Dividing household chores

Household chores are one of the most common topics of arguments in relationship and their uneven distribution can even lead to divorce.

One of the most annoying parts of having a child is that the amount of household chores seems to grow exponentially at the same time when the amount of sleep and free time sinks dramatically. As long as one of you is at home with the child, you can probably somehow hold it together, because that person can take care of many things during the day. However, even then often both parties often assume that the other person is better off: “Isn’t it nice to hang out at home all day without any strict schedule” or “It must be nice to be able to drink your coffee and eat your lunch in peace without somebody constantly demanding something from you”. I can tell you that this happens easily even if you had spent a long time at home yourself, and basically know that taking care of a child is actually quite a lot of work 🙂 In any case both of you are easily tense, as the amount of chores grows and both feel that you are doing more or at least that the other person doesn’t realize and appreciate all that you do.

Previously we had agreed about household chores on a high level but now that the busy years are truly starting with Tommi going back to work and our kid starting daycare, we felt like it would be better to agree on everything on a more detailed level. The main goal was to create a clear division of responsibilities between tasks, and make sure that that division seemed fair to both of us. According to research, especially after having kids the household chores seem to accumulate to the woman of the household, which in turn easily leads to resentment and decreased relationship satisfaction. As a more fast-paced and highly responsible person I have a tendency of grabbing “balls that are hanging in the air”, so for my sanity it’s very important that the chores are clearly divided and I know what I don’t have to worry about.

I read a while back Tiffany Dufu’s interesting book called Drop the ball, which gives advice on how to build an equal partnership with your spouse when you have kids. I immediately got excited about Tiffany’s idea of a life management excel where you list all the household chores and the responsible person. Based on this idea I developed my own version of an excel where I listed all chores that are relevant in our context. As an inspiration I used the excellent chore machine by the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, which included an extensive list of different chores. I created the first version of the excel myself, where I listed all the chores and estimated their length and frequency. After that we went through the excel together with my husband Tommi who checked my estimates and we discussed which one of us has taken care of which chores so far and how we should divide the responsibilities this fall.

The discussion we had was excellent and led to the following insights:

  • Thank God we do not live in a big house and don’t own a car, a summer cottage or pets – all these choices reduce the number of chores dramatically. We also don’t have any kind of renovation or building projects at the moment.
  • In case you represent different neatness standard classes in your relationship, I have good news for the messier partner: Having a kid typically dramatically lowers the tidier person’s neatness standards 🙂 So it’s very important to go through the chore list critically and agree which chores nobody does (e.g. ironing clothes) and how often things are done. We outsourced cleaning early this year and ideally I would like to have it done every week but due to the costs, it’s done every two weeks. However, I will not clean every other week myself but rather just endure a more messier apartment.
  • It’s worth to think carefully about which chores can either be automated (e.g. ordering groceries online) or outsourced to make everyday life easier. Outsourcing is obviously a cost factor, but automation typically does not cost more. We for example use very little brain capacity for managing groceries, because we have an excellent system in place. We also use quite little brain power for remembering tasks, as we have a joint to do list called “Tommi & Sonja life management” that we use to set ourselves and each other reminders about tasks.
  • It’s pretty impossible to achieve an equal division of tasks in a family with kids unless the food and clothing responsibilities are assigned to different people, because they cause so much work on a weekly basis. Even larger one off chores simply cannot compensate for the weekly recurring tasks, especially if you don’t own a car or a house.

All in all agreeing explicitly on chores felt really good and increased at least my relationship satisfaction immediately 🙂 In our system we aim at dividing the responsibilities as equally as possible because we both work in demanding jobs also outside the home.

This excel will now be tested in our family in real life – we promise to update the latest version here. You can download your example version here. We kept in the excel also all the tasks from the chore machine that weren’t relevant to us so it would be easier for others to use the template. We are happy to hear feedback on things missing on the list or your thoughts about the excel in general 🙂