As a dutiful husband and father, I do my best to go beyond the traditional chores men do around the house (yard work) to help my wife live a calm, stress-free life where she can focus solely on our two beautiful daughters without a care in the world. At least, that’s how I see it. However, it seems the more I help around the house, the more the tension builds between my wife and I. The harder I clean, the more frustrated she becomes. The greater my commitment to pitching in with housework, the less she appreciates my desire to contribute. I’m a hamster running in a wheel—working my tail off and getting nowhere. I thought I’d take a moment to deconstruct my efforts and attempt to pinpoint the reason my wife wants me to do less, even if that might be most husbands’ dream.
I decided laundry was an excellent place to start, as it consumes my wife’s weekends and we often lose the newborn under one of the dozen laundry piles strewn about our living room (real families fold clothes in the living room…is what I tell myself). I like to work efficiently, so my first priority in starting a load is to fill the washer to the point where the door can hardly shut. The more clothes that go into each load means fewer loads, so I’m helping out already. You might point out that this means the clothes may not get quite as clean, but I had the same thought and solved this issue by putting overflowing amounts of detergent into the slot. Problem solved. I noticed my wife was spending an inordinate amount of time putting her work clothes, light colored items, stained baby clothes, etc. into separate piles. I don’t believe in clothing discrimination so I like to put them all together.
For the dryer, I know I’m doing a good job when the machine starts shaking; this is a great indication that you’re using it at max capacity and getting the most out of your machine. My wife likes to put these little Kleenex sheets in with her loads, but I did the math and we can save almost 11 cents per week by not using them so they’re out. Since I only do laundry late at night, I make it a habit to start a full load right before bedtime; the dryer rocking back and forth makes for ambient noise maker as we try to fall asleep and we’ll wake up knowing we have a full load of laundry clean and ready in the morning. My wife likes to hang her clothes up immediately after drying, but I’ve noticed that most of my wrinkles stretch out by around lunchtime so I just schedule important meetings in the afternoon.
I’ve saved us so much time doing laundry that I applied many of the same principles to washing dishes. As my Twitter account recently noted (@parentalgrit), I’m patiently waiting for “loading the most dishes into a single load” to be added as an Olympic sport. I’ve become quite the engineer in filling every last nook with some errant dirty dish. My wife keeps pointing out all these little water spots on our clean dishes, but I calmly reassure her that those are the only real way to know the dishes are clean. Occasionally she notices a dried food remnant on a bowl fresh out of the dishwasher but I explain to her that once it’s been through a sanitation cycle, it’s 100% clean NO MATTER WHAT.
My wife spends excessive time and energy cleaning the house before guests come but I’ve found I can save her loads of time by doing it myself. She doesn’t understand that guests won’t look under the couch and beds and that kicking things under them allows you to clean without bending over. She also severely underutilizes closets; I can normally shove an entire room’s worth of toys and dirty clothes into a single closet. If I don’t have time to do the dishes and family is on the way, the dishwasher makes a great hiding place for dirty dishes, toys, or whatever else is loose in the kitchen.
While there’s no getting around lugging around a heavy vacuum to get the carpets looking fresh, my wife has this weird habit of vacuuming the entire room. I’m trying to teach her that she only needs to vacuum where she can see debris but thus far she continues to insist on vacuuming even where it looks mostly clean to me. It’s like wiping the counter even when there’s no food chunks melted on it: it makes no sense. The reason she takes so much time cleaning is that she wastes all this motion cleaning what is already clean. She has so much to learn.
Whenever I’m done cleaning, my wife lets out a sigh and slowly rolls her eyes. She communicates a little differently than most, so please understand that this is her way of expressing relief that I was able to help and that she loves me unconditionally for all I do for her.