The Honey-Do List and why it works for us

This post is by Sarah Powers, Happiest Mom contributor and Managing Editor, and blogger at Powers of Mine.

to-do list, chores, marriage

This past weekend we got a lot done around the house. Since I’m home full-time (and work part-time at home) with three kids 4 and under, there are a lot of little projects that accumulate throughout the week. Things I notice but don’t get to: a light bulb that needs changing, an overflowing trash can, an empty cardboard box the kids have converted into a pirate ship that needs a one-way ticket to the recycling bin in the sky.

By Saturday morning I usually have a list of small projects and home to-dos that my husband and I go through together over a cup of coffee while the kids play. We divvy up the jobs and he works his way through his list over the course of the weekend, crossing things off as he goes.

Yep, it’s a “honey-do” list and it works for us. But it hasn’t always been this way.

Early in our marriage, things were different. We both worked full-time and we made our way through the weekend chores happily, together, and without putting too much thought into who did what. But after we had our first baby and I began to stay at home more (part-time at first and later, after our second was born, full-time), it wasn’t as simple.

For one thing, I spent way more time in our home than I ever had. I also used our home more; I cleaned up more messes and I also made more messes. Most of all, though, I saw more. I saw the improvements we could make, the dust that gathered, and all the little things I wasn’t getting done during the week. And while I stayed more-or-less on top of daily home management things like dishes and laundry, bigger chores like cleaning out a closet or dealing with storage in the garage seemed to pile up and wait for us on the weekend.

But in those days I didn’t make a list. I resisted the list. I had a bunch of misguided feelings about the list.

I didn’t like the idea of handing my husband a to-do list before the breakfast dishes were cleared on Saturday morning. It felt cliché and old-fashioned at best, bossy and anti-feminist at worst. I wanted us to enjoy our weekend together – and his time off from work – and giving him an assignment felt like such a buzzkill. I didn’t like delegating jobs that I was perfectly capable of doing myself (yes, I know how to change a lightbulb) but just hadn’t gotten to during the week.

But maybe most of all, I didn’t want to be the one to have to make the list – to be the only one who saw the pile of outgrown clothes in the kids’ closet and know it was time to bag it up and take it to Goodwill.

Vince Vaughn The Break-up

why would I WANT to do the dishes?

Remember the fight scene in The Break-up with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn? It starts with an argument about doing the dishes and Aniston’s character has that awesome line: “I want you to WANT to do the dishes.”

That’s how I felt about the list. I wanted him to see these things on his own; I wanted them to get under his skin like they got under mine.

I wanted him to want to cross them off a list.

There were several things wrong with this dynamic, I now realize:

  • First and most simply, I think in lists (just ask Meagan how we work together here on the blog) and Bryan doesn’t. He actually likes doing projects around the house, but his style would be to putter, where mine is more methodical; nothing is right or wrong about either approach, but it wasn’t fair of me to expect him to make his own weekend chores list because it’s just not how he operates.
  • Second, by not making a list, all those little things I saw around the house stayed inside my head and became big things. They bothered me more the longer I let them go undone, and instead of just taking care of them or (wait for it) asking for help, I allowed them to grow into big, unruly metaphorical piles. Piles my husband didn’t even know existed.
  • Third, by keeping all this in my head, I was making a big fat assumption that my priorities should also be his priorities. Didn’t he notice that the light bulb in the dryer was out? Didn’t he want to fix it so we could see the clothes inside? Of course not (or, as Vince Vaughn says, “why would I WANT to do the dishes?”).
  • Finally, I was trying to fit our old approach to household chores into a very different lifestyle. Of course I noticed more of what needed to be done around the house; I spent WAY more time at home than Bryan did. That didn’t mean he wasn’t interested in helping, or that I should be the one to do it all – only that he might need a briefing from the home front for us to be on the same page.

I can’t remember exactly how we shifted from this passive-agressive nonsense to the way we operate today, but I know it was after plenty of weekends where by Sunday night I felt grumpy and unprepared for the week ahead and my husband felt defensive and unappreciated.

Turns out? The solution for us was a list. I am good at making them. Bryan is great at – and genuinely enjoys – tackling the projects on the list that keep our home fun and functional. We include the kids in our weekend chores and they get to see us working as a partnership, blending play with productivity, and taking pride in our home.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you make a lengthy honey-do list for your spouse this coming weekend (and if you do, please don’t tell him I told you to – ha!). What I do know is that as our lifestyle and circumstances changed, so too did the way we managed our home. And for us, putting it all down on paper helped eliminate some tension and – go figure – also allowed us to get stuff done.

How do you handle weekend chores in your house? Are you a list-maker or a list-follower or neither?

PS – Earlier this week, Meagan wrote about the household tasks she does NOT delegate – if you missed it, check it out! And for more on “getting it all done” and working together with your spouse, here’s some further reading from the archives:

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