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division of household labor

How do you divide the labor in your home? Below is the story of clients of mine came to an understanding about responsibilities.

A close friend of mine, David, called because his wife, Sarah (also my friend), was having an issue with organization. I made a time to talk with Sarah when David wasn’t around and Sarah explained – worrying she’d be judged – that organization isn’t her thing. Ah, different issue, I realized, it’s not that she is struggling with organization it’s just not her priority. It’s not that Sarah was sitting around lounging as David did all the work; Sarah works full time and is currently studying for an exam. In addition, she does the majority of the cooking for her and David, as well as many other chores around the house.

Rather than being an issue with organization, this seemed like an issue with communication. I asked David if he and Sarah had ever had a discussion about the division of labor in the household; they had not. I then proposed that if organization and tidying was a priority for him that the responsibility for it should fall on him as well. I suggested that when he and I decluttered and organized, Sarah didn’t need to be involved unless we were dealing with her stuff. She was fine with the arrangement and we got started.

When David started making a pile of stuff to ask Sarah about, I cautioned him. He knows Sarah well and there are certain things she cares about and certain decisions he can make on his own; we struck a balance. We agreed that David would ask only the most important questions to Sarah (i.e. the things he knew she would care about) rather than all the questions he didn’t want to answer by himself.

My goal was to not add more to Sarah’s already full plate. Doing what is perceived to be the lion’s share of the work, while leaving the responsibility and decision making to your partner is called emotional labor (see this now famous article) and rather than easing a burden, it intensifies it.

For her part, Sarah said she was happy to follow the systems that David and I put in place. The main thing was that she just didn’t want any part in creating them. That’s incredibly normal. A common situation for me is that one partner is very excited for me to come and the other greets my entrance with ‘don’t touch my stuff.’ As long as you’re respectful of your partner’s efforts and work to keep up the systems they’ve put in place, there’s not usually an issue.

In my home – it will shock you to know – that cleaning and tidying is my responsibility. My husband’s domain is the kitchen; he’s an excellent chef and baker. His idea of cleaning is putting things away and my idea of cooking is heating up a microwave meal so I think it’s clear that we’ve been assigned appropriate tasks.

That being said, do I always want to clean my apartment when I’ve had a long day and I’m tired? And does Dan want to go to the grocery story? No but we’re trying this thing called adulting and it turns out that you sometimes have to do things you don’t want to do.

Try my tips and tricks above and let me know how it goes! You can email me at and follow me on Instagram @toritheorganizer.


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