End the Chore Wars: How to Keep a Clean House (and your sanity)

I hate chores, but I like the results.  My husband hates chores and is 100% blind to mess.  We are both too cheap to hire a cleaning service.

chore wars = man vs vacuum

So, after seven years of experimentation, we’ve met somewhere in the middle (because fighting over chores is stupid and annoying).  Getting here was not easy.  I imagine a lot of 20-somethings go through this as they merge two established households, so today I am sharing 9 things that worked for us.

1. You MUST have less stuff than storage

Here it is, the secret to a clean house.  If you don’t have somewhere to put everything, you will never win the chore war. You’re fighting with an army that’s already dead.

I grew up in a cluttered house.  It was cluttered because there are more things in the house than there are places to put those things, so the things just sat out all the time.  Cleaning a few rooms meant moving things to other rooms.

  • If you don’t physically have space for all your dishes, your kitchen will always require some dishes to be on the counter.
  • If your laundry basket can’t hold all of your laundry, your laundry will always be on the floor in between laundry days.
  • If your closet cannot hold all of your clothes, your clothes will always be draped over chairs and piled on the floor.
  • If you have more toys than you have space to store them, your toys will always sit on every surface available.

No one – not you, your husband, your wife, your children, or your hired help can win at this rigged game.  If your partner isn’t helping out around the house, it might be because he knows he can’t “win”.

This is really friggin’ hard, especially since most of us live in too-small homes (our first was about 1100 sq. feet!) with too-big hobbies (bikes, games, books, PCs… not to mention cookware, clothing and extra TP).

The only solution I know of to this problem is to get rid of things.  Everything you own has to do double or triple duty AND it has to be small enough to fit into one of your already-full closets when you aren’t using it.  Good luck.

2. Don’t “take turns” on chores

…lest you just argue over whose turn it is while work piles up.  The first shots in the chore wars are fired over who didn’t do what.

No, what you should do is split your chores up so that you can do yours and your partner can do theirs seperately.

My jobs: toilets, bathrooms, vacuuming, cars (inside and out), fridge, mail, dusting, monitors/mirrors, lawn mowing, organization, decorating, project planning/management

Jim’s jobs: taking out garbage, dishwasher (loading and unloading), laundry (washing and folding), sweeping, bill paying, watering, weeding

Jim can do his jobs even if I haven’t done mine, and vice versa.  Of course, we’re both competent in each other’s jobs for those times when someone’s sick or just needs an assist.

3. Work your strengths

My chores are like “management and organization” and Jim’s chores are like “ongoing maintenance”.

I’m the one figuring out how to organize our tools and determining what project to start next; Jim’s the reason we aren’t up to our eyeballs in dishes and laundry.  This split works well for us, and plays to our strengths.  I need interesting work; Jim likes to daydream while doing a simple task.

The key here is to find a split that works for you and keep adjusting until both of you are happy with the arrangement.

If you both hate something, grow up – no household chore is that bad!  If it is bad, it’s probably because you’re doing it too infrequently and letting it build up to disgusting levels.

4. You both have to want to help

It’s critical that you and your partner be in this together.  All the tips and tricks in the world can’t make someone who doesn’t want to help out actually start helping.

If you or your partner doesn’t want to contribute, figure out why.  If after months/years of asking/begging/planning/bribing, your partner still won’t pull their weight, then take that at face value.  Your partner might be lazy, overwhelmed with other responsibilities, or just an ass.

Your step now is to decide whether you accept this arrangement, or whether you leave and look elsewhere for partnership.

This sounds extreme. But chores are a daily thing, forever and ever, and your partner has to contribute.

5. Make chores fun-er

  • Tell stories as you work on stuff together.  Bonus points if they’re completely made up.
  • Make fun of the work – seriously, most of this stuff is ridiculous.
  • Play music (earphones or otherwise).  Our Sunday morning yard work warsong: Imperative Reaction’s remix of Caustic’s White Knuckle Head F**k (we like to replace “head” with “yard”…yup.)
  • Race each other to completion on two separate projects

6. Simple > Complex

Never ask your partner to “clean the kitchen”.  Break it up into smaller, manageable pieces.  “Empty the dishwasher” and “empty the sink” are much more doable and less intimidating.

Furthermore, don’t bog your chore routine down with apps and programs designed to “gameify” chores.  In the time you spend setting these up and maintaining them, you could finish a chore or five.  Besides, even “quickly” using your phone or computer is just another distraction from completing the task.

7. Micro-clean for the win

When both partners work 45+ hours a week, cleaning seems to happen in short bursts or horrible weekend marathons. I personally hate chore marathons, and doing little things all week long seems to help us avoid them. Chances are, your day is filled with opportunities to do “micro chores”.

For example, I need more time to get ready to leave in the morning (we leave at the same time) so my husband uses the wait time to sweep the floors and put the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher.

More ways we micr0-clean:

  • I sort mail at the mailbox rather than letting it pileup inside
  • When heading downstairs, I bring down dishes or a full wastebasket
  • When going upstairs, I bring folded laundry or filing papers up with me
  • Improve one thing in a room before leaving it
  • Wash cookware right after using it

8. Say thank you!

Appreciation is always appreciated.

Pay attention to what your partner accomplishes around the house and compliment the outcome.  Your partner gave up some of their free time to help keep the household running, and that’s worth recognizing.

It’s this easy:

“The kitchen countertop looks great, thank you for cleaning it.”

“Thanks for taking out the garbage.”

9. Lighten up! You won’t die :)

The chore wars were over once Jim and I accepted each other’s ways of doing things as “good enough”.

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