An Egalitarian Approach to Chores


Since I’ve heard many complaints lately about husbands who don’t pull their weight in the chores department, I thought I’d talk a bit about our egalitarian way to split up the chores.

Here’s the key to an egalitarian sharing of the chores: it’s not just about who does what. It’s about whose responsibility it is to care about the housekeeping.

Even though I work full-time, I feel the emotional responsibility of household upkeep more than my husband. This is not because I am innately a homemaker, as some have tried to tell me. It is because some have tried to tell me that I am innately a homemaker — that I, as a woman, am uniquely suited to exert emotional energy towards my home.

Well, I certainly do exert a uniquely feminine emotional energy towards my home. When my husband walks into a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, he thinks, “Great — the kitchen’s dirty again.” When I walk in to a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, I think, “I am a total and utter failure of a human being and should not have been allowed into adulthood at this young of an age.”

In other words, guilt. Guilt is that special feminine ingredient to housekeeping.

On top of it all, I am a Type B cleaning personality raised in a Type A cleaning home. This means that my mom and my sister, the women closest to me, could not stand clutter or dirtiness at any point during the day. They cleaned as they went. I’d get up from a cozy blanket on the couch for a cup of cocoa, only to find, on my return, the blanket folded neatly over the couch top.

It’s humorous, actually. On one of Erich’s first visits to my parents’ home, somebody put his empty cup in the dishwasher before he was finished with it. He now finds inventive ways to hide his cups from prowling cleaners — like hanging them from light fixtures in the kitchen.

So I have these examples and expectations of housecleaning perfection before me, and none of the energy or interest to meet them. (Read: more guilt.) Erich and I have an extremely high tolerance for clutter and filth. An unhealthily high tolerance, I should say.

It’s frightening how long you can handle counters-full of dishes when you don’t have a dishwasher.

As I thought more intentionally about an egalitarian way to split up chores, I realized that this mindset, this mindset that it’s more my responsibility than his because I’m a woman, has got to go. The cleaning and upkeep of our home is our responsibility, equally. I have to care. He has to care.

While we don’t have children yet, I think this is a crucial component to happy households even if a wife quits her full-time job to stay home. I used to think that I would take over all housecleaning once I stayed home with our baby. After all, I would have eight hours that my husband didn’t to do laundry and wash some dishes.

But after listening to moms with kids underfoot, moms who were drowning with childcare, I realized that I might not have the time — or the energy — after all.

I work in childcare. It is a full-time job that encompasses every spiritual, psychological, and physical inch of your soul and body. Just because stay-at-home moms don’t get paid for their labor doesn’t mean motherhood is any less all-encompassing.

That’s where couples get in trouble, I’ve noticed. Stay-at-home moms run themselves weary keeping up with the kids and still feel obligated to keep up with the onslaught of daily chores too. Meanwhile, Daddy comes home feeling entitled to a break because he worked all day.

Well, Mama worked all day too. So instead of getting into a battle over who’s more exhausted at the end of the day (something my husband and I row about even without kids), it seems more reasonable to assign equal emotional responsibility over household upkeep.

What does this look like practically in our home?

We tried chore lists, but I never did mine, and Erich kept reassigning hated chores to me. So right now, when we see something that needs to be done (i.e., when we max out on our tolerance for filth), we do it ourselves and ask the other spouse to chip in with it or with another chore.

If Erich starts a load of laundry, he might ask me to fold the laundry or point out that I still haven’t done my dishes. If I notice the carpet needs vacuuming, I’ll grab the vacuum and ask Erich to tackle the urine stains on the toilet. And of course, we take personal responsibility for our own stuff.

The only thing we specifically assign are dishes and cooking: whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes. (Because we hate dishes.)

This works for us, because we (usually) respond well to the other person’s initiative. And by “works for us,” I don’t mean “keeps our home in immaculate order.” (We’re working on that.) I mean it keeps our marriage unclogged with cleaning resentment. It helps us feel like a team.

I don’t expect this to change much when we have kids and I stay home with them — except that I’ll have more opportunity to do chores than he will. If I have time and energy during the work day, I’ll do the necessary chores. There’s no point in putting off chores just to make it “fair.” It’s still partially my responsibility, after all, and I would want my husband to tackle the dirty work if he had the opportunity instead of leaving it all for me.

But if I can’t get to chores, or if I’m absolutely sick of doing chores, I won’t feel guilty either.

After all, it’s not wholly my responsibility.

