I’ve been spending a lot…

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about patterns here, patterns of behavior. For example, the cleaning discussions have been ongoing, and Kevin and I are still trying to find more ways that he can take on household tasks in a way that makes sense to him, not just to me. For example, take putting dirty clothes in the hamper. (Hopefully Kevin doesn't mind me airing his dirty laundry this way. Ha ha. :-) Typical conversation:

Me: Why can't you just put them in the hamper right away, instead of dropping them on the floor?

Kev: When I'm already strapped for time, and wanting to work, cleaning up slightly messy clothes just doesn't occur to me.

Me: But if you put it away right away, then it's actually less work overall -- because you don't have to later sort out the piles of clothes on the floor, figuring out which ones are really dirty and need washing, which can be worn once or twice more before washing, and which, inexplicably, are completely clean but somehow ended up on the floor anyway...

Kev: It just doesn't seem like a priority.

Me: Plus, if you do it right away, then the floor is clean! All the time! Whereas if you wait and do it all a week later, you've had to deal with one, two, three, four, five, six, seven days of a dirty floor. Seven times as much mess, plus more work! All because you didn't just put the clothes in the hamper (or on the bed rail if they can be worn once or twice more) right away, when you were taking them off. It's not like you have to go to another room! The hamper is right there! Right next to where you stand when you take off your clothes!

Kev: [blank stare, as if he literally cannot understand what I'm talking about. He may just be stunned by the number of exclamation points that have entered the conversation. Or by my sudden striking resemblance to my mother.]

Slightly dramatized for effect, and Kevin says that when he's quiet like that, he's just thinking, but still, that's pretty much how the conversation goes. It's as if we're having two entirely different conversations about the same subject -- somehow, we think about this in really different ways. Part of it, I think, is that the mess barely registers for him -- he notices it once in a while, but mostly, it's just not on his mental radar when he's busy thinking about other, admittedly more important, things. Whereas I can't seem to turn the mess off -- it's always there, blinking a bright red light in my head, making it damnably difficult to concentrate on my own more important things...

I don't think we're likely to change the way either of us actually think. So we're trying to address these issues in other ways. You'd think, fifteen years into a relationship, that we'd have the laundry issue sorted out, at least, but it was never that big a deal before; we had enough time to handle it, albeit inefficiently. It took having a kid to really crunch our time enough that we've had to start dealing with these lurking frustrations.

So far, on the revised cleaning front -- Kev's done a good job with the nightly dishes. It's my job to empty the dishwasher whenever it's full (a task neither of us likes), so he always has room to load whatever will fit in, and then handwash the rest. I've asked him to add wiping down the counters and cleaning the stovetop to his nightly routine; we'll see how that goes. He volunteered to do a load of laundry at night too, but that turns out not to work because the machine is right next to Kavi's room and wakes her up. The alternating weeks of responsibility for groceries / cooking worked for a few weeks, and then houseguests really threw it off. Hopefully we'll be able to pick it up again; it was nice while it lasted.

We're thinking of adding something like three hours of Sunday afternoon housework time. Start the laundry at 4, take turns watching Kavi as much as needed while we clean the bathrooms, take out the trash, do whatever other random tasks have accumulated. Kev's a little dubious, but I'm optimistic. We didn't do it this Sunday, though, because I had that cooking class, which ran late, and he watched Kavi all through it, so needed a break afterwards. And then this coming Sunday, I have workshop from 2-5 at Jeanie's. Next Sunday is the Kriti planning meeting. Hmm...maybe we need to try this on Saturday instead. :-) We'll see how it goes.

I think I've always had this fantasy that we'd just naturally do the things we notice and it'd divide evenly between us both and neither of us would feel overburdened and we'd never have to discuss housework. But that's just crazy talk, I fear. Is it just us? Or do the rest of you have to divide up household tasks so concretely too?

7 thoughts on “I’ve been spending a lot…”

  1. I am going to put in a bit of support for Kevin here. If laundry is left on the floor overnight, it airs out and does not smell so bad when it it put into the hamper later. The traces of perspiration dry out that way, whereas the very slight dampness present when laundry is put into the hamper immediately leads to unpleasant smells for the person doing the laundry, and maybe even to clothes’ wearing out more quickly.

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    David, I’m not sure I believe that actually causes the clothes to wear out any faster — but even if it does, I’m pretty sure that none of that reasoning is behind Kevin’s behavior pattern. 🙂

  3. I’m blanking on where I posted about this recently, so I’ll keep this short in case it was a comment here, but I suspect a lot of this does come down to the perception/tolerance of mess issue. For example, messes at my place barely register on me. I sometimes don’t notice them at all; sometimes notice them but am not bothered by them at all; sometimes think vaguely “It would be nice to not have this mess” but there’s no actual impulse to do anything to clean it up.

    Whereas for plenty of people (and ime this often but not always breaks along gender lines, alas), the presence of the mess actively bothers them, much as you described.

    I like the idea of a place for everything and everything in its place; but in practice, it almost never really occurs to me to do the work required to make that happen, even in contexts where that work is minimal.

    Sadly, this doesn’t help with the practical issue. But fwiw, I think it’s a very common and widespread practical issue, so at least it’s not just you and Kevin.

  4. It’s totally based on tolerance. I notice the mess first, so I end up cleaning. I also have trouble getting work done if my environment is messy.

  5. I love the housekeeping posts! I have no solutions, but a biological perspective to share:

    I once watched this thing on TV about the differences between the male and female brain. They put test subjects in a glass booth with dollar bills flying all over the place and told the subject to grab as many bills as they could.

    The boys did better. They hypothesized it was because male brains instinctively target on a single object, while the female brain sees all the bills at the same time and has a hard time focusing on a single object.

    Not saying this is universally true, of course, but I think this is why some women can’t focus on work when there’s a mess around, and why some men seem obstinately focused on their work and nothing else.

  6. I’m always suspicious of biological gender-difference arguments, especially ones that confirm cultural stereotypes, but I know nothing about the experiment in question so I’ll shut up about it.

    Regardless of gender or brains, though, for me personally it’s true that I tend to tune out clutter when focusing on one particular thing. For example, most of my friends and colleagues (both male and female) get twitchy when they see my computer monitor covered with dozens of windows. For me, I just don’t notice all the other windows; I’m focused completely on the one that I’m working in. I do have a spatial sense of where the other windows are in relation to each other, so I can go to the one I need fairly easily, but the screen clutter doesn’t distract my attention.

  7. I’m like Lori in the sense that if I notice a mess, I’ll straightaway clean up. I don’t mind. It’s faster when I do it. Mostly, it’s stuff like doing the dishes, or an untidy pile of clothes that need putting away etc. I’d do it for myself really as I prefer a tidy environment.

    My partner will make up for it in other ways like taking me out for a surprise treat, fixing things around the apartment, cooking me my meals, doing the shopping, or listening to my moans no matter how trival. He’s not normally inclined to, so that says a lot. 🙂

    I agree with Jed,that I too, would stay suspicious of gender cultural-stereotypes. My reasoning is that all sorts of individuals have learnt to embrace extraordinary passions without conforming to predictable situations any longer.

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