November 22, 2013

Household Duties: The Real Benefits of Sharing

One of the first posts I wrote over 3 years ago seems worth another look. Recent comments on other posts have made clear the uncertainty and concern many soon-to-be-retirees have about the impact on a relationship caused when both partners are together fulltime.


One of the biggest stumbling blocks to a satisfying retirement can be the adjustment that must occur when one partner is now home all day. Routines and responsibilities that have been handled a certain way are suddenly upended. This is especially true if the other person has already stopped working, or has been a stay-at-home spouse. In my case, since I traveled a lot with my job my wife had a solid grasp of what needed to be done and how and by whom. When I stopped working there was this extra body who wanted to change how and when tasks were performed. Ten years later we have a system that works well, but it didn't come without a few detours down the unhappy highway.


Chores & Responsibilities

Handling some household chores maybe a sticking point for the partner who has stopped working. I assume the thinking is "I have worked hard all my life. Now, it is my time to relax." That attitude is not going to fly. The person you are telling this to has been working hard his or her entire life, too. You get to stop, and they don't?  A much better approach is to realize helping around the house will make your life a whole lot more pleasant.

Quite simply, it is the fair thing to do. You live there. You make a mess. You have some basic skills that allow you to vacuum or do the laundry or dust. Why wouldn't you assume you are partly responsible for the maintenance of your home?  Trust me, your own self-interests will benefit greatly from playing fair in the chore game.

Benefits of Sharing Chores


Helping your partner gives you a much deeper appreciation for what she or he did all those years you got to drive away every morning and left the other to handle everything. Empathy is a mark of a mature person. It is also smart. Even if you live a minimalist lifestyle with little clutter, no household runs by itself. Who do you think keeps the refrigerator full?  How come your clothes drawer has socks that match? Notice all the unsung work that has been done for years on your behalf.

Helping with the chores frees up more of your spouse's time so the two of you can go have fun together. One of the major benefits of not working is you have time to strengthen the relationships that mean the most to you. That takes effort and spending extra time doing things you both enjoy. By sharing chores, you help create opportunities for these special moments together.

What We Do

After the chores are done!
My wife and I have a simple system that works well. We make a list of the basic household chores and I do them all. No, not true. We split the list in half. Then, every two weeks we switch lists. I am not a big fan of dusting, but I only have to do it once a month so no biggie. By rotating chores the sense of being in this together is enhanced.  One partner doesn't get stuck doing the same things over and over.

By the way, I have done my own laundry almost my entire married life. I am not sure how we arrived at this arrangement, but I'm so used to it now I assume it is how all married or committed couples operate. In talking with friends, I gather that is not true. But, it works for us.


How about your system, or lack of one? How do you split chores with your spouse or significant other? Have you recently had to adjust for a newly retired person in your midst? Are you ready to scream...yet?

Please share yuur stories, good and bad. We can all learn to improve in this important area of retirement adjustments.



17 comments:

  1. When we were both working, we had a housekeeper. When my husband retired 9 years ago, we kept the housekeeper. I didn't want to spend my precious time off cleaning, and it didn't make sense for my husband to shoulder the full load of home cleaning and maintenance.

    Both retired now, the housekeeper seemed like an unnecessary expense. Fortunately we are very similar in "neatness" and tolerance for clutter (not much!). We pick up as we go, and clean up our clutter or messes as they are made. Because of this, it is pretty easy to keep things looking pretty good most of the time. We have always each done our own laundry.

    The outside of our house requires significant upkeep, with involved landscaping, mowing, trimming, snow removal, etc. My husband loves this kind of stuff, while I have no interest in any of it! He also is quite handy with routine household maintenance and repairs, and I have none of this expertise. Because of this, we've pretty much fallen into a division of labor that works for us. I maintain the inside, and he maintains the outside. This arrangements works well for us so far, and neither one of us feels like we're over burdened with responsibility. I think because we are both neat freaks, things are easier to maintain over the long haul.

