The Squeaky Clean Wheel Gets the Grease

Oct 17 2010 Published by under [Etc], [LifeTrajectories]

I am neat. My husband is clean.

The converse is also true- I am not clean. My husband is not neat.

I have no problem going 2-3 months without cleaning my shower. My husband has no problem throwing pillows and clothes and whatever else on the floor and letting it lie.

The optimist would conclude that our house would be immaculate- best of both worlds, no? But the realist that lives in my house knows that our natural tendencies lead to nothing but friction.

I estimate that 90% of all arguments with my husband are about cleaning. And they can get vicious.

When I started taking anti-anxiety medication two years ago, I realized that I was a lot happier when I wasn't harping on my husband to close the hamper lid properly and just chose to do those things for him, myself. This has actually resulted in a lot of peace, I would think on both of our ends.

The problem is that my husband cannot come to terms with my reluctance to and extended delays in cleaning. Due to personal preference and pervasive allergies, he wants the house cleaned much more often than I do. Also, things that don't bother me around the house (or that I don't even notice) are a big bother to him.

Even though I don't care about cleaning to the extent that he does, he expects me to clean my share of stuff when he feels that things need a cleaning. I have attempted to be sympathetic to this over the years, and I swear, I make efforts to clean, I really do. It's just that these efforts fall far short of what he wants.

Our weekends often devolve into this hell where he is constantly pissed off that the house is not as clean as he wants and/or I haven't cleaned what he wants. And where I am distressed / feeling guilty/ feeling hurt that he continues to expect me to do the things that are important to him while not acknowledging all of the things that I do that are important to me.

I cook dinner 90% of the time. I pick up around the house. I do most of the laundry. And why does it have to be a pissing contest, anyway? Why can't we just fucking get along?

I have suggested hiring a cleaning service to come in once a month. I think this is a great solution. Although I can't hire someone to exercise, sleep, or write my manuscripts for me, I can hire someone to clean my house. The problem is that my husband thinks it's fucking absurd that we/I cannot manage to keep our house clean and that we would even consider spending money on such a ridiculous thing.

I think that given how frequent and hurtful our fights are about cleaning, it would be money very well spent.

The point of this post is to poll my fellow dual-careered coupled friends out there. How do you and your partner handle cleaning duties? Do any of your have any suggestions as to how to remedy/soften this problem?

p.s. Please don't suggest that I just suck it up and do more cleaning. I have tried this, and it does not work/is not adequate. I would simply rather lick the bathroom floor clean with my own tongue than fill up a bucket with water and cleaning solution, get down on my hands and knees and rub the floor with aΒ  wet rag.

29 responses so far

  • Dr Becca says:

    OMG get a cleaning person!! It is so worth the $$, and they do a way better job than you would ever do (no offense).

    We usually also spend the weekends cleaning, but every couple of months, when we get too frustrated with how much damn cat hair there is everywhere, we call the cleaning lady, and then we are happy.

  • Namnezia says:

    Just pay someone to fucking clean the house! We have someone come once a week and its the best money ever spent - we have enough to do with jobs, kids, laundry, cooking, etc. that coming home on Thursdays to vacuumed floors, clean bathrooms and kitchen, fresh sheets is like winning the lottery every week.

    Other than that we take care of the yard and all that.

  • MarriedGrad says:

    This popped up in my reader just in time...

    My husband and I are having the same problem: I am the clean, he is neat. Our one weekend day per week that we do not go into lab (there are no full weekends we are both still PhD candidates) is spent in loud screaming matches about cleaning. This is a 10 year long argument (started well before we actually got married).

    I think a cleaning service could solve ALL our problems and am willing to budget our meals better so we can comfortably fit this into our budget. Husband thinks hiring "help" is CRAZY!

    My advice--- get Mr. CE to agree to the initial 1X cleaning and perhaps he will feel so good about the results he will get on board.

    Good luck and keep us posted

  • DrugMonkey says:

    I'm neat (er), she's the clean (er) one who fantasizes she's clean *and* neat. Get a cleaner. The night before is always spent on neatening, btw, so as to maximize the efforts ofthe cleaner.

