Should housemates split chores 50-50?

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By: emilydickinsonridesabmxCC BY 2.0

Fact: Dividing up chores makes a happy household, even when the shares are uneven. The Empire touched on this briefly — Ariel mentioned it on Offbeat Mama last year — but it’s got a new application for Offbeat Home.

Learning to live with other people is hard. Having a roommate or bringing in a ladyfriend isn’t like living with Mom and Dad and Bro and Sis — it’s new territory, with its own rules. We, being polite and hardworking people, want to make sure that we “carry our own fair share” and hope that our co-habiters do the same. But housework is one of the topics couples most often argue over, even when both sides are trying to keep up! Fundamentally, it’s almost never about laziness — it’s a conversation that needs to be had.

In the division of Rockethaus duties, it is my job to empty the dishwasher, but not load it. It’s my job to clean the tub and the sink, but not the toilet. It’s my job to keep the hardwood and linoleum clean, but not the carpet. And since I’m House Captain it’s also my job by default to do most of the other cleaning, upkeep, gardening and cooking. It’s my husband’s job to load the dishwasher, clean the toilet and, well, go to his job — which takes up more time and energy than mine.

I do the lion’s share of the housework, but this arrangement makes me 100% happy. Let me tell you how I got to this place.

Scott and I struggled over chores for a long time. Some of it was about becoming grown ups who live with other grown ups and maintain our own home, and also about one of us (me) overcoming severe slobbiness — but later it was a series of tense negotiations about who is going to clean that up.

The turning point came when we laid out our tradeoffs. This is not a funny exaggeration: I have an aversion to touching dirty dishes. Just like my other aversions I have no idea why it bothers me — I just don’t like it enough that I put it at the end of all my chores and it rarely gets done if left on my plate. And Scott, I learned, doesn’t like unloading the dishwasher. He doesn’t have a weird thing about it, it’s just tedious. Since we discovered I could unload the dishwasher if he put the dishes in — and made a few other arrangements that divided the work in ways that felt right, instead of the ways that seemed most even — we’ve almost entirely stopped fighting about cleaning.

Now that I essentially got Scott to do the really sucky parts of my job, I’m totally cool with doing the rest when he just doesn’t have the time or mental energy. He usually goes above and beyond. We still get a messy house. I definitely still fall behind on my chores — more Fridays than not, our kitchen is a wasteland and our den is a Cat Cave from my workday hunkering. But the everyday upkeep of our house is now routine, calm and drama-free, which makes life a ton easier. Instead of dividing the pie in half, we recognized that for us, it worked best for me to take the filling, and him to take the crust.

How do YOU divide the work? Is it 50/50, or have you negotiated special deals to compensate for each person’s strengths and weaknesses around things like dirty dishes?

Comments on Should housemates split chores 50-50?

  1. my SO and i are nowhere near 50/50 – we fluctuate regularly. here’s what normally happens, though:

    i vacuum, since he hates it and my cats are the reason we need to run the vacuum 2-3 times per week. he cleans the bathroom and handles washing all towels and sheets. he does 90% of the cooking, so i keep the kitchen clean. he handles the yard. the basement and his office are his domain, and i don’t touch them outside of moving things out of the way if i need to get through; my office is my domain completely, and he doesn’t touch anything in there. half the closet room is his problem and the other half is mine. the spare bedroom is a shared responsibility, and we don’t really worry about it unless we have someone coming to visit. we each handle our own laundry.

    this is what works for us. i think, if we tried to split everything 50/50, we’d fight constantly.

  2. I’d say my husband does more than I do at home – he washes dishes, cleans cat litter, does laundry, usually cleans the bathroom and sweeps/mops. He generally remembers to buy cat food and litter before I do.

    I handle social activities, decorating (which is interesting as I’m not really into decorating) travel, finances, tidying up (cleaning up clutter), cleaning the bedroom and living room except for sweeping/mopping. I also work more hours, generally, and make a bit more money.

    Maybe it’s that my chores feel easy and, while not pleasurable, at least easily bearable, but it sure seems like he does more housework.

  3. My fiance does more of the household cleaning than I do. But I contribute more financially and work longer hours than he does, so it’s 50-50 in that sense. I usually do the laundry, clean the cat litter, and pick up the groceries and other stuff we need like birthday gifts for friends and family when it is needed. Dishes we share, but he does it more than I do. I can’t cook for shit, and I suck when it comes to sweeping and mopping, so he does those.

  4. My husband does all of the cooking since I hate it. We both work from home so he does dinner, but we fend for ourselves for lunch. He takes out the garbage, but I clean both bathrooms (he doesn’t do a good job it), do the laundry, vacuum. I do most of the grocery shopping since I leave the house every morning to get coffee and he never leaves. Dishes that can’t go in the dishwasher I do, but he loads and empties it. When there are days that I work outside of the house (I’m a filmmaker and sometimes will be on set for a week at a time) he picks up the slack by doing the laundry. Overall I think we have worked out a system that both of us like.

