Gender stereotypes and uncluttering

When I was single and messy, I was told on three occasions that I would “never get a man” because I didn’t have the skills to “properly keep house.” As offensive as these statements were (ugh!), what upset me the most was that the people who said them never would have said something similar to a man.

In the comments to last week’s post “10 more uncluttering things to do every day,” a few readers were upset because they believed the list put a greater burden on women to vacuum more often. If you read the post, you’ll notice that gender isn’t discussed a single time in the text. The post’s author never says that women should vacuum more, just that it might be a good idea to run the vacuum every day (especially if you have kids and pets). The assumption that vacuuming is a woman’s chore is just as ridiculous of a stereotype as thinking that a woman is required, simply based on her gender, to “properly keep house.”

It’s 2010, and I say it’s time we let go of gender-related stereotypes associated with men and women and their duties at home. Women can mow the lawn and men can run the vacuum cleaner. Women can take out the trash and men can wash the dishes. In relationships, housework can be shared equally. Or, if a couple decides that one person should be responsible for more housework because it’s what works best for them, that we support that couple’s decision without passing judgment. If a single male or female chooses to be messy (as long as it’s not threatening his or her health and/or safety or infringing on someone else, such is the case with hoarding), we accept that it’s none of our business how someone of either gender chooses to live.

Gender-based stereotypes, especially related to uncluttering and keeping house, are antiquated. I think it’s time we make the change and stop perpetuating unproductive ideas that clutter up our lives. Are you with me?

75 Comments for “Gender stereotypes and uncluttering”

  1. posted by Hilde on

    I never understood why it should be the husband´s duty to take out the garbage. I love to do this, somehow it gives me an instant feeling of accomplishment.

  2. posted by Meg on

    @ael – a “traumatic vaccuum cleaner incident”…? Details please! I had never considered the vaccuum to be capable of inducing a traumatic experience…

  3. posted by Colin Principe on

    Really? In this day and age, commenters on the previous article were stuck on gender stereotypes?

    My wife and I have a fluid chores division and there is never a division along gender lines. The only thing that seems to be a regular thing she does is clean the bathrooms, only because that is always the last thing on my list and she usually gets to it first.

  4. Avatar of

    posted by Claycat on

    I was wondering about the “traumatic vacuum cleaner incident” myself, Meg.

    As I was growing up, my father cooked breakfast every morning, so I got used to a man helping around the house. My husband doesn’t help much, but he is working outside of the home, and I am not. I don’t mind for the most part. I just wish he would not make such a mess around the bathroom sink. I also wish he would put his shoes and coats away. Nagging doesn’t help.

    I’m the one who takes the trash out. :)

    We definitely need to get away from stereotypes!

  5. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Jim — Please pick up a copy of my book. I tried my absolute best to avoid gender-specific language and to provide as many examples for both sexes as possible.

    @lhooqued — There is only one way to solve any problems in a marriage and that is to talk about the issues, come to an agreement for how to solve them, and then put the agreement into action. Possible solutions you could reach might include a chore chart, and this is a topic I’ve written about recently on http://simplystated.realsimple.....hores.html

  6. posted by flightless on

    @Beth: I like your groundrules! My version of your rule 1 is, if I am doing a task and he starts to kibitz, I assume that means he thinks he can do it better himself, so I immediately stop and hand it over. :-)

  7. posted by flightless on

    @MissPrism, wow, that is quite an eye-opener!

    “Married women in the U.S. do about 70 to 80 percent of the housework. When women marry, the number of hours they spend on housework increases; for men, it stays the same. When couples have children, her housework increases three times as much as his. Feminist women do less housework than non-feminist women; men married to feminist women do the same amount of housework as men married to non-feminist women.”

