The wife's role in a household 😬

behind the scenes essay musings May 05, 2022
Rebekah Holmes, professional organiser, tilts her face towards the sky with her eyes closed. Her face is peaceful as she takes a deep breath.

An essay on the modern-life conundrum; we're on the treadmill of doing, doing, doing - there is no relief in sight, no end to the to-do list. We are too busy, our partners are too busy, and so the jobs pile up.

One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to become a part of someone else's life, and to some extent, their family. I am always chuffed when a one-off client becomes an ongoing client, because it means I get to stay in touch and hear how their child got on with a big test, how their dad got on with his hip operation, and how that sticky situation at my client's work was resolved. I love people, and I love their stories, and I love the interesting and deep conversations that can be had over an organising session.

I had one of these deep conversations recently and it has stuck with me, because it lead to a thought that I remain uncomfortable with. (Please read to the end before you get too annoyed at me!) The client I was chatting with is a single Mum of 2 teenage daughters. The Dad is not involved at all, and so the entire load of running a household falls onto my client's shoulders. She also runs an incredibly successful business with over 100 employees, and is the go-to person for supporting her ageing parents. She is keeping afloat, but only just. Her pile of paperwork is mountain-high, rivalled only by the laundry pile in size and scale. She cannot do it all. As she worked through catching up on bill payments, she asked me who does it all in our house, and I said "I do". And for the most part that is true. I put the rubbish out, I cook and then do the dishes, I clean the bathrooms, I wash and fold the laundry, I do the grocery shopping, buy the presents, remember important dates and on and on and on. (For the record and before you get too annoyed at my other half, I enjoy keeping house - I wouldn't have started this business and thrived in it if caring for other people and their homes wasn't my cup of tea. You'll note that "vacuuming" isn't on the list as it is something that I loathe! Jamie takes care of that, and of course many other things.) Our household dynamic has developed over the last 6-7 years, from when I left full-time employment. Because I was working part-time, I took on the lion's share of the household work because that seemed like a fair trade-off to me. It freed up our weekend's to spend time together, which was amazing.  But in the last month I've been feeling run ragged from all this doing. My business is cranking, and I'm still doing the lion's share at home. I'll get to that in a moment; for now, back to the conversation with my client, and my uncomfortable thought. 

After she asked me who does it all in our house, and I replied "I do", the very next words out of my mouth were "I need a wife". I'm still horrified that not only did I have that thought, but that it escaped my mouth before my brain could catch up and stop it in it's tracks. I immediately confessed that I was mortified by the thought; I consider myself a feminist, and yet I am obviously still deeply conditioned that "the wife" does all of the household stuff. When I admitted out loud that I felt under pressure and was struggling to do it all, I joked about needing a wife to take care of some of the load, rather than joking that my husband needed to do more. 

No. Just no. 

The thing is, households don't run themselves. There's a Reel doing the rounds on Instagram at the moment, where a voiceover (a dude!) says "Stop trying to do everything" and someone (usually a woman) replies "Then who the fuck is going to do it?" (Watch one version here.) And this is the crux of our modern-life conundrum; we're on the treadmill of doing, doing, doing - there is no relief in sight, no end to the to-do list. We are too busy, our partners are too busy, and so the jobs pile up. Women have been so well-conditioned by the patriarchy (yes, I went there!) that we sigh, roll up our sleeves, dig a little deeper and try to catch up. 

I see this every day with my clients, and I'm guilty of it in my own home. I get the dinner cooking, then fold the laundry while I half-supervise our kid as he plays the Playstation, take out the recycling while running through my mental list of "don't forget to do", and regularly sacrifice my planned gym workout in favour of running 3 errands because otherwise they won't get done. 

When I started writing this blog, it wasn't with the intention of including a sales pitch at the end. But I guess this is where we're at; the modern-life conundrum is why I have a business, and why I am in hot demand. When there is too much to do at home, you have to call in reinforcements. We have cleaners, pool valets, nannies, landscapers, window cleaners, house cleaners, upholstery cleaning specialists... The list goes on. My prediction is that we're about to see a rise in housekeepers; in fact for several of my ongoing clients, this is largely what I do. I take great pleasure in earning my living from keeping other people's homes spick and span; it's just my own home I don't have the energy for!

So where DO we go from here? Awareness for starters. If you feel you're on the treadmill and don't know how to get off, I think the first step is realising what is at play here. You're not failing if you can't keep afloat. The answer is not to get up a little bit earlier or stay up a little bit later. Here are some things you could try, rather than rolling up your sleeves and digging a little deeper as you pick up your spatula to cook dinner while Facetiming your Nana and putting in the online grocery order:

  • Have a courageous conversation with your partner (my conversation will be initiated when I show Jamie this blog post, wish me luck!) and see how the load can more evenly distributed. 
  • Do less! Reduce the amount of cleaning you do - obviously keeping hygiene etc in mind. But if you've got a full schedule and are stressing about fitting in the vaccuuming, maybe that is something that you could let slide this week? And maybe next week the bathrooms can have a quick wipe down instead of a full deep clean?
  • Make a list of all the jobs that you do, and circle the ones you never get around to. Those are the lead suspects for jobs that could be outsourced. 
  • Paying service businesses to take care of them is one option for outsourcing; an alternative is to start a neighbourhood or friends co-operative. Compare notes on what needs to be done, and see if there is an option to distribute the load that way.
    • A simple example of this is cooking a double batch once a week, and sharing the extra batch with a friend; they do the same, and voila - one night off cooking.
    • You could exchange laundry folding for ironing. 
    • You could have a playdate agreement where the kids go to a friend's so you can get your exercise in, with you reciprocating on another day so your friend can do the same. 

I realise in the paragraph above that what I'm describing is a village, which is something that I'm hyper-aware that we are missing in today's society. That's a whole other blog post - this essay is already long enough. 

The bottom line is that we need to find a way to distribute the load more evenly, more fairly within households. The means other people need to pick up the slack, or we bring in reinforcements in the form of friends, family or professionals. Food for thought, isn't it? 

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