Reassessing chore values: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi
There is no way to ‘maximise efficiency’ when running a home. Unpredictability must be embraced. I recently experienced the crushing loss of control this causes
I was a homemaker for a brief while, recently, when my domestic help fell ill while my wife was away with her mother for a few days. It was a startling and immersive experience, and one that I would not wish to repeat.
The first thing that hit me was that efficiency quakes and dissolves in the face of the many variables that make up the average day in a home. I soon began to feel like a clumsy oaf as I struggled to answer doorbells while on a work call, make lunch while trying to get laundry in from the rain.
The second thing that hit me was that the job has to, necessarily, take second or third or fifth place, depending on what is happening in the moment.
The third realisation: It really doesn’t end. It’s not like the day clears up eventually, and then it is time to work. As obvious as it may seem — as clearly as I thought I recognised this — when one is in charge of a home and a family, there is really no way to control when one will get to one’s computer.
There are no words to express the frustration that this caused me, in my few days of living this life. The sense of loss of control, lack of choice, was intense.
It truly is as Parkinson’s Law states: The things that need to be done will expand to fit the time one has at hand.
I suspect this answers a question that played on the mind for a while: Why does everyone in my city look either burnt-out or swamped?
Which brings me to another question that played on the mind, as I scurried about: Wasn’t technology supposed to help with this? We have washing machines, refrigerators, mixers and grinders. And yet, around the world, data suggests that the average woman still spends a chunk of her day on household tasks.
In India, these figures are brutal. In her book, Lies Our Mothers Told Us (2022), journalist Nilanjana Bhowmick notes that the average middle-class working Indian woman spends about five hours a day on household chores alone (not including caregiving).
This is corroborated by recent data from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), which has it that women across economic classes spend an average of seven hours a day on housework and caregiving, in India.
Why is this number so high? It turns out that part of the reason is that the time spent on caregiving has gone up.
One key reason for this is that many of us are from a sandwich generation that is caring for aging parents and little children at the same time. Some of us are single parents (I got a few days of that experience and it was exhausting).
Some are their parents’ only offspring, or the only one living in the same city. Still others cannot afford the help that has become increasingly expensive, in a time of relatively stagnant earning and escalating costs of living.
With no help and my wife away, I certainly spent about seven hours a day on housework. As a result, my day began at 5.30 am, as I woke to get the kids ready for school, make their breakfasts and lunches, and ensure they got to their bus pick-up points on time.
Then it was time to make and eat my breakfast and get to my first meeting of the day. I can now say with certainty that “doing half the chores” at one’s convenience, through the day, with maid and wife stepping in to assist each time my phone rings or my computer pings is nothing like the equal share I thought it was.
I am now realising that if I had had to commit to an equal share, my trajectory at work would likely have looked very different or, at best, my state of mind would.
And yet we ask homemakers: “So, do you have a job?” Forgetting to add, “also”… and “outside the home”. We say: “How great that he helps” rather than, “Does he know how fortunate he is?”
This is part of what makes a homemaker’s job one of the cruellest. It is unpaid, often thankless; repetitive and mind-numbing.
I cannot express how grateful I was when the wife got back and took charge. She does too much. It is too much. Even with the help returning soon, I will be keeping an eye on my “share”, to try and ensure that it is closer to the helpful chunk I imagined it to be.
(Charles Assisi is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)