I don’t clean because the house is never dirty

I often think about this when someone thinks I should do more housework:

When women see how little housework men do, they interpret it as “shirking” …Men, in turn, feel unfairly maligned…Who is right? …Usually, men.

The evidence: Look at the typical bachelor’s apartment. Even when a man pays the full cost of cleanliness and receives the full benefit, he doesn’t do much. Why not? Because the typical man doesn’t care very much about cleanliness. When the bachelor gets married, he almost certainly starts doing more housework than he did when he was single. How can you call that shirking?

To some extent it’s true, but in my experience a lot of conflict between clean and messy people seems indeed because the messy person ends up doing less than their fair share of work, but also much less than they are willing to do. This is because people often decide when to do a chore based on when it has reached a certain level of urgency. For instance when the floor becomes muddy enough it triggers cleaning. When two people have different standards, the cleanlier one is always the first to be triggered, so they clean again and again while the other is endlessly about to clean but beaten to it. This can be fixed by relying on another method to decide when to clean, or by the person with lower standards learning to be triggered at the same point as the other person, but if one person endlessly cleans while the other endlessly claims they were going to do it tomorrow, it’s easy for resentment to cloud assessment of this underlying problem.

17 responses to “I don’t clean because the house is never dirty

  1. At my house, we resolve this with a whiteboard table: one row per person, one column per frequent chore, everyone marks when they’ve done a chore, and when a column fills it starts from scratch.

  2. Yes, the principle of least interest.

    I fondly remember the time when I was living moved into a shared house with male and female students. Correctly anticipating the differential preferences, the girls cleverly suggested that a cleaning schedule be voted on. Equally cleverly, the boys voted against such a vote.

  3. Ah, you’re saving the world one household conflict at a time. Keep it up! There is nothing like Good vs. Evil dissolving into a technical problem.

  4. “I fondly remember the time when I was living moved into a shared house with male and female students. Correctly anticipating the differential preferences, the girls cleverly suggested that a cleaning schedule be voted on. Equally cleverly, the boys voted against such a vote.”

    This doesn’t seem especially clever. As a (messy) male, who currently lives alone and has only ever lived with somewhat tidier people in the past, when I talk with friends about maybe moving in together one of the first things I emphasise is the need for well-defined rules about this sort of issue. I’d rather have to do a bit more housework than I otherwise would choose to, up to a pre-agreed standard that’s not too far in excess of my own preference, than have the huge mental stress associated with a dysfunctional household in which people resent each other. Unless you’re in a rather large house that’s expected to have a high turnover of occupants regardless, I think this is pretty much always a superior arrangement; and there are reasons to suspect it may even be somewhat better in this case, but I don’t have enough direct experience to make a judgement on that.

  5. My wife and I have been playing this brinksmanship for 12 years, so none of us ever clean. The solution is to bring out my in-laws to stay with us for a couple of months each year. They can’t stand the mess, so they clean.

    You need to research female pack-rat syndrome, though. Women will even buy boxes to put boxes in. We’re going to have to buy a second house soon, since there won’t be room for people in our current house.

    And, of course, that’s my defense for the brinksmanship — when I was a bachelor, my place was always immaculately clean, because I never kept stuff, always washed the dish immediately after eating, swept through and discarded anything I wasn’t using every month, etc.

  6. My housemates and I have settled on what I call the ‘hot potato dish system’ which seems to resolve this problem. Responsibility for dishes is a ‘hot potato,’ which circulates among the residents, and which everyone wants to get rid of. When it becomes your turn, you can discharge your duties by emptying the sink. If you do this right away, it is a light burden, and if you procrastinate, it is a heavy one.

    • Clever, who thought up that one? Glad to hear that the Berkeley house hasn’t dissolved into a sty.

    • Is there a minimum time limit?

      • We used this system in a flat I was in too. We had a minimum time limit of 1 full sink worth of dishes, or one meal.

        It didn’t work, though – we’d end up with none of the dishes clean, so if you wanted to eat you’d have to clean some anyway, even when it wasn’t your turn.

        The new system works much better: central planning. We have a “central planner”, who tells someone that it’s their turn to do the dishes.

  7. My girlfriend and me.. Or I constantly fight with her because she never cleans our flat, never does the laundry, never does the dishes and never takes the garbage out. I’m on the verge of moving out because she’s a slob and lazy and I’m pulling her work-load all the time while she concentrates on her school. It’s unequal and I want out. Good story though.

  8. “This can be fixed…by the person with lower standards learning to be triggered at the same point as the other person”

    That seems to merely shift the resentment toward the lower standard person, who finds himself doing a lot of cleaning that he considers unnecessary from a cleanliness perspective. This is from my personal experience vis-a-vis my parents (who, of course, are the tidier ones).

    (“He” in my usual sexist default third person gender sense, without any particular implication. )

  9. Simple solution: Live alone. I have flocks of aggregated dust everywhere on the floor, except for where I walk, and nobody ever cares.

