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Negotiating the Division of Household Chores

Unless you identify closely with the Monica Geller character on “Friends,” cleaning your house might not be something you always enjoy. And if you’re a woman, chances are, you’re the one doing most of the cleaning.

According to a report from Oxfam and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women in the United States spend two hours more each day doing domestic work than men. “The unequal distribution of this work — work that is essential for families and societies to thrive — not only limits women’s career choices and economic empowerment, but also affects their overall health and well-being,” the report stated.

It’s time for us to evenly divide household chores and demand equity in the home with the same fierce manner we are demanding it in the workplace. It doesn’t have to be that hard or scary either. It’s all about balance. Whether you’re a DINK (dual income, no kids) or support a large family, it’s time to share the burden of domestic responsibilities equally. Here’s how you can divide household chores fairly.

Step 1: Assign household chores

First, sit down with the other members of your household and have an open, honest discussion. If your family members aren’t aware of how you really feel, how can you expect them to change their behavior? Explain your frustration. Tell them you need help. We know, you shouldn’t have to tell them, but do it anyway.

Ask each family member if they believe their time is valuable and why. Then explain to them that your time is of equal value. Once everyone understands how valuable time is, you can educate them on the importance of teamwork.

Pitch the idea of the household as a hot startup company, with each family member having stock options that rise in value in proportion to performance. Everyone has a role to play in the overall success of their household. And the ultimate success will be determined through motivation.

Step 2: Make a list and motivate

To use some of our poker lingo, here’s where you raise the stakes. You’ve got to motivate everyone in the family to do their part to divide domestic responsibilities fairly. Nothing motivates people more than money.

Start by gathering the family together and making a detailed list of all the household chores, everything from laundry and dishes to buying groceries and watering the plants. List the approximate amount of time it takes to complete each task. Ensure everyone participates, as this exercise will make them aware of how much effort goes into running a household.

Next, do a little research and come up with an approximate hourly wage for each job. When you put a dollar sign in front of a task, it becomes something of tangible value and reinforces the fact that everyone’s time is valuable. 

This dollar amount could translate to a child’s allowance. If your teenager balks at the idea of cleaning their room, explain that you’d be happy to use their allowance to pay for a professional maid service or keep it if you end up having to do it yourself. Their allowance could pay for your trip to the spa that week.

You could also use a family trip as motivation. Put up a whiteboard where everyone can check off their chores each week. If everyone does their part, a certain amount of money goes into the trip fund. If someone fails to carry their weight, nothing goes into the fund that week. That way, all family members will be encouraging each other to do their part. Nobody wants to be the reason the family doesn’t get to go to Disneyworld!

Of course, the motivation doesn’t have to be money. Access to the Wi-Fi, mobile phone, and tablet usage, or use of the family car can also be valuable incentives to children and young adults. The key is to come up with something that is important to each member of the family.

Step 3: Negotiate and delegate

Now that you’ve got everyone motivated, how do you evenly divide household chores? It’s time to negotiate and delegate.

Naturally, there will be some domestic responsibilities that are more suited for certain family members based on their preferences and capabilities. One partner might enjoy cooking and find it relaxing, but hates cleaning the kitchen afterward. One child maybe loves being outside all the time and can handle walking the dog, doing yard work, and taking out the trash, while another could be an organization freak that wants to Marie Kondo the entire house. 

Once everyone claims the tasks they want to do — or the ones they mind doing the least — you’re going to have the leftovers. Somebody’s going to have to clean the bathroom. The cat litter isn’t going to change itself. These chores could be handled on a rotating basis by different family members so that nobody gets stuck doing the dirty work all the time.

Not only is this approach a smart way to divide household chores fairly, it’s also a great way to teach your children powerful negotiation skills and the value of teamwork.

Step 4: Celebrate

End with positive reinforcement.

Schedule a weekly family meeting in which you all sit down and review the “equitable distribution of household responsibilities” spreadsheet. If everyone has done their part, make a big deal out of transferring a certain amount of money into your vacation fund. Or dish out that week’s allowance. If it’s just you and your partner, reward yourselves with a fancy dinner.

The point is to keep the conversation and the work arrangement going so that everyone understands their role, their domestic responsibilities, and why it’s important to manage the division of household duties as a family, rather than burdening one person with all the heavy lifting.

Remember, the family that cleans together clings together.

Did you know you can become a better negotiator by learning to play poker? Sign up today for our free online classes.

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