I talk about the tasks and projects related to work a lot, and I talk about why you need to have a system for your personal to-dos, but I realized I don’t think I’ve written much about how to manage all the stuff that goes into running a household. And regardless of whether how many people you live with, there’s a lot that goes into keeping the home front running smoothly!
Caveat: The rest of this article talks about the division of labor assuming multiple people in a household. If you are one of the ~14% of adults who live alone, the following may be less relevant to your situation.
In today’s post, however, I want to talk about 2 methods for distributing the load more equitably at home so that you can avoid the dreaded “tit for tat”, or scorekeeping, that so often adds an unpleasant undercurrent to life at home, or makes us feel resentful of our family members or roommates.
I’m willing to bet that you prioritize having systems that work at work. But we tend to treat home more casually even though the reality is that keeping up a household is real work.
At work, when it’s unclear who is responsible for what, chaos (or lack of progress) ensues. At home, the same can happen.
What if you started treating the work associated with running your household just a little bit more like a business? Instead of worrying about who took out the trash last, what if you just clearly defined roles and responsibilities?
How do you do that? Let me show you!
Method 1: Catalog and Conquer
- First, you’re gonna want to take stock. List literally everything that has to be done to keep your household running.
- Don’t forget to list the “invisible” labor, like knowing when milk is running low, or that the kid’s are due for a check up.
- Next, note who is taking care of what, right now (if anyone).
- Then, sort by who is currently responsible and have a conversation with your household members asking the following:
- Does this make sense?
- Are the right people responsible for the right things?
- Is someone overburdened?
- How could things be more equitably distributed?
- Finally, shift around who’s responsible for what until it feels good to everyone.
- And don’t forget about your kids, if you have them! Kids can do way more than you think.
- Can and should anything be outsourced?
- Click HERE for a template you can download if you’d like to try out this method.
Method 2: “Buckets” of Responsibility
- Have a discussion about the types (buckets) of tasks that show up in your household.
- Tech, travel, different types of cleaning, laundry, cooking, appointments, procurement, finances, different types of childcare, etc.
- Agree on who’ll take responsibility for which buckets and what, if anything, will be outsourced.
- When items arise that fall into various buckets, either the responsible party notices and takes care of them, or tasks are assigned to people based on their buckets.
- In our house, we used a shared task list in TickTick to assign each other items that arise in each other’s buckets, but some households use a whiteboard, or other means.
Renegotiate on the regular
Great! Now you’ve successfully negotiated the breakdown of labor in your household. Does that mean it’ll stay that way forever? No, of course not.
When should you revisit the breakdown? Here are a few points at which revisiting your division of labor makes sense:
- Within a few weeks of making a change, so that everyone can raise concerns, or recommit. We might not know what will work until we try.
- Any time a new member enters or leaves the household. (A new baby is born, a roommate moves out, the in-laws move in, etc.)
- When major work changes happen (new job, switch from PT to FT or vice versa, etc.)
- As kids age (In our house, our kids get new responsibilities every new year because they are more capable every year.)
But what does this look like in real life?
The methods above are the theory, but you might be curious how this works in practice. And I’m happy to give you a sneak peek as to how this plays out in my house.
I live with my husband and 2 sons (10 and 12) and in my house, we primarily use the bucket of responsibility method. In it’s current iteration this means that:
- I handle all things related to food procurement, cooking dinners and weekend meals, all appointments of any kind, laundry for the adults, clothes buying for all.
- My husband handles all things tech, all travel planning, all research related to purchases large and small, entertainment related plans and purchases.
- My kids handle all kitchen cleaning, plant care, trash/recycling/compost, their own laundry, their own weekday breakfast and lunch.
- Plus, we outsource deep cleaning twice a month and have a Roomba to handle the floors.
But it hasn’t always looked like this, because we’ve renegotiated at all the points mentioned above. Here are some of the changes we’ve experienced as our household has changed over the years
- When the kids were much younger, they had fewer buckets and my husband and I had more. He handled drop-offs and I handled pick-ups. He handled bath time and I handled playdates. Etc.
- Many years ago, I switched from FT to PT work, and I then took over both drop-offs and pick ups and I took care of the kids in the afternoons.
- Then I started a business and we outsourced the afternoon childcare and the driving.
- Then COVID happened, and we outsourced nothing. Each member of the family became responsible for keeping clean a certain area of the house weekly. Because my schedule is more rigid (full of client sessions), my husband became the go-to parent during the day if the kids had needs during remote school.
The more you talk about the division of labor and experiment with what works, the better it will feel for everyone. No more tit for tat. No more score-keeping. No more resentment.