  8. posted by Kylie on

    I read the original post without any issue, and when I read this post I laughed. I had just assumed my husband would add the extra vacuuming, as he insists on doing it whenever it needs doing. He jokes that “vacuuming isn’t woman’s work” with a wink because he was a lone aregiver for his elderly parents before we got married. He does all sorts of things around the house, including cleaning the catboxes every other day and doing “housekeeping” on them every day (we have four cats and five catboxes), doing the dishes M, T, Th, F (I do the weekends and Wednesday because I know he doesn’t really like dishes, but he wouldn’t let me take over any other dish nights. He did them every night for the first year we were married).

    The thing that is even funnier to me is that I assume people read Unclutterer because they have a desire to unclutter their lives, then get angry because they feel, through their own internal stereotypes, you are adding more work to the women. Men who live alone and are reading the blog probably didn’t think anything of it. The bottom line for me is, if you don’t want to vacuum every day, don’t. Choose the tips that work for you, whether you’re a man or a woman.

  9. posted by KGPugh on

    Please all of you give me a very small break. All this time blogging, you can be improving your abodes.
    Just do it. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.

  10. posted by Treespeed on

    As a husband who is a former cook and dishwasher I do 90% of the housework in our home. But then I was raised with a Father who vacuumed and made breakfast, and a Nurse stepmother who was maniacally clean. It’s what works for our family.
    That being said, I cry BS when I hear these women do the majority of work in the house studies. These studies never count the house maintenance work that is still done by Men, at least in all of the families that I’m acquainted with. It always seems to be the husbands who are cleaning gutters, replacing water heaters, removing dead animals, and maintaining the cars. I know there are wives that do this sort of work, but I’m sure that in those homes all of the work is divided more evenly. It’s quite an eye roller to hear a wife upbraiding her husband about the vacuuming while he’s up on a ladder installing a new light fixture.

  11. posted by Catherine on

    Normally I don’t mind vacuuming, mowing, or taking out the bins but at this point (I’m currently 8 months pregnant) they are definitely the man’s jobs. They are the only things I really can’t physically handle at the moment. There are seasons in life when one partner needs to pitch in and do more than their usual share despite gender stereotypes or previously agreed arangements. It’s a beautiful way of demonstrating love.

  12. posted by Shana on


    1) You hear about a study and immediately declare it “BS” because you think home maintenance isn’t taken into account? Do you know that for a fact, especially that they “never” count those jobs?

    2) “…in all of the families that I’m acquainted with.” Exactly. Personal anecdotes are personal anecdotes, and studies are studies.

    3) “…cleaning gutters, replacing water heaters, removing dead animals, and maintaining the cars.” Dude. How often do these tasks need doing? Removing dead animals? New water heaters? Gutters? Compare this to the constant daily/weekly/monthly upkeep involved with the many rooms of a house, and…I think this point is incredibly weak. How about I deal with “removing” one “dead animal” or two a year and you take over the constant indoor stuff? THAT is a deal I would take. You can try to make it seem like outdoor tasks are grosser or harder or whatever than tasks traditionally done by women, but the big factor is TIME. Specifically, how much of your time-that-would-otherwise-be-free do you spend replacing a water heater every 10-20 years vs. how much time is spent cleaning toilets and doing dishes?

    4) Okay, I need my own possibly-fictional scenario. How about “it’s quite an eye-roller to hear a husband whining about ever-so-frequent water heater replacement while women all over the country are up to their elbows in house and kid care while their husbands are at their computers bemoaning dead animal removal?”

  13. posted by Shannon on

    I am the slob of the family, but my husband is not far behind. We’ve both made some good habits together, and I have tried my best to learn HOW to clean.

    As for the vacuum, my husband LOVES to vacuum! I never have to run it because he will do it anyways. We’ve just split our chores depending on who enjoys or tolerates the chore best. I still have a larger load because I tolerate more, but it has more to do with our personalities rather than what is between our legs!

  14. posted by patty on

    Having spent the early hours of this morning staining our wooden front stairs while my husband picked up inside the house, I am so with you. I never thought the first post was sexist.

  15. posted by calel on

    I’m a single woman in my own home, so I didn’t read the original post as sexist. I have to do everything anyway, and I’m allergic to spending money to pay someone else to do it. I still don’t vacuum more than once a week though, and the roomba is looking more and more tempting.