    I imagine the key is to come up with a system that works for the couple, where neither person feels over burdened or taken advantage of. Our system works well for us now. Once we downsize to a smaller house with less property, there may be some adjustments.

    Another topic perhaps worth pursing…how couples divide up the responsibility for managing finances, keeping track of and managing portfolios, paying bills, managing the budget etc.

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    1. Yes, Carole, I'd agree that the key to success is developing a system that works. My wife is the artistic type so her projects tend to be messy and cover lots of space. I am an "everything in its place" kind of person. Frankly, we do have conflicts over this from time to time. But, the actual division of labor over housecleaning on the weekends when we do that has worked well for us for many years.

      Both of us are involved in various aspects of the house maintenance chores. We are both ready to downsize into a housing situation where someone else takes care of most of that.

      Dividing up financial chores is an important topic that I have dealt with from time to time but it is probably time to revisit that issue, especially as we move into a new year in just 5 weeks.

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  2. We don't have so much of a formal division on everything, just a few things. He is in charge of keeping the kitchen clean. We don't cook much so it's really keeping up with the dishes. And I have to say he doesn't do it very well. => His idea of cleaning is to load up the dishes every few days that are filling the sink and wash them in the dishwasher. But in between those times the kitchen really falls below my standards. Also, he's poor at wiping down the counters.

    And you know what? Mostly I just keep my mouth shut. I like to save my nagging for really important stuff.....like.....".did you get those plane reservations made for our next trip?"

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    1. Save the nagging for the important stuff = very sage advice.

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  3. Dave always had the 'primary' income, so I worked in sales or had my own business. It gave me flexibility he didn't have. That said, he's been doing the laundry for about 30 years. Why? Because I used to do it whenever I had a chance to throw a load in the wash. He preferred having everything done in one day. When he told me that I said, 'Cool! you're welcome!' It's been fine ever since!
    b

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    1. I am like Dave. I prefer to be first in the laundry room Saturday morning and get my one or two loads done and hung up by 9AM. Then, it is no longer a worry. When I was traveling full time Betty would occasionally do my laundry, but I still preferred to handle it when I was able. Maybe it was a little part of normal household routine I wanted to hang on to.

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  4. We've not been really good about sharing household chores. I think that's because we just let our "system" evolve rather than sitting down from time to time and discussing a plan and changes to it as needed. We are getting better as we go, but probably could have improved much faster with a more disciplined approach.

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    1. I think our "system" was simply the result of wanting to avoid conflicts so we picked something that both of us would agree to. There was no high level negotiation, just a way to keep the waters calm.

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  5. Since I retired, I vacuum and dust frequently, walk the dog, have always done the yard work, cook most of the meals, make the bed half the time, put my clothes away, so forth and so on. Part of it comes from my Navy experiences and also I grew up with another brother and no sisters, so we learned to do household chores at an early age. No problem. My wife does the dishes, washes clothes, does the grocery shopping ( I usually go with her ), and puts up with ME all the time. The kids are long gone and it was an adjustment for her to have me around 24/7 as I was at work nearly 60 hours a week. I know several retired men who found reasons to be gone from the house as much as possible. I think it works out OK for them in their situations otherwise they might not stay married ! And, I think it's pretty unfair for a husband not to pick up some duties if they are going to be at home.

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    1. There are probably some female readers, Dewey, who would like to have you call their husbands and relate your story. Like your wife, Betty has a full time job putting up with me so I do what I can to operate under the radar and keep things moving smoothly.

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  6. We divide based on natural talent. Mike would willingly cook but, well . . . He'd also willingly do laundry, but my daughters and I banned him years ago after being repeatedly subjected to pink and blue tinged undergarments. His response, when we would inevitably find and hold up the offending item, would be "Now how did that get in there?" But, he is super duper at following behind me and doing the dishes, which makes cooking up a nice meal each night a much less trying job. I love to organize and keep the house tidy, he enjoys washing our cars and doesn't mind cleaning up the yard after our grandpuppies visit. Since we have regular gardening and cleaning service, that about sums up the household chores.

