Men and women are increasingly transcending gender roles and expectations in many realms. But the domestic domain — and its related drudgery — still remains an unfairly feminine preoccupation. As one recent Cornell University study concluded, housework is “gender equality’s final frontier.” Researchers found that women do a “disproportionate share of the housework, even when the women work and the men don't — and even when the women want to share the housework more equally.”
A 2013 Pew Research study similarly found that women still complete the majority of housework and parenting — even in dual-income families. On average, mothers spend nearly double the time than fathers — 16 hours per week — managing housework. Moms also spend 70% more time on childcare per week. Yet, the ideal solution is not simply to divvy up chores 50/50. While that may address gender inequality, it does not take away from the fact that scrubbing toilets, cleaning out the garage and doing laundry is time consuming, stressful and burdensome for all. (Splitting tasks down the line could also, perhaps, mess with your sex life.)
Plus, there’s a real opportunity cost to doing housework, considering we have far more meaningful things to accomplish like spending time with our families and friends, achieving professional goals, volunteering and travel. If you’re skeptical about the value of outsourcing, consider this quick math I offer in my upcoming book, “When She Makes More.” Take your annual income, subtract the last 3 zeros and divide by 2. That’s your personal hourly rate (give or take). So, if you earn $60,000 a year, that’s $30 per hour. If it costs you less than $30 an hour to outsource a task, then it may well be advantageous.
If your housework duties have become woefully dominating, consider these hacks for more time and less stress.
Meals: Hire an Online Chef
Raise your hand if you’re too tired and hungry to prepare and serve a thoughtful, nutritious meal at the end of the day. (Or, if you’ve got pizza delivery on auto-dial.) While we’d all love to savor an hour or two each night with our families over a healthy, delicious dinner, it’s challenging to execute it all without stress. Devising a weekly meal chart that you and your partner can take turns tackling or devoting Sunday afternoons to cooking up a variety of dishes to later heat and serve during the week are two possible solutions.
If you enjoy cooking in the evenings, but can’t find time to shop for ingredients and plan, sites like Plated and Blue Apron take the guesswork out of the equation and deliver meal kits with instructions right to your door. At Plated, annual membership runs $8 per month plus $12 per plate. Blue Apron charges $10 per person per meal, including free delivery.
Still other busy families have discovered that it pays to hire someone else to do all the planning and prepping. For example, a local Craigslist search for “dinner preparation” turned up dozens and dozens of independent caterers and chefs in my area offering meal prep and delivery for busy families. One home-based caterer created a sample menu for my hypothetical family of four that included gorgeous photographs of breaded eggplant stacks layered with ricotta filling, balsamic glazed meatloaf, Mediterranean style chicken and more.
On average, these catered meals total anywhere from $25 to 40 per night depending on my choices. Figuring that a night out for a family of four — not including tip, tax and gas — can be at least $50 or $60 (more if you live in a big city), this seems like a worthy alternative, particularly on nights when you don’t have any energy to cook or run out and buy groceries to prepare a meal. And based on the proximity of my location to the caterer’s home, we can schedule a once per week drop-off with reheating instructions, or an arrangement to bring the food to my doorstep every other day.
DreamDinners.com offers similar services — minus the home delivery. You can pick up already prepared meals from its prep locations on your way home from work. Just heat and eat. The company operates in about 25 states and boasts flexible pricing and dinners for families with all types of budgets and dietary needs. Residents near Flemington, New Jersey, for example, can choose among grilled chicken, three-cheese pasta with meatballs, Thai shrimp and other meals ranging from $13.50 to $20 for three servings. All menus and pricing are available online.
Household Shopping: Set on Autopilot
Ever been down to your last sheet of toilet paper when nature calls? Wake up Saturday morning excited to make breakfast only to realize realize you have no eggs or milk? With help from online services like Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program and others, you can schedule deliveries of your must-have household staples — from T.P. to O.J. — to arrive automatically so you’re never left stranded. Amazon will throw in a 15% discount when you include five or more subscriptions on your monthly delivery day.
