Tuesday, 22 July 2014

War on Procrastination

To continue the housekeeping theme, I will report that I have done 2.75 hours of housework today, albeit without a hoover. I broke the hoover on Thursday. Fortunately B.A. was sanguine about this loss, as he had got the device free and second-hand years ago. And we have ordered a new one, a 3-in-1 gadget from VAX, which not only hoovers things, it washes carpets. Yes, this is what married life reduces you to: the same excitement one used to have for a new dress, one now has for a new vacuum cleaner. And to think that I am actually looking forward to washing the carpets. Have I been brainwashed by aliens?

But it turns out that I do not hate housework; I just hated the thought of housework. It's the same with everything difficult, actually: I hate the thought of effort, so I procrastinate like mad, and then when I do it either it's not so bad, or I really enjoy it. I suppose the big exception would be cleaning the cat's litter box, but we don't have a cat, so I'm spared that.

To make myself do necessary tasks that take effort, I need a personal system of bribes and punishments. I also need to get up around 7 or so. And then, because morning is my brainiest time and it seems like a shame to spend the whole thing on housework, I make my coffee and study Polish for an hour. (Lately, though, I have been terribly distracted by the internet, so that hour goes on for quite a long time.) And then, having finished the exercises at the end of the chapter, I get up with relief and a sense of accomplishment and put on my cleaning clothes to tackle the Room of the Day. And only then do I allow myself to set fingers to keyboard, or open a literary work--although sometimes doing even these things involve self-bribery. For one thing, now that I get paid to read books, I should stop feeling so guilty about reading books.

When I ponder my reluctance to do serious housework, right down to the nap of the carpet cleaning, for example, I see not just laziness and procrastination but shame. At some point in the twentieth century, it became shameful for women to do a lot of housework. The idea was that women who stayed at home doing housework were pretty useless (for how long could it take, with all our new labour-saving devices?) and very boring compared to Career Women or, to describe the reality of the work world for the majority, women with jobs. This was a total reversal of my Canadian grandmother's way of life. Her primary profession was housewife, and she had a little part-time job behind the counter of a local store: Charlie's Smoke Shop, I believe. But by the time I was growing up, people (women, mostly) were so nasty about housewives and women so meek about being "just a housewife" that I honestly began to think that there was something seriously wrong with women doing their own housework and it was best left to paid professionals like Hannah Gruen, who ruled the kitchen in Nancy Drew's house. It was not until recently that I realized how much many working mothers long to stay at home and housewife all week instead of just on the weekends. All of a sudden, it's okay, even posh, for middle-class women to stay at home again.

Another situation that changed my attitude towards getting on my hands and knees to scrub is the phenomenon of Polish university students in the UK getting jobs scrubbing floors to pay their living expenses. My mother, who encouraged her children in their part-time jobs behind counters, would never have allowed me to scrub my way through uni. Yet the beauty of the parish gamely scrubbed the stairwells of Edinburgh for 12 pounds an hour, or whatever it was. (To put this into perspective, the pound has roughly the same buying power in the UK as a dollar has in Canada. The UK is hellishly expensive.) That impressed me a lot.

I am not sure what this all has to do with Single life, although naturally we all have an aversion to living in dirt. When I lived alone, I was quite good at keeping on top of housework, in part because I lived either in a bachelor (bedsitter), a one-bedroom flat or a room in a convent. When it is quite obvious that the only person who is going to clean and tidy is you, you just do it. When you have roommates or a husband, then letting things slide is a lot more tempting. But inevitably there will be drama. The preparing for marriage hint I will pass on is that expecting a man to do 50% of the housework is insane, even if you do work the same number of paid hours he does. To say that it is unfair for men to do less housework is like saying gravity is unfair. There seems to be some culture-based masculine enjoyment/toleration/shouldering of outdoor work, especially in the UK where men garden like mad, but honestly I think any indoor housework a man does is a nice bonus, unless it involves hammers.


Anna B said...

I grew up in a family where my strong, masculine, intellectual father found it perfectly natural to do what I am sure amounted to more than half the housework (he also had a less demanding career than my mother). I fear I might have a hard time adjusting to marriage – I *definitely* would if my husband had the attitude that any indoor housework he might do was a nice bonus.

(On a side note, my abovementioned dear father died 2 months ago. Any prayers for him would be appreciated :) )

Heather in Toronto said...

Anna, I'm so sorry for your loss.

I have had the opposite experience to yours, Seraphic -- I let things slide a lot less now that there is someone else to care that it actually gets done. I am so absent-minded that I just don't notice the mess unless prompted.

