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If you're newly married, it's important that you and your mate have a full and frank discussion about dividing up the household chores evenly, says Jen Singer, a parenting writer and a stay-at-home mom. Think of it this way – you're establishing patterns that will last for decades. It's a lot easier to agree on equitable division of labour in the glow of an early relationship than it will be to change entrenched habits years from now. Furthermore, if you take on too much of the cleaning, you're going to be overwhelmed when you have children. So make a detailed list of all the cleaning duties that need to be done in the home and divide them up – each of you getting some chores you enjoy, as well as some that are nasty. Chart out who's going to do each duty and how often it will be done.
If you've been married for years, and it's time to redistribute the workload, plot out in advance the discussion points you want to make, approach your spouse in an rational state of mind, and spell out the housework situation – what needs doing and who's currently doing what. Tell your spouse that the workload looks uneven, and tell him how that makes you feel, says Beckwith. ( Pop quiz: Which phrase is less emotionally charged: "burdened" or "pissed off"?) Remark that it looks as if he has more leisure time than you do – you want extra time to spend with your husband and less time vacuuming. Ask which duties he would like to take on – and let him decide. Again, it will help if the two of you work together to make a list of the cleaning chores, assign your name or his name to each task, and note how frequently each will be done.
Following are other ways to make sure that cleaning chores shift from your to-do list to your spouse's.
Make your work visible
Does your spouse have a Magic Underwear Drawer? He puts used undies into a hamper and clean ones materialize in the dresser! No, no, no. You need to find subtle ways to remind your spouse of all the work you do, says Singer. So if you're going to launder his clothes, deliver his laundry in a basket to the bedroom – but let him put everything away. Also, when the two of you are relaxing in the den in the evening, having the "How did your day go?" discussion, don't hesitate to list all of the cleaning chores you accomplished. You did the work, so take the credit.
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Excerpted from How to Cheat at Cleaning: Time-Slashing Techniques to Cut Corners and Restore Your Sanity by Jeff Bredenberg, copyright 2007. Excerpted with permission from Random House of Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher. Pick the right time
Discuss your need for more help at a time when your spouse won't be distracted or resentful – not while he's watching his favorite sports team on television and not the moment he gets home from work and needs to unwind. Otherwise, an angry undercurrent will scuttle your discussion.
Women often know exactly how to perform cleaning functions, but men often don't, Beckwith says. Tell your spouse the key things he needs to know about loading the dishwasher, for instance. ("There are men who load the dishwasher with the glasses face up," she says.) Make sure he knows where the detergent is, how much to put into the dispenser, and how to operate the controls. Provide any training by showing how it's done – not telling.
Lower your standards
This may sound condescending, but it's not. Some women's standards for cleaning are "ridiculously high," says Beckwith. If you criticize your spouse's cleaning efforts or redo his work, he'll quit helping. Be happy that some amount of cleaning was accomplished, even if it's not the way you would have done it.
Stick to your guns
If your spouse is supposed to handle a particular cleaning task and he doesn't get around to it, don't do if for him, says Newman. That's a trap: The workload will drift back to the same old inequitable arrangement.
Schedule the work
You grandmother probably had a rigid schedule for housekeeping duties – there was a wash day and an ironing day each week, for instance. Modern homemakers tend to approach their tasks randomly as they find the time, says Singer – and that often means that work piles up undone. Small, self-imposed deadlines will help you and your spouse keep up with the work. For instance, Singer makes sure she has all of the breakfast dishes put away in the dishwasher before the kids leave for school in the morning, and she changes the sheets every Tuesday.
Praise and reward
No matter how lacking your spouse's cleaning effort might have been, find something nice to say about the job – and throw in a reward: "Wow, shiny bathroom faucets! Why don't we drop the housework now and go to a movie?"
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Excerpted from How to Cheat at Cleaning: Time-Slashing Techniques to Cut Corners and Restore Your Sanity by Jeff Bredenberg, copyright 2007. Excerpted with permission from Random House of Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher. Get selective with your cleaning
If you're having trouble making your point about needing help, ensure that any duties that specifically affect your husband get done last or not at all – washing his clothes, sorting his socks, and picking up his shirts from the dry-cleaner, for instance. "Sorry about that, Herb – I had to vacuum the entire house today by myself!"
If your spouse is reluctant to do his share of the cleaning, says Beckwith, hire a housekeeper to alleviate the burden – once every two weeks might be all the relief you need. Also, take the family's dirty clothes to an outside laundry for cleaning and folding. Hire a cook for a day to prepare a week's worth of meals (do an Internet search for "personal chef services.") If your spouse objects to these expenses, remind him that you've been asking for help. This will motivate your spouse to do more.
Five very manly things about cleaning
If you're the kind of guy who fears that housecleaning is a threat to your manliness, here are five points to keep in mind:
1. Being in charge of a cleaning job is a valid excuse to buy tools.
2. When you clean, you get to wear your rattiest jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers.
3. A guy who can clean is able to eat all the junk food on the couch that he wants – and hide the evidence.
4. Any guy who can leap into action at a party and remove a fresh wine stain from the carpet will impress the heck out of everybody.
5. You get to hunt down and kill fierce wildlife. Okay, we're actually talking about germs, but they're still dangerous little beasts.
Read more: 10 tips to get your kids to do household chores.
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Excerpted from How to Cheat at Cleaning: Time-Slashing Techniques to Cut Corners and Restore Your Sanity by Jeff Bredenberg, copyright 2007. Excerpted with permission from Random House of Canada. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publisher.