Til Grout Does Us Part – The Cleaning CoupleApril 20th, 2012 © by Susan Swartz
Like many aging Boomers we have downsized. It began with the house. Years ago we sold our rural home and moved into town into a modest abode, so small that my husband likes to stand in the intersection between the living room and kitchen and point out that from there you can see every room in the house.
We are now getting to know it even more intimately because the downsizing includes no more house-cleaner.
This is a relative sacrifice, I know. It is not in everyone’s allowance to pay an expert to come in and clean up your mess. But in the years when we both worked outside of the home, it was easy to rationalize. Our house-cleaner became our pal. I wouldn’t say member of the family because no one in our family has ever dug in so efficiently and cheerfully.
It was hard to say goodbye. The dog loved her. But paying for someone to clean was part of our two income full-time working couple budget. Now we are part time at-home workers. Semi-retired. That means we are on a relatively fixed income. That means reality check.
So, now we are the couple who clean together. My husband and I never got into serious chore wars in our house, probably because neither of us has a rigid standard of sanitary correctness. And I’m nearsighted so all I have to do is take off my glasses and I don’t really notice spider webs in the candelabra.
Our housework arrangement was simple. Both of us did as little as possible. And then there was Tanja, our miracle worker, coming every two weeks to shovel us out.
Now it’s up to us. We blast music – Taj Mahal gets us both moving – and team up after dust bunnies. I’m thinking we should we could get some chic rubber gloves. Leopard ones for me. His in a Harley print.
Sharing housework has long been a scratchy point for couples. Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild wrote about the inequity in housework duties in her 1989 book The Second Shift, revving up a revolution among working women who turned to their spouses and said , “You’re on, Bud.”
I urged my husband to take the floors. I could have argued that mops are manly. But I explained that years ago when I was suffering from carpal tunnel stress, a physical therapist said pushing a vacuum cleaner was murder on the wrist. I took that as a lifelong prohibition.
Since he went for that, I added in windows, seeing that he’s better at ladders. I generously volunteered to do the bathroom and the kitchen. We are having to figure out products. I tend to go with the all-green save the earth cleaning products but he wonders about that blue stuff his mother used to dump in the toilet and which I say has got to be on the toxic list by now.
Retiring couples are warned that adjustments will be necessary in order to mutually enjoy the new bonus hours of togetherness. Friends who moved to Mexico to retire found their casita too small for the two of them and to save the marriage rented a second house. They live next door to each other and have sleep-overs.
That seems extreme, but a little separation is good which is why we each have retained our individual home offices. They’re in two rooms in a small building in the backyard. Each is in charge of cleaning his and her own. Mine’s a mess.