Sunday, January 23, 2011

What makes housework menial?

I hate housework. I spend a lot of time saying that I'd love not to have to do paid work, but then I interrupt myself and point out that this would necessitate more housework and day to day child care, and I'd go slightly peculiar if that was my main occupation.

But why? Why is housework less rewarding than the stuff I do for money? In truth, the routine work of both bore me to tears. In my paid work, it's the planning, problem solving, interacting with clients and suppliers and the basking in the glory of a successful job that I enjoy. But housework has none of that does it?

Well, yeah, it does. There are questions of organisation to minimise the requirement for mundane work. Problems of physical design to make spaces work sensibly - a constantly moving target as people's needs and possessions change. Questions of energy efficiency and evolving into a household with a smaller environmental impact. Management issues - encouraging children to do their jobs to the best of their ability along with training them to do so.

When I talk about paid work, I talk about the rewarding bits, but when I talk about household stuff, I mostly complain about the mundane stuff. While I might have good friends with whom I can boast about a particularly inventive solution to the Toy Storage Problem, I never feel self conscious discussing how I designed a portion of the infrastructure for commercial digital radio in this country. Or how I help bankers talk to one another reliably and cheaply. Why do the latter two give me kudos, while the former results the social equivalent of a pat on the head?

I don't know, I haven't done the studies, but I can't help having this niggling feeling that it just might have something to do with the fact that housework is women's work, and therefore mundane and uninteresting by definition. In my own little anecdata gathering exercise, I'll be looking more at housework as a job with, admittedly, a fairly high ratio of mundane work, but also with all the high order, glory-worthy responsibilities of a paid job. That counts for other people doing housework too, including my husband's.


  1. Thinking of clever solutions for children's toys, I picked up a good idea from friends. I bought s cheap set of cane/basket drawers, the type that have a metal frame (click here for the sort of thing I'm talking about, and we kept the wooden blocks and legos and barbies and My Little Ponies (we had a whole damn herd of those) in labelled drawers, one for each type of toy.

  2. That's very sensible. Our house is full of baskets, buckets and small sets of drawers (from 25cm wide to 60cm wide) to hold Lego, building blocks, train tracks, small dolls, plastic currency, creatures etc etc.

    Beados are the most recent addition to the collection of stuff which needs a storage solution. Tiny little balls.....