Fighting Your Own Home Maintenance Battles


Even as a passionate feminist, I must admit — when it comes to physical labor, I do greatly enjoy playing the helpless damsel in distress.

“Oh, honey, can you open this jar for me? I tried halfheartedly for three seconds and already permanently injured my hand.”

“Oh, baby, can you go get that thing on the top shelf in the closet so I don’t have to get off my rear end, find a stepstool, and get it myself? It’s so heavy.”

“Yes, I’ll definitely let you change the car battery in negative winter temps.”

“Babe, the sink is clogged again.”

“And so is the shower.”

“And I can’t figure out how to turn on this appliance. Again.”

It’s been burned into my brain that men are more naturally gifted at figuring out user manuals and things with random screws. Some of that I get from my upbringing. Boys took out the trash, girls did dishes. Boys held open doors and carried boxes, girls walked through doors and sat around while men worked.

I’m also not at all dexterous with my hands (ask my sister who taught me to crochet three times), blessed with spatial awareness (ask my husband who watched me crash into a wall while trying to plug in my phone), or gifted with any muscles in my upper body (ask anybody). Plus, I’m short. And cute. And sometimes I paint my nails and can’t have them ruined by manual labor.

Once, my dad took the time to teach me how to change a tire. I tried very hard to pay attention and ask intelligent questions — or rather, I tried very hard to ask intelligent questions so that I looked like I was paying attention. I wouldn’t remember this anyway, right? There was a manual for this somewhere in the glovebox, right? And wouldn’t I just be calling my dad and having him come out and change the tire for me, anyway?

It didn’t occur to me that I could learn and master a mechanical challenge.

I don’t think it occurred to my dad, either, because at the end of his presentation, as he crawled out from under my Ford Escape, he said, “And if you forget any of this, Erich will know what to do.”

Which, actually, he would not, come to find out. My husband is surprisingly unlearned in all the skills my dad possesses. He doesn’t memorize the timetable of when all the cars need oil changes. He doesn’t know where I misplaced important documentation. He can’t answer any of my questions about insurance. He doesn’t immediately start taking things apart when I complain about them not working.

In fact, there’s not even much effort on his part to fight my material battles. More often than not, he’ll start tinkering with whatever problem I face, hit a roadblock, shrug, and say, “I don’t know.”

I don’t know? A live, flesh-and-blood man, saying I don’t know as if he doesn’t possess innate knowledge of the home maintenance world?

Clearly, this is not a real man.

(I spend a lot of time on the phone with my dad trying to solve problems my husband can’t fix.)

Even more shocking, I discovered this pseudo-man I married, this impostor of a knight in shining tool bet, isn’t skilled in anything particular other than knowing how to Google WikiHow articles.

And he has patience. Immense patience. Patience far longer than the three seconds it takes me to give up unscrewing a pickle jar.

I guess he didn’t grow up with the assumption that someone of the opposite sex would always be around to fix his problems, so he had to figure them out himself.

I began to feel bad about this whole situation. If solving all the problems I didn’t care to fix was an issue of Googling and patience rather than natural male prowess, did I really have an excuse not to fight my own home maintenance battles — myself?

We recently moved into a new apartment. Being unemployed, I got stuck at home with a menagerie of strange objects — unfamiliar blinds, a dishwasher without a start button. And I got stuck with a menagerie of strange tasks — figuring out how to forward our mail, changing our address on everything, setting up the internet.

It started with the internet. No, it actually started with the blinds.

The night before, Erich showed me the particular way I needed to close and open the blinds without breaking them. Like a typical damsel in distress, I nodded absentmindedly, knowing my dashing knight would be just around the corner to help me. (In other words, I wasn’t at all paying attention.)

But then my dashing knight went to work that morning, and I wanted the blinds open. I ended up jamming the whole system and breaking off two panels. Fearful of breaking something else, and being short, I left the panels on the floor for my knight to wrangle upon his return home.

Then I set about starting up the internet. “Just plug in the modem,” the nice lady at Spectrum told me. So I plugged in the modem. And waited. And unplugged it. And replugged it. And restarted my computer and my phone. And tried to connect the ethernet cable somehow. And sent a bunch of flustered and desperate texts to my husband, which convinced him to skip lunch break soccer to come fight this dragon for me.

“I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong,” I whined, trailing him into the office. “I plugged in the modem.”

“That’s not the modem, Bailey. That’s the router.”

Well, how was I supposed to know? I’m not a man!

Then I tried to start the dishwasher, but like I said, there was no start button. I rotated the knob several times. I pushed it in. I pulled it right off the dishwasher. Nothing.


He walked over. Rotated the knob. Pushed it in. Pulled it right off the dishwasher. (See, I was catching on to the male intuition.) Then he flipped the outlet switch and the dishwasher roared to life.

“Weren’t you wondering what that switch did?” he asked incredulously.

“Not particularly,” I grumbled. Again, obvious point: I was a helpless female.

I was beginning to feel frustrated with my own incompetence. It wasn’t convenient or empowering to wait for my husband to put out these little fires that made my life so difficult. It wasn’t productive to put off all the work until 4:30 PM when he could unstick all the projects that got stuck during the day.

So when the plastic white band on the frozen orange juice can snapped and I couldn’t dig it out or pry the lid off, I stabbed it open with a kitchen knife.

