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No, That Wasn’t Us You Saw on ‘Hoarders’

There’s still a double standard at play when it comes to housework.

With a memory clouded by age and Alzheimer’s, my mother-in-law had a tough time placing my husband during his most recent visit. Then all of a sudden it came to her: “Do you still live in that messy house?”

Bingo. Nailed it. My husband and I had a good laugh but it’s sobering to realize that our poor housekeeping is what sticks with people -- even those who love us.

We are not yet candidates for the show “Hoarders” but that’s only because we’re HAPPY to get rid of stuff. We just can’t keep up with the influx of newspapers, magazines, junk mail, school papers and errant socks that my kids’ friends leave behind.

My mother-in-law -- who never worked outside the home -- kept a very tidy house and when we first met, my husband had a lower tolerance for mess than I did. Over the years I’ve corrupted him and now he simply sighs loudly and shifts clutter from the table when we need to clear off a spot to eat.

Perhaps I’ve been a little sensitive since my mother-in-law’s gaffe, but I still think there’s a double standard when it comes to who is held most responsible for a messy house when both spouses work. When was the last time you heard someone say about a husband: “He’s a terrible housekeeper?”

You occasionally hear a man say he has to babysit his kids. Can you imagine a mother saying she has to babysit her children? She’d be excoriated as the next Casey Anthony.

Still, by almost any measure, husbands and fathers today do more housework and child care than their fathers did, though there’s a ways to go.

The Wall Street Journal reported on a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that looked at 29 countries and found that on average, women spend 2.5 hours a day more than men on chores.

“Men in India, Japan and South Korea spent less than an hour a day performing such tasks as shopping and looking after children,” the story said.

American men spent an average of 3 hours a day on unpaid household chores, but that’s an hour and 40 minutes less than women.

In Europe, the biggest slackers at home were Italian and Portuguese men who spent less than 2 hours a day helping around the house, the report said. 

The researchers didn’t say how much time American kids spend on household chores but that might be because there wasn’t a category called “As little as humanly possible.” My husband and I are trying to get our teenage sons to take more ownership of their messes. We fear that someday when they’re on their own, the women they date will take one look at their apartments and run as fast as they can.

We explain that we all hate cleaning and if everyone pitches in, the burden won’t be too much for any of us. But it’s clear the boys think their time is too valuable to be spent scrubbing toilets, whereas adults really don’t have anything better to do.

No doubt this is payback for the way I thought of my parents. As a kid I assumed my folks didn’t mind doing household chores because they were too old to have any real fun. Their definition of a good time seemed to be talking, debating politics, reading and watching a ballgame on TV, most of which I considered just one step up from chores.

So we have to alter our boys’ mindset, if not, I’ll one day be the one saying to them, “Do you still live in that messy house?”

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