The sensible approach to sharing household chores

There is greater efficiency and happiness in a home where family members share household responsibilities equally

Couple sharing household chores

If you’ve seen the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, you’ll remember that scene where everyone is engrossed doing their own work—one is chopping firewood, another is removing cobwebs, a third is fetching water, a fourth is polishing the furniture, even the birds are ferrying twigs. They were all sharing household chores.

Why doesn’t this smooth distribution of household responsibilities happen in real life? Well, sometimes it does. At other times, it needs to be done. Distributed duties lead to lesser friction, though the distribution may not always be fair.

In generations gone by, the idea of sharing household chores was not that popular. The roles were defined rather clearly and everyone was expected to play their part. Women folk stayed home and cooked whatever the men brought in, and cared for babies. They didn’t have to go to the bank, do the shopping, file tax returns, or attend PTA [Parent Teacher Association] meetings. The children, too, were expected to play, and maybe learn till they could fend for themselves and help with the earning. Today, there’s no harm if they can lay the table, clear it, help with folding the bed sheets, pack their bags, take out the garbage, or read the paper to a grandparent.

Today however, sharing household chores has become an important way to keep the family bonded and happy. Moreover, every religion, philosophy and civilisation has stressed on the value of being self-dependent. Let us see how we can begin creating a culture of sharing household chores.

Listing and distributing tasks

It starts at the very beginning. If you’ve been doing the household chores for the rest of the clan, they’ve got used to it already. Change is tough, but possible. Make a beginning: list out every tiny job that has to be done in the house, from the time you wake up, till you fluff out the pillow to rest your head upon. Ensure that all tasks get done.

It is important that the basin gets scrubbed, the furniture gets dusted properly, the curios get arranged in proper sequence, the stationery gets sorted out, shoes are polished, office clothes are ironed, and the like.

Also take into account work like cleaning combs, checking for cockroaches in the crevices so you can call the pest control service. The kitchen-work, naturally, comprises the maximum number of chores: chopping, shredding, grinding, shopping, putting away things, getting them out, figuring out what to cook, making a note of what’s getting over [this could move into the weekly or monthly list rather than on the daily to-do].

It is important to carry out the listing exercise methodically. Every detail should be mentioned like cleaning the windows and cupboards, sweeping under-the-sofa and behind-the-fridge. Actually, you can write an entire chapter on cleaning.

Figure out who is good at what and distribute tasks accordingly. The computer savvy person answers emails, the maths whiz does the income tax returns, the chatty one answers the phone calls, and the picky one does the fresh-food shopping.

How to allocate time for household chores

When all members are adults, and possibly attending office, they wouldn’t necessarily have the same timings. Hence, the tasks could be allocated time-wise. So whoever enters the house first in the evening starts the work—putting the rice on the cooker perhaps, roasting the papads, slicing the cucumber or loading the washing machine. The next person would automatically put the clothes on the line, season the dal and so on.

It’s reverse gear in the mornings; whoever leaves late must ensure the gas is off, the windows are shut and locked, the tap is closed, the watchman has been told to receive that important courier packet.

External tasks may or may not be rotated, depending on convenience. Shopping, paying bills, visiting the tailor, and the like can be planned in advance. For smooth running of tight schedules, the mobile phone can be a boon. Coordination is no big deal in this world of instant communication.

Hierarchy is necessary

Even in a small family of three or four, it helps to have a hierarchy. There must be a leader or manager who makes the list and allocates the tasks.

It is vital that the leader not lose his/her temper and be prepared to handle occasional slackness, forgetfulness, cheating and sloth. They should be able to overcome irritation, for it doesn’t help to have tension over who didn’t wipe the spoons, who left the towel on the bed, or who didn’t switch off the geyser. The trick is to remind gently, firmly, regularly, and continually. Sharing chores is a matter of habit and discipline; the habit will eventually form, if the discipline is maintained. Giving up in a fit of annoyance might be disastrous to the whole sharing business.

Of course, if you ever feel you’re doing it all and the others are having it easy, speak up, step in and make that difference.

Beyond household responsibilities

Sharing involves more than just housework. What about other responsibilities like looking after ailing relatives? Or paying the fees of a poor cousin to help tide over a bad phase? What about baby sitting an ill neighbour’s child? Who will share these chores? Once you have a fairly organised internal set up, it’s easier to extend that experience to outsiders.

Okay, relatives and childhood mates may not be considered outsiders, but they are beyond our brief nuclear families. So let’s forget outsiders for a moment. During an emergency at home, like an illness or a sudden call from work, there is nothing like a well-trained family with well-oiled machinery in place as a comfort zone. No one’s left stranded. Everybody knows where the extra money is kept. Everybody knows how to boil instant noodles and a cup of soup. There’s no panic, and life doesn’t stall. The load is evenly carried. That’s the beauty of a family that shares chores at home.

Sharing is caring

Caring really is about sharing everything. And when you share domestic chores, there is greater appreciation of family values, which strengthen the bond between members and fosters mutual respect for each other. The family as a whole is better equipped to deal with eventualities, should they arise. But most importantly, it fills up the home with a different quality of happiness—one that comes from a deeper place of each family member.


This is an updated version of the article that originally appeared in Complete Wellbeing magazine, issue dated October 2008.

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