About a year ago I bought a robot vacuum. It may just be the single best thing I have ever bought. Because I feel literal joy every time I hear it switch itself on automatically to clean my house, or come home (pre-coronavirus) to find it’s cleaned while I’ve been out. Actual Joy. This struck me as a pretty extreme emotional reaction to a household appliance, so I’ve been thinking about why.
After some introspection I’ve concluded that it comes from the combined feelings of relief and gain that I get every time it happens. Relief at not having to remember or remind or fight about who will do one of my least favourite household tasks. And gain from not doing housework. Getting all the pleasure of living in a clean home, without having to do the mental and physical work to make it so. The joy of not doing housework, but knowing that it’ll still be done.
The Gain: I hate vacuuming, but love clean floors
I’m not a neat-freak. I don’t like clutter. But I have a reasonable threshold for overlooking dust until I really have to deal with it. I hate vacuuming more than I dislike a little dust, so I’m human, and I put it off. I have always noticed the convenience of how well carpet hides the need to vacuum regularly. It’s just more forgiving than wood or tile where dust and dirt is so visible and tactile. But when I moved into a flat with wood floors, I was torn.
Do I carpet the place because I hate the feeling of grittiness that uncarpeted floors get seemingly minutes after you last vacuumed them? Fortuitously around the same time I visited friends of mine who had recently bought a robot vacuum and raved about it, so when I saw them on sale I bought one. Problem solved, and weekly feelings of ‘not doing housework win’ achieved.
It’s not enough to not do the housework
Certainly, this is not a solution available to everyone. It’s an indulgence, and one I’m fortunate to be able to afford. But it’s also not the only way to get the same feeling when it comes to tedious, repetitive but necessary housework. The reason I get the feeling of gain here is that this is a task I really don’t like doing. I don’t mind laundry, I quite enjoy cooking, I’m fine with managing finances and social tasks. But I also don’t like sitting at home trying to relaxing and noticing there’s work I need to do. It’s really hard to switch off when you keep mentally noting things that get filed on the “one more thing I need to remember” mental to do list we all have (see also: Mental Load).
The gain, it turns out, is not not having to do housework. Because if I don’t do it, I still see the problem and know that it needs to be done eventually. The gain is instead, not having to do housework BECAUSE it’s been done for you. This is an important difference, and part of the reason it’s so pleasurable. It’s both getting out of something I really don’t want to do. And still getting all the benefits of it being done. It’s what I imagine it would like to be extremely fit and healthy, without killing yourself in the gym getting all sweaty and red-faced, then forgoing your favourite foods to eat salad.
The Relief: Automation is a gift that keeps on giving
Mental Load, the invisible mental work of remembering, organising, delegating and managing a household, is a part of this problem. There is added stress in noticing (usually when we’re busy and rushing around trying to get through some of the tasks on our endless lists), all the other things that need to be done around the house. It’s collecting the towels to put in the wash and noticing that you need to clean the bathroom sink. Making a cup of coffee and noticing that the tiles behind the stove need to be wiped. Finishing eating dinner prepared by your partner and knowing in the back of your mind that the kitchen is a mess and needs to be cleaned before you go to bed. And they probably won’t think to do it. Remembering these things is work. But so is asking someone else to do them.
This is why there is such a sense of relief when an item is eliminated from your to do list. But also reminding you that you didn’t have to remember. And if it’s automated – won’t have to remember in future either.
How to get all the joy with none of the (house)work
All of this this got me thinking. Imagine what it must be like when this is always the case. When someone does everything for you at home, all you need to do is go to work, earn an income, and come home. To a home-cooked meal in a clean house with children who are happy and well cared for, and kick back to bask in the joy of it all. It’s the joy of having, in short, a stay-at-home-parent for a partner. What’s generally invisible in that stereotype, is how much hard work it is to be that stay-at-home-parent. And how little they get to experience the joy of not doing housework.
If you have a partner who doesn’t contribute to the housework – whether by design or not – they are likely also enjoying the benefits that I’ve just described. I’m sure it’s incredibly relaxing to have a lot of this stuff done for you! But it’s risky also – because it’s placing strain on the person who does do it. If there isn’t balance in how much work two partners are doing to keep a combined life running, it can risk creating resentment. Over time, this can start to wear on the relationship.
How to start feeling the joy?
So if this sounds like you, why not ask them to read this post? Instead of this work being something that they expect to be reminded about or asked to do, see if they can understand that by doing more housework – without you asking or reminding, they can actually bring you real joy? Joy at someone else having thought about what needs doing. (Note: it doesn’t count if they ask what needs to be done). Joy at that person being proactive about taking care of it without needing reminders, requests or instructions. Comprehensively taking it off your mental and physical plate. Giving you the gift of a clean house, a beautiful meal, freshly cleaned clothes, ironed shirts, clean sheets, a sparkling bathroom…
Because it isn’t anyone’s job to do it regardless of their gender or financial contribution to the household. It’s work. And not doing housework is an underrated source of pleasure.
One more thing…
If you want to understand more about your housework and who does it, start by taking the free ThirdShift Quiz. It gives you an overview of your current workload and where you spend your time. It is completely free, and gives you a starting point to understand what’s happening in your household. We’re also working on the ThirdShift App, which goes beyond helping you manage productivity to improving relationships & promoting wellbeing. Start now.
- Women’s unpaid housework is the fourth largest economy in the world – it’s time we valued it
- Why You Should Ask Your Partner To Take The ThirdShift Quiz
- Launch News: ThirdShift Quiz Now Live!
- The Joy Of Not Doing Housework (But Knowing It’s Still Being Done)
- A Storm Is Coming, And It’s Going To Set Gender Equality Back 40 years
Ready to start reducing your mental load?
Find out how you can save time, reduce your workload & free yourself from the mental load. Take the ThirdShift Quiz to start understanding what your work is worth.