Husband doesn't do squat around the house. How should I deal with it?

I work full time (or full time plus, if you factor in the jewelry I make and sell). My husband is approaching retirement age but has been unemployed by choice (his, not mine) for about 10 years. We have a teenage son.

I truly don’t know what my husband does all day. It sure isn’t the housework. He has a volunteer position as treasurer for a non-profit organization and is responsible for payroll, financial statements for monthly board meetings, filing taxes, etc. But if that’s what’s keeping him from carrying his weight around the house, his priorities are totally fucked up, IMHO.

The house is beyond messy, bordering on disgusting (and flat-out disgusting in some respects.) If my husband lived alone, I think we’d be talking “Hoarders” level of squalor.

When I got home from a business trip last week, I found out that we’d be hosting one of my son’s friends overnight (five days hence) while the friend’s mom was on a business trip. So I suggested we spend the weekend cleaning the house.

My husband piped up that he intended to “work on” the kitchen. In past experience, his “working on” the kitchen means putting a load in the dishwasher, which makes but a dent in the pile of dishes in the sink. It does not extend to unloading the dishwasher and putting successive loads in until the sink is empty, much less throwing shit away, wiping down counters and the stove top, or sweeping and mopping the floor.

I asked him to deal first with his non-profit paperwork that was spread everywhere, so I could then clean off the dining room table, etc.

The upshot: He kind of pecked at the paperwork. He didn’t touch the kitchen.

I could pitch a fit, but the only difference will be that he’s pissed off and unpleasant while not doing anything.

I’m so fucking tired of swooping in at the last moment in a cleaning frenzy. And it’s to the point where my swooping in can only go so far, unless I take time off from work. I’m not trying to pass a white glove inspection. I’m trying to get above “Someone should call child protective services.”

Any suggestions about how I should deal with this?

Talk to a marriage therapist about the problems in your marriage and how to deal with them? Having a neutral party can often help get everything out and start working on the solution. Bitching and nagging never work, neither does an ultimatum. He doesn’t respect you, you don’t know how to deal with him. You probably won’t be able to figure it out on your own.

Have you considered hiring a cleaning person to come once a week? I think we had a discussion here about cost once, and it’s about $50-100 a visit.

In my experience, cleaning only gets done by the person who is the first to get pissed about the mess. I don’t know how fast or completely your husband is going to change into a person who cares about a clean house. EmAnJ is probably right that you need a therapist if it’s a point of contention between the two of you, but getting your issues worked out might not be the key to getting the house cleaned.

Another thing about having a cleaning person is that there is a chance that it will force hubby into caring more and doing more. If he wants his paperwork to be un-disturbed when the cleaner comes, he’d better make sure it’s put away.

I second the cleaning person. Changing your husband is a very remote possibility. In the meantime, you’ll have a clean house. It’s worth every penny, for your own sake. Otherwise, you’ll be held hostage to his indifference, when you could be in a nice house. I had a cleaner come a couple of times twenty years ago (back when I had disposable income) and I can’t tell you how great it was. You don’t even have to have it done every week, just whatever you feel you need.


ZipperJJ has an excellent point. I couldn’t believe it when I was a teenager and my buddy’s parents had a cleaning lady. He and his sister got their asses handed to them every thursday afternoon because the cleaning lady came Friday morning.

They would put all dirty items where they belonged; hampers, dishwashers, etc. If you can spring it, find someone. Fast forward 25 years and my teenage buddy and his sister both have immaculate homes. No maids. I’m a guy, but if to sit and watch someone clean up any mess it irritates me to motivation.

Good luck.

PS… Divorce is slick sometimes. Agree with previous poster.

I’ll add my support for a cleaning person. For our small place, we went with once a month. That way, we can do light cleaning most of the time without having to waste a day off doing a full scrub down. We were never close to disgusting or anything like that, we just hated wasting a weekend day scrubbing toilets when we have to deal with shit 40 hours a week at work.

Say, of his stuff, “If you don’t clean it all by tonight, I’m throwing it all out”. The easiest way to not hoard stuff is to not have anything to hoard

This guy doesn’t sound like he’s the type that’d go for therapy. If you can afford a cleaning person, sure. If not… well, I can’t think of anything that wouldn’t lead to a huge fight.

Can he do his work for the nonprofit somewhere else? Maybe if he got out of the house every day, he’d notice when he came home that things are a mess. When we’re in it 24/7, we don’t notice the disarray, it’s a gradual deadening of the senses. :slight_smile:

Is there any aspect of housekeeping that he enjoys? If there is, put him in charge of that.

Has he always been unhelpful? How would he respond to “Honey, I could really use your help”? Sometimes that works with my husband. He won’t take orders, but he can be flattered into doing something. “You’re so much better at this than I am”. It’s sort of a 50’s thing, but then we’re 50’s people at our house. :slight_smile:

The other thing that works is having people over – adults though, not kids, kids don’t care if the place is a mess.

Wow, really? This sticks out like a sore thumb. Fix this, immediately. There are some serious communication problems, and a therapist is definitely the way to go. Marriage is a partnership, and one party is clearly not pulling his weight.

You’ve let him get away with it for ten years and want things to change now?

Hire a cleaning lady.

