For most of human history, the “who does what” of housework was pretty clearly spelled out, with gender determining each partner’s specific role and contributions. Thankfully, that’s (mostly) no longer the world we live in, but there’s still no rule book for helping partners figure out how to divvy up household chores — the physical, mental, and emotional ones — in a way that’s fair and equitable.
So, what does the division of household chores for modern couples look like, really? In FGB’s Who Does What series, we asked couples to complete an exercise in order to share with us the amount and nature of housework they actually do, and how they decided to divvy it all up.
Name: Shel Horowitz
Location: Hadley, Maine
Relationship status: Married
What type of home (e.g, condo, house) do you have? Single-family rural house (built in 1743)
Do you have any kids or pets? Two grown children living elsewhere, one cat at the moment
How long have you and your partner been together? 39.5 years
How long have you been living together? 38 years
What chores do you do daily, and how did you and your partner decide you’d be the one to do them? Please describe.
I do the dishes (pots and knives by hand, the rest in the dishwasher), do but don’t fold the laundry, do most of the vacuuming, empty the cat litter, feed the cat in the mornings and share cat feeding in the evenings, and I cook three to four meals in a typical week (we typically alternate cooking dinner, but adjust depending on other commitments). We decided long ago to share cooking and divide dinner cleanup according to our strengths. I can get half-again as much into the dishwasher, so it makes sense for me to do that. She will get the counters cleaner than I will, so she does that. When our kids were little, I took them out for several hours so she could have time and quiet to write.
What chores do you do weekly and/or monthly, and how did you and your partner decide you’d be the one to do them? Please describe.
Pack the car for any trips, little home repair chores if they’re within my limited skillset, some of the grocery shopping and most of the banking. Since we live some distance from town, we divide errands according to who needs to go where. When we lived in town, I did almost all of the grocery shopping, but I work at home and my wife passes Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods on her commute, so she has picked up some of that. I’m a terrible packer of suitcases, but once the bags are packed, I can get far more into a car, so I do that part. Before our housecleaner comes twice a month, I empty the bathroom counters and straighten up the shoe area of our front hall, while Dina straightens up the bedroom and most of the common spaces. I contact hosts in our homestay networks. On driving trips, I do the challenging urban highways, especially if she’s not already familiar with the road or if the density is too high (such as in NYC or Boston, both of which we visit frequently). If we are in a country where they drive on the left, I do all the driving.
How about your partner? What chores do they do daily, and how did they and/or you decide they’d do them?
She cleans the kitchen counters and stove and puts away the leftovers, but I scrape the pots (and the food processor during cooking) because I leave a lot less behind. She folds the laundry because it looks terrible if I do it. Again, it’s who does what well and who’s driving where.
What chores does your partner do weekly and/or monthly, and how did they and/or you decide they’d do them?
See above. Also, she sets up bedding for guests and housesitters but I typically orient them to the house. She books lodging if we can’t find people in our homestay networks. On car trips, she does most of the night driving and twice as much of the distance driving. She’s good for two hours at a time and I’m only good for one.
Is the way you and your partner divide tasks similar to the household you grew up in? Why or why not?
My parents were divorced when I was 10. Before that, my mom did pretty much all the domestic and child-rearing work. Afterwards, I started taking on some dinner-prep and sibling-care chores when my mom reentered the workforce. My mom’s second husband worked from home and did much of the cooking and cleaning. Both her husbands did nearly all the driving.
What’s something you and your partner could improve on when divvying up and completing household tasks? What’s something you feel you’re doing well?
I feel we have a good balance. We’ve had a lot o time to work it out, and we adjust if one of us feels we’re doing more than our share.
1. Who makes the bed?
2. When you go out to eat, who picks the restaurant and/or makes the reservation?
We decide on the restaurant together. Unless we’re in a large group, we don’t make reservations. When we do, it’s either one of us.
3. Who makes doctors’ appointments? Dentist appointments?
We each make our own.
4. Who picks up the dry cleaning?
N/a. In five years, we might dry-clean two items.
5. Who keeps track of friends’ and family members’ birthdays?
We both do. And we get help from Facebook.
6. Who pays bills? (Or if you divvy this up, who pays which bills?)
I pay the credit cards. She pays the utilities. Either one of us could pay property taxes and other bills. We’ve switched many bills to autopay.
7. When something in the house/apartment is broken, who makes sure it gets fixed?
8. Who makes sure the tags on your cars are up-to-date?
Whichever one remembers to check.
9. Who vacuums?
10. Who was the last person to dust something?
Me, but it’s more typically her.
11. Who was the last person to clean your toilet?
12. Who buys groceries?
13. Who brings in the mail?
14. Who irons?
She does, maybe 3x/year.
15. Who was the last person to clean out the fridge/pantry of expired items?
We do that together just before Passover.
16. You’ve been invited to a wedding. Who RSVPs?
Usually she does.
17. When planning a trip, who books the flights? The hotels?
She does, but I arrange the homestays.
18. Who planned what you did last Friday night?
We decided together.
19. Who planned your last date night?
We decided together.
20. You need a gift for a friend’s housewarming party. Who buys it?
21. Who goes to parent-teacher conferences?
We went together.
22. When you need a babysitter, who is the one to book and communicate with them?
Whoever had time.
23. Your child(ren) has a half-day at school. Who handles this, and how?
I did more of that, because I work at home. I would pick them up and plan a fun activity, then probably take them grocery shopping or out to lunch.
24. Who takes your child(ren) to their extracurricular activities? (If you divvy this up, who goes to what activity?)
We shared this, but I did more of it.
25. Who planned the last birthday party for a child?
Our daughter took control of her own parties at a very young age. Our son followed suit.
26. Who took your child(ren) to get a vaccination last?
Usually, I did those.
27. Your child acted out. Who will discipline them, generally?
Whoever was on the scene.
28. Your child is about to outgrow their shoes. Who notices this, and who takes them to the shoe store?
The child would mention it. Dina would usually take them.
29. The last time you got a call from the school nurse that your child was sick, what did you and your partner do?
Our kids are 26 and about to turn 31. I don’t remember.
30. During weekends and vacations, who considers the children’s’ needs for entertainment, meals and their schedule (in general)?
We both did.
Interested in participating in FGB's Who Does What series? Email [email protected] with "Who Does What" in the subject line.