    This post reminded me of something very amusing my daughter put up on Facebook, highlighting the differences in the way men and women look at things. In her own words, "We made a deal that since I'm now commuting, my husband is going to make a couple dinners each week. Tonight's meal, in it's entirety? Hot wings."

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    1. In our area it would be Little Ceasar's large pepperoni pizza for $5. That is always a fallback choice.

      Mike and laundry reminds a bit of my dad. Recently he washed two pairs of his pants. Unfortunately, they were wool and dry clean only. He noticed they seemed a bit wrinkled and several inches too short but wore them anyway, until Betty and I joined him for lunch and noticed he seemed to be wearing capris pants.

      I bought him 3 pairs of polyester pants that can't be ruined and can't shrink. Problem solved.

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  7. I think you wrote this just for me. Division of labor big problem at my house. Bottom line is I do everything....laundry, cooking (he doesn't even grill), cleaning, bill paying, taxes, shopping for house, gifts, holidays, budgeting, computer maintenance, etc. etc. We pay someone to do the outside stuff. Was this way when I worked fulltime and it is this way in retirement. This pattern was established when he traveled in his job earlier in our marriage and it has never changed. We finally had a serious talk a couple of days ago. We have talked about it before but nothing changed. I think this time it will. He is looking for ways to help now. I like the 50/50 split and then swap. That way he knows how to do everything. Suppose I get hit by a bus! But he may feel overwhelmed with that. This is going to be a difficult transition because he really is new to everything. Cooking will be his biggest challenge. Maybe I should be careful what I wish for.

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    1. You know the "Old dog and new tricks" saying? You have an interesting challenge ahead of you but with his cooperation it will work out just fine. As you noted, each of us in a relationship has to be prepared to take over any and everything at a moment's notice. It may not be as dramatic as being hit by a bus, but at some point we will have to fend for ourselves for a period of time.

      Remember: whites in hot and colors in cold....

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  8. I remember reading this post when you first wrote it Bob. We have been retired forever and are still bumping into each other in the kitchen. But, the longer we live the more we complete each other's sentences and chores. I am the type of person that will bounce around from this to that and my husband will pick up where I left off. I know this wouldn't work for everyone but I suppose that we are just doing what everyone does...finding what works for us.

    Be well and Happy Thanksgiving!

    Barbara

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    1. Betty spends a fair amount of her free time at church, working on various projects. During those times I find myself doing almost everything around the house and most errands. When I begin to feel a little taken advantage of, I try to remember all those years when I was gone 5 days a week on business and she did it all, plus raise two daughters.

      Marriage is about adjustments. You and Earl have done quite well.

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  9. My husband is 78 and I am 77 years young . We have a large house and 2 large dogs . My husband does not want to go into a smaller place and I am not to crazy about it either . My husband has some arthritic
    knee pain and is otherwise very healthy . As to myself , not so healthy . Have have had 3 unsuccessful back surgeries within 6 years and suffer back pain and resulting nerve damage every waking moment . Just had an ear surgery which left me almost deaf . Will need another one in 8 month for another corrective surgery.
    We do have a housekeeper weekly for the heavy work , since I am unable to do it. The yard is not kept up which I always did myself and loved it , but can no longer do to my back problems !
    I cook daily and do light chores and light yard work ! My husband sits all waking hours and watches TV ! He would like to see some friends and go places , but I am exhausted and in worse pain by the time I did my work and so we stay home .
    I explained to him , that if he would help a little then we could have some social life , but he got upset .
    I resent that he thinks that only he has a right to retirement and despite of my physical condition and the chronic back and leg pain he will not help with anything .
    I am asking , is it an unreasonable request to ask for some shared duties ?



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