Couples have started using a nontraditional tool to strengthen their relationships — and stop sniping over chores

Skip the squabbling. shurkin_son/Shutterstock
  • Chores can cause a lot of conflict in a relationship, especially if one person feels they’re doing more than their share.
  • Many couples are addressing this problem with a simple tool: a digital spreadsheet.
  • A spreadsheet (or a task-management app) can make it easier to divide chores so that it’s convenient for both partners.
  • The goal isn’t to achieve a 50/50 split, but for both partners to be happy.

In a recent interview with The Cut, Japanese lifestyle guru Marie Kondo dished on how she and her husband divide household labour.

Kondo is the author of multiple bestselling books on organisation – in the 2014 “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” she invites readers to get rid of all their possessions except those that “spark joy” in their bodies.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kondo applies similar rigour to organisation in her marriage. She told The Cut that when she and her husband got married (they now have two daughters), they discussed “the kind of home life we wanted and what it would take to achieve that.” Then they put all that on a shared Google spreadsheet.

Kondo said, “When one of us completed a task we’d mark it as done and then the other one might leave a message saying ‘Thank you,’ or something like that. It was all very systematic.”

Nowadays, they don’t really need the spreadsheet. Kondo added, “By doing this we got a very clear sense of what needed to be done. And from this we developed a natural division of labour and now we have a good rhythm in place.”

To be sure, Kondo’s general approach to organisation veers toward the extreme. But using a shared document to keep track of who’s responsible for what around the house is relatively common among modern couples.

Recording what each person does around the house can make you realise you’re not actually doing everything

In her 2017 book “Drop the Ball,” Tiffany Dufu mentions MEL, i.e. the Management Excel List she shares with her husband. The list helped them negotiate (and renegotiate) who was best equipped to do which tasks. For example, if one of them knew they’d be travelling or bogged down at work, the other would take care of school drop-offs.

Using MEL also helped Dufu realised that her husband was pulling more of his weight around the house than she’d previously believed. Dufu writes:

“If you had asked me before this exercise what percentage of household and child-rearing work my husband did, I would have smiled and said, ‘Oh, he’s fantastic,’ but in my head, I would have been rolling my eyes and thinking, ‘Five per cent on a good day.’

“After I tallied all the items I had added that I knew Kojo did, then combined it with his new rows, it was more like 30 per cent, a staggeringly high number given my belief that he did hardly anything around the house. Talk about an eye-opener.”

Today’s couples are hardly the first faced with figuring out how to divvy up chores and parenting tasks. But digital technology has arguably made the process easier.

A 2017 article in The Guardian highlights how couples are using task-management apps (like Trello, Wunderlist, or Evernote) to streamline their joint lives. The article notes that these apps make it easier to share the “mental load,” and not just the tasks themselves.

In other words, since both partners have a to-do list with a recurring item called “pick up milk,” it’s no longer one person’s responsibility to remember every single week to buy more milk.

The goal isn’t to go perfectly ‘splitsies’ with your partner on household tasks

All that said, the way you approach your spreadsheet or task-management app matters a lot. The goal shouldn’t be for each person to do exactly 50% of the tasks on the list. Instead, it’s about each person feeling happy with what they’re currently doing – even if the split winds up looking more like 70/30.

Lori Gottlieb, a popular couples therapist, is quoted saying as much in Jo Piazza’s 2017 book “How to Be Married.” According to Gottlieb, too many couples insist on treating marital teamwork like work teamwork.

Gottlieb said: “You can’t treat a relationship like a spreadsheet. It has to be more organic than that. Each couple needs to find their own rhythm, where each person is participating in a way that makes you both feel like you’re getting a good deal.”

Kondo, for example, said her husband is a good cook, so he’s in charge of the cooking while she’s in charge of the cleaning. “My husband will do breakfast and I’ll put the dishes in the dishwasher, put things away, set and clear the table,” she said.

Still, the best part about using a spreadsheet to divide household tasks isn’t necessarily the accountability piece. A Harvard PhD student in sociology told The Guardian that keeping shared lists online allows couples to save in-person time for talking about the really meaningful stuff – not logistics.

That is to say, it gives you a chance to remember why you love each other – which, I’m guessing, isn’t how well you scrub the kitchen floor.