I am not a happy homemaker. Remember Betty White in that role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in the seventies? She could cook, and clean, and smile prettily all at the same time. She made homemaking sexy, supposedly. Well, I’m no Sue Ann Nivens, that’s for sure.

Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens, The Happy Homemaker
Betty White as Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show

And I’m certainly no June Cleaver from Leave It To Beaver. June was the epitome of the multi-tasking fifties housewife, wasn’t she? Nope. That’s not me. Not even close. For one thing Hubby and I don’t have any children. And for another, I can’t imagine myself in nylons, a dress, pearls, and a paring knife, effortlessly counselling Beaver while preparing dinner for four, in my spotless kitchen. 

June and Beaver Cleaver
June Cleaver in her pearls, in an episode of  Leave It To Beaver

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like cooking, I do. It’s the spotless kitchen part that always gets me. I mean… I love a spotless kitchen. In fact, I love a well organized, spotless house. It’s just that I hate making it spotless. Really, really hate it. 

We all laugh at the unrealistic images of women portrayed on television way back when. Cooking in pearls. Ha. Imagine. But I’ll bet that it’s not just me who sometimes still feels inadequate about my lack of housekeeping skill. Okay, maybe ‘skill’ is not the word I’m going for. It’s not skill I lack; it’s motivation. I’d rather be reading, or drawing, or blogging, or working out, or pretty much anything at all rather than cleaning my house. Which is problematic because, like I mentioned above, I like a clean house. 



In my thirties, once I started working full time as a teacher and could afford it, I started to pay someone to clean our house. It was well worth the money to me, to come home one day every two weeks to a clean house. In the off week, I’d clean the bathroom, maybe dust a bit. Obviously I’d change the sheets, do the laundry and tidy up. But coming home after work to the sight and smell of a clean house… when I didn’t have to clean it myself… was… well… wonderful. And lest you think that Hubby was sitting with a beer in his hand watching football while I was doing chores, let me make it clear that he does plenty around our home. 

For one thing we have a large vegetable garden every  year. He does all of that. He plants, weeds, harvests, freezes… and usually cooks… everything that comes out of the garden. He does all the grass cutting, and snow plowing, and wood splitting (we have a wood stove in our living room.) Once he retired and I took on more responsibility at work, he took over all the grocery shopping, and much of the cooking. The other women at work were green with envy when they found out that Hubby made my lunch each day. So the housecleaning, laundry etc has always been my territory. And I’m okay with that. I mean I hate cleaning, but I’m fine with it being part of my share of the work.

Hubby and I have never had much of a problem over the division of household chores; he’s never looked at household chores as being linked to gender. That’s probably because his mum, my mother-in-law, always worked outside the home, and his dad helped around the house. I remember my mother-in-law, Milly, telling me about one evening in the fifties when she was having coffee at the kitchen table with a neighbour. Ed, Hubby’s dad, came through the kitchen with an armload of laundry he’d just finished doing, and the neighbour lady couldn’t stop giggling at the sight of a man doing housework. 


Desi does housework
Desi does housework,  in an old episode of I Love Lucy


I wasn’t surprised when I read a 2013 article in The Atlantic, that says “The difference between a happy marriage and a miserable one is… chores.” Or more specifically how a couple approaches the division of labour in and around their home. Apparently a 2007 Pew Research Poll said the division of labour in the home is “one of the top three issues associated with a successful marriage.” And as much as things have changed in recent years, it also doesn’t surprise me that women still perform twice the number of tasks around the home, and in most homes “assume the burden of ‘mental labour,’ or the planning and co-ordination of tasks.” You can read the Atlantic article here if you’re interested. 

I say it doesn’t surprise me because, when I was working, I was constantly amazed and sometimes appalled at how many women who were much younger than me were married to men who did nothing to help with household tasks. Nothing. One colleague laughed at lunch one day about her plan to send her husband a message, to try to get him to pick up his dirty laundry and place it in the laundry basket. She purchased several extra plastic laundry baskets, and placed them all around their bed, so he couldn’t help but notice they were there. The next morning she found his dirty underwear lying between two of the baskets. I can’t remember what she did after that. Probably gave up. 

