How to split up chores fairly with your spouse or roommate : Life Kit In four steps, experts Eve Rodsky and Jacqueline Misla explain how to fairly split domestic work with a partner or roommate. Don't forget to print out the handy zine!

Stuck doing all the household chores? This practical guide can help

Stuck doing all the household chores? This practical guide can help

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Malaka Gharib/NPR
Illustration of a woman holding a baby and cooking in a skillet on the stove. Anger lines form above her head. Behind her is a messy kitchen with dishes in the sink, a school-aged child sitting at the kitchen island doing homework, and groceries that need to be put away. Her husband stands in the room and asks &quot;How can I help?&quot;
Malaka Gharib/NPR

A text message about blueberries a few years ago nearly ended Eve Rodsky's marriage.

It came from her husband. He was upset she hadn't picked up any blueberries from the grocery store. And she burst into angry tears.

This was supposed to be her afternoon off, recalled Rodsky in her 2019 book, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live). She had been planning to spend quality time with her son. Instead, she was in her car, running errands. She had to go to the post office, edit a client's contract and drop off a forgotten bag to her son's playmate. The idea that she now had to pick up blueberries, she said, sent her over the edge.

What Rodsky was experiencing was an unfair division of household labor, which she says made her feel a sense of "seething resentment" toward her husband. And she's not alone. In many households, one person shoulders the brunt of the chores and childcare – and that's often the woman. In fact, a 2020 Gallup Poll of more than 3,000 American heterosexual couples found that women handle the majority of the domestic workload, including doing the laundry, cleaning and cooking. And for many women, the workload has only worsened in the pandemic.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Rodsky, an attorney and author, says it's possible to divide domestic tasks fairly, which can help reduce stress at home and give back precious time to each member of the household. And it starts with candid conversations about our domestic contributions and a reevaluation of what matters in your home.

Print out this zine on how to divvy up domestic chores

You can print out a mini-book — or zine — to help you Fold it using these directions (courtesy of The Oregonian). Use it as a tool as you discuss the division of household responsibilities with your household.

She and Jacqueline Misla, a lifestyle coach and co-host of Curious Fox, a love and relationship podcast, share a practical guide on how to divvy up, prioritize and assign chores.

1. List every chore and errand

The first thing you want to do, says Rodsky, is list out each and every task required to manage the home. It will help each member of the household understand the full extent of responsibilities – and hopefully encourage them to take measures to balance the workload.

Illustration panel reads: "Make a list of every household task: Include essential chores, errands and miscellaneous duties." and shows a person walking a dog, someone running an errand in a car and a hand writing a thank you note.
Malaka Gharib/NPR

Set aside an hour or two to draw up the list. Do it in a place that's easy for everyone to see and access: a shared notes app, a spreadsheet or a whiteboard, for example. Include essential tasks like washing dishes or taking the kids to school and errands like grocery shopping or picking up the dry cleaning. Don't forget to add tasks that might be less visible, such as coordinating carpools or writing thank you cards. (Rodsky actually developed a resource called Fair Play, a set of 100 cards printed with various household tasks, to help people with this exercise.)

2. Narrow down the list

Once you have those tasks in front of you, discuss each item with your partner or your housemate.

Illustration panel reads: "Cut the non-essential chores." A couple looks at their unmade bed and one of the women says, "Honestly I don't care about making the bed." Her partner agrees, "Me neither! Let's not do it!"
Malaka Gharib/NPR
  1. Go through the list and note who's been typically responsible for each task. You might be surprised. Your partner, for example, may be doing more chores than you expected. Or they might find you've been doing the lion's share of the labor. Seeing the breakdown of the domestic workload can provide you with a starting point for what's working and what might need to change.
  2. Create a shortlist of essential duties. Prioritize the must-do chores – that includes everyday tasks like taking out the trash and washing the dishes — and activities that are important to your household, says Rodsky, such as date nights or a redecorating project you've been meaning to finish.
  3. Cut unnecessary tasks. Lighten the workload by removing any chores from the list that don't make sense to your household. Maybe you and your partner have been taking the time to make the bed every day, when neither one of you really cares about that unless you have company. Or perhaps you and your roommates constantly bicker about whose turn it is to deep clean the bathroom. In that case, you might consider pooling your resources together to hire a cleaner every few months.
  4. Set clear expectations of how and when a task should be done. Go through your pared-down list and come to a consensus with your partner or roommate about what each task means in your household. Take mopping the floor for example – should that be done on a weekly or a monthly basis? Would it be OK to use something like a Swiffer, or is a traditional mop and bucket strongly preferred by a member of the household? This exercise can help get everyone on the same page, says Misla, and avert conflict around how chores are executed down the line.

