A Bit of Dish Division: Advice on Household Chores

One of the biggest questions M.C. and I get asked regarding graduate life is “How do we balance household chores? I work full time, he is in school full time. How should we make this work?”

I grew up in a very traditional home when it came to chores. My Mother took care of everything inside the home; my Father took care of everything outside the home. This arrangement suited them well, so they’ve continued this way for the past 40 years (although my Dad is quite handy with the vacuum today).

Naively, I thought it would look exactly the same when I married. However, I didn’t factor in working full time, commuting, or a husband who would attend grad school.

In the weeks leading up to our wedding, we were having dinner with some friends, and they shared a piece of advice with us when it came to household chores: we were to pick a chore we hated, then switch.

I hate vacuuming.

He hates grocery shopping.

For the past 10 years, he’s vacuumed and I’ve shopped for groceries, and our little once-a-week arrangement has worked. There have been times we’ve had to step in and help each other out (especially during grad school), but there’s never been a doubt who owned that particular chore. We have balanced other household chores between us.

I know every relationship is different, so our little arrangement would not work for everyone. However, I’ve included some helpful tips below that I’ve picked up from various grad school wives:

What is your priority, and what are you willing to compromise? – Is having a clean house the most important thing to you? Is he a neat freak, and you’re the one with clutter? Are you still cleaning at 2am? You have to decide what is important for your family, and what you can compromise, then stick with it. A friend of mine in graduate life who stayed home with her children decided when they were young she would do one deep clean of her home a month. The rest of the time was spent maintaining, and she often had a messy home; but her trade-off was spending more time with her children. She felt absolutely no guilt for her messy home, as it was obvious where her priority was. I admired the way she owned her choice!

How do you communicate?- This may seem like an obvious one, but do you discuss your chores? I have a friend who worked full time while her husband was in grad school. While he helped out occasionally around the house, she did most of the household work. After awhile, she grew incredibly resentful because she felt like he was taking advantage of her. She finally convinced him to sit down to chat about it, and he grew defensive when she said she felt like she was doing everything. They managed to come to an agreement: for one week, they would keep a chore chart of every household chore completed for which they would earn one point. At the end of the week, they compared points: She had 25, he had 7. Believe it or not, several years later, they still do this, and now it’s easy for them to say to one another, “I’ve done the dishes 5 evenings this week, do you think you could do it for the next few evenings?”

Have you tried chore charts? – Chore charts (like these on pinterest) are incredibly popular, but they didn’t and wouldn’t work for us. Our schedules were always all over the place, so I’d always end up doing Monday’s chores (along with the rest of the week!) on Saturdays. :) For friends of ours living in shared graduate housing, they found chore charts to be essential, since they needed to communicate with more than just one other person. They would have a once a month meeting in the house to determine who was doing what chores for that particular month, and then the chart was hung in the kitchen for all to see.

Please don’t nag me! –  Back when we switched our hated chores, I found myself telling him how and when to vacuum. (He’s a GROWN MAN with a PhD, y’all. He knows how to run a vacuum). Two weeks into it, he said to me, “If you’re going to constantly nag me about this, I’m not going to do it.” Point taken. Remember that compromise thing? I accepted that it was no longer my responsibility to point out how and when his chores would be done – he already has a mother. :) We agreed he’d vacuum once a week, and I left him to it.

The graduate season tends to be a bit disorganized – there’s dissertations to write, exams to take, fellowships to engage in, and rounds to make. I know there will be times we’ll have to pick up the slack. The last year of my husband’s dissertation was also the first year of our son’s life. My husband was trying to finish his PhD, carrying a large teaching load, and trying to be a good husband and father. He had no capacity for anything else. For that year, I stepped up and did most of the household chores. After he submitted his dissertation, we reevaluated how we would manage chores going forward (especially since our home now contained a very fast, messy toddler).

How do you manage chores in your home? Do you find it to be a struggle? Would you give us any of your helpful tips in the comments below?

And remember, if all else fails, you could do what some friends of ours recently did after bickering for months around cleaning schedules, study schedules: they reviewed their budget, and decided it was worth their sanity to hire a cleaner. Oh the dream!

Happy cleaning,


Balanced Life?