Or the story of another colleague who complained one day that she and her husband and two kids were off to his parents’ cottage the day after Commencement in June. And in the next few days, she’d have to finish her marking, do her report cards, attend commencement and then go home to pack for herself, the two kids, and her husband. And when she suggested that he at least pack for himself, he replied that she should “just throw him in a few shirts.” Of course we all encouraged her to do just that. To throw a few shirts still on their hangers in the trunk of the car and say… “Here’s your stuff, honey.” But I know she didn’t.

I’ll never understand why two intelligent adults can’t come to a fair and equitable arrangement about workload around the home. But apparently, according to the article  36 Household Chores Men Don’t Bother To Do in The Telegraph… they can’t. The article goes on to say that a 2014 survey of 1,000 working mothers in the UK, conducted by “Mumsnet,” shows that only 5% of men “take primary responsibility for giving the house a weekly clean,” compared to 71% of women. That leaves 26% of couples who share the tasks equally. And apparently this problem is not all down to the men. Interestingly, of the women surveyed 66% do not want their partners to do more. Really? And why is that? Well, they are either happy with the division of labour or… the men don’t complete the tasks to their exacting standards. 

I guess I would say to those women that men can learn, too. You know, Hubby wasn’t always the domestic god he is now. He’s always done whatever task around the house needed doing. But his cooking skills back in the day stretched to spaghetti sauce and steaks on the barbeque. Unless we were camping; in the bush he’s always been the main cook. I remember one night shortly after he retired, when supper was boiled potatoes, grilled pork chops, and steamed cauliflower. Nutritious? Yep. But a tad monochromatic. Now he excels at Asian food, complicated stir-frys, soups of every description, and fish. He’s very good with fish. As he said to me once… “I can read a cookbook… therefore… I can learn to cook.”



But I want to get back to what I started talking about at the beginning of this post… my domestic skills. And my lack of motivation to do housework. It’s become more of an issue for me lately, since I retired. How could I justify the expense of paying a cleaning person, if I had time to do the cleaning myself? And since I was no longer working all day, five days a week, marking in the evenings, and prepping lessons one day on the weekend, how could I justify not doing it? It’s not as if I am burdened with more than my share of the household chores. I can’t use that excuse for whining. It’s just that I hate cleaning. Period. And sometimes I feel a bit inadequate that I’m not measuring up on the domestic front. I guess it’s the “I’m-not-June-Cleaver” guilt complex. Silly isn’t it? 


So what do I do? Well, first I don’t do housework unless I’m listening to a book on my i-pod. I can clean like the dickens if I’ve a good P.D. James novel on the go. And I try really hard to not procrastinate about cleaning. But I also have decided not to attempt to clean the house any more than it was cleaned when I was working. So every two weeks, a full clean. And in the off weeks, I clean the bathroom, do a touch up, and all the weekly stuff like changing beds, laundry etc. That’s it. I didn’t retire so I could clean my house more. And I’m trying to do one special thingie every couple of weeks… you know those drawers that never get sorted, or the cupboard that has everything but the kitchen sink in it and needs to be reorganized, or the kitchen blinds that need washing. I will admit that this part of the plan has fallen a bit behind schedule. Okay. A lot behind schedule. 


But… I never claimed to be a domestic goddess, did I? There are just too many other interesting things to do and see that are not cleaning my house. Like blogging, or drawing, or working out… or reading.


Ooh, look. There’s my new Ann Cleeves mystery. Surely those kitchen drawers can wait another week. 


So dear readers, how does it work at your house? Do you divide the domestic chores equitably? And what do you do to make your share of the household tasks more palatable? Are you a natural domestic goddess, able to flick that ‘swiffer’ and smile at the same time? Or are you, like me, tempted by the demon book to neglect your domestic duties?





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From the archives


Need a Good Closet Rummage?

