True (housework) confessions

Last week’s NYTimes article on mothers’ labor force participation (which I also wrote about last Friday) suggests that the decline in housework that has occurred over the past 40 years may have reached a limit — that we can’t reasonably go much lower.  I’m not sure if I think that’s true. 

I have no idea how messy the average house is, to be honest, or how we compare.  We do a pretty good job of staying on top of the dirty dishes and the laundry (since we don’t have a basement, there’s no real room to let the laundry pile up), but the clutter (books, papers, toys) builds up as fast as we can put it away.  And by the time we’ve cleared away the clutter, we often run out of steam before we get to the sweeping/vacuuming/mopping stage.

So I asked my husband if he’d be willing to track all the housework we did for a week, and he said sure. He even suggested we post photos.  (We’ve been snapping them, but I don’t have the energy to transfer them tonight.)

So, today is day 1.  T reports that he spent 1 hour grocery shopping today, 1 hour cooking (we had chicken paprikash), and 2.75 hours doing housework (.5 hours cleaning the kitchen, .25 hours cleaning up after each of lunch and dinner, .25 hours running laundry, .75 hours sorting and putting it away, .5 hours picking up the dining room, and .25 hours picking up the library/family room).  He says that’s about average — I think it’s probably a bit more than usual.  But that might be a sign of the invisibility of housework — you only notice it when it’s not done.

I spent about 20 minutes cooking (mostly making challah for tomorrow, but also putting my breakfast and lunch together) and about 40 minutes cleaning — 10 minutes cleaning the kitchen (scrubbing the stovetop and the microwave, which didn’t rise to the top of T’s list), 15 minutes putting away laundry, and 15 minutes picking up in the library. I also spent about 30 minutes trying to get caught up recording our finances, which got a bit scrambled by not having access to my computer files for two weeks.  And now I’ve spent about 30 minutes blogging and checking my messages, and I think I’m going to bed.

15 Responses to “True (housework) confessions”

  1. Laura Says:

    Great idea! Can’t wait to see what the rest of the week is like.
    My house is not the neatest, but I’ve seen plenty that are way worse than mine, so I think I have pretty high standards even if I don’t always meet them.

  2. Moxie Says:

    Some people are indifferent housekeepers. I’m an antagonistic housekeeper. I don’t know how mcuh lower a person’s standards could go.
    Mmmm. Chicken paprikas. When I can eat diary and wheat again I’m going to make it.

  3. landismom Says:

    Maybe what we really need to talk about is not the mommywars but the cleanhouse wars (someone who’s had more coffee–please come up with a better title than that). I know some SAHMs who are just as slobby as I am, and some working moms who are staying up till all hours of the morning bleaching their kitchen floors. I think you’re true housework confessions is a great idea, I doubt I’ll be posting any pictures of our kitchen any time soon!

  4. Genevieve Says:

    Can you post T’s recipe for chicken paprikash? Yum!

  5. jen Says:

    Interesting idea – cleanhouse wars. (Or should I say “tidier than thou?”)
    What slays me about the housekeeping thing is it’s essentially my own internal battle. Even if the “mommy wars” are a fallacy, the fallacy itself is pretty clear: stay-home vs. working. With cleanhouse wars it’s more like me vs. my mother, or me vs. my own internal demons. I can’t recall a friend or my husband ever commenting on how dirty the house is. (Truth be told, if anyone’s doing the criticizing of their friends, it’s me — all in my head.)

  6. Anna Says:

    2.75 hours seems like a lot to me! But maybe that’s just an indicator of how little housework I’m doing. Hmm…
    I might have to start keeping track of this myself. Since we’re down to one car and therefore I’m housebound with the boy a lot, I find myself feeling like I’ve been in the kitchen all day. Probably I could take some of that time and spread it to, say, dusting, which definitely is at the bottom of my list. In that sense, housekeeping time spent is WAY down from generations ago.
    I do have an excessively neat friend who has inspired me to do more housework just so that I won’t feel bad when she comes over. We’re on totally unfair footing though, since she has no pets, and it’s a zoo here.

  7. Julie Says:

    It’s all in my head too, Jen. It’s probably a throw-back to pre-paycheck days (in white, upper-class societies) when a woman’s worth was defined by her domestic goddess status. Or, maybe we have Martha to thank.

