The Kitchen

So, I need the insight and advice of all you wise women.

I have not mentioned the kitchen much in relation to my purging of ALL THE THINGS, mostly because I’m not quite sure how to proceed in that space. So far I have avoided even thinking much about it; I’m completely flummoxed as to how I should proceed.

You see, the kitchen is my husband’s domain. He is basically in charge of everything kitchen related. He cooks (usually). He does the dishes. He does the grocery shopping, keeps tabs on what we have and what we need, makes the shopping lists and cleans out the fridge. He organizes the pantry and manages the cabinets. The kitchen, in its entirety, is his thing.

How that came to be is a long story, and not all that relevant to the situation at hand, except in that it works for us and I don’t want to change the current dynamic. I appreciate that there is one part of the house that is not mine to manage. I do pretty much everything else (including actually cleaning the kitchen), but I have learned not interfere in my husband’s domain.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with the arrangement. I’m almost never happy with the state of the kitchen and most of the time it’s actually pretty stress-inducing. To be fair, the food part of it is fine–we always have what we need and I am never frustrated with my husband’s ability to keep the fridge and pantry stocked. And it should be said that while the kitchen is generally in a state of disarray, we usually have clean plates, glasses and silverware when we sit down to eat. It’s the dishes in the sink and the cluttered counter tops that stress me out. The kitchen always looks like it needs a good hour long cleaning session, but I almost NEVER do any work in there because I know that if I start, I’ll create a situation where I resent my husband for all the work he doesn’t do.

I let the kitchen remain a mess so that we can both feel good about what we each contribute to the housekeeping. It’s not ideal, but it works for us.

Now, with the rest of the house looking neater and tidier, the state of the kitchen is causing me more and more distress. The sink full of dishes and the counter tops covered in cook wear really bother me. Whereas before I never mentioned the kitchen because I respected it as my husband’s domain, now I find myself fighting the urge to nag him about when he’s going to do the dishes or wipe down the cutting board table. So far I’ve kept my comments to myself, but I don’t know how long I can hold my tongue.

I know we still need to purge in that space, and that getting rid of stuff there will help the general feeling of “ugh” I get every time I walk into the kitchen, but I doubt a cleansing removal of all the superfluous stuff will magically make my husband do the dishes more frequently. And yet, I can tell that as the rest of the house comes together, the perpetual mess in the kitchen will stress me out.

So what is a wife to do? Do I just sit back and let my husband do his thing and learn to accept that which I cannot change (serenity prayer anyone?)? Do I ask him to try to keep the kitchen in line with the rest of the house? Do I wait silently and hope that seeing the rest of the house in better shape will inspire him to keep the kitchen in better shape too? I want the whole house to feel welcoming, and the kitchen is a huge part of the house. At the same time, I don’t want to take on more work, or ruin the balance my husband and I have found in this arrangement.

So how would you proceed? Your sage wisdom is much appreciated.

20 Comments

  1. My husband is NOT great about keeping things tidy in the house at all, but one night we sat down to talk about things and I explained to him how much it stressed me out and asked that he do one simple thing to help me feel better about the entire situation – load the dishwasher before bed and empty it first thing in the morning. That way we could put dirty dishes into it all day and start with a clean slate every morning. It didnt’ matter if it was 1/3 full or totally full – we run it every night now, and it helps SO MUCH. Maybe it’s worth trying to have that conversation with your husband?

    1. My husband is really good about loading and unloading the dishwasher, it’s the bigger dishes that never get done. Maybe I should deal with those and he can do the dishwasher…

  2. We have a rule in our house: whoever does the cooking gets out of doing the dishes that night. For us, it’s balanced in that when I cook, I don’t have to clean up afterwards, and I can put O to bed while Jeff is doing dishes. And when he cooks, I will do the dishes.

    We have also discussed the DEFINITION of “do the dishes,” because we have very different ideas of what that means. Mine includes emptying and wiping down countertops once done, which he does not do. His definition includes drying and putting away all the hand-washed dishes, instead of leaving them on the sideboard as I am wont to do.

    And my husband’s tolerance for mess, at least as it relates to the kitchen, is WAY more than mine. He finds doing all the dishes once, at the very end of the day, relaxing, and so there’s always stuff in the sink, and it’s messy and stressful for me. I loathe doing dishes, so I am all about getting it done as efficiently as possible, as I go, so the kitchen always looks clean.

    It’s possible that the reason it’s an issue for you – the whole idea of “I don’t want to clean because it’s going to make me resent what he doesn’t do” – is because you’ve ceded all control of the kitchen to him, but his tolerance for the mess is higher than yours. It’s a control thing; the only thing you CAN say to him right now is, “I want a cleaner kitchen, so step up and make it happen, buddy!” and that doesn’t feel like something you can do.

