Divided We Stand? A Reasonable Look at Chore Division

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Dear Home Ec 101:
My husband and I both grew up in homes where the father worked, and the mother largely stayed home and attended to all of the household duties. We both work and sometimes have a hard time agreeing on who should be doing which chores, how often, and how well. I tend to feel like I’m expected to do more than my fair share. How can we successfully negotiate housework?

I’m really tired of hearing complaints about how I didn’t magically know to wash that specific pairs of jeans that weren’t in the hamper by a certain day, etc. Of course, I get all worked up in my head about expectations b/c I’m a woman, and so on. Ultimately, I would like everybody to have clear expectations and get things done without it being a constant struggle and source of criticism.
Thanks for any advice you have!

how to divide chores evenly

Heather says:

It sounds as though there may be a communication breakdown. One of you is bound to have a lower tolerance for mess, and that one will end up with the lion’s share of chores unless boundaries are set. I know it does not sound fun, but you may have to sit down and actually discuss the division of chores. Consider making a list of chores in three columns: daily, weekly, and seasonal. Then, taking turns, take colored pencils or markers and indicate the chores you don’t mind with one color and chores you abhor with another. This should help fairly divide the list. For the chores you both hate, institute a rotation, but the rotation should last long enough that it would be obvious if one of you is slacking. Passive aggression should NEVER be tolerated. It will only increase resentment.

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Letting him know what you need is not nagging; expecting him to intuit those needs is unrealistic. Extend him the courtesy of telling him your expectations and ask him to do the same for you.

Best of luck.

Send your domestic questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

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18 thoughts on “Divided We Stand? A Reasonable Look at Chore Division”

  1. I think this is a pretty common struggle, regardless of upbringing or not. No one wants to do chores, and everyone feels like they do more than the other.

    One way I’ve found to help regulate even division of labor without anyone feeling like they’re being told what to do is to track on a calendar what chores we have done. (We only do this for dishes, a chore of much dispute since we don’t have a dishwasher.) So we write when we do the dishes and how many we did (1 full drying rack= 1).

    Just keeping track of what chores you did really helps the chore slacker in the relationship see exactly how they are failing, without the other person having to nag or lord it over them.

    Now I can go “Hey, I’ve done the dishes the last 3 times- your turn.”

    Before we would’ve argued over how many dishes were done and by who, without really having facts to back it up.

    Now we got all the facts we need…

    Muhuhahahaha!! 🙂

    • While "everyone feels like they do more than the other" the statistical facts are that women are doing about 80% of unpaid household labour (this has been consistent since the 1980's). So their feelings are more likely to have some validity whereas men who 'feel' they are pulling their weight are likely to be wrong. *

      I agree making it obvious that you are doing more might help the chore slacker to see how they are failing, but it doesn't address the gendered dynamics and expectations; men don't feel they should have to do more, or don't realise how little they are doing, or simply don't care that women take on the lion's share of household responsibility (it's women's work ammirite?).

      *please bear in mind these are behavioural statistics as in, what is happening most often, I'm sure you know someone or perhaps even are someone for whom that is not the case, this is a statistical anomaly and your anecdote is not founded in the available data 🙂

      • You raise a good point, but for most of us we can only control how things are worked out within our own households and raise our children -of both genders- to be aware and sensitive to this.

    • WOW! I cannot believe it never occurred to me to right down, on the calendar, when and how many dishes we were each doing. I live with two other adults and it’s great, EXCEPT when it comes to the dishes. I am going to start this immediately!

  2. I have 2 kids ages 11 and 7 and i'm trying to figure out a good way to get them more involved with household chores. I already have them do daily responsibilities (clear dishes, make beds, clean up after themselves, etc), but want them to be do other household chores on a more regular basis. Currently we don't have a chore schedule, so i would love any suggestions for a schedule that is realistic for their ages. I struggle with finding a balance between getting things done and having fun!


    • Hi Molly!  With an 11 and 7 year old, they should be able to clean the toilet bowl (with a brush), clean the sink and mirror, sweep up the kitchen, and then have one vacuum on say Monday and the other on Thursday.  They may not do a great job, but at least it will help with the big messes and give them something to be proud of!

    • When I was a kid we had a chore jar. The jar was filled with an even amount of chores that needed done every week and at the beginning of the week, my brother and I would take turns pulling slips of paper with the chores on them out of the jar. Those would be our responsibilities for the week. We could trade chores if we both agreed that we wanted to (there were certain ones I preferred and certain ones he preferred) but if we agreed to switch there was no going back and changing our minds. The chores were put in writing up on the fridge so everyone knew who had what. The chores were arranged by room, when possible, and if you had a certain room it was your job to keep it clean all week. It worked out well for us and put a stop to bickering and was the most fair way to do it. I think at 11 and 7 there are plenty of chores they can do around the house to help you out. The philosophy in our house is that we were a family and families worked together to make a household run. We weren’t given allowances for doing chores because as family members we had a responsibility to help take care of our home and make our family work. That was everybody’s job! If you were part of the family, you had to pull your own weight and sometimes help pick up slack to help out other family members. My brother and I knew we wouldn’t be allowed to go play after school unless our homework and chores were done. Often, we would help each other with our chores so we could both go out and play. We lived in the country so often only had each other to play with. Anyway, I hope this helps! Never too early to get them involved and develop good habits that will last a lifetime! 🙂

  3. Sigh. I SOOO understand the OP’s position. The one thing we have going for us in our house is that DH’s tolerance for kitchen counter and sink mess is very low, so he cleans there religiously. And I have a very low tolerance for bathroom mess, so I clean there religiously. That gets the bare daily essentials done without nagging by anybody.

