Wallowing in filth

A friend gave me a pillow embroidered with this message: “My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.”

I heartily agree with this philosophy. Apparently, I’m not alone.

Sociologists at the University of Maryland have found that nobody’s doing much housework anymore. In a national sample of nearly 15,000 people over 30 years, the researchers found that the average housework load per adult dropped from 17.5 hours per week in 1965 to 13.7 hours in 1995.

For women, the averages have dropped even more. Women averaged 30 hours of household drudgery a week back in 1965, when most worked in the home. By 1995, their workload plummetted to 17.5 hours. Men averaged only 4.9 hours of housework per week in 1965, but that climbed to 10 hours a week by 1995.

Women (even those with full-time jobs) still do the lioness’ share of the housework, the study noted, but Americans generally are just doing less.

“One speculation we have,” one researcher said, “is that perhaps this is not a highly valued activity.”

How’s that for mastery of understatement? More bluntly: Given our busy lifestyles, we choose to live like pigs.

In most families these days, both parents work, just to make ends meet. We work long hours because bosses (and ambitions) require it. We finish the workday dead tired, only to rush off to after-school activities and dinner parties and church functions. Home computers mean we work or answer e-mail after the kids are in bed. For many of us, any spare time is spent flat on our backs, recuperating, while we zap through inane television shows with the remote control.
We’re too beat to worry about housework.

And yet, the housework never goes away. Laundry piles up. Meals must be prepared. Floors get gritty. Cobwebs magically appear.

The only answer is to put it off. Delay the laundry until we’re wearing mismatched socks to work and our colleagues sniff and make faces when we pass in the hall. Hold off on grocery shopping until the kids are eating leftover lasagna and root beer for breakfast. Wear shoes indoors. Teach the children not to write “dust me” on the furniture with their fingers. If the kids complain about cobwebs, we tell them we’re preparing early for Halloween.

We procrastinate as long as we can, trying to make it to the weekend. Then we try to cram 27.5 hours’ worth of housework into Saturday.

This is the way we live in the modern, high-tech society. Like pigs.

At my house, I do perhaps 90 percent of the housework. That was part of the agreement when I bailed out of a regular job to work at home. My wife works long hours. I’m here all day. It should be my job to do the cleaning.

But I put off the housework just like the rest of you, even though I’m surrounded by it all day. I get distracted by pursuits that are more interesting. And let’s face it, anything is more interesting than housework.

All our friends and relatives know I’m in charge of keeping the place clean. Which is why I panic when we get one of those phone calls that says company’s arriving in 15 minutes. I’ve got a reputation to protect. I end up zooming around the house like The Flash, snatching up dirty clothes and wiping crumbs off countertops and slamming bedroom doors. Sometimes, I can fool our guests into thinking the house looks nice. But I watch them carefully. I don’t want them opening a closet door by mistake or -- God forbid -- looking under a bed.

For many two-career couples, housework becomes a waiting game. Whoever can’t stand a dirty house has to do something about it. The reason men still average less housework than women is that we tend to have a higher tolerance for filth.

“Maybe men’s low level of housework will become the norm with both men and women deciding: ‘This is not how I’m going to allocate my time,’” the researcher said. “Maybe women are becoming more like men.”


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