If you and your partner are anything like me and mine, you settled into some domestic patterns in the first few months of living together. After a few passive aggressive notes (“How about instead of balancing that last bit of plastic on top of the Tower Of Recycling, YOU JUST TAKE IT OUT”) or even some knock-down drag-out arguments (“HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO ASK YOU NOT TO LEAVE THE BAGGIE OF DOG SHIT NEXT TO THE FRONT DOOR!?), you manage to figure out your systems and settle into a rhythm.
Then some time goes by. Maybe a few months, maybe a few years. You have your chores, they have their chores, and sure: sometimes you get busy or lazy, but for the most part, you do your shit and they do theirs. It works.
Here’s the thing, though: even if your systems are working well, you still need to revisit and shake-up your domestic systems and divisions of labor. Here’s why…
1. Situations change
Hypothetical situation: one of you does the morning dog walk because you have to catch the early bus to work, so it makes perfect sense. Two years later, you’re still doing the morning dog walk, even though now you work from home and your partner is always up first. Why are you still walking the dog? Because that’s what you guys decided. Two years ago. When it made sense.
When you settle into a comfortable routine with chores, it can be hard to even notice when your daily situations shift in a way so that the divisions don’t quite make sense in the same way. Maybe your partner always does the laundromat run, because they’re finishing their degree and it’s great study time. Then, a year later, the degree is done and they’ve got a new job and yet there they still are every Sunday: doing the laundry. Time to reassess!
2. People change
Speaking of laundry, it used to be my enemy. The clothes would pile up into mountains on both sides of the process: the mountain of unwashed laundry and the mountain of unfolded laundry. Folding was the worst, because I would always get so bored and distracted and even lonely. Just folding folding folding, rattling around in my own head.
Then I had a kid, and I realized that folding laundry was something we could do together. When my son was a baby, I’d prop him up with pillows on the bed and talk to him about textiles and colors and fashion as I folded. Now that he’s a toddler, he helps me match up socks and put his own underwear in their drawer.
Used to be, I avoided having laundry as my chore. Now it’s the easiest chore I have. I changed. It happens!
3. You can find hidden efficiencies!
There’s nothing better than figuring out some awesome new lifehack to make your boring household chores a little easier. After the 400th time of forgetting to switch the laundry, I realized that if I left a small light on in the kitchen, it would remind me that I’d put some laundry in. DUH. If I took the compost bucket out with me when I headed out to the car (saving me a separate trip outside), I could leave the bucket sitting in front of the parking spot so that when I got back home, I’d remember to bring it up. BLAMMO. Both these things I figured out after we’d swapped some chore responsibilities… the novelty of the shift triggered my brain to actually THINK about what I was doing, and look for new ways to do it.
Heck, your partner may have the perfect system for cleaning the bathroom sink lurking in their frontal lobe somewhere, just waiting to show you how you’ve been wasting precious minutes of your life cleaning it the hard way for the last two years. When you reassess your division of labor, sometimes new systems become clear… saving everyone time!
4. Change is good
When I was in college, my parents separated after 20 years of marriage. There were a lot of factors, but one of the things my mom said was that she realized they’d gotten into these domestic patterns that were so entrenched that they didn’t even bother asking why they did things they way they did. My mom was like, “All those years, I always thought I wasn’t a morning person — but it was really just that your dad was always up at 6, and I liked lounging in bed to have time to myself.” Once they separated and the pattern was broken, my mom totally turned into a morning person.
This kind of domestic calcification is somewhat inevitable, but you don’t always need to separate from your partner to find little ways to shake up your divisions of labor and reassess your domestic systems. By sitting down with a list of the chores you both do, and renegotiating who does what, when, and how, you can introduce small but important shifts into your home life together that can keep things flexible and non-atrophied. Try it this weekend!