  5. My partner is a commercial pilot and is away from home 4-6 days a week, and brings in about 90% of our household income. I assume about 90% of household chores, because I’m the one at home, and because I actually love doing domestic stuff. Sure I don’t like taking out the trash, or picking up dog poop in the yard, but I get such a tremendous sense of satisfaction from having a clean house or preparing a great meal, or just being able to check off items on my to-do list. I also cook & pack all of his meals for the week (which saves us thousands of dollars a year) and assume most of the day to day dog care. When he is home, we cook and shop for groceries together, and he enjoys waking up earlier than me sometimes to make me breakfast. It’s an equitable arrangement for both of us, and lets us do what we do best.

  6. I’m the same way about dishes…sort of. I always rinse my dishes off right away, so they’re pretty much clean when I’m ready to wash them, and under those conditions I really don’t mind washing them. BUT I’ve been living with my boyfriend for two years, and I still can’t get him to rinse them off. So I HATE washing dishes now. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get them clean enough, so it’s my job. 🙁

  7. We share our household duties 50/50. It took us a long time (and some heated discussions) to get there. If it was all based around who cared, I’d do 90% of the work. We also can’t base it on income because we make very similar amounts and work the same hours (technically for the same employer).

    There are some things that he does more (dog poop) or that I do more (bathroom), but we can both do all the things. One of the reasons that I like that is that if one of us is sick or out of town, all the things will still be looked after. This is what works for us. The catch is that we don’t do it all at the same time. Right now, for example, I am sitting in a very messy house and prepping to do a “big clean” now. He’ll play video games and help me when he has breaks, and I’ll watch TV on my laptop while I do my half of things. Our previous arguments were more around timing. I would be cleaning while he gamed and by the time he was finished and ready to clean, I’d have finished almost all of it, causing a big old fight. Now, I tell him I’m going to start cleaning and I leave half for him to do, whenever he’s ready. It works for us.

  8. Right now I am at home a lot of the time, and only work a few mornings and evenings a week, while my husband works FT at a pretty stressful job. I feel totally ok doing pretty much all the cooking and cleaning right now, and he is only responsible for cleaning up any extra messes he makes when he is home.

    When we both used to work full time, the only way we could find to keep the house relatively clean was to do a 15 minute team cleaning session a few times a week. This doesn’t sound like much, but our house was tiny, I guess if you live in a bigger place, maybe a 30 minute session would be better. This really worked out well becuase it felt fair since we were both cleaning at the same time, and we didn’t procrastinate since 15 minutes feels totally do-able, even if you are tired from work.

  9. We have an odd living arrangement – I’m required to live on the university campus for my job, but I’m not allowed to have a partner live with me. So about 5 nights/week my lady’s with me and the rest of the time she’s at her small off campus apartment – that way she has a place she can go to when I’m not around. I’m switching jobs in the fall, so we’ll move in together then.

    Since my job requires a lot of “on duty” time, where I’m just required to be in the building and holding the phone, I do all the laundry, vacuuming, changing of the sheets, making the bed, all of the housework practically (my bathroom is cleaned by custodial staff.) In return, lady is responsible for food those 5 days or so. Either she cooks or brings me takeout. She also tends to pay for things like clothes that I might need as seasons change, dinners out, vacations, stuff like that. She will probably bear the majority of the financial responsibility come fall. One thing that I like about Spousonomics is that it talks about how these things change — I am switching jobs in the fall so I will have more of a disposable income to contribute and less time to do chores. We’ve already talked about it, however, and she knows she’ll have to pitch in more around the house and I’ll have to pitch in more with my wallet, to a certain extent. I don’t think comparative advantage will be affected to much, because she does like to clean she just hasn’t had time.

  10. Ugh, I wish I knew how to do this. At first, before the kidlet, it was sort of divided evenly. If one person cooked, the other cleaned. If we both cooked, we would both clean or exchange cleaning rights for not having to get up for additional tasty beverages that evening, we would both do the laundry, etc. But over the years, and after the little one came around, its sort of turned into me doing a great deal of everything except for cooking (he stays at home during the day with our son). He is slowly fixing up the house, so I suppose that’s ok, but I have no idea how to interest him in or get him to do any thing else around the house if I don’t nag. I do like cleaning, but I don’t want to be the only one doing it all of the time.

  11. The live-in BF and I have system for the kitchen -he cooks, I clean. With the rest of the chores we sort of play it by ear, one of us decides something needs to be done so we ask the other for help. Seems to work well.

    I did have an issue with a previous flatmate, he pretty much decided that I should do all the chores because I’m a woman. Needless to say, it didn’t last!

  12. My husband and and my household tasks are pretty much separated and assigned. We do our own laundry, whoever cooks the other cleans up, we put the clean dishes away together and we designate one weekend morning every 6 weeks to divide and conquer a thorough cleaning of the house. I do the gardening and he mows the lawn. Its very systematic.

  13. Gamers take note: we recently started playing Chore Wars ( at our house and it is pretty fun. You get experience points for household tasks. I read about it in the book Reality is Broken (and somebody mentioned it in commenting on the “clean your house in 20 minutes” post). Normally I am against “motivating” people to do things with rewards and turning everything into a competition, but we all went into it pretty aware that we were manipulating ourselves/each other into doing work. Yet it still works! And I actually feel more like doing stuff and less frustrated by it.