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Spring Closet Switchover

Spring is here and I’m doing my spring closet switchover this week. Swapping my winter clothes for my spring ones. Such a satisfying activity.

30 thoughts on “The Happy Homemaker… Not.”

  1. I'm just like you . As a very young newlywed in 1968 I bought Peg Brackens ' I hate to Housekeep Book ' AND her ' I Hate to Cook Book ' . Looking back I was lucky not to be a 50s bride , with the high standards that entailed . I've never employed a cleaner , my sisters did & thought I was crackers , but it sort of felt like an invasion of my private space. These days we share the house cleaning equally , though hubbie is more of a perfectionist than me – he has to go round straightening pictures etc after I've whizzed through ! I'm laundry / shopping & most cooking , whilst he's cars , handyman & chief dog walker . Gardening is shared – no veg patch , I'd rather garden than dust . Perhaps because the garden constantly changes whereas dust is just dust .
    Wendy in York

    1. I must admit that I'm not a gardener in any way. We had acres of vegetable garden on the farm when I was a teenager. My least favourite sentence in the world is …"The beans are ready to pick." When Hubby and I met I made it clear that I was NOT weeding or picking anything in the veg garden. I will weed the flower beds a few times in the summer…but I need my trusty book on my i-pod to get me through that. Over the years it seems as if Hubby has taken on more tasks and not given up any. Well, except for the grass mowing. He hates to do that with a passion, so we pay someone to cut our grass now. Seriously, I can't figure out why he keeps me around… must be for the comic relief:)

    2. Leslie in Oregon

      Sue, if you hire someone to mow the grass because your husband hates to do that, why not hire someone to clean the house every other week because you have to do that? Guilt, begone!!

  2. Hi Sue, I LOVE reading about housekeeping and cleaning, can't get enough of it. I have a shelf full of books on the subject … all in the hopes that I'll be motivated! I do take care of it, just not that gleefully. My husband does a lot of cooking, though, so I don't mind. Something I don't mind doing it ironing – I watch a movie or tv show at the same time. We don't yet have any proper landscaping outside, so in summer it's just grass-cutting for now, which my husband enjoys. He also does all the handyman and car stuff … he loves tinkering in the garage!

    1. I love ironing too. I don't know why. I remember watching afternoon movies on TV as a kid with my mum while she ironed. Must be the cosy memories it conjures up.

  3. I'm in the "Hate It" camp when it comes to housework. (Cooking is a different story; I enjoy it when I'm not rushed but never cook on weeknights any more.) That said, I never leave dirty dishes overnight. Hate waking up to that even more than doing them. Our biggest problem is clutter; we have a small house and not a lot of storage so things tend to pile up in corners and on horizontal surfaces. I'm going to tackle it…someday. 😉

    1. We have a small house too. So I pick up constantly, on my way by from one end of the house to another. I was surprised that according to some "how to keep your house clean" websites this is considered cleaning. Guess I clean way more than I thought.

  4. May I suggest Flylady? Have you heard of her? Her cleaning philosophy changed my life and our home. I was lucky enough to find her in her early days, before her emails became so numerous. Basically, her idea is to spend 15 minutes doing a chore. Use a timer so you don't exceed 15 minutes. Stop at the end of the 15 minutes, even if the chore is not completed. Whatever amount you accomplished has made it better than it was before.

    There is more to her philosophy, of course, but her main thought is that you can do anything for 15 minutes. Clean for 15 minutes, then read for 15 minutes, do homework for 15 minutes, take a break for 15 minutes, go back to homework for another 15 minutes. #lifechanging

    1. I will check her out Riley. Thanks. Fifteen minutes of anything is certainly doable. Some things are hard to abandon in the middle, though… like cleaning out the fridge. Gad I hate that one!

    2. Flylady's response to that dilemma is this: clean off only the number of shelves that can be returned to order within the 15 minutes. Then tomorrow, or later today, or whenever, clean off the next group of shelves that can be done in 15 minutes. I found that particular concept to be quite life changing.