    Something I’m thinking about doing is reading a book (author’s name escapes my mind) with a title something like “Too Much Stuff” that my cousin recommended. (She says that in the book) He talks about how people will argue about stuff rather than get rid of it. Too true! A least a couple of times a week in our house, one of us is miffed about the clutter that has built up because it’s nobody’s “job” to declutter. We don’t actually argue about it but perhaps sigh heavily or grumble. Still. Hoping for inspiration for a team effort to declutter.

  4. i have a large house hold and their are 7 of us in this house. on saturdays , the daughters and i clean up the entire house and we devide up the dish detail… but i still have problems with the meal plaining part of the day. how can i do this and find a happy medium with everything elese?

  5. Don’t know if anyone’s still reading but … something that occurred to me to help explain why not having a plan, and having chores fall by default to the person with the least tolerance for mess and uncleanliness is to compare it to family finances. Nobody would think it’s fair for the person with the least tolerance for financial insecurity to do ALL of the earning, saving, and sacrificing to make the finances of a family “work” while the other(s) do whatever they feel like, possibly undoing all the hard work. Though I’m sure that happens all the time because it’s not fun to sit down and talk out financial responsibilities and division of labour either. (Some degree of) Financial security is in everyone’s interest; everyone contributes. (Some degree of) Cleanliness is in everyone’s interest; everyone contributes.

    Still haven’t read that book I mentioned above. Maybe I need to add that to the New Year’s Resolutions.

  6. I am glad to have found this website. I hope to find some answers that will help me! We are a household of 5 (myself, husband with bad back, 2 boys 10 & 8, and toddler girl) I stay home and homeschool the kids, dh works outside of the home most days. The boys do 2 chores a day, most days. I'm trying to get them to start helping more with dishes and their bathroom.
    Their bedroom is horrid! But they can't seem to be able to figure out how to clean up the mess! Dh doesn't lift a finger. Sometimes I can get him to help make dinner and he helps discipline the kids. But doesn't clean ANYTHING! When he's home he lays on the couch the entire day in front of our bigscreen tv! I have asked so many times for help, but he acts like there's nothing he can do! He'll hang a shelf or help me move a piece of furniture, but that's about it! His bad back just makes things worse! He can't even help with yardwork, except for mowing the lawn on his rider mower! I'm really at my wits end and not sure what to do without making him mad! I'm miserable and feel like I do everything! I do for the most part!!

    • Amy, it's been awhile since your post; I just read it. Your husband may be depressed caused by chronic pain. Get him to a chiropractor; tell him all the symptoms. Chiropractic will not only relieve him of the source of pain but lift his mood and help him to think more constructively, esp. when the pain is gone. Find a good chiro by word of mouth; that is the best form of referral. Don't go by your insurance; they don't have the patient's best interest in mind.

  7. I told my family my problem and asked for their help. My husband was too busy to discuss it so I got my 12 and 14 year olds to sit down with me and we wrote down all the jobs we could think of. We decided that feeding in the cat was worth 2 points and then went from there assignong points to each job. Then we figured out what jobs who should do. I ended up with about 170 points, my husband 110 and my kids about 60 each. The good thing is they figured out who does what and how much work it is. You can hard complain about the system when you devised it!

  8. I am a stay at home mom and we have 4 boys, 2 from his previous marriage ages 10 and 7, and 1 from my previous relationship age 10, and ours age 2. Getting these boys to a.) have time to do chores between sports, school, etc b.) getting to get up and work, with out me yelling at them has just been horrible for the last 2 years. My husband is the sole bread winner at the moment. (I am working on going back to work LOL) I have the hardest time trying to get him to help with any chores in the house because I feel bad that he has to work about 50 hrs per week, then come home and do any work on the vehicles, any and all home repairs (and we are doing a butt-load of them). I have even asked him if he can get the boys involved in some of the more manly chores of house fixing and repairing and of vehicle repairs. It doesn’t happen often. So I am feeling like more of a maid/daycare provider/accountant/cook/receptionist/teacher/appt. maker/etc. than a wife and am really getting closer to leaving and dealing with just my two biological children. I am confused and need help quickly….. I am hoping that if you can help me with the chore problems I can save my sanity and marriage!!!! Aghhh!

    • @chrissyc2 Hi Chrissy, in all honesty it sounds like you need a third party involved. It could be a marriage counselor or a pastor / minister. You need someone who won’t automatically be seen as taking a side and who can help tone done inflammatory language in the discussion. Blended families are tough because even in the best of situation it’s complicated by everyone’s different experiences and expectations. Hang in there.

  9. Dear Home Ec101: I’m at my wits end right now. I have two households in my home. I have my fiances older son and his girl friend and kids living with us. I’m not sure how to broach the subject of them helping with house hold chores. I’m constantly picking up after their kids and mine. Their youngest is always leaving things all over the floor and their oldest is always asking me to get her things. I don’t want to be petty, and I don’t want to take my growing anger and frustration out on her “so what did you make for dinner!”. I cook and clean up after everyone, and this leaves very little time for me and my child. It’s really starting to wear on me. I’ve mentioned it to my fiance, but it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference. I don’t know what to do.


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