Trick question. The myth of male incompetence is something I believe is promoted by the advertising industry to help sell cleaning products. Why, I’m not sure, but perhaps because they think the idea strokes the female ego and we’re more likely to buy stuff we think men are too stupid to use correctly. Like front-hook bras. I dunno.
The truth is that housework is a human problem, not a lady problem. He’s not “helping” because it’s his job just as much as anyone else’s. Use a bowl, wash a bowl. Wear socks, wash socks. Use a toilet, scrub a toilet. Seems simple to me. Whether a man accepts this premise was one of my determining criteria for whom to date. I’ve had plenty of male roommates, including family members, and it’s my opinion that men are actually better at cleaning. Three of the best housekeepers I have ever met have been men. The trick is to cut away the gender role baggage and look at each task from an efficiency perspective.
My husband is an engineer. He introduced me to many helpful concepts. One is “low side compliance,” which means doing the minimum effort to meet contractual obligations. An example of this would be putting clean clothes away without folding them. This is completely legit in the case of, say, athletic socks or sleep shirts. The only reasons to fold clothes are to prevent wrinkles and fit them in a drawer. If there is plenty of room for everything and it’s not a work or formal outfit, why bother folding? Another way to do it is to keep everything on hangers. Yet another approach is to develop a capsule wardrobe. My husband has 8 pairs of identical black slacks, 8 polo shirts, 8 long-sleeved shirts, and identical sets of socks and underwear, plus a few dress shirts and ties. He can fit his entire work wardrobe in one suitcase. It’s basically one load of laundry a week, and none of it needs folding. He has successfully eliminated all the complications of my comparatively high-maintenance wardrobe.
It’s easy to make cleaning harder than it needs to be, and we have to own up to our part in creating these obstacles. Clutter is the biggest offender here. Wiping down a counter or table takes less than a minute, if nothing is on it. Add a bunch of curios or doilies or cookie jars or holiday decorations, and the job is progressively more complicated. Another way to make cleaning harder is to insist that it be done in a certain way. My husband watched me spend three hours scrubbing my oven the night I moved out of my apartment. (Actually, he did a bunch of repair and cleaning tasks for me while I was up to my elbows in black suds). The next time there was an oven to clean, we were married. He came in with a scrubbing attachment on a cordless drill, and had it looking brand-new in under 15 minutes. Then we bought a silicon oven liner, and the next time, we just shook it off and put it back in the oven.
Nagging is a great way to slowly strangle the affection, attraction, and respect in a marriage. You know who nags you to clean up? A mom. A resentful, burned-out mom. I’d prefer to create the illusion that we are honeymooners in a five-star hotel, and keep it that way. One thing I learned was that my husband’s initiative to get any given task done kicks in just a few minutes after the point where I feel the impulse to ask about it. Micro-managers are not effective managers. Create a vision and an incentive program instead.
The reason my husband does housework is that he likes living in a clean house. We both take pride in our troubleshooting abilities, and we share innovations with each other. We take turns cooking dinner and cleaning up, partly because he makes his favorite meals better than I do. He unloads the dishwasher while waiting for his tea to steep in the morning. We have a robot vacuum, a robot mop, and a battery-powered scrubber for the bathtub. More importantly, we respect each other’s contribution. We share appreciation. We spend more time enjoying each other’s company than we do either cleaning or bickering about not cleaning. We put the effort into planning next season’s garden, canning pickles, and dreaming up vacation itineraries.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.