  5. I am the 'ooh, look! a book!' type, and to make it worse, since I retired my schedule has completely gone to pot. I look around and think…when did I clean the bathroom? Change the bed? Those chores used to have a day! Do you find time goes by more quickly without the structure of the work week?

    When I was married, we shared household chores pretty equally (too bad this didn't apply to other areas!). My mother-in-law (Millie. A name from a certain era.) was a full-time homemaker but she taught the kids how to look after themselves, and they each left home with a recipe box so they could recreate their favourite foods. She is a lovely person.

    1. The flexible schedule thing is tough, I know. Why not put off to tomorrow when you know that you are free to do it tomorrow?? A mum who trains her boys to be self sufficient is gold. I thank my mother-in-law for that every day.

  6. This was one of my big concerns about retirement. Actually, even before that, when my husband retired and came back to spend all his time at home instead of workweeks in the city, weekends at home. . . .Domestic Politics are such a bore, and I have known many women who simply shrug and take it all on rather than argue their way to equity. My guy is so great — cooks, grocery shops, vacuums, washes floors, and sweeps up a storm. Toilets? not so much, nor would he ever clean out the fridge on his own, preferring to allow jars of condiments to collect and milk to happily sour in long-expired containers…. I do all the laundry (better that way, as he sees no good reason for separating whites from darks, woolens from cotton), and the bathrooms — I'd complain about getting the more bacteria-heavy job except that he takes care of our septic system, which is a whole lot of balancing… This is a great post, though, addressing an issue you'd think wouldn't be one anymore. . . . those younger women ignore this at their peril — it might not seem a deal-breaker or worth spending energy on early in a marriage, but it's hard not to imagine that one day, the unfairness will become intolerable.

    1. I agree, Frances. Unfairness can simmer, I think. And the old excuse "that's the way my mother raised me" doesn't cut it. When people are adults they should be able to recognize situations that need rectifying.

  7. Housework….Yuck!
    Now in my early retirement years, it is my time, along with my hubby. We still own the family house with a pool and large yard. I refer to work outside instead of indoors. So I hired a cleaning lady, twice monthly. I always thank her and she is so appreciated. She makes me and my house happy. My husband says…happy wife, happy marriage. My husband is much more creative in the kitchen too…All in all, we are well balanced in our household. I do have 3 kids and 2 are boys….no excuses in helping out!
    In the winter months I ski in BC and rent a small one bedroom house. The housework take me, if half an hour…easy peasy!!!
    Your Shiny Star friend!

    Sent from my iPad

  8. I hired a cleaner who comes in nice a week. That way I only have to pick up and tidy in between. It gives me time to do all the things I enjoy in retirement. I did feel a little guilty at first. Treat yourself Sue!

  9. Leslie in Oregon

    Both my husband and I still work outside the home. For the time being, we still live in the big house, with the big yard, in which we raised our kids. During our 40 years of marriage, we have tried to split domestic duties equally. At this point, I think he is doing far more than I. He does all the cooking, so I do the cleanup and we split grocery shopping. We each do our own laundry. I hate housecleaning (and don't do a lot thanks to a cleaning person once a month and my husband's diligence at vacuuming), but I do the lion's share of tidying (which to me is very different from cleaning). I've also been in charge of sorting through and drastically culling 35 years of accumulated papers (everything from kid's art projects to my professional papers), since I'm the one who accumulated 95% of them. We both work on the garden projects, often together, and we both take care of and walk our two dogs. This works reasonably well for us. If we retire, we may re-align duties, but I sure hope we can keep that once-a-month cleaning by a professional! Thanks, once again, for starting an interesting, and important, discusison.

    1. We have a small house but if I were still working we'd still have our cleaner. Retirement realigned, as you say, stuff for us. I did a lot of sorting and chucking when I first retired…old folders of school material etc etc. Felt so good. Then I redecorated my den for my new blogging, reading, journaling "work."