I’m running into a similar issue, and can’t really say whether this is going to work, but I’m either going to go postal on my own husband at some point down the road, or I’m going to bite the bullet now and tell him, very specifically, what I’d like for him to do. As near as I can tell, he’s not going to suddenly start noticing what needs to be done around the house, and I’m tired of making a martyr of myself with chores, and silently resenting what he doesn’t do…

I know I’ll feel silly and uncomfortable assigning chores to a 41-year-old man, especially one whose very profession requires that he be observant and pro-active about problems, but apparently, he turns off his powers of observation when he parks the patrol car in the front drive. When he spends 14 hours of his day off playing computer games, and then tells me he’s bored, I’m not likely to react by saying “Well, once I wash up last night’s supper dishes, cook dinner, feed the dog, and tie up the overflowing trash, I’ll put on a play to entertain you before getting ready for my shift at work.” (And I know myself well enough to realize that I wouldn’t do that under the best of circumstances. Right now, I’m 10 days shy of my due date, so these aren’t the best of circumstances!) So, instead of resenting him, or telling him vaguely that “I’d like more help around the house,” I’m just going to have to say “Honey, how about washing the dishes?” (Or tie up the trash, or vacuum, or whatever.) Logically, I know that I shouldn’t have to mention obvious, specific crap like this. Realistically, I know that things can’t go on this way. Maybe “specific” would work better for your husband also… (I hope it works for mine. Wish me luck!)

ETA: Or hire a cleaning lady. And take it out of his share of the budget!

The reality is that the person who cares least wins. So stop caring so much about it, because you’re not going to win. Let the dishes pile up. Eventually he’ll clean them because otherwise he’s got nothing to eat off.

I’m sorry, all this advice that freckafree, as the sole income earner, spend her money to hire someone to come in and clean when this man is unemployed, sitting at home all day and not doing anything? No, absolutely not. Why should her husband get away with that?

You go out, you work. If your husband is willfully unemployed and at home all the time, then he’s a house husband, and the house spouse does the housework, period. If he’s not capable of understanding what needs to be done and when, make him a chore chart like one does for their kids. If he wants to act lazy and irresponsible, treat him accordingly. If he doesn’t like it, then lay the ultimatum: he figures out what works better, because putting all of the burden of earning the money and keeping the house tidy, let alone clean, all on you? Not working. And not acceptable. Get teenage son on the rota of things to do, too. He lives in the house, he can do a load of dishes or laundry and run a vacuum. No free passes for freeloaders.

I suspect instead he’ll order food for delivery, maybe buy paper plates. On something that can get that disgusting, I wouldn’t want to push his limits on how far he’ll go.

The problem with recommending a cleaning lady is that you typically need to get rid of the clutter before they can do anything! This may not be so bad in the kitchen and bathroom (unless people are leaving stuff in there that doesn’t belong in those rooms) but the living room and similar places will need to be picked up. If it gets too bad, I guess there’s always the threat of bagging things up for garbage pickup if they’re not put away by the night before the cleaner comes.

tumbled: At least we know with a cleaning lady that it’s going to get done. Therapy may not happen. What will be the next step if she says “OK, figure something out then because this isn’t cutting it” and husband digs in his heels like always? If she’s not going to divorce him then probably things will stay the same.

I tried that. It didn’t work and I ended up having to do way more work than had I just kept up with it. It’s absolutely unfair that he who cares least, wins. He knows that it’s important to me for whatever reason, but refuses to help out. He has admitted that he won’t change. We haven’t lived together for over a year now. It shouldn’t be a battle. After awhile, it just wears one down. :frowning:

Hire a cleaning service. You sound too busy to be bothered and he is just the way he is. He sounds a lot like my Dad. I would also add the expense to the monthly budget and just factor it in as a neccessity. It should be weekly and that way it won’t ever get ahead of you again to the point of Hoarders. A good cleaning service will send a team out and then keep you in check.


Yeah, I’ve lived with some extremely messy people in the past, and when all of the dishes became dirty, they’d either call for takeout, which was most likely; or slightly less likely, they’d take a single dish from the pile of rotting, moldering dishes in the sink, give it a swipe with a dishcloth and a spritz of soap, and eat from that dish, which then promptly went back into the rotten pile afterward. There was simply no amount of filth or mess that would inspire these people to clean. (These were college housemates, in case you were wondering.)

I agree with everyone else that you have some clear communication problems that you need to work on. Short of that, in a situation like clearing the paperwork, I’d set a solid time limit: “I need to use this table by 3:00 pm. That’s in two hours. Any mess remaining on this table in two hours’ time is going to be swept off into a box, which I will label with today’s date, and store in the garage, and you can go through it at your leisure.”

Hiring a cleaning service is probably a good idea. If nothing else, to do a big initial cleaning, so that you can all just do maintenance cleaning, instead of being faced with a giant insurmountable task as you are now.

Also, your teenage son should be helping out, assuming he is living at home.

If you try the cleaning service, and communicating with your husband that this behavior is unacceptable and that you need to be able to live in a reasonably tidy home, and that he cannot spend three hours rearranging the same few bits of garbage when it’s time to clean the entire kitchen, and his behavior still doesn’t change, then at that point I think you need to decide how much the marriage is worth to you. You could try therapy and counseling (for him or for the both of you, depending on what you think you need) or you could just say, sorry Charlie, I gave you plenty of chances and now I’m moving out to a place where I can find a clean dish when I need to. I think that is a legitimate response to living with a chronic (or even borderline) hoarder.