The Golden Rules of Dishwashing, and Other Household Chores

by Laurie Ulster
Originally Published: 

But what people don’t necessarily think about are the mundane, day-to-day actions required to maintain a reasonable living space. And a lot of us have certain assumptions about how things should work, and just assume (because they’re assumptions, duh) that our partners will share them because isn’t that the way everybody does it?

Apparently not. The editors at The Kitchn were surprised to learn that they all had different rules about washing dishes, whether or not they had a dishwasher. One assumed that whoever does the cooking gets a free pass from any of the post-meal cleanup. Another always saw it as a team effort, something couples do together. Another does both the cooking and the cleaning because it’s all part of the same process.

I have always had the first philosophy, that the person who cooks shouldn’t have to clean, with allowances for particular levels of exhaustion, required activities with kids or other case-by-case exemptions. But when my husband, who does all the cooking, makes something that I don’t eat—like when he spends all day making pea soup, or beef stew, both of which I’m slightly horrified by—then it’s his responsibility all the way, just like when I do the baking.

There’s also a golden rule within the dishes rule, a sub-rule, if you will. It’s about leaving dishes in the sink. My golden rule is that the sink is a temporary resting place and the offending item should be cleaned and removed once it’s done soaking; I don’t think my husband even has a golden rule about this, and probably thinks the dish elves will take care of things. (Say hello to the dish elf.)

When we lived in an apartment, we had a golden rule about garbage. Whoever tied up the bag and then replaced it was off the hook for taking the bag to the garbage room in our building. Now that we’re in a house, taking the garbage out falls to my husband, and I didn’t find out for years that he thought the golden rule was still in place. One day I complained that everybody kept stuffing the bag and nobody ever changed it, and he told me that he assumed I was still sticking to our original plan; since he took the garbage out, it was my job to change the bag. Who knew? (He did!)

Laundry was another one. When I was about 12, I started doing my own laundry. When I had roommates, we each did our own, even when we dragged our stuff to the laundromat together. I assumed that rule would continue when we moved in together, but it turns out I actually had to tell him about it. It was my golden rule, but not his. But I value the return of all the clothes I put into the hamper quite a bit, so I insist on keeping everything separate. Last week he accidentally put some of my things in with his and was shocked by how fixated I was on finding and reclaiming my missing clothing, as well as my ability to remember the exact conversation we’d had about it when I first noticed they were gone. Maybe I’m a little obsessed, but since I only have about four shirts that I like at the moment, I really need access to all of them.

So here’s my tip on household golden rules: They’re not universal, so you’d better talk about them. If you find yourself cursing every time you do something, and you’re doing it a lot, then your partner probably has a different set of rules from yours. (And of course, yours are the right ones, so have your arguments ready to go.)

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