29 thoughts on “An Egalitarian Approach to Chores

  1. Alyssa

    I admire this approach. Practical, human-proof, balanced, and requires all individuals involved to function on a certain level of basic decency. Well done you.


  2. Abigail

    This is great! You excellently captured the stereotypical, societal burden that women bear regarding household chores, and I like your solution for your marriage.

    I was blessed to grow up in a home with a stay-at-home mom and a dad who did both “masculine” and “feminine” chores around the house. I remember that Dad was slightly offended when I was a small child and was shocked that he knew how to sew. :P My parents occasionally lived the stereotype where Mom had to ask ten times for him to do some “manly” house maintenance chore that only he knew how to do, but Dad always helped around the house with regular homemaking chores, and I’ve never known life with males believing they’re exempt from laundry folding or dish-washing.

    My parents often tell this funny story from early in their relationship. My mom visited a mentor to talk to her about my dad, and she showed her some pictures of them. They were of daily life events and adventures, and in one of them, Dad was ironing. The mentor seized Mom’s arm and exclaimed, “The man IRONS? MARRY HIM!”


  3. David

    You’re right on target about housekeeping guilt. Even women raised in secular, egalitarian families often absorb the idea that they’re more responsible for the cleanliness of the house than their husbands are. And, of course, men tend to take in the same idea (especially since it’s so *convenient* for us– self-interest is a powerful motivator!).

    So it’s very easy — especially when the woman’s standards for neatness are higher than the man’s — for a couple to slide into sniping and mutual resentment. Especially since, growing up, girls are often *much* more involved in cleaning chores than boys, so they’re often better at them.

    A common trap I’ve seen — and lived, if I’m being honest — goes like this: guy offers to help; lady accepts; guy helps; lady is horrified at the low standard of guy’s work, can’t believe he thinks it’s good enough, fight ensues (from /his/ perspective, it really DID seem good enough, and why is she criticizing instead of thanking him? This is supposed to make him want to help out more? From /hers/, what is there to thank him for, exactly? And why should she lavish praise on him for doing something *wrong* when she gets no praise at all for doing it *right*? Which, by the way, she’s been doing day in and day out).

    So I’m curious– does this pattern sound familiar? Is it a thing with you and Erich even /though/ you have similar standards of cleanliness in general? If so, how did you work through it?

    Bonus points: have you seen this issue crop up in any complementarian couples? How did /they/ deal with it? (Obviously it’s hard to answer questions like that when you’re not actually part of the couple, so feel free to be like “I dunno.” But in a perfect world, a more comp-leaning reader would pop up and say, “Yes! This was an issue in MY marriage and here’s what we did.”)


    • Bailey Steger

      Yes, I have seen that scenario played out SO many times. Honestly, Erich and I have never had that problem. Erich’s an extremely competent housekeeper (more competent than I am, to be honest), and I’m not picky. We might ask each other to make small changes to how we do things, but they’re never a big deal.

      I see this issue crop up with complementarians all. the. time. and it doesn’t get resolved until the guy stops being entitled and helps around the house or the wife sucks it up and stops complaining. This is the number one complaint I hear from couples (the husband doesn’t pull his weight) regardless of their beliefs, and it honestly takes either an extremely home-inclined wife who believes it’s her purpose to clean the home and enjoys it or a very egalitarian-minded couple.


    • ArieltheHuman

      David, we aren’t exactly a complimentarian couple (the more I read Bailey’s blog the now I realize we act egalitarian an awful lot of the time), but I was definitely comp-minded at the beginning of our marriage and yes we had this issue. It usually resolved in me deciding it was easier to do it myself than have to worry about my husband not doing it the “right way”. Now that his less conservative views are rubbing off on me (hooray!) I’ve learned to lower my standards considerably. Now he helps out more and everyone is happy. It’s been a slow process realizing I don’t need to be the domestic queen my mother is (she didn’t work outside the home and i do) but nowadays housework just isn’t as big a deal to me. So I just don’t care as much if it’s done right or not. It’s done and that’s what matters.

      I think the more a woman falls away from the thinking of “The upkeep of my home is my responsibility and a direct reflection on my worth as a wife” the more this issue (that you mention, David) disappears.

      BTW sorry for the late answer; I’m catching up on this blog.


  4. heather

    “So I have these examples and expectations of housecleaning perfection before me, and none of the energy or interest to meet them.” This is so me. My mother never has any clutter in her house. I don’t know how she does it.