And when the dishwasher sprayed bits of food onto the dishes that got cleaned and didn’t clean the other dishes, I Googled how to unscrew bits and pieces, clean out the gunk, and run a cycle of vinegar and baking soda.

I emerged from the dishwasher after about an hour, sweaty and gunky and oh-so-proud.

It felt good. I hope I never have to do that again, but it felt good — to try something new, to not give up, to challenge myself, and to come out victorious over my home maintenance battles.

Plus, my husband was overjoyed that he didn’t have to stick his head in a disgusting dishwasher. A fairytale ending for both Prince Charming and his damsel in distress.

Photo by Todd Quackenbush on Unsplash

16 thoughts on “Fighting Your Own Home Maintenance Battles

  1. Bethany C

    If you want a ‘fun’ actuvity that is also likely to leave you with a huge sense of accomplishment, try setting up a piece of IKEA furniture! I recommend something small like a coffee table; the chair nearly broke me :P (Though I think that may have been because it was sloppily manufactured and several pieces just did NOT want to join.)
    I definitely relate to the gender role thing though. While I lived alone or with can-do female roommates for several years, Dad was always handy to advise on oil changes, home maintenance etc. And I am good with most technology except the TV…despite my best efforts I will often be found coming to ask my partner ‘HOW to pause the show…I’ve tried all three remotes!’


    • Bailey Steger

      Haha! The thought of trying to put together furniture makes me want to cry. I have NEVER been good at that kind of thing. So if it doesn’t kill me first, I suppose that would give me a huge sense of accomplishment.

      Right?! What is up with the TV? I can troubleshoot my computer just fine, but the TV and DVD player escapes me entirely.


  2. Lea

    Never had an issue with computer cable stuff, paperwork etc. But wiring/electricity/plumbing? More complicated. I would like to learn to do some of that and actually tried to sign up for a class but it was cancelled! Google is very helpful. I did have a family members husband replace something in my kitchen, though.

    Jars? You need to use the knife trick, or one of those opener squishy things. Usually have no problems after that.


    • Bailey Steger

      Kudos to you for signing up for a class! At that point, my DIY efforts would end and I’d call a professional. ;)

      I can’t find any opener squishy things!!! My husband wraps rubber bands around jar lids to help with grip, but I still end up handing my jar over to him or my strong-armed friends. :P *shame shame shame*


  3. dolphinswithmohawks

    My wife does play the helpless female at times, but she also taught me how to change a tire, among other things. You won’t always have someone to lean on, so it’s important for both men and women to learn how to do simple things on their own. Congrats on the dishwasher repair and to future “victories”.
    Also, you can hammer a tiny nail into a jar lid to break the seal. Then tape over the hole. Another method is to stick a flat blade screwdriver into any gap under the side of the lid and then turn the screwdriver slightly to break the seal.


  4. WorkingMama

    This is hilarious! Especially the part about the Knight in the Shining Tool belt! Sounds like a good title for a comic book superhero.

    I still have trouble starting the dishwasher, even though we have had the same one for over 3 years. My excuse is that my husband is a stay at home dad, so he is the responsible for that type of thing. But we solve a lot of problems together, and we have to fend for ourselves sometimes.

    On a more serious note, I think we are looking at a larger societal and cultural trend. The young men of today — at least the middle class, urban, college educated young men, simply do not have the same set if skills that our forefathers had. And that’s ok, because society is changing.

    On the other hand, the quickest way to fail is to give up before you even start, and as someone else pointed out, it’s amazing what you can do if you just try. And what you can learn in the process! It’s also amazing how much you can improvise.


    • Bailey Steger

      Yes! I think innovation and imagination are what makes these things so hard for me. I’m a rule follower, so it’s impossible for me to improvise when I don’t have guidelines or can’t figure them out.


  5. WorkingMama

    Hint on opening jars: Make sure your hands and the jar are both dry, and wrap the hem of your t-shirt are the lid. Hold it close to your body to get the most leverage. If that doesn’t work, bang the edge of the lid against a table or countertop a couple of times. It won’t break the jar, and the impact will loosen the rubber seal.


  6. Aemi

    Interestingly enough, it was Debi Pearl (wife of Michael Pearl), who is very close to the patriarchal end of the spectrum, who first taught me this lesson. “How is a man supposed to appreciate a nagging, complaining, lazy wife? If he can’t or won’t fix the toilet, clean up the yard, or mend that screen door, YOU do it. You can do all those things as well as any man.” (My paraphrase.) This and many other influences in my life made me realize that most gender roles are arbitrary and simply not practical, and my reluctance to do any particular task was most likely laziness. I continue to be inspired by one writer’s praise of his wife: a water pipe broke under their house, and he had an important speaking engagement that day. She told him, “Go ahead, don’t worry; I’ll fix the pipe.” And it was muddy and hard and took all day, but she did it. Now THAT is what I call being a help to your husband! I want to be that kind of wife.


    • Bailey Steger

      Wow. Serious respect for the wife who fixed the broken pipe!!! And it’s interesting how the helpless damsel in distress doesn’t actually fit the patriarchal paradigm either: what good is a help meet if she doesn’t or can’t help?

      It just occurred to me that I wouldn’t even have the clothes to get muddy in fixing a pipe. That is how out of touch I am with the expectation that I pull my weight with the dirty household stuff!! Embarrassing…..


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