  16. posted by Melissa A. on

    My father is not allowed to mow the lawn! :P He shouldn’t be allowed to trim the hedges either because he does a terrible job. My mother does a lot of the yard work and has one of the nicest yards in the neighbourhood.

  17. posted by Lily on

    My boyfriend is a real gem, he’s the one who taught me about cooking!… We usually split chores, though each of us has his/her (silly) preferences. He cleans the kitchen more often than me, and I always iron sheets (he wouldn’t! But then, he thinks only shirts have to be ironed…)

    On the other hand, a friend of mine (male) takes all his laundry to his mother *every week-end*. He doesn’t even own a washing machine! Some boys are treated by their mothers like princes who don’t have to move a finger, and still are when they grow up. Appalling!

  18. posted by tiffany on

    I agree with you completely, and I’m happy to say that my boyfriend and I divide chores pretty fairly. I do most of the cooking, but he does a lot of the cleaning. And then I do things requiring sewing (only because I haven’t taught him yet).

    Back when I was in high school my father told me that no one would ever marry me because I was too messy, so I can understand where you’re coming from!

  19. posted by Treespeed on


    considering that I do most of the inside cleaning I think I’m allowed to personally comment on the difference between the inside versus outside house maintenance. My wife has never picked up a toilet brush in her life, but since she was an econ major and handles all of our finances and social calendar I’m fine with calling it even.
    Yes, my examples were extreme, but had come from that morning’s cat surprise. My Tom Cat is quite a proficient hunter so dead animal removal comes up more often than you might imagine. And spare the me the PETA line, the fruit from the fruit trees belongs to me and not the squirrels.
    As far as the time investment for inside/outside chores I could and usually do fill most weekends with some sort of house maintenance/gardening/yard work. My point is that I think partners consistently gripe about the tasks they choose to do and forget the work that is being done by their partner. I’m sure there are plenty of husbands who have never picked up a toilet brush, but probably an equal number of wives who have never put a fresh coat of wax on the family cars.

  20. posted by Steve on

    One word: Roomba.

    Neither of us like vacuuming and we have all-laminate floors, so it keeps things very, very clean.

  21. posted by Philly on

    Treespeed, I appreciated your first post, and your response to Shana even more. I had to read all the way down through over 70 posts for anyone to mention house/car maintenance and repair (not just cleaning)?

    Shana’s response did a good job of minimizing the time and effort these things take–kind of reminiscent of an earlier poster’s joke about making muffins. As the baker in our family, I can attest to the work that goes into fine food preparation.

    Many others said it well–make a list of EVERYTHING that needs to be done to run a household, then divide it up, each according to his/her tastes and abilities. Time spent complaining about how unfair things are is time better spent working out a solution.

  22. posted by Nikki on

    I was raised by compulsive hoarding parents, so trust me, cleanliness and the uncluttered lifestyle were high on the list when I was seeking potential mates. Of course, I’m too polite to actually tell some guy that I wouldn’t go out with him because he’s a slob, but I made the choice nonetheless.

    I must also confess that my husband’s mad domestic skills were one of the first things that attracted me.

    We’re both committed to being uncluttered, and that goes a long way toward eliminating certain chores.

  23. posted by Gender bias derails a conversation on organization | The Hathor Legacy on

    [...] Gender stereotypes and uncluttering, Erin talks about: In the comments to last week’s post “10 more uncluttering things to do every [...]

  24. posted by Homestead on

    I’m with Steve. It only takes a second to press the start button on the Roomba.

    That said…. there is nothing sexier than a man with a mop…. who knows how to use it. Foreplay begins in the kitchen at our house. If you wash/dry/fold AND put away? You are going to be one lucky man tonight. I’m only sort-of kidding and, just to be fair, it goes both ways…. my husband has never been steamier than after watching me set a corner fence post. (A very sweaty job.) Rowr. hee-hee.

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