Paying for Chores: Reasons to Delegate Your Housework

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "168 Hours" by Laura Vanderkam. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you delegate your housework? Is paying for chores worth it?

People are often reluctant to hire others to do their housework because it costs too much. This is for two main reasons. First, housework only seems expensive because it’s considered free female labor. Second, hiring a maid is worth the investment because it buys you back time to focus on more important tasks.

Here’s why you should delegate your housework despite the costs involved.

Delegate Housework

According to time management expert Laura Vanderkam, you should delegate your housework so you can maximize your time at home with your loved ones.

To delegate your housework, Vanderkam recommends that you first decide which chores to delegate. Review your time record and figure out how much time you spent on the following chores: laundry, food preparation (from shopping to cleanup), general cleaning, and maintenance tasks (which are infrequent but time-consuming, like calling your internet provider when the wifi’s out). Then, select one to delegate—whether it’s the chore that takes the most time or the one you dislike the most.

(Shortform note: If you choose to delegate your housework, there are several techniques you can use to spend less money and save even more time. When grocery shopping online, select the right provider: One critic of Instacart, an online grocery shopping service, complained that male shoppers rarely got her order right.  If you hire a cleaning service, ask them to rotate what rooms they clean so that you’re not paying to have your whole house cleaned every visit. And if you struggle to find a good virtual assistant or personal concierge, consider TaskRabbit: It helps you find freelance laborers and has customer reviews, so you can feel safer inviting a stranger into your home.)

To maximize your time at home with your loved ones, Vanderkam suggests that you delegate your housework. Housework probably isn’t a unique strength, so it’s better to delegate it while you focus on parenting and your partnership. 

Why We Devalue Housework—and How Much You Should Pay to Delegate It

In Invisible Women, Criado Perez explains that when measuring a country’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, economists originally excluded the value of female household labor because determining its worth and measuring it was too difficult. Because our society largely ignores the economic value of unpaid female labor, paying for chores seems expensive by comparison. 

So how much should you pay to delegate housework? Basing this number on your hourly rate comes with several issues. Notably, it assumes that you can earn back any money you spend by spending your newly freed-up time working. But if you choose not to work during your newly freed-up time, you should base your ability to pay on how much you value your free time, not how much money you could make if you otherwise spent that time working. Clearer Thinking’s “time worth” tool asks several questions to help you make that valuation, so you can determine how much you’re willing to pay to gain more free time.

Your next step will depend on which chore you’ve decided to delegate:

1) If you dislike laundry: Hire a laundry service to wash and fold your clothes. Your dry cleaner may offer this service; otherwise, a quick internet search will reveal the options in your area. To save even more time, select one that both picks up and delivers your clothes.

2) If you dislike food preparation: Vanderkam recommends two strategies. First, shop for groceries online. You can shop whenever it’s convenient, save time commuting, and easily refill your grocery order instead of looking for the same carton of milk you buy every week. Second, when shopping online, purchase pre-made foods to simplify meal prep. For example, you might buy a carton of broth and frozen vegetables for a simple soup. 

3) If you dislike general cleaning: Hire a cleaning service. However, even if you do so, you’ll likely still spend a significant amount of time on daily upkeep—such as clearing your kitchen counter. Minimize this time by focusing on clearing your surfaces. If your surfaces are clean, your house will feel clean—even if your drawers look like a hurricane hit them. 

4) If you dislike maintenance tasks: Vanderkam recommends that you hire an assistant. To do so affordably, search for a virtual assistant online. Alternatively, look for a personal concierge in your area: These people (or companies) will perform your maintenance tasks for an hourly, monthly, or per-project fee.  

Other Ways to Spend Less Time on Housework

What if you don’t want to delegate your housework to strangers? For example, many laundry services only dry your clothes in a dryer, but you may prefer to line dry your clothes, which helps protect the fabric long-term. You may have health concerns that preclude you from buying pre-made foods, which are often high in sugar, fat, and salt. Or, like many of Vanderkam’s critics, you may be unwilling to spend money to delegate housework you could do yourself simply because housework isn’t your unique strength.

One option is to ask your family to do more. For example, you may task your kids with doing more. Select age-appropriate chores: Toddlers are capable of picking up toys they’ve strewn around, while older kids can help more with daily upkeep. 

If you’re a heterosexually partnered woman, dividing chores more fairly with your partner may ease your burden, as you likely do twice as many chores as your partner. To divide chores fairly, first determine what chores you value—for example, you may not care that the living room is cluttered but want clean floors. Then, divide them up after agreeing on the specifics of how that chore is done so that you both feel like you’re taking on a relatively equal share. If you think cleaning floors requires mopping but he thinks a quick sweep will do, you’ll both be unhappy. 

If you’re unable to lessen your own load, there are some tricks you can use to make certain chores take even less time. To save time on laundry, experts suggest that you purchase separate hampers for your whites and colors, and that you enlist your family’s help to sort the clothes accordingly instead of spending precious time sorting through a pile of laundry before you wash it. Additionally, consider hanging most of your clothes instead of folding them. To save time preparing food, purchase appliances that will help reduce your prep time; for example, a mandoline makes quick work of slicing onions.
Paying for Chores: Reasons to Delegate Your Housework

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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