  • We hire a cleaning woman to come in every two weeks. It's a tremendous relief, and also forces us to keep the clutter under control because we want the woman to be able to clean all the surfaces easily when she comes. Like DrugMonkey, we do some pre-cleaning straightening the night before.

    Hiring someone is well worth the expense, IMO/experience. I had to get over a few twinges of guilt at first ("I should be able to clean my own house!"), but really, as you say, I can't hire someone to do most of what I have to do professionally, but I CAN hire someone to clean. And honestly? She does a much more thorough job than we ever would.

    So tell hubby to get over it and hire someone already. πŸ™‚

  • PS: I guess we are fortunate in that we have similar levels of clean vs neat tolerance.

  • GMP says:

    CE, my husband is a clean freak and an unapologetic perfectionist, and I understand completely your situation. I have to warn you that it is a very serious issue and if you plan on having children it will get much much worse. You have to resolve it now. I am not kidding, I almost divorced my husband some years back over freakin' chores. So forgive the ranty tone of my comment.

    My husband and I have 2 kids, the younger is now 3. Presently, I make 2/3 of our household income, I do 100% of the cooking, dishes, laundry, grocery shopping, and dealing with anything even remotely gooey (poop, snot, pee, you name it, and there's lots of it with a small kid). I also do 100% of the sick kid care (staying home, missing work etc.)

    I also used to do a vast majority of the cleaning, which was OK while we lived in apartments but we now have a large house and it takes me the whole weekend to clean it. My husband has high standards for cleanliness but expected me to do all the cleaning according to his specifications, just like his martyr mother was magically able to do it without technology blah blah... It was fuckin' exhausting and utterly pointless, and I was not raised to be anyone's slave.

    At some point, I just gave up. I stopped claening altogether. For a couple of weeks the house was getting dirtier and dirtier... I completely let it go. Eventually he started cleaning, and now he does 100% of the vacuuming and we split cleaning of the bathrooms 50-50%. My husband also mowes the lawn and cleans the gutters.

    My advice is: you will likely never clean according to your husband's standards. The only two ways are to (a) pay someone, as a lot of people suggested, or (b) trade whatever chores you can so he gets to do 100% of the cleaning. That's the only way you'll get any peace. And if he's anything like my husband, he will magically relax his extraordinary requirements on cleanliness once it's up to him alone to maintain them.

  • TIna says:

    yes, do whatever you can to resolve....i hope your husband feels as sad as you sound about how you are spending your weekends. does he want to look back in 20yrs and have those kinds ofweekends pervade his memory?

    for what it's worth, my husband is 'neat' and i am 'clean' (when I can work up the energy after a work day) but rarely 'neat'. we used to argue about this stuff a lot more when we lived in smaller digs, so i think a large part of what has calmed us down is having more space (he can deal with 'my' areas being cluttered). also, though, has been the recognition that being 'clean' or 'neat' or neither or both does not make either of us 'good' or 'bad'. i conceded to how annoying it is when someone else clutters a space, and he conceded that his severe uncomfortableness around clutter does border on neurotic πŸ™‚ and we both calmed down a little. i had to write because of this:

    "not as clean as he wants and/or I haven’t cleaned what he wants. And where I am distressed / feeling guilty/ feeling hurt that he continues to expect me to do the things that are important to him while not acknowledging all of the things that I do that are important to me."

    What do you want? (it sounds like: a cleaning service) Why doesn't he give in to what you want the way that he wants you to give in to what he wants? No wonder you're feeling resentful....

    "The problem is that my husband thinks it’s fucking absurd that we/I cannot manage to keep our house clean and that we would even consider spending money on such a ridiculous thing." I think it's absurd he expects you to clean when you don't want to and there's another option. Do you guys ever get takeout or go out to eat? Isn't preparing dinner also something that you can manage?

    OK, done ranting -- I can understand the disharmony here, but it doesn't make sense you're the only one with a progressive sol'n. and it's just getting shot down.

  • theshortearedowl says:

    My mother always said that whoever wants the house to be cleaner should either be the one to do the extra work, or shut the hell up.

