Our flat is tidy.
Like, not just things-stuffed-in-cupboards-so-you-can’t-see-them tidy or I’m-compromising-incredibly-hard-but-this-is-actually-really-below-my-standards-and-one-day-soon-I-will-break tidy, but actually tidy tidy. We have a tidy apartment.
You can laugh, but for Kin and I, this is a massive deal! The two of us have lived together for well over a decade. That’s almost thirteen years of joy and sharing, but it’s also thirteen years of aggravation, building resentment and an almost total failure to keep the coffee table clear.
At the beginning of this month, we once again made the effort to come up with an equitable housekeeping strategy. Nothing too innovative; we essentially wrote out our existing chore lists and added a visual reward system. But there’s an important difference. This time, it’s working.
And it’s easy. No arguments, no stressing and no furious one-off cleaning marathons. We’ve just gradually developed tidiness over the last couple of weeks and this morning, as Kin staggered downstairs with the kitchen’s Last Great Mountain of Recycling, I realised the journey was complete. Our flat is tidy. Our problems are over. And am I happy?
I am NOT!
I am outraged, disbelieving and just plain cross at how easily fixed all of this was, when it took us so long to get here! We made ourselves miserable for literal years, when the solution was so simple!
Of course, every solution is simple, once you know how it’s done. The tricky bit is discovering that knowledge in the first place.
Previously, the two of us dealt with our housekeeping differences in the traditional manner, with me either gritting my teeth and cleaning up after Kin, or gritting my teeth and ignoring the mess. Then, I’d have a screeching meltdown every six months or so, Kin would undergo a dramatic improvement that would then gradually start to taper off, and I would start laying the ground work for my next meltdown.
See how we were encouraging one other’s awful behaviour?
Unfortunately, for a very long time we couldn’t see it. We tried all sorts of different ways to even up the housework burden, but we’d always slip back into unhealthy patterns. We only started to realise what a big problem this was becoming after my meltdowns became a lot less screechy and a lot more tearful and household chores had taken on so much emotional weight that just the thought of them made us both miserable.
We needed to come up with a way to sort this out. Initially, though, we weren’t very hopeful. We’d already tried a lot of different ways and none of them had worked well at all.
So why is our strategy working this time? Since, as previously noted, it’s essentially a glorified chore list, variations of which have failed so dismally before?
I think our success comes down to two things:
1- We did it together
Our previous efforts to create a strategy were honest ones, but all of them, ultimately, were me attempting to control Kin’s behaviour in some way. He, on the other hand, was only motivated by my unhappiness, so, once I was no longer upset, that motivation would gradually vanish. The effect of that made me gradually more manipulative and him gradually more self-centred, both of which sucked, but which weren’t the real issue. Our problem was responsibility.
Kin would see a mess and think “Hm, a mess.” I would see a mess and think “Damn, I have to clean that.” This basic difference in perception meant that I spent a lot of time stressed, while he simply had no idea.
But in December, I abdicated. And I mean fully. Kin was now completely in charge of our household and I would perform only those tasks which he had requested of me (for example he asked me to continue cooking, washing clothes and managing our finances). This was not easy on either of us. As the mess built, Kin became more stressed and miserable (and, as I think I’ve mentioned previously, he likes to share that stuff around) while I was initially depressed at the chaos our apartment descended into.
After a while, though, a glorious freedom started to take possession of me. I would come home from work, see some horrible muddle and remember that there was nothing for me to do about it. Not until I was told, anyway. And then I would go for a run. Or make a cup of tea. Or do anything else I pleased. And it was good. I hadn’t been this slack about responsibilities since I was a teenager, with my poor long-suffering parents doing everything for me.
At the beginning, Kin wanted me to tell him what to do; and he became quite aggrieved when I wouldn’t! After a couple of months, though, he instead began to ask for my input. He had accepted our home as his responsibility and he wasn’t happy with the state of it. Now we could finally make decisions together!
2- We kept on trying
Hoo boy, did we ever. We’ve had a long time to try and repeatedly fail to find a way to make our housekeeping work, and only now have we managed to put the right set of circumstances together. Imagine if we’d stopped trying!
I think, very often, when someone has made an honest effort to fix a problem but they haven’t been successful, they decide that problem can’t be fixed.
“I still haven’t found a job.” (So I give up.)
“Running hasn’t made me lose weight.” (So I give up.)
“This holiday didn’t fix our marriage.” (So I give up.)
And once you’ve given up, all of your power is gone. All you can do is wait and see what will happen to you.
Well that’s not an option in 2014, remember? This is the year we make things happen. And that means that giving up is never the right thing to do! If a strategy doesn’t work, then discard that strategy and try something else. If it’s jobseeking, maybe the answer is interview practice, additional qualifications or moving into a different field. Maybe the runner needs to look into weights, maybe he needs some bloods done, or maybe his weight is actually fine and he needs some nicer clothes. Maybe the worried spouse needs to talk with their partner or concern themselves more with their own interests. Or maybe they really do need to consider separating.
The point is, you never have to accept a miserable situation. There is always something that you can do to make it better, even if you’ve tried and failed in the past. You also have the right to change things that make you unhappy, even if the people around you don’t seem to share your priorities. Your happiness matters. You just can’t expect other people to create it for you!
To sort out our housework issues, I needed to surrender control, while Kin needed to accept more responsibility. How do the rest of you organise your households? How long did it take you to sort it all out?
P.S. If you don’t fancy commenting here, try visiting our Facebook Page. I’m really interested in how people divide their labour.