Regarding division of labour, I think part of it depends on how a man lives on his own. If he lives on his own and is neat and clean and enjoys cooking for himself, he is likely to continue in these domestic habits. Whereas if a fellow has always had someone cleaning up after him he's likely to continue in the blissful illusion that dirty laundry magically transforms into clean laundry on its own.

Jo said...

Getting excited about a vacuum cleaner is sooo not exclusive to married life. I've lived alone for a couple years now, and only just recently bought a new one after my cheap little college one finally died. I've never really minded vacuuming, but having a new vacuum cleaner definitely makes it more exciting.

I have always been a neat freak, so I have no qualms about 'letting things slide,' whether I'm married or not, since I find satisfaction in habitual cleaning. What may be an adjustment, though, is getting used to tolerating a healthy level of untidiness, i.e., it is not worth going mad every time the toddler knocks over the toy bin or spits up unexpectedly-or even if future husband has a hard time making the bed from time to time.

I really have no hand in the great housework debate-I don't the division matters as long as it gets done, really. Each person has their peculiarities-my sister, for instance, hates--absolutely hates--vacuuming (no idea why), so that's one chore my brother-in-law always does, while she doesn't mind, e.g., laundry or scrubbing floors. In any case, I will admit that a man's being neat and clean has the potential to make him significantly more attractive. My old dentist always had a saying that 'If a young man takes proper care of his teeth, he will take care of you'--I think that easily applies to how a tidy a man keeps the front seat of his car, as well.

Julia said...

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I just think that men have a higher level of tolerance for dirt and mess than women do. We smell things that they seem not to, for example.

My parents have always contributed fairly equally to the running of the household, although the housework has never been 50/50. Just as well, as my mother doesn't like the way my father does some of the chores so she just does it herself.

One of my brothers, the younger of the two, is very neat and tidy. The other? Well, not so much. But tonight before I went out I asked him to finish clearing up the dinner dishes and fully expected to come home to a kitchen full of dirty plates, but I was pleasantly surprised! He'd done the clearing up. Yay!

If I get married, I'd expect the division of housework to be more like 80/20 with me doing the lion's share. That doesn't bother me. But I couldn't be married to a total slob either. Which reminds me, I need to wash the car...

Jam said...

When I got to college I was much surprised to find out in a women's studies class that laundry was "women's work". It had always been my dad's exclusive domain, done to a very precise routine. When he was deployed for six months he brought my brother and I into the laundry room so we could learn how to do it and take over while he was gone. When he came back we were off the case and he does the laundry to this day. It's legendary in our family that we can't ever leave the house right on time because dad has to switch the laundry. Once he changed the way he folded shirts and we all made a big fuss about the new "party fold"! Ha ha.

I live alone now after many years with roommates and while I don't think I've changed my bad housekeeping habits much I think I do let things slide more now that there's no one to see it. Wickedly, I can see now that much of my former zeal about washing dishes promptly was driven by annoyance with roommates who didn't...

Sheila said...

Funny you should say that -- my husband is the neat freak and I am the slob. I wasn't raised doing housework, but as one of ten, he considers it the price you pay for having a place to live. His mother hasn't cooked regularly since her first child turned about 13!

Unfortunately, though, I'm the one at home all day, so I have to do most of the cleaning just by default. He just isn't able to do as much as I am due to being gone 10 hours a day. It has taken years for our standards to even approach each other, as he's learned to be okay with the fact that there will always be some clutter, and I've grudgingly acknowledged that it simply isn't okay for a dish to sit in the sink for over 24 hours. For me there is never a question of who or what I'm cleaning for -- I'm cleaning because having a clean house matters to him. And sure enough, the more I get used to it, the more it really does matter to me too. I've gotten used to having a clean house and I can't stand it getting too messy.

But given the choice, on a weekend, I'm more likely to do the outdoor stuff, and he happily does the inside stuff. It has to do with how we were raised, I suspect -- that, and I'm absolutely draconian about my garden. If he weedwhacked a single leaf off my tomato plants, it would put our marriage in danger ..... best for me just to do it myself. ;)

Where does the housework hatred come from? I blame the media, especially advertising. Much easier to sell someone a Swiffer or Mr. Clean if you paint housework as this miserable drudgery. I actually *like* sweeping and I've found that baking soda scrubs the tubs just as well as the expensive foaming stuff, but of course there are people who stand to make money from convincing us we should hate every minute spent cleaning.

Julia said...

Well, Sheila, you have kids. There will always be some clutter. Surely since your husband has nine siblings he'd be used to that...?

My mother says she didn't realise just how stressed out she was by the clutter made by four children until we were a little older and she managed to claw back some control. Poor Mum. We were pretty manageable kids, and never but never did anything like upend cereal boxes or bottles of milk, but we did LOVE to pull EVERY BOOK OUT OF EVERY BOOKSHELF WE EVER SAW.