The Village Idiot by Jim Mullen

The Work/Life Balance

I used to be useless around the house.

I couldn’t do the simplest chores. Painting, hammering, minor plumbing, installing cat doors, assembling IKEA furniture, hanging closet doors -- I did none of it. Sue did it all. Not just because I’m a lazy bum, but because I wasn’t any good at it. Sue enjoys being a handywoman, and I enjoy not doing that stuff.

But housework was a different matter. We have all learned that the division of labor in a modern marriage (or any kind of relationship) is a touchy issue. The work/life balance has to be worked out at home, too, not just at the office. And by your second or third marriage, you should be able to get it right.

Who’s going to do the laundry, who’s vacuuming, who’s making the bed, who’s cleaning the fridge ... It’s a minefield, especially for people like me. People who don’t mind seeing piles of dishes in the sink, who think dust bunnies make good pets, who like the look and feel of National Park toilets. My philosophy is, “Why clean when you can just move to a new house?”

Why, oh why, do people with the same idea of domestic bliss never seem to marry each other? There is always an “Odd Couple” thing going on.

Most of us would agree that men and teenagers are the worst offenders when it comes to the unbalanced life. They think dishes get done by the dish fairy, the laundry gets done by the laundry fairy, and the toilet gets cleaned by the bathroom fairy. Yet if they start doing those tasks themselves -- or paying someone to come in and do them -- then suddenly the lightbulb goes on: Hey, this stuff IS work! It takes a long time and a lot of effort (or money), and no one likes doing it.

My dad had a simple definition: “If it was fun, they wouldn’t call it ‘work.’”

But what is life, if not change? These days, I can microwave and Swiffer with the best of them. I hang up my clothes and no longer leave wet towels in a pile on the floor. Face it: I am a catch. And I pay people to do the things neither of us wants to do, so I have plenty of time to write non-life-changing twaddle like this.

I even try to stretch beyond my capabilities now and then. Years ago, I never would have attempted something as complicated as painting our front porch. But I watched a few YouTube videos on how to hold a paintbrush and use a roller, and voila! A brand-new look for this old house. Yet there’s just no making some people happy.

“When are you gonna finish painting the porch?” Sue asked. Again. She’s been asking the same question for weeks. Nag, nag, nag.

“Me, finish it? I already did most of it!” I told her. “You keep saying I don’t help around the house, so now I’m helping, thank you very much.”

“Yes,” she said, “thank you very much for painting all the places that are easy to reach with a roller. All the spots that need to be painted while bending over, or on your knees, or up on a ladder, you left for me.”

“Well, yeah. I’m not stupid,” I did NOT say.

“And the next time you paint something, use a dropcloth.”

“A drop-what?”

This always happens. You try to do the right thing and it comes back to bite you in the butt.

“And if you’d cleaned the brushes after you painted, we could have used them again.”

Who knew? Where did she learn all this stuff? I said, “You’ve been watching way too many of those home improvement shows.”

“Oh, I don’t have to watch television to improve my home. All I’d have to do is kick you out.”

“Then who would you have to tell that they’re doing things wrong all the time?”

“I’d hire someone.”

(Contact Jim Mullen at