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Chores chores chores

No one enjoys having unpleasant chores to do. Being on maternity leave means I have more time around the house, and I've taken it upon myself to be responsible for a greater share of the non-baby-related household chores as well. Here are some initial thoughts on chores, based on the last few months; some of these were surprising to discover.

-As anyone who struggles with productivity knows, finishing a task can be immensely satisfying. Having a discrete chore to do and having the time, energy, and opportunity to take care of it are a recipe for self-satisfaction. Floor needs sweeping? Done. Flour on the counter? Wipe that down. Full dishwasher? Stack those plates back in the cupboard. You feel like a champion. The link between cleanliness and procrastination is well established.
-But there's only so much you can tackle. Work on our finite willpower, decision fatigue, or more enjoyably this classic Hyperbole and a Half post, illustrate that you can't chug along at energy-sapping tasks forever. And that's a problem because...

-There will always be more chores. Garbage cans slowly fill up. Dishes keep getting dirty. You need to decide what to make for lunch, and then make the lunch, and then deal with the mess, and pretty soon you need to decide what's for dinner, and so on. And if you don't stay on top of everything, small messes combine to form impossible messes. If only we had a Merlin to help out in the kitchen!

-Cleaning is habit forming. I used to be clean but untidy; now I prefer to keep the place clean and tidy. And when visiting other spaces, I get the urge to clean and tidy up for them. I don't judge others for having messy houses, but I find I can only completely relax in a clean space. There are habits of mine that still need work, though: I'm awful at cleaning as I cook, so the production of an elaborate meal leaves behind a kitchen full of dirty pots, empty cans, floured surfaces, etc.

-Sometimes a random chore will be pleasant. For me, it's scrubbing the toilet bowl. I don't know why; I never had to do this chore as a child. But now, grabbing the scrubber handle and clipping one of the cleanser doodads into it and swirling it around the bowl, attacking the hard water stains, is very satisfying. The deep blue-green of the water while you let the cleanser soak for a while afterwards is great too. I guess I've been suckered in by the commercials where the scrubby bubbles are keeping the bowl clean even between cleanings. Just look how ardently these little guys want to be sent to the trenches in the war on grime!

-You can structure your chore procrastination, but some things get worse the longer you put them off, like stains, plant care, and dirty floors. In those cases, an ounce of prevention will prevent really annoying jobs down the line.  

-Comfort is essential; both the physical and emotional comfort of your home's occupants and visitors, and your own comfort level with the chores you tackle regularly, infrequently, or not at all. This is the message I took away from Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, which is slightly antithetical to the rest of the book, where philosopher-turned-domestic-maven Cheryl Mendelson argues that housekeeping is a lost art, and that the remedy is for everyone to set formal dining tables and do multiple loads of laundry each week.

-Household tasks where you get to be creative are much more satisfying. For me, those have been cooking and decorating. Cooking is a great hobby because a) you get to eat, rather than just look at, the fruits of your labour b) it's much cheaper and easier than you'd think to cook for yourself c) figuring out a good new recipe means you'll give yourself one more option every time you need to decide what to make. In addition, I've been pretty consistently baking, because I'm starved for company and it's easier to invite friends over for tea when you can whip out a cake or muffins. I've never been much of a decorator but since we are in a new apartment there have been many decisions to make: where do we put all this furniture? Where do the baby accoutrements live? (strollers are really big!) What colours should the walls be? Yesterday I finally hung some leftover wedding fabric pennants in the baby's room, which she's already reaching for with chubby arms. Delightful!

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