How to stop arguing about housework

Whether you are married, engaged or just living with a partner or friends, disagreements often arise around housework. And it generally evolves into one party listing all the things that they do that aren’t related to housework but still makes a difference.

It’s important to be on the same page when it comes to the expectation of who will do the housework. And effective communication and collaboration is a key factors in resolving any housework-related conflicts that may arise.

Everyone comes from a different upbringing and likely has different expectations. 

  • A parent that didn’t work outside the home
  • A paid cleaner or housekeeper
  • Equally divided tasks among the adults
  • Au pair or nanny with an allocation of household chores
  • A live-in relative that takes on house duties
  • Rotating responsibilities
  • Children completing a chore chart

So when you first move in together, you are probably starting at different places when it comes to the division of household chores.

The lion’s share of household responsibilities still tends to fall into the traditional gender roles. Meaning that females often do the majority of the household duties. Even today when more women are doing the same amount of paid work outside the household.

Initiate open conversations

Opening up the conversation doesn’t have to turn into chore wars. 

Tips for having a conversation about the division of housework:

  • In advance, arrange a time and date suitable for everyone involved. There is a chance others will go on the defence if you spring the conversation on them.
  • Let others know what you expect during the initial discussion. It can be helpful if everyone has some ideas about tasks they would like to do or tasks they think are a priority.
  • Keep an open mind and try to stay calm during your initial conversation about it.
  • Consider a training session or written manual for some tasks. Some examples are putting dirty dishes on a certain side of the sink and ensuring your dirty clothes are in the right way before adding them to the laundry hamper.

It might take a while for everyone to get into a groove of things. Alternatively, you might find that things aren’t working. In this case, it’s a good idea to set up another family meeting to review and make any changes.

Define roles and responsibilities

It’s important to define each person’s roles and responsibilities when it comes to any particular chore.

For each chore, you will need to decide:

  • what the chore is
  • what is the outcome/benefit
  • who is to do the chore
  • how often it needs to be done

A good example of answers to these questions is:

  • the chore is cleaning the bathroom mirror
  • the benefit is a clean mirror which makes it easier to see your reflection for putting on make-up, flossing, etc.
  • I will take on this responsibility
  • I will do this every two weeks
How I Stopped Fighting With My Husband About Housework

Prioritize and delegate

Once you’ve agreed on what needs to be done, you’ll need to agree on who will be doing each of the household tasks.

It can really pay off here if everyone involved works to their strengths and what they enjoy. If you are like me and enjoy doing laundry, put your hand to add that to your list of chores.

Some tasks may need to be delegated by the time of the day they need to occur. Some time-sensitive tasks are taking and collecting children from school or childcare. Emptying the rubbish bin and putting the bin out for collection. Watering plants might also need to be on a schedule.

Everyone can participate in creating a clean house. And everyone should be involved in the division of chores. You might not send your child to the grocery store or have them clean the toilet but get young children involved. Let them take charge of their bedroom, be in charge of refilling the toilet paper roll, clear off the bathroom floor each night or remove toys from the living room. 

Be flexible and adapt

Being flexible and adapting to situations as they arise can also be very helpful. 

Our schedules and responsibilities often change with the seasons of our lives. It’s important to recognise these changes and adjust accordingly. 

The addition of a new family member, be it a person or pet, can change the dynamic of your to-do list.

Discuss some trade-offs you are willing to make in the interim so that everyone gets by and things still get done.

Some families might find it beneficial to have a laundry routine. Where laundry gets done on certain days of the week. Your household might be large and you need to do laundry every day. 

Make it a game

Turning housework into a game can be a fun and effective way to engage everyone in the household for even the most menial of house chores. It adds an element of excitement and competition, making it feel less like a chore and more like an enjoyable activity.

Set a time for 15 minutes and have everyone do what they can in that time slot. If there are four people participating in this 15-minute challenge, that add up to an hour of housework completed in only 15 minutes!

Put on a playlist of your favourite songs to make the time appear to go quicker. There are a lot of clean-up songs that are aimed at toddlers and kids to help them get into cleaning up.

The goal is to make housework more enjoyable and engaging, so tailor the games to the preferences and ages of the people involved.

Create a chore wheel. Everyone spins the wheel and does the task it lands on.

Get outside help

Address the possibility of seeking external help. There is no shame in paying someone to do something you’d rather not do

Consider hiring a house cleaner for a once-off or a regular scheduled clean.

Use meal delivery services like YouFoodz and Hello Fresh. This is incredibly helpful during a season of ss. Ordering groceries online to be delivered at a convenient time also falls into this category.

Trade child care with a friend so you can both get some tasks completed.

Employ the services of a dog walker or pet sitter to ensure your pets still get the exercise and attention they need.

Outsource your washing or ironing. I know it can be hard to keep on top of laundry during the winter when you don’t have a dryer.

And don’t forget you can outsource things like lawn mowing, weeding and garden maintenance.

If two partners are busy working full time outside the home, you sometimes have these heated discussions about who’s going to do what chores. If you can get someone outside the relationship to do it, that might promote greater relationship satisfaction and protect couples from work-life conflicts.

Ashley V. Whillans, Harvard Business School Assistant Professor

Check-in with those involved

Regularly set aside some time to discuss how the current arrangement for housework is functioning. This can simply be done over a meal when everyone is resent.

This is also the time to come up with a solution if part of the agreed routine isn’t working. Communicate what isn’t working and provide an alternative solution or ask for input.

During check-in, you might even delegate the task to someone else. Keeping your arrangements flexible allows others to pick up household tasks when one person is unable to complete them. Sometimes unavoidable things pop up and we can’t do what we have committed to.

Keeping the communication about this open will allow for understanding and collaboration. Which in turn quickly resolves housework-related conflicts.

What works for my family

When my husband and I first moved in together, I would save everything for Saturday morning. This worked for a while because I had a full-time job.

I now do smaller tasks throughout the week.

Some things in my house that make sense and work well for us:

  • Each person puts away their own laundered clothes
  • If you want your dirty laundry cleaned, it needs to be in the basket
  • The person that cooks the meal also cleans up afterwards 
  • Each person puts their rubbish in the bin and dirty dishes in the sink or dishwasher
  • I take the rubbish out and put the bins out for collection
  • Yard work is done by whoever notices that it needs to be done
  • Home maintenance is mostly done by my husband (I feel uneducated when it comes to using s drill)

But things weren’t always like this. When my daughter was younger, the parent that made dinner would be on bath duty. And the other parent would clean up dinner.

However, this didn’t end up working well for us. My husband seemed to use every utensil, pot and pan when cooking dinner. Which meant I spent longer than I wanted to wash up.

And this is how we came to the conclusion that it would be better if you cook, your clean.

I took on the responsibility of the rubbish because I tend to remember which bin needs to be put out on which day.

The most important thing to remember is that communication is key. If there is something you can’t do, let someone know. And if you see something that needs to be done, sometimes it’s a good idea to go ahead and do it yourself. This can work in all situations. Whether you are a married couple, in share houses, have a family life, or same-sex couples.


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