  5. Allison Caylor

    Okay, so this is kind of interesting – lately my husband has been convicted to contribute more to the housekeeping work (and care about it more), especially cleaning. But it’s because we view him as, in the end, responsible for everything about our home. Nowhere in the Bible do you see neatly divided money-and-outside-work, kids-and-inside-work roles; instead, Adam is given *all* the work, and then given Eve as his partner in that. They’re supposed to “be fruitful and multiply” together, not Adam financially supporting Eve while she does the multiplying.

    Dillon has always been good about helping me with things and with our little boy, but he’s realized lately on a new level that I’m not responsible for everything being nice; he is, with me as his helper. Not that it really changes our roles from the outside, but he’s now consciously working to bear the mental weight with me & make sacrifices if need be so that both of us can accomplish the house stuff.

    I’m always sort of fascinated when egalitarians and Reformed people run from the same wrong thing, for the same reasons, in opposite directions. :)


    • Bailey Steger

      Your husband is AWESOME! And I love your point about partnership. You sound very egalitarian. ;)

      I’ve noticed that too — Christians of all sorts running from the same wrong things, for the same reasons, without necessarily running from other core things that other Christians would deem necessary to run from. :D


      • Allison Caylor

        I agree – he’s the bomb! I really scored, haha :)

        I get that your egalitarian comment is totally tongue-in-cheek, so don’t imagine I’m offended or anything. (*Of course* we’re egalitarian in the sense of considering women of equal worth and honor. :D) But I wanted to take the opportunity to jump on a little soapbox for a minute and point out that what you’re admiring, the selfless concern my husband has for me and our disregard of cultural assumptions regarding gender roles, is not a product of egalitarian leanings. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Dillon’s leadership, striving to emulate Christ’s sacrificial authority over his church, and my submission to him as my head, is such a foundational part of our earthly relationship. Whatever justice, grace, and selfless love we’ve achieved is a product of that, not an exception. You know how there are things about complementarianism that are made up and make no sense? Like the idea that a wife can change her husband’s mind as long as he doesn’t realize she’s doing it, or can’t speak up about anything negative about him — kind of the idea that anything goes as long as his ego’s intact. And how really damaging things can come out of it, like controlling and entitled husbands, abuse of all kinds, and manipulative, smothered, overburdened wives? That’s not because they’re believing/living the Ephesians passage and ones like it — it’s because they’re *not*. Anyone who lives by “the husband is the head of the wife” and not by “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” IS NOT OBEYING EPHESIANS 5 and shouldn’t be looked to as an example of what that is like.

        I don’t have a lot of time to look back over this and make it more concise, so you get a wall of text as usual! I really should start a blog… :D Basically, like I mentioned earlier, we really are running from the same thing — an interpretation based on stereotypes and the tendencies of the flesh.


      • Bailey Steger

        I believe you that you’ve learned that from soft complementarianism. I learned a lot about mutual submission from soft complementarianism too, because even complementarians are repulsed by their patriarchal roots. But that’s an egalitarian interpretation of Ephesians 5 — the emphasis on LAYING DOWN rights rather than TAKING UP some kind of male privilege. And when that happens, headship becomes moot in practice, because everything’s now mutual. In my opinion, it makes no sense to argue for the importance of male headship when the healthiest forms of marriage (like yours) don’t effectually involve male headship. So I’m genuinely curious: Why not just admit you’re egalitarian? What do you see as valuable in the idea that the husband is the leader of the home and/or that the wife is exclusively submissive when it’s very obvious from what you’re describing that his leadership is equivalent to the egalitarian idea of mutual submission?


      • Bailey Steger

        And I guess I’d just push back on the idea that the things you mentioned as stereotypes are just that — stereotypes. They’re definitely not. I lived in Christian cultures where they weren’t. The majority of the complementarian marriages I know follow or wrestle with these “stereotypes” at some point in their marriage. Your complementarian marriage is definitely an exception to the rule in the experience of very many. There is some CRAZY stuff coming out of even mainstream complementarianism, and it’s all very, very real and not stereotypical. The fact that you don’t believe in gender roles is rather revolutionary for a complementarian to say, for instance. And again, I believe you that your complementarian interpretation of Ephesians 5 has led to your awesome marriage. I just don’t think your lived experience of that interpretation is as mainstream in complementarianism as it should be. Even when complementarians claim the same interpretation as you do (which they all do), their marriages look very different than yours because they’re also trying to factor in male leadership as something different than mutual submission, which leads to allllll kinds of weird rhetoric and problems. It sounds like to me that you and Dillon equate headship with laying down one’s life (which I 100% agree is the point of Ephesians 5), whereas the majority of complementarians tack on extra meanings to the word “head” that prove problematic. Would love to hear your feedback on all of this!