    Make him do it all for a month so he can see how much work it is. Then hire a cleaner.

  • What about hiring a cleaning person LESS frequently? Say, once every two months instead of every month or every two weeks? That way the cleaning person can tackle the really big stuff and do a totally thorough job (let's face it, who actually dusts the baseboards or cleans under the fridge on a regular basis?) and it will be easier for BOTH of you to help out in between? This is what I am going to push for when my husband and I are living together again!

    When we did live together, we would clean simultaneously. If one of us felt it was time, we would just do a short, but extremely thorough, cleaning job on what really needed to be tackled. The rule is that one person cooks and the other person cleans the kitchen... which means that I cook 100% of the time, so my husband always gets to clean the kitchen afterward. That at least means one room is always scrubbed down everyday... if you do most of the cooking, then your husband should be responsible for cleaning up afterward (and if the kitchen isn't as clean as he wants, then it's his own fault). When it came to simultaneous weekend cleaning, we each picked a room and went to it -- usually, I did the super thorough floor-scrubbing, cabinet-washing kitchen cleanup, and my husband tackled the bathroom. We didn't resent the other person for not helping as much because we both did it at the same time, and we'd set a timer for 20-30 minutes, so we were cleaning for the same amount of time. If you can both set aside 20 minutes/week for a serious cleaning job, it really helps -- two people tackle the job, and you can force yourself to push through 20 minutes. Plus, you'll get that housekeeper every month or so for the things you do miss! πŸ˜‰

  • Andrew says:

    Yes, definitely hire a cleaner! Compared to the amount of pleasure it will bring you, it's really not that much money, even for a postdoc. And you know how they say money can't buy happiness because it's relationships that matter - well, if you can spend money to help improve your relationship with your husband by reducing fights about cleaning, I'd say that's excellent value!

  • your spouse is not being reasonable by insisting that you do all the cleaning to fit his standards. either HE does ALL the cleaning himself (or at least does most of it) or you hire some outside help.

    i like Disgruntled Julie's timer idea. fortunately, my spouse and i both clean the apartment at the same time (and i don't have to ask him to help me, he just does it). although no timer is set, it all works out well.

    for the record, i am neat and clean (i have allergies and asthma that act as biological filth detectors).

    on the other hand, it is entirely possible that your husband is not really reacting to paying someone to clean the house at all, it's possible that is his stated reason when in fact, he is unconsciously reacting along a "class" divide: unless he comes from an upper-middle class (or wealthy) upbringing, he might be uncomfortable with the idea of paying someone to clean the house because it's like having a "servant" -- which is what only rich people have.

    @Andrew for the record, money DOES buy happiness. what doesn't buy happiness is wealth. but according to research, people's happiness improves markedly as their income increases up to about $75k.

  • Marcus says:

    I have no problem going 2-3 months without cleaning my shower

    Is that long?

    You can see which one I am in my relationship. Though my cleaning skills have greatly improved. There's nothing wrong with getting a cleaning person person from time to time.

  • Namnezia says:

    I second what GMP said - once you have kids forget about neat. Our kids are little entropy machines and can trash a room in about 5 minutes. It takes more energy to get them to clean up (properly) than to do it myself, so we just leave it and go on a mad straightening out frenzy the night before the cleaner comes.

  • Candid Engineer says:

    Thanks, all. To be fair, I need to point out that my husband *does*currently do 80% of the cleaning, so it's not like he's sitting back and telling me to do all of it myself. It's just that he hates cleaning, and so he expects me to do my fair share. Unfortunately, I think it's unrealistic to expect all household chores to be divied 50-50. Esp. when I don't even notice that stuff is dirty- it's obviously not my forte.

    The comment about class and cleaning is interesting. My husband grew up in a solid middle class family just like me (family income ~$60k per year with several kids). It would have been absolutely ridiculous in either of our houses to consider getting help. It would not have been affordable. I'm not sure if he is inherently uncomfortable for these reasons, but I can talk to him about it.

    And to those of you who mention kids- yes, the thought of what this argument will become after we have kids makes me want to cry and hide.