From here, stay flexible. Your list of essential chores are bound to change depending on the needs of your household – and that's OK, says Misla. "Give yourself some space to let the rules evolve. Check in with each other and say: Is this still working for us? If not, what do we need to change?"

3. Assign the tasks

When it comes to splitting up the housework, says Misla, "nothing is ever equal. How many dishes done equals laundry folded? How many trips with the kid to the dentist equals checkups to the car?"

While you may not be able to divide the chores 50-50, you can try to aim for a workload that feels fair to each member of the household. Here are some helpful tips on how to assign chores:

Illustration panel reads: "Own the tasks you enjoy doing." A couple stands at a kitchen island, the woman is stirring a bowl and says "So ... I really like cooking." Her partner says "And I really like eating your food." She replies, "I'm gonna keep doing it, OK?"
Malaka Gharib/NPR
  • Own the tasks you love. If you have chores and workflows in place that are already working for you and your partner or roommate, don't worry about reassigning them, says Rodsky. Continue doing the tasks that bring you joy, whether it's cooking dinner or folding the laundry while watching Netflix. 
Illustration panel reads: "Share the load on burdensome tasks. (It's not fair for one person to like, be in charge of picking up the dog poop from the yard.)" A man uses a broom and dust pan to pick up dog poop as he says "Please, someone save me from this misery!!!"
Malaka Gharib/NPR
  • Share the load on burdensome tasks. No one should have to be responsible for one task forever, especially if it's unpleasant. Find a way to divvy up the most time-consuming or least-favorite tasks like nighttime baby care or picking up dog poop in the backyard. That could mean taking turns on the task or agreeing to do that chore together.
  • Consider your housemate or partner's circumstances for the week. Are this week's conference calls completely at odds with your carpool schedule? Does your roommate need a bit of a break because they have friends in town? Does one of you need some extra time this week to crank out thank you notes for those housewarming gifts? Set regular check-in times to walk through your weekly schedule and reassign chores and duties where necessary, says Rodsky. 

4. Be fully responsible for your duties

Lastly – if you're in charge of a household chore, take full ownership of it, says Rodsky. Don't expect your partner or roommate to pick up the slack if you can't complete the task. It's your responsibility to account for what you need. Your partner and household are depending on you.

Illustration panel reads: "Be responsible for your own tasks. Don't pull your partner into it!" Two men stand at the kitchen counter. One unloads groceries as he says "Dang! I forgot the tomatoes at the store. Can you go get some?" His partner replies: "No dude. I'm supposed to be taking Katrina to the vet right now!"
Malaka Gharib/NPR

If it's your turn to cook dinner, for example, account for the time you will need to buy the ingredients, prep and cook. Avoid stealing your partner's time with one-off or last-minute duties they haven't accounted for, like running to the store for a forgotten ingredient or chopping vegetables.

And if it's your partner's turn to cook dinner – let them do it! Resist the urge to micromanage the way they season meat or the time they take to make it. Use your extra time and energy to focus on something else — whether it's another task or just relaxing.

When everyone does their part to keep the household running smoothly, you can free up more time to be "consistently interested in your own life," says Rodsky — which is exactly the goal of a balanced domestic workload.

The audio portion of this episode was produced by Michelle Aslam. The digital story was edited by Malaka Gharib. We'd love to hear from you. Leave us a voicemail at 202-216-9823, or email us at LifeKit@npr.org.