      • Allison Caylor

        Wow, where do I start…. haha. Thanks for taking the time to write all that out!

        First off, let me clarify what I meant by mentioning stereotypes. I was pointing out a version of complementarianism (the kind found in fundamentalism, mainstream evangelicalism, and some semi-Reformed groups) that has actually built their mandates from stereotypes. Like, only women should cook the meals & do laundry, or men must always take out the trash, drive the car & take care of the lawn. I absolutely acknowledge that millions of people live those stereotypes because they’ve been taught that’s what male/female roles mean. And that’s my point — even though it’s so widespread, that’s not an accurate reflection of what the doctrine of headship/submission means. However, I am acquainted with many couples who at least try to lay those aside in favor of a strict only-burdens-the-Bible-actually-lays stance, while still holding to what is called complementarianism. (They’re generally Reformed, which is of course the perspective I’m coming from.)

        Second, and more importantly, I never meant to imply that I believe the “mutual submission” line negates the “husband is the head of the wife” line. In fact, it makes so much more sense to me to look at it this way: Paul starts off with his broad directive that believers should submit to one another, and then goes on to expound/explain what he means: wives submit to their husbands, servants to their masters, children to their parents. And this teaching, that each of us should be submissive to his or her authority, is tempered by constant admonitions for everyone, and specifically those given authority, to be loving, humble, and gentle. Are parents supposed to be mutually submitting to their kids? That doesn’t make any sense. So no, there’s not a sense in which the husband submits to his wife; his call to sacrifice doesn’t overrule his call to rule. What if a couple disagrees on what’s best for their family? Does she not have to submit in that case? No; that’s the situation that submission is for. It’s just that husbands ruling *according to selfless love* is a core part of the command, and leaving it out is where you get rule by male ego/privilege. Headship doesn’t automatically equal selfishness. Selfless love doesn’t automatically equal egalitarianism.

        If I implied that we reject gender roles, that was my mistake. We do see the Bible teaching husbands to provide for and protect their families, and wives to be devoted to their children, husbands, and homes. Different things for different genders. I wouldn’t dictate to other families how to apply those things in their circumstances, but for us, that (very strongly) means that Dillon works and I keep our son with me.

        And as for learning from soft complementarianism, or being egalitarian in practice, the best thing I can do there is to give you a picture of how headship/submission has played out in our lives so far.

        After counseling with me, Dillon is the one to make the decisions about what activities and events to attend, what church to be part of, how to use our money, whether I work or not, what to name our children, how to raise and school them, how and when to discipline them, and even (ultimately) when/if to have them. I wouldn’t normally share that last one because it could be so easily misunderstood, but I want to demonstrate just how deep and broad this is in our lives. If I think differently about a plan or decision of his, I’ll say so, and give my reasons and thoughts, but at the end of the day I go with his choice and work to be positive about it (and he usually turns out to be right!). Even then, I’m welcome to come back to him with feedback or ask him to reconsider, but I trust him to hold fast if he’s confident that it’s the right choice. And *of course,* all this works because he loves me sacrificially and as wisely as he can … that part must not be separated from the authority part. So, no, we are not egalitarian in effect. Could we, theoretically, settle things a different way? Sure. But it’s not our calling.

        And on that note, you basically asked, if the husband is just doing what’s best for the wife anyway, then why do we even need this authority stuff? Well, to be honest, I think that’s asking the wrong question. The question to ask is, “Did my Jesus command through his apostle that wives submit to their husbands?” Because if the answer is yes … then there you are.

        (P.S. I get headship = authority/rule from Colossians 1.)
        (P.S. I sure hope Christ doesn’t submit to us. :P)


  6. Bethany

    Well. We have a long way to go until we figure out something that works. We’re still very much in the “who worked the hardest today” stage and it’s always my least favorite argument. To be fair, I do take on the brunt of the chores because HONESTLY, I *do* have more time (however, doing simple chores is a circus act with a child!!) BUT I’m not going to pretend that the bread-winning male unfairness doesn’t exist in our house. Because it does. The stupid notion that the poor husband who worked all day gets the evening off, while the wife, who ALSO worked all day at home, has to keep going because she was at home doing all those menial things that don’t “count”.
    We’re working on it. Aidan is getting better at saving my sanity at the end of the day. But ugh. We both just end up tired and crabby. 😂
    I look forward to your thoughts later on after children. Cuz. It is INSANE.