    If you are both on board with making your house a more welcoming, clutter-free environment – he definitely seems on board from your last post! – then it’s worth having the conversation about how you want that to include the kitchen, too, and you are willing to do whatever work you need to in order to help out. Then set the who does what. His strength is cooking and shopping and making sure you’re never out of the food you need. Maybe your is wiping down the counters and ensuring all the dishes get washed/cleaned?

    Whatever solution you end up with, I feel like once you both state and agree to the “rules” you can both abide by… then you remove the fodder for resentment – at least in long term, anyway.

    The short term stuff is still there, at least for me. Like I still can’t deal with waiting to wash the coffee stuff until the end of the day, so even on the days where I cook, I spend maybe 5 minutes every morning rinsing the coffee stuff. But I don’t get resentful of it because I know it’s my issue, and it’s really one of timing – Jeff would get to it that night if I left it for him.

    1. I really like that who cooks doesn’t clean situation. We used to do that, but now the cooking is very spotting and only happens some of the time, so I feel like it’s okay for him to also do the dishes because we aren’t always cooking. But maybe I should still step up and do all the stuff in the sink and he can do the dishwasher. That would probably work.

  3. Ask him to define what goes and what stays. Tell him: He decides and asking is not a request to de-own but an honest question of what should be kept or not. View it generally as HIS, just like his clothing is His to decide about. In reading what you wrote it sounds like he is the chef and master of this domain. So you can ask but he rules.
    Ask him what his vision and needs are in running his domain.
    Ask him if it is ok to review jointly each category (eg: counters versus drawers versus cabinets) or which ones you should not even ask him about.
    Ask him what would make his life easier………
    Because you do sound as if the two of you generally do either get on, or find you are on already, the same or a similar page when you are both able to put down all the other demands on your time and attention and talk together about issues and problems.
    That also would declutter your communications as a couple about the kitchen….

    1. I think he will definitely be able to get rid of stuff and I told him he can do it himself. He even suggested he take a day to do it, but I doubt that will ever happen. Maybe I can make him commit to a day now so I know it will get done, even if it’s in a month.

  4. My husband’s domain is the garage and I’m OK with him being in charge of it. Except, over Christmas break, I started noticing how cluttered everything looked. So junky and everything in disarray. So, I casually mentioned what I noticed and I asked him, what can I help you with? What do I need to do to assist? Turns out, he felt overwhelmed with the whole deciding where everything went. One weekend we turned our attention to the garage and it’s so much better.

    I say just ask how you can help. Want me to wash the dishes in the morning so when he comes home, he can run into a clean kitchen? If you know he’ll get a little testy with this question, go about it a different way. Good luck!

    1. I think he is overwhelmed and I need to help in some way. I will definitely ask him how I can help, I think he would appreciate it.

  5. I have no advice on how to handle it other than to say – don’t wait too long to do so. I *think* you’re like me in that you try to wait and “just deal with it” but eventually you can’t any more and you blow up. Much better to address it (however you choose to do so) before you reach that point…

  6. Lots of assvice on this one. We are moving away from the “division of labor” with my domain and his domain precisely because of what you mentioned—if one of us felt unsatisfied with how things were done in the others’ domain, our only choice was to nag. I.e. I was in charge of laundry, and G would keep bugging me that the boys had no clean pants without holes in them. And I’d get so irritated. So G started just doing the laundry when he noticed it, and I’d do it when I had time & it all gets done. With the kitchen, we take turns. It doesn’t matter who cooks (because we don’t cook daily, anyways), but one person takes the kids up for baths & stories and the other cleans the kitchen. We alternate days more or less but sometimes give the other a break if either tired of the kids or physically tired & not wanting to clean. We clean as we go as much as possible, but after dinner, there are dinner dishes, lunch containers, crumbs on floor/table/counter, dog bowls, prepping coffee for the morning, and packing lunches for the next day. EVERYTHING is done by the end of the day before we can relax or work on something else.
    In some ways it seems unfair for your husband to have to cook everyday AND clean everyday—even if you clean the rest of the house, things like vacuuming, bathrooms, dusting, etc… don’t have to be done DAILY. I think offering your help would help this go much more smoothly than expecting him to clean the kitchen daily on top of cooking. Maybe he can do some childcare task or tidy up the house (whatever work you do in the evening) while you took care of some pots & pans, or some other trade off so that he does not have to dramatically increase his kitchen-work time but you don’t have to dramatically increase your overall work time.
    Another thing— while “Sitting down and talking about it” may work really well for many couples, my husband tends to get defensive when we have “big talks” and its easier to just casually ask him to do things—hey, how about I go do baths and you can wash that big pot so its not so caked on tomorrow. Repeat that a few days and maybe he’ll think of doing it himself after a while. Also, making a big deal of how nice the clean kitchen is, even if you’re the one that cleaned it, might help it sink into his brain. And if you get used to starting with a clean kitchen every day, it’ll take MUCH less time to keep it that way, no way it’ll take a full hour unless there are several days’ worth of dishes/mess.

