The psychology of household chores

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This evening, as I was finishing a small maintenance project, I took a few minutes to clean up properly rather than make the clean-up into a project of its own for another day.  As I scrubbed and scraped and swept, it occurred to me that my attitude towards essential household tasks has matured a lot over the years.

There was a time when I took a passive-aggressive stance, expecting someone else in the household to pick up the slack.  Surely they could see the Really Big Hint inherent in a full laundry hamper, the pots and pans stacked in ludicrously high configurations on the kitchen counter, or the shin-deep snow on the front walk.  I expected them to care.

Apparently they didn’t care as much as I did, because I was the one getting upset about it.

In looking back at those days, I can now see that although I cared about the messy house, I didn’t care enough.  I cared about the wrong things — about the embarrassment and frustration of the mess, rather than the calm of having things the way I like them.

In the end I resolved the problem by creating habits and systems.

  • If there’s been a snowstorm overnight, I do a quick path-clearing for the mailman on my way out to work, and a more thorough job when I get home.
  • If the laundry basket is full, I take it downstairs in the morning and place it on a stool near the basement stairs.  When I get home, it goes into the machine.  When it’s done, it comes back upstairs to be put away — it doesn’t sit in the basket any longer than it has to.
  • As I’m cooking I’m also washing the dishes that I use.  By the time the food gets to the table, almost everything is clean and most of it has been put away.
  • When we get a meter-reading card, I grab a pencil and head down to the basement to get the readings, then phone it in immediately and shred the card.

But there are those moments where I walk right by a splotch on the floor, meaning to deal with it later.  Still working out a system to deal with that.



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