  10. Great post! I've been a homemaker most of our marriage while my husband worked 60 hour work weeks, so obviously all the household chores fell on me. However, I did work full time for about six years, and he helped with the vacuuming and loading the dishwasher, but the rest was still on me as he worked 20 hours more a week than me. He's always also mowed the lawn, shoveled snow, and taken care of outside house maintenance like cleaning gutters, etc. So I really have nothing to complain about. I do think household chore issues in marriages may change as more women work outside the home and teach their sons how to clean, launder, and cook for themselves.

    1. I agree, Amy. Household duties should be assumed bu everyone who lives in the household. And it doesn't matter who does what as long as it's fair. Sound like you and your husband have a fair deal for both of you.

  11. An honest post! Thank you for sharing. We have kept the every-two-weeks cleaning ladies and the weekly gardner during these retirement years. They are a blessing! YES! Walking into a clean house that you did not have to accomplish on your own is absolutely wonderful! If you can swing it, I highly recommend! For us, we gave up a few other things to keep this maintenance schedule. Though I may not golf weekly, purchase a new purse, or take multiple trips in a year, we thrive in our home environment where we carry out hobbies, entertain, and are just plain comfortable. Not bored at all! That said, we are still working out our own sharing of chores. LOL…after 38 years of marriage…still a challenge.
    🙂 Charlene

    1. I may go back to hiring a cleaning person…we'll see. I deliberately have not taken on multiple commitments since I retired…but if I get busier, or if we get to a point where we aren't travelling much I will probably revisit my priorities. Thanks, for stopping by, Charlene.

  12. I'm rather late to the party this week Sue! I've read and re read this post and I agree with you re housework! I'm definitely in the "I hate it" camp or rather that I hate that it needs doing so often!! My mum was just the opposite she made it seem easy and effortless! There's was never a speck of dust anywhere and yet she worked, had a family and cooked all our meals from scratch! She loved to garden too and had a busy social life! Writing this has made me realise I had a hard act to follow …maybe it skips a generation? Like you I love everything to be spotless and organised but feel as though I'm like a hamster on the proverbial wheel going round and round and somehow never completing it all! So many other things to do in life 🙂 as you said why retire just to do more housework? I think your comment re "mental labour" is spot on …if we re not actually doing housework etc we 're planning what needs to be done! I've always thought the planning of varied, nutritious and delicious! meals week after week is actually harder than the physical shopping and preparing! I had help with housework and the children, due to being unwell for a period of time when my children were small and I really didn't find I liked it ….although it was a necessity at the time. Although I must admit the thought of walking into a freshly cleaned house at the end of the day sounds blissful:)
    I'm not sure why we feel the need to praise men for doing their fair share … Possibly because so few do!! I would like to say your hubby's attitude to household tasks and cooking sounds good. My hubby falls into the "write me a list" group which I find frustrating at times! He does do his own packing though! I think he'd do mine as well if I let him if only so he could decide what I take!!! Sounds controlling I know, but it's more that he thinks I take too much!
    I do think your idea of a thorough clean every fortnight is an effective way. I certainly think that to have some "days off" is important too.
    Hope you're having a good week … now, should I get on with the housework or go for a walk while the suns shining? Tough choices!!! 🙂

    1. You definitely did have a hard act to follow…as did I. Problem is even when you don't want to follow that act, you somehow feel unworthy for not doing so. Ah well..we should just read a book, Rosie, and the feeling will pass:)

  13. Letting go of perfection is a tough row to hoe, but I'm trying. I'm with you- love clean and spotless, really hate what it takes to get there. Also in the camp if"I didn't retire just to clean house" and not sure anymore how I did it all when working?? It's a mystery!

    I'm trying to find my balance between clean enough to be healthy enough, but there are so many lovely distractions. What a lovely problem to have!

    1. "Clean enough" is a great goal. It's harder now that I'm at home more, which means I notice more…especially in the mornings. Nothing like the morning sun shining in a window to illuminate all the dust. In the past I'd be long gone to work before that happened.

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