When James and I made the decision to switch roles and I went back to work, we had an honest conversation about chores. We acknowledged our individual talents (he picks up the entire house in a fluid efficient swath that would take me five times as long; I deep clean and organize in ways I’m not sure he is even aware) and divvied up the tasks in a reasonable reflection of the time available and our personal preference. I still did all the grocery shopping, he still paid all the bills, I cleaned the bathroom, he mowed the lawn. But the actual transition of chores was much less portioned and rational. I couldn’t quite let go of the way I used to run the house. The level of crumb on the kitchen floor, the frequency of laundry, the return of pillows to their correct place on the couch. I felt like I did it better.
But then I remembered that I hated being the one at home cleaning up after the rotation of messes, cycling through laundry in a resentful huff. And I noticed that while James let the clutter and crumbs build up for longer, he also built forts and loved being at home and so I adjusted to a slightly higher level of chaos. He also made this easier for me. Right before I got home from work, he would make a sweep of the most obviously chaotic and immediately apparent messes in the house and put it away, make the bed, wipe the counters. We met in the middle in a way.
And then just recently I was watching him fold laundry. He turned each t-shirt over one additional time to form perfect little rectangles, lined up each corner of the kitchen towels, folded each pair of my underwear. I realized he is better at this than I ever was. It isn’t just that I am putting up with a lower level of housekeeping, that we had to come to some sort of compromise between happiness and housework. If I scrubbed a table down three times in a day to James’ once, it still ends up clean. If the laundry builds up longer when James is doing it, it still gets washed, folded and put away to be worn again. I didn’t do it better; I just did it more. So now, about a year into this most recent switching of roles, I am seeing that chores are important, that they need to be done but that there is a spectrum to completing them. And that finding the way to get things done while still enjoying your role counts for a lot more than the placement of pillows or the presence of crumbs.