  8. Jennifer Says:

    What does it matter, measuring how much time you spend on housework? To me it seems like measuring how much time you spend brushing your teeth, or breathing.
    I think people read magazines like Good Housekeeping, Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart Living, Real Simple etc. as a way of staying or getting interested in the housework one does. I’ve gotta clean the house; it’s more diverting a task if I “decorate” while I’m cleaning.

  9. Jody Says:

    I disagree with the idea that personal hygiene equates with home maintenance (which is what some percentage of housecleaning might be), and I strongly disagree with the idea that keeping a house clean merits no more familial notice than breathing.
    One of the things that always drove me crazy at FlyLady [] was that she claimed to teach people how to keep great clean houses in fifteen minutes a day — WITH a half-hour bedtime routine, a half-hour morning routine, at least one full load of laundry a day (from sorting through to folding and putting away), plus keeping kitchens clean after every meal. Now, she advocated RACING through those tasks — her description of what she did in thirty minutes every morning left me exhausted just reading it — but Elizabeth’s point about a lot of that labor being invisible, even to those who do it, strikes me as spot-on. FlyLady’s “fifteen minutes a day” worked out to more like three hours, by my accounting.
    I think we’re all especially aware of that when caring for infants, or when we’re tracking our TV habits (which in our house, during toddlerhood, corresponded directly to meal prep and clean up times).
    To put it another way, if I won the lottery, I’d hire a cook/kitchen cleaner before I hired a housecleaner. Because I can let my bathroom slide for weeks, really, but the damn kitchen needs to function every single day.
    Elizabeth, I’m almost too disorganized to keep track of the housekeeping labor, and my mom’s in town this weekend, but I might just take on this task next Monday. I think it would be very interesting for Calder and I to track this stuff. (He does most of the kitchen work, because I loathe it just that much.)

  10. Christine Says:

    I have never really considered meal prep and clean up as household chores. One has to eat and clean up can be controlled by the size and type of meal. Picking up and sorting are clean up activities, but if it takes minutes rather than more than an hour I don’t classify it as a household chore. For me household chores always included vacuuming, dusting, laundry, bathrooms, kitchen (appliances, counter and floor). After my daughter hit the toddler years I have little energy to be obsessively meticulous.

  11. jo(e) Says:

    I really like the idea of tracking who does what, and how much time is spent doing what, and then taking a look to see what that all means. I might get my household to do that. I think we might be surprised by what we find.

  12. Fred Vincy Says:

    We spent a fair bit of this morning cleaning house, in large part because we have friends coming over. I think that’s a big part of the problem. Everyone does that, so we only see our friends houses when they are at their cleanest, and we imagine that everyone is much neater than we are, causing us to put unreasonable expectations on ourselves.

  13. Jennifer Says:

    Tracking time on household tasks might be an interesting one-time exercise — like how the paper every so often will announce that the average American spends an eighth of his or her lifetime stuck in traffic.
    But do you think it will change anything? If you find you spend 10 hours a week on laundry & that seems excessive, what will you do differently?
    I _do_ think that household chores are like brushing your teeth. You can brush your teeth four times a day or one, but you really can’t brush them none… Of course there’s not the distribution of labor issues; but I didn’t think that was the heart of Elizabeth’s post – ?

  14. magikmama Says:

    well – if laundry takes 10 hours per week, it should count more than a task that takes 5. Frequently, I run into this with my husband, where he declares that he does 50% of the chores, and I point out to him that he generally does the ones that take 15 or 20 minutes, and I get stuck with the ones that take 2 or 3 hours (going to the laundromat, scrubbing down the kitchen, washing the refridgerator, the monthly vaccuming out of radiators, etc.). So it’s really not 50% at all…
    Alot of times I find that he simply doesn’t believe that laundry takes me like 12-13 hours a week. But he doesn’t realize that sorting it out, hauling it to the laundromat, folding and putting away takes ALOT more time than just throwing clothes in the washer. Plus, with a 4 year old and a pregnant woman, we go through ALOT of clothes every week.

  15. BlogHer [beta] Says:

    It’s a Dirty Job but Someone’s Gotta Do It

    In college I took a Women’s Studies class. I figured that since I was a woman, the class would be an easy A.
    I ended up with a B minus.

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