What Does a Balanced Life Look Like? Part V (Keeping House)

The below question and responses were compiled by fellow graduate wife reader, Laura Lee.  She surveyed several women on the journey and is sharing with us their answers. You can see her original post here, where she outlines her journey towards discovering the answers of a ‘balanced’ life during this season of being a graduate wife and beyond. This is part V of the ‘What does a balanced life look like?’ series.  Enjoy!

4) Part of a balanced life involves keeping your house in order.  How do you do it?  Do you keep a chore chart? A cleaning schedule? How do you maintain things from week to week and month to month? How do you take care of the very basic things like who washes up the dinner dishes each night?

  • Chore chart – When we were first married, the BEST advice we received on this was: find a chore that you and your spouse hate and switch! I hate to vaccuum, so my husband does that; he hates to grocery shop, so I do that. It has worked out well. We don’t have a set time in our house of when the vaccuuming will take place – as he knows it’s his job (although I do it on occasion) – and I refuse to nag him about it, as he is an adult. Usually, he’s pretty good about helping around the house.  I do try to follow a cleaning schedule (bathrooms on Friday, kitchen floor on Monday, laundry on Tue/Wed, etc) – so my cleaning is staggered and I have more time to spend with the family on weeknights.  We (my son and I) normally don’t arrive home until 6pm on the days that I work. I immediately feed him dinner (which requires planning ahead, as he usually doesn’t eat with us). While he’s eating, I start our dinner, pack lunches for the following day, and then start washing our dishes. I try to do it as I go along, as it cuts down on cleaning time after dinner. My husband is home by 615, and my son normally finishes dinner by 645. My husband plays with him for a bit, then gives him a bath – this allows me to finish dinner. We put our son down for bed at 8, and eat dinner then.
  • I clean continually rather than all at once. When I worked, I would blitz the cleaning on Saturday. Now, I do it when I have a second (i.e. daughter is in her highchair eating lunch, so I take the few moments to clean around her – do the dishes, wipe the counters, etc.). Bathrooms get done when she naps or goes to bed. I clean her room and our room while she plays on the bed with toys (granted, I have a baby who doesn’t crawl or walk and plays in one place!). I don’t keep a cleaning chart. I would imagine this will come in handy as our family expands, though! As for dinner dishes, my husband does those at the moment because our daughter still nurses once before bed. There are days when it’s really hard to get the cleaning done (or be motivated to get the cleaning done), though, so I look forward to hearing other thoughts.
  • I have a chore chart in my head and in my calendar but if something comes up I just move it to another day.  I do two loads of laundry (whites and darks) on Monday, two on Tuesday (colors and grays), and a load of towels on Thursday.  Wow!…How do we have so much laundry with just three of us?!!  Is this normal??  I clean the floors and vacuum on Wednesday when my son is napping.  Sometimes I vacuum when he is awake because he likes it.  I clean the bathrooms and vacuum on one weekend day, usually when my husband is watching our son.  I am constantly doing dishes and dream of having a dishwasher someday!  When I’m cooking I try to do the dishes as I go.  I also clean daily so when it comes time to do deep cleaning it’s not so horrible.
  • I’m a list maker.  I usually have my day’s to-do list and my week’s to-do list.  So my cleaning stuff goes on there.  My husband cleans as I ask him to and is usually very willing to help out.  After all, he uses all our stuff too! But if I wait for him to notice how dirty the bathroom is or the carpets are – he never will! My husband does the dishes 9.5 times out of 10 – because he knows I hate doing them and he is a wonderful husband like that. haha. He eats so fast and my daughter eats so slow that he can usually have most of them finished by the time she and I are done eating and since we eat in the kitchen most nights, we are all still able to interact while he’s working on them,
  • Oh my goodness, haha my husband would LOVE it if I had a chore chart (he loves charts and to-do lists!)! But it’s just not me. I keep the visible things tidy and I like the house to smell nice, but beyond that, my main motivation to clean is when we’re going to have guests! :) My husband is very organized and neat, so I try to have things tidy (with the kids help) when he comes home from work. It helps him to relax and is like a love letter from me (his love language is acts of service). This has been a big learning curve for me over the last 13 years and has been one of our big ‘issues’….how to balance my laid back attitude with his need/wish for things to be in order. It’s a work in progress on both our parts!