but feels uncomfortable doing so because of how the house looks. Another comes when things start needing to be replaced because you either can’t find them or they keep getting broken because people can’t tell what’s underfoot/underbutt while walking/sitting.
  • Limp along with some ad-hoc combination of the above — Yes! And we have a winner…

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Underlying the Langford Family Approach to Housecleaning™ are several informal but time-tested principles:

  • Housework is yucky. Let’s not kid ourselves here, and let’s not try to kid anyone else either.
  • Learn what works for your marriage. All the expectations I had going into my marriage have been pretty much useless. We have both been happier since I learned to abandon them and try to observe what actually works in our marriage rather than make it follow rules.
  • You can live with more clutter than you think you can. I take off my hat to those of you who have not had to learn this lesson, but don’t think I can actually bear for you to tell me about it…
  • He/she who cares the most has the responsibility for making it happen. This is one of those rules of thumb that can easily go wrong, say if one person globally cares more about housework than the other person does. And it totally is not the rule with making children clean. But in a marriage, or at least in our marriage, there are real problems if I assume that because something is important to me but I don’t have the time to do it, I get to put it on my spouse’s to-do list. Maybe that’s a better way to put this one: The only to-do list I own is my own.
  • It’s more friendly with two. Generally true, and especially if you can talk to each other and thus keep yourselves distracted from the fact that you’re cleaning.
  • There are worse outcomes than a dirty house. A big one is when one spouse starts to feel abandoned, depressed, or panicky about everything he/she has to get done.
  • Negotiation can be your friend. “I’ll do this if you do that” is a nice way to get things done without either partner feeling abandoned or like his/her priorities have been trampled.
  • 50-50 is never quite enough. I see the work I do. I don’t tend to see in detail all the work someone else does. So if I think I’m doing half of the work, I’m probably fooling myself.
  • Self-bribery is a thing. And it’s not a bad thing. Really.
  • Gratitude is liberating. In contrast, expectations can be depressing and scary. In my case, ridiculously so.
  • Time invested in making my partner happy pays off. When she is happy, I wind up being happier too. If I could inscribe one of these in gold and never forget it, this would be the one — and only partly because if I take this as my basic rule, I get to the others eventually.

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Cleaning for this Saturday is nowhere near done. There still the kitchen floor and some counters to clean, bathroom to clean, living room to pick up and vacuum. But we’ll tackle it with a cheerier heart for knowing that part is already done, and that neither one of us has to do it alone.

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3 Responses to “The Dividends of Cleaning House”

  1. Lovely post. Made me think about my own situation. In my marriage, I believe I’m the one who overall cares more about keeping a clean, tidy house, although I know my wife likes it too. She has a MUCH higher clutter tolerance than I do. I’ve trained myself to ignore certain clutter containment areas. She is very good at organizing, but she’s busy and doesn’t get to it often.

    Since I’ve been working at home full time, cleanliness has become even more of an issue for me. I was used to working in clean corporate environments. I tried to get myself on a housecleaning routine, and I did do quite a few things, but things were constantly nagging at me. For a few months now, we’ve had housecleaners come every two weeks. This works very well. Even if I see stuff get dirty between times, I can just think, “Oh, they’ll get it in a week or two.” Rather than, “That is going to stay that way until one of us cleans it.”

    I too am bad on getting kids to clean. I have chosen a few specific jobs that I ride them on, mainly vacuuming and trash. (We don’t have our housecleaners do those two things, saving them for our boys.) The two youngest also have a dish job, and even just that gets old for me, constantly asking and reminding them to do it. I often pick up their clutter around the house and throw it down the stairs. Often it piles up in their hallway, but I turn a blind eye to that.

    I actually can enjoy housework, when I get around to it. I find it soothing and rewarding. But I don’t get around to it often enough to stay on top of it.

    When it comes to cars, we don’t do much. I like tidy cars as far as trash and clutter, but we rarely vacuum or wipe. I don’t see the point unless you’re going to keep it up every week or two. I would like to take the cars to one of those inside-and-out places every week, but it takes too much time and money. I’m always noticing dirt and grime in our cars, including the windows, but I just live with it…

  2. Donna says:

    Lololol

  3. LauraN says:

    Well, this is one of the upsides of an ’empty nest.’ The clutter is a lot more controlled. However, I still have to do occasional ‘dust bunny roundups.’ Seriously–how can things get dirty just sitting there? But dealing with housecleaning in a way that doesn’t lead to homicide is great!

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