A school friend recently posted a picture on social media showing a large pile of teenage boy washing in a heap in front of the machine with the caption, “Ryan’s home for the holidays!”
Ryan needs to learn to use a washing machine, I thought.
Ok, I didn’t just think it, I posted it as a comment, because if he can handle first year university, drive a car, and buy his own beer, he’s old enough to do his own laundry.
I get that my friend might have been pleased to have her first-born home and didn’t mind showing him a bit of motherly love, but for anyone else out there who feels overburdened by housework, and sick to death of cleaning, tidying and cooking, perhaps this mantra can help.
Just don’t do it.
Say it quietly in your head when confronted with dirty breakfast bowls abandoned on the table. Chant it mindfully when the compulsion arises to repack an unruly sock drawer. Repeat it obsessively when thrust an empty chip packet or snotty tissue.
There is no reason why kids can’t put their own rubbish in the bin, clear their plates, and tidy their rooms.
And while we are at it, they can also, put on a load of washing, empty the dishwasher, pack their own clothes away, make their school lunch, help with dinner, set the table, feed the cat, clean the bathroom and pick up a duster once in a while.
But why would anyone in your house do any of this, when they know you’ll do it instead?
That’s why you need to stop – because you could be complicit in your own enslavement.
The sky will not fall in if there’s no milk for the morning, your kids go to school with traces of yesterday’s lunch on their uniform, or the wrong kind of cheese ends up in the weekly shop.
In fact, you might find others in your house unleash skills you didn’t know they have, like milk monitoring capabilities, the power to book a babysitter, or a sixth sense for when the oven needs cleaning.
Sure, they might not separate the whites and the darks correctly, or give your specially coated frying pan the royal treatment you think it deserves, but is this really how you want to spend your time?
We all have have skills and accomplishments, and our time has value, so there are other, more productive places we could be directing our energy. And it’s up to us to do that.
Of course, no one is suggesting you let your home descend into chaos and filth, but you can make progress towards more a more equitable distribution of home chores when you step back here and there and necessitate others stepping in to bat.
Or, as my good friend calls it, when you resign your role as Master of the Universe.
There is nothing about most people’s ability, training, experience or genetic makeup that deems them more suitable than anyone else for managing the tedium of home life, but the hard truth is that domestic chores are not evenly shared.
We could spend hours debating how much of that is caused by social pressures, cultural norms, or how family income is earned, but a small part of it is also the result of some people being faster to pick up a broom, more experienced at rustling up a family meal, or more likely to have a range of babysitters numbers in their phone.
And when one person habitually jumps in, others see less need, don’t develop the skill, or lose the resources needed to complete the myriad of mundane tasks needed to keep a family moving forward.
I’m not suggesting anyone completely abdicates from home duties, but I do think reconsidering how much we are willingly take on is important.
A good place to start is to stop taking briefs. We all have busy lives. No one’s life is busier than anyone’s else, so it’s fine to support a project in principle, but to decline from getting involved because you don’t have time.
If it’s suggested the aircon needs fixing, the pest control people should come in, or the kids’ cupboards are full of clothes they’ve grown out of, a useful response could be, “You’re absolutely right. I’m flat out at the moment so I can’t take it on, but let me know how you go.”
Another option is to let standards drop once in a while. Too tired or uninspired to thrown together another gourmet, fully organic, nutritionally balanced family meal? Instead, tell the kids they can make what they like for dinner.
My kids once served themselves pea, ham and jam sandwiches, which is so close to containing all the major food groups that I notched myself a win.
Weet-bix and cheese with an apple for desert? Perfect.
And then there’s redoing things others have already done, because they weren’t done properly. What’s with that?
No one ever died because the dishwasher wasn’t stacked your way, or the laundry wasn’t folded to your exacting standards.
Sure, there are things you like done in a certain way for a reason - no designer bras in the drier, only low-sugar snacks, tea-towels washed separately - but if that’s your thing, you’re going to have to own it, wear it and live with it.
I used to insist all beds were changed once a week. With three kids it was a monumental task. Now I change only our sheets every week, and I do it for myself, because I like clean sheets.
As for the kids, I stand at the top of the stairs and yell, “Who wants to wash their linen today?” Then I wait for the silence and go back to what I was doing.
If we are confronting an infestation of parasitic creatures, it’s a different story, but now that we are out of the phase when every tummy bug and respiratory infection seemed to cycle through our family, I reckon I can slack off a bit.
And don’t think you’re going to get others in your house to help out, if you constantly score their efforts. A little bit of positive affirmation goes a long way.
After all, what difference does it really make if the weekly shop included a fresh lettuce and there was already one in the fridge. So long as you didn’t have to spend an hour doing the groceries, you’re winning.
A lettuce costs $1.90, so even if you’re earning the minimum wage, you’re $16.39 up, and had a free hour.
Over a year, that’s more than two days of your time, just for not mentioning the reusable bags were in the boot all along.
In the end, all we really have on this planet is time, and I am pretty sure no one ever said when theirs was running out that they wished they had vacuumed more often.