In the comments on my last post, Karen took issue with my statement that there are no prizes for hitting Monday with the fridge stocked, the laundry done and the house clean. While I don’t think Karen literally gets a prize for these things (there are precious few prizes for anything grown-ups do) she wrote that having these things done helps one feel in control of one’s life.
I know many people feel this way and so I’m using this post to explore exactly why I am not a big fan of the mindset that weekends are a good time for chores. I’m not saying don’t do them, but don’t make their accomplishment too central to your verdict on a weekend (which may be how many of the people I'm allegedly arguing with feel about them too, but I needed an introduction to this blog post!)
One reason? Many activities, like chores, expand to fill the available time. Take the procurement of groceries and household supplies. Some items are hard to substitute (like diapers or baby formula). Others less so. This week I’ve been eating English muffins with melted cheese and tomatoes from the garden because we have that around. For dinner last night I cleaned out the veggie drawer and mixed those greens with a chopped up sausage and some rice. If I’d gone to the grocery store last weekend, I probably would have bought a lot of Lean Cuisine type frozen meals and wouldn’t have been nearly as creative with the food we have in the house. Obviously, the shopping has to happen at some point, but if there’s more than one adult in the house, sending one party out some weeknight after the kids go to bed can make for an efficient trip (no rush hour traffic or crowds, and this is often TV time too — so not a huge opportunity cost).
A similar thing happens with laundry. We do wind up doing it most weeks, but we have enough clothes to go two weeks between loads. If we did it less, we’d probably find we needed to do it less. As for house cleaning, this really can take any amount of time you want to assign it. You can clean the toilets once a week and pick up the kitchen when it’s awful, or you can dust every bit of your millwork with a toothbrush daily and iron your sheets and pillowcases for good measure. A lot of this comes down more to preference than anything else. If you use weekdays for chores, rather than weekends, you may just spend less time on chores — because you have less time.
I also like the idea of focusing weekends on our most meaningful core competencies. For most of us, these include nurturing our families and nurturing ourselves (in the form of adequate sleep, exercise, hobbies, volunteering). Choices are seldom black and white, but I do think if you have the option to go for a long bike ride with your kids and then volunteer at a homeless shelter together, vs. spending the day organizing your attic, the former is the better choice.
I was reminded of this when I read a review on Amazon of 168 Hours. One “Tina C.” gave me a 1-star review for this “novel” (her word) because “I can’t even begin to imagine outsourcing all of my responsibilities to my family like cooking, cleaning, shopping, organizing just so I can fill my dayplanner with me, me, me!” I find this mindset fascinating, since I think a parent’s responsibility to his/her family is nurturing children’s brains and souls, and maintaining her own health and sanity so she’s in a secure enough place to truly give her family her best. Cooking, cleaning, shopping and organizing may be part of that, or may sometimes get in the way.
I understand that for some people, hitting Monday with empty hampers and clean floors feels like an accomplishment, much like ending the day with an empty inbox feels satisfying too. Other goals are more nebulous — but in the long run are more important. Writing a book is more important than laundry. Teaching a kid to ride a bike is more important than organizing the home office. The key thing with chores and weekends is not to focus so much on the easily seen and measured goal of scratching everything off that grocery list that you divert energy from the bigger goals of life.
What’s your philosophy on chores and weekends?
In other news: Are you into running? I've been reading Runner's World for the past seven years or so, and have gotten quite into the sport. So I was excited to meet Lisa Alcorn at #BlogHer12. Alcorn's blog is called Early Morning Run, and she writes about health and fitness and, of course, running.
Photo courtesy flickr user Jos Dielis