    Occasionally, friends and family would come for suprise visits. They quickly learned not to do that after they realized what a mess my household is when they arrive unannounced.

    I don’t have a sex life though.

  10. While dirt may accumulate within our properties in uniform time, sadly our perceptions of cleanliness are not linear.

    The difference between clean and not-clean is far slighter than the difference between dirty and more dirty. This is because the successful identification of any dirt prevents a property from being “clean”, while a dirty property is, essentially, already dirtied, and therefore measured by a different yardstick.

    It is important therefore to decide whether we want a property that is “clean” on an ongoing basis, or merely one that is “not dirty.”

    In practical terms, the time it takes to clean a property does not hold a linear relationship with the amount of dirt to displace. Yes, the more dirt to displace, the longer it takes. But 10x the dirt doesn’t take 10x as long to clean away.

    Therefore, if one measures the value of the act of cleaning in terms of the time taken to clean and the amount of dirt removed, one’s best course is never to clean, since deferring the act of cleaning to tomorrow will provide greater cost benefit.

    Conversely, when cleaning standards are too exacting, it is possible to clean continually without the possibility of ever achieving a state in which the property is “clean.”

    Some people, obsessed with cleaning, will justify their actions by saying their properties are always dirty and need cleaning. Others, equally obsessed with cleaning, will affirm proudly that their properties are always clean. Both groups clean equally often, but in the one case cleaning is a positive — and in the other a negative — act.

    • “Therefore, if one measures the value of the act of cleaning in terms of the time taken to clean and the amount of dirt removed, one’s best course is never to clean, since deferring the act of cleaning to tomorrow will provide greater cost benefit.”

      This ignores other costs. Certain forms of deterioration can damage property and even health.

  11. My partner and I have been together for about 5 years now and living together in my house for 3 years. Before he moved in, he lived at his mom’s house which he kept meticulously clean. But ever since he’s living with me, he does nothing in the household except for fixing things a couple of times a year. Also he doesn’t have a job and has all the time in the world, whereas I am always at work or at school, and actually should spend my time at home doing homework and our finances, instead of tidying up everything. He can stand next to the trash can and throw some trash on the table beside it; basically leaves everything he has held for me to clean up. Brinksmanship doesn’t work for me, I wait until my house is a pigsty. And then I still have to clean it up myself, which makes it greater work for me. Also every time I cleaned and waited for my partner to keep it clean as well, it still got just as dirty as before and I had to do the big chore all over again. It’s so bad there’s month’s old dishes in the sink and there’s a huge amount of stuff scattered all over the house. Also at work and school I’m less attentive and sharp as I used to be and often fall asleep during class.
    I tried to talk about this with him though, because I couldn’t make my point by giving the good example. But every time I adressed the subject of cleaning, he was nothing but resistance. I would say I was fed up with doing all the work and that the house was a pigsty because I couldn’t and wouldn’t do any more work (after all, I’m also the only one who works a 40-hour job and follows college at the same time). He would respond differently every time. For example he said that I didn’t do enough work myself, or that I stressed him way too much about certain things, or that he agreed with me that either me or him was going to do all the work single-handedly.
    That last part sounded like a chance to agree he does all the work for some time; maybe that way I could make him feel how hard and time-consuming it is to keep a fairly large household. But when we tried that, he considered the house clean when I still couldn’t find a place to put my cup on the table, and the flies were still in the kitchen.
    So I’m doing everything again, with the difference that half of the time I’m “on strike”, only spending a couple of hours a week on the household.
    Does anybody know maybe another solution? Btw: schedules, plannings and complicated systems like that have proven to be all wasted on my partner, it has to be somewhat simpler.
    Thanks in advance.

  12. (friend Alex asks me for my view of this blog entry, as he (& probably me) hold Katja’s mind in high esteem.
    In the case of the blog entry, the real dirt to me is the number of issues around the subject (which happens in this case also to be called dirt).
    The greater the number of issues and discussions, the less likely the blog entry will direct the reader towards direct (mind to mind) connection or totally service-oriented egoless house chores.
    Each issue raised is a depiction of the relationship between two proxies (e.g. 2 Levels of Dirt Tolerance of 2 housemates).
    The existence and shape of the LoDT is inconsequential (although some enjoy endless wordy and thoughtful and emotional exercise, and indeed designing solutions, in the area).
    The consequence and interesting part is your relationship to the LoDTs.
    Do you dance with your level of dirt tolerance, and do you let it play with someone else’s LoDT, and do you watch each other and yourself jiggling each others like a puppet on a string?
    Or do you wear the puppet round your neck, call it part of yourself (and not notice it is an albatross) and are unaware of your choice (and judgement and sentencing of) other mind’s albatrosses? and get all upset by the results of the judgement and sentencing, or lack thereof?

    So Alex, maybe I will post that as a response, and ask if this is how she relates to the other LoDT-like things in her life, and the LoDT-like things in her NaDs (Nearest and Dearests)?

  13. Pingback: The Really Boring Stuff: a boring abstract of Essample (minds only model) | Essample

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