Neither Bill nor I grew up in households where we shouldered especially demanding chores. Bill cut the lawn and took out the trash, but his mother once confided that she did me no favor by laundering, ironing and putting away his clothes for him. In my family we were just expected to help out with whatever was needed. That might mean working in the garden, setting and clearing the table, or odd jobs. And the easiest way was considered the best. This looseness around chores led to some interesting consequences early in our marriage. We often had a messy house. The first time I washed Bill’s shirts I put any that weren’t permanent press in a laundry bag to iron later. Several years and a couple of moves later we finally threw out the untouched laundry bag.
We carried our family of origin patterns over into our child-rearing. We tended to clean what we needed to when it seemed to need it rather than on a regular basis. Our kids helped out with things, but didn’t have regular chores. We more or less got the job done, but in a fairly undisciplined and sometimes untimely fashion. At some point when we could afford it we paid people to do the heavier duty cleaning of our house.
So, living in a house where we all have regular chores that need to be done at specific times has been a new and interesting experience. We have a chore for five weeks at a time and then switch. This cycle I sweep the kitchen courtyard on Wednesdays and the St. Francis courtyard on Saturday afternoon or Sunday morning. Because this is falling leaf season, I also put out the yard waste I’ve swept up for curbside pickup on Thursday evening.
In addition to our assigned chore the five of us sharing a bathroom each clean it once every five weeks. We also serve on dish crew once a week. That means setting the table, helping with last minute prep and cleaning up after dinner. All in all a pretty light load compared to everything that needs doing in a single family house.
For people living in their own homes, though, it has become a trend among those who can afford it to hire people to clean the house for them. One could argue that there is something unbalanced about this. It can slip too easily into a hierarchical situation. Assumptions are often made about the importance of different kinds of work. Also, when we stop doing manual labor, we lose something – a deeper connection with our environment, the concrete satisfaction of cleaning something dirty, clearing away a mess, being of service.
Maybe being of service is the most important thing about chores. Our chore handbook contends that chores are an expression of love for the people we live with. If I opt out of them I opt out of that wonderful economy of serving and being served, caring and being cared for.
I’ve become a chore convert. Who would have thought that at the age of 64 I’d finally learn a discipline most people learn in childhood?
Because so many of you have been interested in the details of our living situation, we’re adding a page that describes the chore each of us has been assigned. We will keep it up to date as our chores change every five weeks.
Your favorite — or dreaded — chore and its story?