Diary of a Mad Househusband

I’m kind of struggling with housework this winter. Michelle and I have always shared the housework. She does the bulk of the cooking because she is exceptional at it, we split the sweeping/floor washing, and I do all the toilet cleaning. When my daughters were young I decided that toilet cleaning was going to be exclusively my job, because I believe men make the bulk of the mess so it should naturally fall on them to clean up. I used to joke that I pitied the poor men who married my daughters because they would have no idea what they were getting into. Even though they now both have men in their lives I have never been brave enough to ask whether they resent my daughters’ feminist upbringings.

Historically in our home, housework has been the domain of the spouse with the lower contribution towards our income. In the old days when I was busy running our electronic publishing business I was more focused on making money. So Michelle completed the bulk of the work around the house. Now both of us work at running a CSA in which we provide our members with a weekly box of vegetables during the growing season. During the growing season we are both pretty focused on our gardening efforts. During the winter there are still some small jobs that need to be done for the CSA, like ordering seeds and starting plants and getting things ready, but it takes up much less time than at the height of the season. Over the years Michelle has found ways to keep busy with small part-time contract jobs during the winter, and this winter she has definitely been the chief breadwinner. Not only does she do some administration and accounting work, she does some editing and also works on setting up websites, administering them and training other people how to administer them. I am quite in awe because I have found of late that I have hit the technology wall and am less than enthused about all things computer related.

So I have taken over the lead in the cleaning department and I’ve got to say, I think I’m slowly losing my mind. I have no doubt this long, bitterly cold and ridiculously snowy winter is affecting my outlook, but I think doing the housework is impacting me as well.

We heat our century-old farmhouse with wood, and we have 2 cats and a dog. We also have a dozen layer chickens and we keep their feed and bowls near the back door in the kitchen. We keep their coop generously filled with straw and I am constantly amazed by how much of it gets tracked into the house. Combine that with wheeling in a load of firewood every day or two, and the pet fur and every couple of days I basically need a snow shovel to clean the floor. I sweep and sweep and gather it all in a dustpan and it fills the dustpan a couple of times! I throw all of this dust right in to the woodstove and some days I believe that the potential BTUs from all this biomass would comfortably heat our house. Once a week I wash the floors too, and I guess the only blessing of 5+ months of snow covering outside is that much less of our sandy soil is tracked into the house daily by the dog and our feet.

But what’s really pushing me to the boundaries of (in)sanity is washing dishes. We wash our dishes by hand. Although we live off-grid and could run a dishwasher I’ve always hated them. They’re loud, inefficient with energy and leave a gross filmy feel to the dishes. When I see how much time people take to rinse all their dishes before they load the dishwasher I figure that I might as well just wash them by hand. The other advantage from an environmental standpoint is that during the winter our solar domestic hot water system (SDHW), which provides us with more than 60% of our hot water over the course of the year, doesn’t produce as well during the dark days of winter, so I heat the water on our zero-carbon woodstove and fill up the dishpan that way. There are always multiple kettles on our woodstove for such purposes.

What I don’t understand is how two adults can possibly make so many dirty dishes? They are just endless. Every time I go in the kitchen there is another pile of them. Don’t get me wrong, I love to eat. Right now there is a mixing bowl and pan from the amazing homemade bread Michelle stirred up this morning, and a bowl and pan from the unbelievably awesome banana cake Michelle just baked, so I understand there is a price to pay for eating so well. But I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to envy people who eat at restaurants all of the time. I’m thinking maybe it’s time we just loaded up on paper plates and disposable cutlery to cut down on my dishwashing time. How can there be so many mugs? Do we drink that many caffeinated beverages? And the cutlery! Where does all the dirty cutlery come from? Sometimes I think Michelle sneaks into the kitchen and just tosses knives and forks into the dirty pile to give me more work to do. In fact, I’ve come to believe that the dog and cats team up at night, since they don’t have opposable thumbs, and carry dishes out of the cupboard over to the counter. I just know they’re snickering at me when I come downstairs in the morning.

I’m at the point where I always let Michelle put her almond milk and honey into her tea first. That way I can say “Oh wait, I’ll just use your spoon.” She thinks it’s a way for me to show affection but really it’s just to save me from having to wash one more spoon!

So here’s the real question I keep asking myself as I slave over dishpan after dishpan of endless dirty dishes, trying to position myself in such a way as to minimize the pain in my lower back. How did our mothers maintain their sanity while assuming the role of “housewife”? How did the endless onslaught of cooking and cleaning and dishwashing not send them all running to the woods to live like a cave dweller? If I don’t get back out into the garden soon and out of the kitchen I’m going to have to be institutionalized. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t feel emasculated being a househusband. It’s a temporary thing. And I still get to do lots of manly stuff. I still cut all of our firewood myself with a chainsaw. This winter I’ve been learning how to sharpen my chainsaw blades properly. I’ve been building shelves to hold the boxes we fill with vegetables for our CSA. I’ve been doing manly stuff. But this housework thing is starting to wear me down.

I hope readers of this column will feel sorry for me and join our CSA out of pity. “Look dear, I think we should get a box of vegetables from this feminist farmer guy, I feel kind of sorry for him having to wash all those dishes this winter.” I’m not above charity. I’ll take it. Anything that gets me out of the kitchen and into the soil. This winter has convinced me that our mothers were heroines to be so stoic about their work. They just pushed ahead and did it, and never complained. Jumping in a car and driving to a job was so much easier than running a household. So pick up the phone, call your mother and thank her.  You owe her big time!