    1. I want to make clear that my husband doesn’t cook and clean every night, and also that when someone isn’t cooking they are watching the kids during the WORST 30-60 minutes of the day. Honestly, sometimes I wish I could be cooking so I wouldn’t be on kid duty. And after dinner is when I start the 90 minute bedtime routine, during which he does VERY LITTLE. So I have always thought it was fair that he be doing the dishes at that time, because I am doing the kid stuff. Maybe that is what we should talk about, how that hard hour right after dinner but before the kids are in bed should go, because right now I feel like I’m working all the way through the day and he gets a break at the end of it. But the again I get a bit of a break after my lunch when my son is sleeping so… I don’t know. I think I can handle doing the big dishes every day if he loads and unloads the dishwasher. Maybe that is what I should offer.

  7. We have an expectation that whoever isn’t handling E’s bedtime is doing the dishes. The stove and counters don’t always get wiped and it’s not perfect, but it doesn’t stress me out. I hope that you can reach a similar state in whatever way works for you guys, but I agree with Polly, address it sooner rather than later because resentment only builds…

    1. I am definitely doing bedtime after dinner and that is one of the reasons I think my husband should do dishes then. But he rarely does. He just needs to sit and decompress, which I understand, but then the stuff just doesn’t get done. We need to have a conversation about what he can handle and how I can help so that if there is more for him to do than he can handle I pick up the slack.

      1. Our unstated rule is that everyone is working towards down time until it’s down time. Meaning if I’m cooking, he’s setting the table and getting kids ready to eat, if I’m doing bath time, he’s cleaning the entire kitchen, if I’m putting Bryson down he’s prepping Matthew for bed, if I’m singing to Matthew, he’s picking up any remaining toys. When I finish with Matthew, we’re both done and the house is 100% ready for the next day. Then we both get to decompress and enjoy the evening. We never discussed it, it just happened because we both require neatness and order. Like Mrs. T, we’re both working towards the common end together.

        1. That is awesome that you both need the same thing and are willing to do the work to arrive at that place of order. My husband does NOT need that order and he does not seem to have the stamina to keep working until the kids are asleep. I am trying to respect his boundaries on this, because he is doing so much more now than he ever did before, and I know it’s hard for him. I am always working to figure out the right balance between respecting his boundaries and honoring my own. It’s hard when we are so different, but I think it’s possible.

  8. We have the kitchen disaster area problem too where one person cooks and nobody gets to the dishes because we do joint bedtime. I started very small and explained how stressed it makes me when this specific thing doesn’t get done every day and that if just that one task could happen, it would be SO HELPFUL to my state of mind. Then I decided not to nag about it and to hope it would work. It’s been maybe 50/50 since the most recent quarterly nag session/big discussion and I am excited to see even that much improvement. I think I’m going to initiate a stars on the calendar system when I get home where anything less than a certain number of stars on the calendar for accomplishing the task means ceding all monthly spending money into the “job jar” above the calendar on the fridge. Or something. I also plan to assign myself a nightly job in the kitchen too with the same do it or lose spending money policy. So I guess what I’m getting at is that for us, the change needed to be super specific and small. My fantasy is that this first change works and then we can talk about a second thing. We need baby steps because we have so far to go.

    1. I’m so impressed by all that you do to give you and your husbands incentives for doing chores. I don’t think my husband would be into that kind of stuff (stars on a calendar or even a “chores wars” scenario. That just isn’t his thing and he would feel annoyed by it, seeing it as a way of guilt-tripping him for not doing as much as me.

      Recently I did bring it up, but more in a “how can I help you, you’re doing so much” way and I think it helped. I’m going to wait until we actually purge in that room before I really freak out about it. Maybe after we get rid of stuff it really will seem manageable in there, even with dishes in the sink. We shall see.

  9. I read this a while ago, and was really at a loss to know what to say. My husband rarely cooks, but he does clean up the kitchen regularly, stacks and empties the dishwasher, etc. The one thing he seems to be totally incapable of doing is wiping the bench, and cleaning and wiping the sink. It drives me mad. Maybe I should just learn to accept it.

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