  • Alyssa says:

    Wow - this post has generated a LOT of discussion! DH and I used to fight about this stuff all the time too. And it would turn into a pissing contest, like you said ("I cleaned the bathrooms last time", "Well I take the garbage out every week", etc, etc..). When we moved into the new house, we realized neither of us were very good at keeping up the general cleaning (dusting, vacuuming, etc.), so we decided to try out a cleaning service. They come in every two weeks, and it is seriously a blessing!! We haven't fought about cleaning since. And what's even better is we have more free time on the weekends to do stuff we actually want to do. I highly recommend it!

  • chall says:

    I end up in the class thinking with "hireing help" but while I've lived in post doc city I've started to realise that it's so much easier to help others by hireing cleaning help for things like "cleaning windows, vaccuming, dusting, deep clean" I still have some issues letting someone else clean my bathroom.... altohugh, it's way faster and cleaner when a professional does it.

    My beef was the whole "I cook, laundry, grocery shop so why do I have to clean?" and let it go about a month before we realised it hadn't happened .... gross πŸ˜‰ After that we devided rooms between us, and when the cleaning started, we did it the same time - like DisJulie said about the timer.

    It wasn't perfect but it took some of the fighting off. And then we devided the grocery shopping a bit more, and laundry... but I'll freely admit, I'm not the best cleaner (apart from kitchen and bathroom since bacteria and i... πŸ˜‰ )

  • J says:

    I've always said a cleaning service is cheaper than a marriage counselor.
    From what you write, you do not harp on him for his inability to meet your standards, but he harps on you for your inability to meet his standards. It sounds like your standards for neatness and his standards for cleanliness are at similar degrees (high but not insane). Maintaining a home should be equitable contributions, but this includes cooking, shopping, car maintenance, bill paying, home improvement, remembering when the dog is due at the vet, making social plans, remembering mom's birthday, etc. and not just cleaning.

  • Hire help! We were reluctant until we had 2 little ones, and now I am wondering why we waited. It is the best "luxury" expense we have.

  • tideliar says:

    Dude, OMG totes the same!

    I am getting a fucking cleaner in.

  • Allyson says:

    I'm the neat(er) and clean(er) one in the house, so I take on more of the cleaning jobs. My husband and I split some jobs like cleaning the kitchen and laundry, and I do the things I notice like cleaning the bathroom. I recommend for ways to think about cleaning - most of the audience is female so it's geared to women, but it may be helpful for both of you to incorporate small bouts of cleaning so it doesn't become big weekend cleaning days. I agree that whoever is more bothered should do more, and that both need to appreciate what the other does without criticizing technique.

  • FrauTech says:

    Oh this could be my life. Except he is both the neat and clean one. It's not that he sits around telling me I need to clean more than him in so many words, it's just he keeps expounding his expectations for the house and that's what happens. He does a lot of the outdoors stuff, and we split laundry. I don't mind doing too much of the indoor stuff, but the kitchen becomes a huge chore and a mountain to climb. I'd really like to hire someone, we can certainly afford it and I have looked into it, but he doesn't want a stranger going through "our filth". Lately we've taken to hiring some of his family members who needed the money, and they do an ok job, but I am way less comfortable with a family member going through my "filth" than a stranger. And how do you correct a family member week after week if they keep doing the same thing wrong? I bet if all couples had housecleaners there would be a big drop in the divorce rate.

    This is nothing we scream match over, but it's certainly something stressful that is a burden every single weekend. He makes more than me, but I work longer hours and have more classes than he does. This arrangement will probably flop in a year or so, when I get a big pay increase and he takes on more of a class load. I asked him if when that happened he expected to get any "break" in the housework, since he had certainly never given me any break. I think then he realized he had been thinking that once I was done with school I'd pick up the slack, but I pointed out it's not like he does that now that he's not in school. That's helped a little, the reversal in schedules, but really I'd rather just hire someone and be done with it.

  • Fia says:

    I never understood why people are ok with getting food made by others (think: pizza or other take away/delivery) but freak out when it is about paying someone to clean the house. Really? No difference IMO. Both are domestic chores and I am sure the pizza boy is not paid better than a cleaner.