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Here’s a link to our CSA website.

C&M and Veggies


8 Responses to “Diary of a Mad Househusband”

  • Great Post!
    Ahhhh, dishes! As the mother of 7, I know alot about dishes. I use one cup for the whole day. I even re-use my breakfast plate – how dirty can toast and peanut butter covered with flax seed get?
    When baking, I start with the ‘lightest’ item like bread,then without rinsing I use the same bowl for the next item.
    In addition, I also chop the firewoood, bring it into the house, make the fire and keep it going, sweep the chimney, do the cleaning, do the laundry, fix the toilet, cut the grass, do the gardening and whatever else needs doing.
    I still make time to ‘smell the roses’….
    I have a dishwasher, use eco-DW detergent, air-dry the dishes, and use hot water heated by solar panels.
    Congratulations Michelle for ‘training’ Cam so well lol.
    P.S. My children are all grown up now – the boys can cook and clean just as well as the girls.

  • John Wensley:

    Hi Cam & Michelle … Well it has been eleven days since Suzie had major shoulder surgery and I became the chief cook and bottle washer so to speak. Cam I am happy to hear that it is not just me that is dealing with phantom dishes. Where the heck to they all appear from. Like you, every time I turn around, MORE dishes. I had no idea, as Suzie usually looks after this chore. Wow, I will be really thankful when my lady is back in commission, I have a whole new respect for her, all because of these damn dishes. Please just don’t tell Suzie, let it be our secret, please.

  • Tricia:

    I do all the cooking, and most of the cleaning. I HATE DISHES!!! I love your post however:}

  • Gerrit Botha:

    Excellent post! Distributing household jobs equitable is one of the hardest tasks in a marriage and a family. Hopefully the weather improves soon. It used to be that we said, “If March roars in like a lion, it leaves like a lamb.” The first part sure happened this year, and the 14-day trend looks like March will leave like a lamb here in eastern Ontario, so I’m crossing my fingers for it to hold.

  • What a great read! We don’t have a dishwasher anymore either and I’m glad it’s gone. Dishes had to be re-washed too much! And I do think our utility bills have gone down. Hubby is our dishwasher, too.

    Our two adult kids are still living at home and make a ton of dishes all by themselves, but I don’t complain because they also prepare stuff I might want to eat. I do try to minimize my own footprint. Let me share some of my tricks: I have a designated shelf next to the fridge that’s mine– and everyone knows if there are dishes on there, they are mine and I plan to use them again, so hands off. This is great for sandwich plates, water glasses, and tea mugs. So I only use one of each of those per day at most. I’ve discovered that you don’t have to wash measuring utensils all the time if you have a bunch of them on hand and put them in the container with whatever you measure with them. For example, when we make oatmeal we use 2/3 of a cup–so I keep a 1/3 cup measuring cup in that container. My recipe for reconstituting buttermilk calls for 1/3 cup also, so I have another 1/3 cup measuring cup in that container. See what I mean? It’s awesome. I buy sea salt in boxes and pour it into jars–and then I insert a teaspoon into the jar so I don’t have to get a new spoon every time. Whenever I peel an apple or potatoes I wash the peeler immediately and put it on the drain tray to dry. Ditto for when I use a paring knife to cut fruit or something like that. I never do this sort of thing if I’ve cut meat, of course! It helps tremendously if I pour my smoothies into mugs immediately so I can rinse out the blender right away. It’s much easier to wash 2 or 3 mugs later than a sticky blender. I almost never serve food out of serving bowls. We just serve out of the cooking containers–and we usually just use the stove as a buffet table. If we need to cut a loaf of homemade bread or some baked good, we either leave the knife beside the product to be used again or we slice the whole thing–in that case, the knife can be washed right away.

    I hope you try some of these ideas and post a few more of your own. I’m always up for tricks!

  • Cam,

    When I lived on my own I just ate out of the cans , or if I did heat something up just out of the pot, which made cleaning up easy.
    Now that I am married I have found that when we cook both of us do the clean up and it goes much quicker. Maybe give Michelle a hand in the cooking and she might help with the dishes. Could be a win win.
    Also dishwashers do a pretty good job and are not that noisy any more.
    During the winter if you have excess power it could be doing the job for free. The dishwashers also have heating elements in them so you may not need to use hot water for the washer.

  • tiffany:

    I know whereof you speak! still got 8 ft drifts here in Mitchell that I have to climb over to get to the hens. I am freezing as we have no wood left for the fire but scraps and I can’t afford the propane for heating. After 4 years of this life thanks for the lesson in fire starting. I have a PE wood stove but the lining is coming adrift and the door won’t lock. But your way of starting is by far the best I have come across.. If Mother Nature ever decides to leave her winter home we shall have Spring. Can’t wait to see some green.

  • Susan:

    If it helps at all I wash certain things as I go and some of them just need a quick rinse like measuring cups and spoons depending on what they were used for. Shaped knives get a quick wash and go to the drying rack. Baking stuff like mixing bowls get washed as soon as they are used. I have a dishwasher and it is pretty new, requires no rinsing, quiet, and the dishes come out sqeeky clean. Perhaps you should try one. You both work hard enough. You deserve it.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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