    • Bailey Steger

      This is when you throw in the towel (literally) and let the house get dirty until the weekend…or a few weekends in a row….. :P

      Lady, I probably won’t even have a brain after children. You’re a super mom. I’m going to be the mom who cries on the couch while the baby screams and the dishes pile up around her.


  7. WorkinMama

    My comment doesn’t have much to do with chores, but it just seems to fit here.

    [Me sitting on bed with laptop, reading your blog. Hubby comes in the room, dressed in pajamas].

    Him: Can you move over? I want to go to bed.
    Me: OK. [Moves butt and laptop over about 6 inches].
    Him: Hey! I need more room than that!
    Me: OK. [Moves butt and laptop over another 3 inches].
    Him: What are you doing, anyways?
    Me: Reading this awesome blog about egalitarianism!
    Him: You’re taking up WAY more than half the bed. That doesn’t seem very egalitarian to me.
    Me: Oh, I guess not. I’d move over to my side of the bed, but it’s full of Legos and the kids’ clothes.
    Him: You mean you’ve been playing with their Legos again? We could get you some of your very own if you like.
    Me: Whatever. [Dumps Legos on the diaper-changing table. Has miserable thoughts about having to move them again in the morning when it’s time to change Little Guy’s diaper].
    Him: You’re laptop is still in the bed.
    Me: [Moves laptop over to my side of the bed].
    Him: No computers in the bed. Why don’t you take that thing downstairs?
    Me: You mean you’re sending me away?
    Him: Of course not. I like having you here. Just not your computer. Not when I wanna go to sleep.


  8. ArieltheHuman

    Very helpful article!
    I’ve recently stopped working full-time (down to about 20 hrs/week) and I’m finding myself very unsure as to whether household work distribution should now change. Since I will be home more (and do not have kids yet), doesn’t it make sense that I take a larger chunk? It seems incredibly selfish for me to insist that we still split them evenly since he has much less time than I do now. I am working less because I want to finish a few writing projects before we start our family. I guess I’m saying that I feel I can’t justify me sitting at home doing things I love instead of what seems more loving: taking care of the house stuff since I have the opportunity. There has to be a balance, right? Your thoughts are appreciated. ☺


    • Bailey Steger

      I would agree that the person with the most time — which in our case is us ladies, since we don’t work a lot and don’t have kids — should take on a greater load of the chores. I take charge of larger, more infrequent chores during the week (like cleaning the bathroom or sweeping the floor) so Erich doesn’t have to spend his short evenings and weekends doing chores that I could easily be doing during the day….instead of goofing off doing my own thing.

      I think an egalitarian approach to chores is not simply about splitting everything fifty/fifty but rather about not making assumptions based on gender and accommodating each others’ strengths and weaknesses. For instance, I dislike cooking, and Erich doesn’t mind it. Is it exactly fair that he works full-time AND takes on meal planning and prep? Maybe not, but it works best for our marriage that I don’t end up stuck with both dishes and dinner every single night. And we don’t really keep score of “I did this, so now you do that.” Like you said, it’s all about being loving. Yes, I end up doing all of the chores, and the grocery shopping, and the bill paying, but it doesn’t seem like a burden to me because I’m spoiled with free-time my husband doesn’t have.

      We move more towards the fifty/fifty split when we’re both working full-time (or when I have this baby), as that’s a more objective measure of fairness.

      The only thing I refuse to do is clean up after my husband. If he’s running late to work, yes, I’ll put his breakfast dishes in the dishwasher or throw his shorts in the laundry when I start a load, but it is our own responsibility to clean up after ourselves and take care of our own belongings. That protects us from resenting the other person for creating extra work or being treated like a maid. So even though I *do* technically have the time to put his laundry away or tidy up his office space, I don’t. And that hasn’t caused any problems yet, so that’s how it’s going to be. :)

      Liked by 1 person

      • ArieltheHuman

        That totally makes sense! Thank you. Your point about cleaning up after each other is really good… I never put two and two together like that but it’s brilliant. No resentment allowed!

        I realized too that flexibility is really huge in this. If I want him to take on a greater load of housework when I have a small infant, I should be more than willing to take a larger share in this season of my life. We can flex.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s