    For me, having a cleaner come twice a week for two hours as a simple service thing, - I have the brains, I surely don't have to prove anyone that I am capable to taking care of our household. The precious few free minutes I have I prefer to spend with my hubby in peace rather than fighting about who cleans what.

    To put it boldly, - your husband might consider reviewing his priorities, - is it really that important to him that you are a good cleaner? I don't get it why it is of such moral importance that one is capable of cleaning one's house by him/herself. What kind of value is that? I've never heard of someone praising a valued member of our society saying: "he can clean his house all by himself despite working full-time". Duh.

  • Currently my husband and I split the house. He cleans the downstairs, I clean the upstairs. He does the laundry, I clean the bathrooms and we split the cooking. I desperately want to hire a cleaning service as domestic chores put me in a foul mood. I've been begging for two years, but H feels the same way Candid H does about hiring someone. I think I'll eventually win this battle, but for now, we share.

  • anon says:

    I feel your pain Candid. Cleaning issues at our house too- and frankly I don't want to deal to them. My husband however has ethical issues with hiring a cleaner- his mother was a commercial cleaner and he has this view about how people treat cleaners, and thinks we should do it all ourselves. Sigh. Well, that was then and now we have kids, and time has moved on. Years of dirt and stress have taken their toll on my husband. We have come up with a couple of solutions: so 1) if I want a cleaner now, I will have one (he still moans, but it a token rail against the treatment of people in poorly paid jobs, not an "I can't live with that decision". 2) our kids are now older than the trash the house phase, and they do alot of the cleaning (and do it well). And, even, kind of enjoy it, especially if there is a reward involved, which there generally is if they do a great job on the bathrooms. So, eventually, a solution will come. . .

  • ecogeofemme says:

    We fight about this too - he's neat, I'm clean. It seems to have gotten a little bit better lately though. He's taken a much great interest in meal planning and cooking, which is such a relief for me that I'm willing to do a little more tidying and less complaining about the cleaning I do.

    For me, the problem is when I feel like I have too much responsibility for our domestic life. It's not just cleaning, but also meal planning, car maintenance, dealing with bills, making social plans, etc. These things ebb and flow, and when he's doing more of the other stuff, the cleaning argument loses steam because I don't resent scrubbing the shower if I know that he's dealing with the insurance claim for our recently flooded apartment. I'm sure he feels the same way.

    I guess it comes down to feeling like equal partners. Maybe boiling the argument down to its emotional core will make hiring someone to clean more palatable to your husband.

  • Mommyprof says:

    We had a cleaning service for a year right after Offspring was born and it was expensive, but really great to have a whole category of stuff to worry about removed.

    I have the "I should be superwoman" guilt issues, so we haven't done it since, although I am thinking about it again.

    I try to tell myself that in this economy, if I can afford it, I am also giving someone a job, and that would be a decent thing to do.

  • Fi says:

    wow ... just found this and it is so close to home right now.

    I am, by nature, neither neat nor clean, while my husband is both. We have a 2 year old (who also is neither neat nor clean) and my husband works 85-90 hour weeks as he owns his own restaurant, which is hard for him.

    He pressures me to have things IMMACULATE (as in NO clutter, no dishes, all laundry washed dried ironed and away, kids toys out of display, no dust, nothing) on a daily basis. If our child is sick, or I was really busy, that is an excuse to him, not a reason.

    How can I get him to lower his standards? I can understand its nice to come home to a completely spotless house, but it does seem unfair to demand these standards when Im the one doing it ALL, and looking after our child. Any suggestions anyone?

  • Anon says:

    My husband and I -- both science Ph.D. students -- used to argue about cleaning ALL THE TIME. We just instituted a policy where we both do stuff around the house for 30 minutes a day, every day that we're home. During that time, we can each choose to do whatever we most feel like doing -- dishes, vacuuming, laundry, dealing with a pile of papers, cleaning the cat boxes, what have you -- and when the 30 minutes are up, we stop. It's been amazing how much of a difference it's made. We haven't had any fights since we started doing this a few weeks ago, and I'm a lot happier with the state of the house. I advise others to give it a shot.