    Who knows how long this will work, but it is amusing to watch my 13-year-old complain that I have leveled up before him and run to feed the cat (in Chore Wars this task is called “slake the hunger of the beast”) and unload the dishwasher before anyone else can. It is also a nice way of becoming more aware of who does the most–even if my son eventually gives up because he will never want to do enough housework to “beat” me and my husband, I think it has raised his awareness about how much adults do.

    • Ha! My husband would LOVE this website and system. We started to experiment with the ’20 min a day cleaning’ system, because we struggled to keep our place clean. We made a list of chores, divided in 20 min tasks and whoever does the task puts his/her name behind the task. That way, we keep track of who’s doing what. It gets competitive… but it really seems to work, it especially motivates my husband when he’s behind :).

  14. If you live in a household where the cleaning compulsion is divided unequally, but you all want to pull your own weight, you can do what my college roommates and I did: a chore chart (but with more freedom than the usual kind). Make a chart with everyone’s names on the top, and all the chores on the side. Try to split the chores roughly evenly in terms of time/difficulty/stress (ex., “clean the counters & stovetop” takes longer than “clean the toilet”, but is less icky. “Empty the bin under the leaky sink pipe” took seconds but got its own spot b/c it was important that we didn’t forget)

    When you do a chore, make a mark on the chart. Then you can tell in seconds if you are pulling your weight (and if it’s been too long since “clean the toilet” has been checked off), but you’re not locked into doing a specific chore at a specific time. At the end of the month, the household buys a drink for the one with the most points (not a big expense, especially split 3 ways, but an acknowledgement that doing chores is important and that we appreciate people who do them).

  15. This is a super sensitive(?)/relevant topic in my household for a number of reasons:

    He def. does the majority of the cleaning BUT I handle almost all the finances and remembering doctors and dentists and vet appointments and other general life logistics. We split the dog walking 50/50 with him doing it in the morning, because I am just not a morning person. I also do ALL the cooking (of course, when I don’t feel like it we do take-out …). To me, splitting chores *should* be close to 50/50, but I count many many more things than just household cleaning in “chores.”

    On another note, my sister has been living with us for about 9 months and throwing another person in the mix really … mixes things up so to speak. Even though I’ve lived with my sister most of my life, bringing that family-living dynamic to our new-family-living has been a bit of a challenge.

  16. When we were first married, there was a period of time when I was working two jobs, and hubby was working from home – I’d get home exhausted and be sooo frustrated because he hadn’t even bothered to make the bed or something!

    After a period of time (too long a time, actually), we finally sat down and talked about it. Apparently he just didn’t *see* the mess. He didn’t mind helping out around the house, but unless I told him what needed doing, he didn’t know it needed done. I’d not been saying anything because I didn’t want to be a nag.

    Now I’m working a normal 8-5 job, and he’s in limbo after just leaving a job requiring him to work 60-80 hours a week. Which means he’s home until he can find another job. And he’s picked up almost everything – I’ll get home and he’s tried to pick up the kitchen and will be making dinner.

    He still has a problem noticing chores that needs to get done in the house, while I still refuse to nag. Instead, I’ll leave little lists of things that I would like to be done, with the understanding between both of us that nothing on the list is a requirement. If he even does one thing on the list I will be happy. Otherwise I will do it.

    Generally he does more than one item, though! This has worked amazingly for us. It really came down to communication and figuring out what works for us.

  17. We followed the trend of friends who had “Housework Night” where you all get together and do all the chores in one night (Tuesdays or Wednesdays are good) and then order a pizza and a bottle of wine to celebrate!! Last person to finish their chores pays!

  18. I lived with roommates, then my husband and roommates, for five years. SHOULD the housework be divided evenly? YES. But it rarely is, and that is the source of bitterness and quirky comedies.

    With roommates, I doled out the chores. Then I’d bug about them not being done (I actually put housework in the lease agreement and made sure they understood – I own the house, whatever, I can do what I want). Most of the time, I’d end up re-cleaning what was allegedly cleaned and that was painfully frustrating. I had one roommate whose only job was to take the trash to the dump twice a month… that’s a long story that involves neglected tasks, burst well pipes, and my first ulcer.

    With the husband, it’s taken a couple years to find our stride. I loathe cleaning the floors, so he does it. I’m okay with everything else. We will likely never have a dishwasher, but if I don’t do them at night (I usually do, I hate a mess), he’ll handle them in the morning. He feeds and waters the pooches. When he sends the child off to night-night time, I clean the child clutter, and he does the same on nights when I pull night-night duty. He’s learned to keep the house free of clutter to save my sanity (though his office is his space and he can be as messy as he wants).

    Open, calm communication is key. Seriously, I have an ulcer that says “don’t keep it in!”

  19. My former roommate and I split chores by who cared about what more, and what dirt each “sees”. Seriously, I don’t notice when floors need to be mopped (unless they’re disgusting ), and he doesn’t notice when the microwave needs a scrub. It worked well, and I just kept my bedroomddoor closed 😉

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