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Ask UfYH: How Did He Survive to Adulthood?

Q: I just moved in with my boyfriend who, while he’s a great guy, has NO IDEA how to do anything around the house. He’s lost when it comes to doing his laundry, loading and unloading the dishwasher, cleaning the bathroom, pretty much everything. I have to show him everything. How does someone get to adulthood without knowing this really basic stuff?

A: Short version? No one ever taught him, and he never felt it necessary to learn. But there’s always more than the short version, right? Right.

OK, so everyone knows how I feel about cleaning and gender roles. If you don’t, I think it’s all bullshit. I think the idea that women are expected to just innately know how to and be the ones to clean while men sit there and act all helpless about the whole thing is complete bullshit. (Please excuse the gender binary there; when tackling traditional gender roles, unfortunately, things tend to break down to men and women.)

So what we have here is a person, regardless of gender, who has reached adulthood and a point at which he (to use the example from our question) is cohabitating with someone else, and doesn’t know the basics of housekeeping. A few questions come immediately to mind:

  • Does he really not know, or does he figure that if he says he doesn’t, someone else will do it?
  • Did his parents not teach him these skills, which, by extension, means did he never have to do chores?
  • Why has this never been an issue before? Did he live in relative filth, or did someone else always do the cleaning?
  • Has he heard of Google?

Let’s go in order. If he legitimately does not possess these skills, that’s one thing. However, a lot of housekeeping is common sense, so he may just be playing dumb so that you’ll do the work for him. Because, frankly, it seems to work for a lot of people for a very long time. That, and they think if they do it “wrong,” they won’t be asked to do it again. That’s not how it works. Or, that’s not how it should work. If he genuinely doesn’t know, showing him once should be plenty, and, of course, skills are only learned with repetition, so he needs to do it a few more times so he can make sure he’s mastered it.

Next: parents, you are doing your children no favors if you aren’t making them do chores. By the time a person is ready to move out on their own, they should be able to do just about everything that’s necessary to keep a household running. Obviously, age-appropriate tasks are called for here, but keeping in mind that children’s chores, sort of by definition, will be imperfect, and it’s less about a perfect result than it is about getting into the habit of doing things around the house and honing those skills over a number of years. The best way to teach your child how and when to do laundry is to stop doing it for them. They want clean clothes? They wash them. There is absolutely no reason that someone should be even high school-aged, let alone college and beyond, and not know how to do laundry or wash dishes or do a basic bathroom cleaning.

Also, why is this just now coming up? Have his parents or someone else been doing these things for him all this time? Has he never had clean clothes before? Did he just throw away his dirty dishes and buy new ones instead of washing them? This is where “I don’t know how” kind of falls apart, as far as I’m concerned. Yes, there are basic skills that people may not have learned, but at some point, this shit needs to get done, so either someone else has been doing it all along (again, not doing anyone any favors here in the long run), or it’s been kind of trial-by-fire, do it as it comes up. Maybe it’s not being done well, but it’s probably being done.

Which leads me to my last point. I’m a relative Old. Back in my day, I relied on family members to show me how to do chores. It’s 2014, for fuck’s sake. The Internet exists. There are hundreds of tutorials for every possible household task you can think of. “I don’t know how” is a legitimate excuse exactly once. If the person you’re living with truly wants to contribute to keeping the household running, they’ll figure it out.

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8 replies on “Ask UfYH: How Did He Survive to Adulthood?”

Also, is this does not know how, or does not know how to do it correctly? The lace shirt I lost to the dryer last week is crying with the questioner, but if someone is used to doing things to their own specifications, or based solely on what they know, they may not know that just putting the dishes in the dishwasher won’t work. All of my family members “loaded” the dishwasher. But before it could be started, I reloaded it so that things would actually get clean. Boyfriend was really great and did the laundry, but my dry clean only clothes went in with the rest of the wash. (Goodbye all that money I spent at Banana Republic on my Mad Men inspired wardrobe.) It may just be a matter of having a conversation about standards and doing the process together a couple times. (As annoying as that is.) Talking is good. Passive aggressively cleaning around another person is bad.

All that having been said, I did live with someone who LITERALLY did not know how to sweep a floor. Like, had never held a broom. So lots of people get to a certain age without ever knowing how to clean. (Parents. Get on this. Your kids should know how to do basic cleaning. You are doing them NO FAVORS.)

I made a flow chart to “help” my husband put his clothes in the appropriate basket. We’re still working on the dishwasher loading. It’s not that his way doesn’t work, it’s just that I load the majority of the dishes and his way is incompatible with mine.

Figuring out how to work around different ways of doing things is definitely a thing. I used to get really antsy when my partner washed up, because he doesn’t do it the same way I do and I felt like it was really inferior. Lo and behold, when I just stopped being in the room while he was doing it, I discovered that the dishes are pretty much as clean as when I wash them. The perception that his way was inferior was a lot stronger than the reality. (I still find it’s better to absent myself, though, otherwise I still want to ‘correct’ his technique.)

Yes! Letting go of the “right” way goes a long way to correcting this problem. If the dishes are clean, or the floor is swept, then the method is generally not as important as the results. We’ve all experienced doing something and having someone tell us it’s not good enough, so sometimes we need to turn that eye inward and see if we’re not sabotaging other people’s efforts.

And honestly, if it really bugs you that much that something is not done a certain way, just do it yourself. I’m super picky about my laundry and my boyfriend isn’t. My method of what gets washed on cold, put in the dryer, and put on a line is, honestly, a little confusing to the uninitiated. So I just do my own laundry. As for dishes and dusting, couldn’t care less. Just do them on a rotation that feels balanced with how often I do them.

The dishes thing wouldn’t bother me if the dishes were his chore and he took care of all of them. The problem is that we have an “I cook, you clean” attitude towards dinner and he typically cooks. BUT, he’ll put dishes into the dishwasher as he goes, but in such a way that will prevent me from loading the rest of the dishes in the manner I have determined to be the best. So then I need to take half the stuff out so I can load everything properly. Because I WILL WIN at Dishwasher Tetris! (I take great pride in fitting everything in the dishwasher. Also, I hate having to handwash the stuff that doesn’t fit. It’s a matter of principle.)

My s.o. likes washing dishes. He once lived at a friend’s house for over a month and “paid rent” by being the only person in the house who was willing to wash dishes. I’m thankful for that, and thankful we have a dishwasher appliance. When he preps the dishes so he can fill the dishwasher, that’s where we come to disagreements. I’ve rearranged things in a “full” dishwasher so I could add several more glasses and bowls or make sure an item will actually be cleaned in there.

But over the last few weeks, I’ve been on top of running the dishwasher. We have a smaller-than-normal dishwasher, and I am now fully aware we need to run it every one to two days. (Figure that an average two days results in eight plates, four bowls, four glasses, one or two pots, and utensils. The lower rack alone holds five bowls, nine plates, and utensils.)

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