Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Light Housekeeping

I was getting my hair colored at the beauty school yesterday.  The students always do a nice job and it's certainly affordable, but the client pays in time.  It can take close to three hours all told, although most of that time is just sitting in a chair waiting for the chemistry to happen.  So I usually remember to BMOB (Bring My Own Book) -- but yesterday I forgot.  With a sense of foreboding, I surveyed the literature piled up around the coffee urn.  Fortunately, amongst the stained and tattered copies of old Us and Today's Spa, I found a current issue of Esquire.  Actual reading material.  Score!

I hadn't read Esquire for a long while.  I can't tell you what a relief it was, after a year sounding the depths of the "manosphere", to read a mainstream "men's lifestyle" magazine.  I scanned the issue:  the return of the "cocktail cuff" (whatever that is), a lame joke attributed to a beautiful woman I've never heard of, a Prada suit made of flower-printed brocade that maybe Jared Leto could pull off  -- the usual fare. Then I stumbled on a column by Stephen Marche, whom I'd also never heard of, but which caught my eye since he seemed to be the magazine's resident "gender" expert.  It was an interesting article about what a freak show media depictions of masculinity have become.  I really wanted to tear it out and take it home, but I restrained myself. 

When I got home and read more of Marche, I learned he had written an article a few months ago, "The Case For Filth," that had got bloggers a-bloggin'.  I'm late to the party as always, but the topic is one that got me thinking since I often hear women bitching and moaning about how their husbands slack off in the house cleaning department.

Basically Marche's thesis was that the fact that wives are still doing more housekeeping than their husbands is primarily a matter of the women's choice.  And the solution to the endless wrangling over who does the lion's share of household chores is for both parties to relax, kick back, and embrace a bit of mess.

 Frankly, I agree with him.  Of course I'll admit that I'm a perfectly lousy housekeeper.  Because I'm a spinster, I can't really blame the fact that my house is in a chronic state of disarray on my husband + children.  (So I blame my dogs, LOL.)

The fact is, I don't give a damn.  There are two tasks I will never have time to do: ironing and dusting.  I rather subscribe to Quentin Crisp's philosophy, that after seven years, a house just can't get dirtier. And seriously, folks, if I can't run it through the dishwasher or the washing machine, I don't want it.

I do have a "zero growth" policy:  for every book, every can of food, every piece of clothing I acquire, I try to toss out something that takes up an equivalent amount of space.  And I like to be able to locate my stuff, so I maintain highly structured piles of crap.  My house isn't so much cluttered as it is just plain dirty

On the other hand, I do like to be personally clean, so I have no problem keeping up with laundry and washing dishes.  But everything else can go to hell.

BTW, although I'm not married, I have cohabited with various people over the years.  And we never argued about housekeeping.  Once in a while, I would pick up a boyfriend's sock and throw it in the laundry pile, and if he wanted it washed, he knew where it was.

This laissez-faire attitude could be a problem in the future though.  My girlfriend is kind of a neat freak.  If we ever move in together, I'm going to have to clean up my act, or else we're going to have to move into adjoining units in a duplex (and I probably don't have to tell you that I favor the latter option).

Anyway, poor Stephen Marche!  The ladies really took after him. First, Amanda Macotte took him to task.  Another female blogger pitied his wife.  Some women railed, Think of the children! Think of the germs!  It went on and on:  Obviously, this topic touches quite a nerve -- a source of angst and endless wrangling that I, as a barren spinster, am blithely oblivious to.  

Here's my take on Housework: it's kind of like Sex.  With sex, the one with the least desire controls the show, whereas with housework, the one who is least fastidious gets to opt out.  This isn't so much a man/woman conflict as it is a slob/clean freak conflict.

I must say that I thought the study Marche cites that suggests women who out-earn their spouses do MORE domestic tasks rather interesting.  And it supports my theory that part of the reason wives continue to do the lion's share of household duties is because they don't really want to forfeit their "traditional feminine" roles.


  1. I would agree with the maxim that the person with the least tolerance for dirt will have to do the lion's share of the cleaning. In the case of my household that would be my non partner's mother, who blitzes the place unasked whenever she comes to visit us. For the long term I'm encouraging Snork Junior to 'play sweeping the floors'. I would also sort of agree that high earning women do more housework; while NP and I both earn a pittance, my pittance is slightly bigger and I do end up washing the dishes and taking out the rubbish more.

  2. My house is a cluttery mess. Now, having grown up with a full-fledged hoarder, I know full well how much worse it could be. I still have plenty of space in my closets, and I get rid of things long before they have time to accumulate. BUT. I also have three kids and various and sundry pets, and so the carpet constantly looks meh (either with crumbs or stains). And there are books pretty much everywhere. I figure that as long as I keep things reasonably under control (no moldering bananas in the couch cushions and no soap scum in the sink), I'm golden.

    But that doesn't mean I don't feel a twinge of envy/guilt every time I see friends post pictures of their flawlessly put-together living rooms or kitchens. Blah.

    1. Like when you go round to someone's immaculate house and the first thing they do is apologise for the 'mess'.

      Similarly my living room floor is dominated by wooden train track and lego. Similarly I think I'm doing well if there's no outright filth anywhere.

    2. Wasn't it Le Corbusier who said "a house is a machine for living?" I choose to interpret this as meaning if it functions, it's just fine...

  3. My own experience is that adult males with any maturity (and who wants any other kind?) don't want to wallow in filth and will pick up after themselves. Where a lot of my girlfriends go wrong is demanding a high standard, then doing it themselves because the guy doesn't do it well enough. So they actually train men to give up on housework - who wants to be nagged and then criticised?

    The deeper problem is that they're taking it on as their job, awarding themselves the right to set standards and criticise. Which means they've made themselves into the person officially in charge of housework.

    1. Exactly. You can't delegate and micromanage at the same time.

    2. Got to say, I'm a little uneasy with this. Isn't it falling back on the age old idea that women are responsible for the behavior for men?

      I know I'm only being semi-serious when I describe my domestic situation, but the fact is I invariably have a choice of picking up after non partner, or live surrounded by rubbish. I can ask him to do something and it's nagging, or do it myself and be accused of 'training' him badly, or live in squalor which does get me down from time to time. But really bugs me is when people think that his behavior should my responsibility, he's an adult and I'm not his bloody mother.

    3. If the guy's a genuine slob, that's tough. When I was a student, I shared a flat with a slob. I just used to take his mess and literally throw it into his room, until it looked like his bedroom was inhabited by a hoarder. He'd never buy a thing for the place, so I got to the stage where I'd hide my own loo roll in my room, to force him to buy his own stuff. The problem was, his girlfriend would come around and clean up after him. So he always had some female taking care of stuff and he never learned. If it had been up to me, he would have suffered...

      But it's hard in that situation.

    4. Yeah, the letting them suffer can get farcical, I've lived with a few slobs (as well as people who considered me one) and for many it can almost become a point of pride to resist all attempts to get through to them. I once dumped a guy's dirty dishes outside his room and he would just step over them for several days (can't remember who picked them up in the end). Communal domestic arrangements are rarely an easy affair.

      I think ultimately it's up to parents to instil responsibility in their kids. It's no coincidence that NP's mother cleans our house without asking, or that his older brother was an even worse slob when he lived with us. While I joke about getting Snork Junior to play sweeping, once his motor skills have improved he will be getting chores, I figure it's the best way to teach him to take care of himself when he leaves home.

    5. I aimed to write a reply to this post, cinzia, but it became so long-winded that I just decided to write a post of my own about it on my page.


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