Housework

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Banksy MaidI have a slew of housework to do today; I’m trying to prepare myself by writing about it. (Yes, I’m well aware of what I’m really doing.) In the ’60s and ’70s it was popular to call housework a political act, but I have come to feel differently since I married my husband. I now see housework as an emotional act. In my previous marriages, I toed the line when it came to doing the housework: I did most of it, if not all of it (except for the few successful times I was able to get my kids to do any). In other words, my husbands didn’t do diddly. But I accepted my ascribed role because I wasn’t emotionally ready to rebel against it (or more accurately, against my husbands).

But now I’m in a marriage where my husband doesn’t expect me to do anything. He’s actually better about the housework than I am, because he’s the one who keeps up with the laundry (a chore I detest). He also does most of the cooking. Before he started working full-time, he did all of the cooking. I’m unofficially in charge of the kitchen, which is why it’s in the state it’s in today. The last time I thoroughly cleaned it was when I had a friend coming for lunch (I won’t tell you how long ago that was). I admit that it felt good to have everything in order and clean (on the first floor, that is.) But normally, I just look past the clutter and dust bunnies. And I think it’s because my self-concept no longer depends on how clean my house is.

My husband probably cares more than I do, but he’s learned to look past things as well. He would like the house to be neater and cleaner, but he doesn’t care enough about it to do it himself. He’s constitutionally unable to make me feel guilty about not doing it, which is an emotional act on his part. He doesn’t like to fight, for one thing, and it has never occurred to him that I’m the one who should be in charge of the household. I know, he’s unusual, in my experience anyway.

A few years back I was really into feng shui and I tried to decorate my house according to its principles. I was living alone at the time and there wasn’t anyone else to keep house for me. My husband was the same way when he had his own place. Now we have each other and we both tend to wait for the other to finally do some cleaning. Which means that very little cleaning gets done at all.

There is a small still voice inside of me that says that I care what my home looks, and feels, like. Because there is an emotional (feeling) component to how you keep your house. It’s not all about the politics of how you divide the labor, as if the home were some kind of Marxist experiment. It’s about who cares the most, whose emotional needs drive them to make sure that things get done. One reason women end up doing most of the housework is that more of them care about the emotional climate of the home more than most men do.

My husband and I have a greater need for time together and less for a clean household. What I’m trying to figure out now is how we can have both. Maybe if we cleaned together? It just might work.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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