For diapers, formula and other child-related products, Diapers.com will automatically ship items you designate as recurring orders. As will Soap.com, which specializes in household, personal care and grocery items. You may also want to check with your local grocer who may offer online ordering and deliveries. Peapod.com is one popular online grocer that’s partnered with local supermarkets in a growing number of states along the East Coast, Midwest and Mid-Atlantic to provide online orders. Customers can schedule deliveries on the same day if they place orders by 8:30am. First time customers are eligible for free delivery. And FreshDirect.com now delivers within five East Coast states.
Home Repair, Organization, Odds, Ends: Hire a TaskRabbit…or a Spouse!
Judy Zhu, 32, commutes 45 minutes to work each morning, is the parent to a nine-month-old son and is married to a husband who travels Monday through Friday every week for his job. She’ll be the first to tell you that she can’t possibly get through her domestic checklist alone — and she’s not willing to wait until the weekends to have her husband’s help. “I tend to get anxiety and stress if something sits there or if I don't get to spend time with my family and relaxing,” she tells me. Her solution?
TaskRabbit.com, an online service that connects her with local, experienced “TaskRabbits” to assist with whatever chore du jour, from repairing her smoke alarm to putting up shelves in the nursery, organizing closets, buying baby supplies and delivering meals from restaurants. On average, outsourcing a task runs her $35 to $50, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the time and effort required. “For me, it is absolutely worth not experiencing half a day of anxiety…and when my husband gets home during the weekend, I’d rather do something more meaningful than run around and do errands,” she says.
While TaskRabbit services customers nationwide, there are locally run mom-and-pop shops that can also connect area residents with qualified hourly helpers. For example, there’s The Occasional Wife, based in New Orleans. Born out of her own desperate need — and the pleas of fellow working parents in her neighborhood — to fulfill the myriad tasks piling up around the house, Kay Morrison launched the business in 2006. The company helps busy families outsource any and all chores and tasks including home organization, kids’ birthday parties, moving, food shopping, holiday decorating and even fundraisers. It costs $40 an hour for an Occasional Wife and $25 an hour for the lesser experienced, but still diligent “worker bees,” as Morrison calls them. “We are in the most expensive houses and at the same time we work with middle class families…who will use their income tax return or money they’ve saved up to keep a system running in their household.”
The Occasional Wife has extended its services to Los Angeles and Morristown, New Jersey. Morrison’s also developed a new service category called “Hire a Husband,” offering handymen to put up shelves, fix faucets, help you move and, you know, other “manly” maneuvers.
Cleaning: Set a Timer and Start with Surface Areas
Laura Vanderkam, a full-time journalist, time management expert and married mother of three finds that we can be far more efficient cleaners when racing against the clock. “Housework expands to fill the available space. If you want it to take less time, you need to give it less time,” she tells me. By limiting your cleaning time to no more than, say, 10 minutes per night before bed or one hour per week, you’ll instinctively begin attacking the most urgent tasks around the house. For some that may be to clean the bathroom sinks. For others, it could be wiping down the kitchen.
Another cleaning-related hack: Accept that you don’t need to clean everything in order for your home to look clean. Prioritize your efforts by addressing the mess that’s most visible to the eye first, says Vanderkam. “No matter how much time you spend vacuuming your ceilings and washing your windows, what makes a house look clean is clear, horizontal surfaces,” she writes in her book, “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.” To that end, Vanderkam suggests spending no more than 15 to 20 minutes per day wiping off counters, the coffee table and desks. The messy cupboards can wait. “When you have clear surfaces, you can make your housework look tolerable between biweekly scrubbings.”
Laundry: Don’t Do It Yourself
If laundry were merely a one-step process! From start to finish it involves separating, running multiple loads in the washer, then drying, then folding. And if you’re like my husband, some items need to be separated into two categories: tumble dry and air dry. Then there’s a whole other pile we make for dry cleaning.
Are you tired yet?
If you live in a major city outsourcing laundry is as simple as dropping it off (or having it picked up) by one of the countless wash and fold services in your neighborhood for $1 to $1.50 per pound. For others who may live in a more remote area, OneClickCleaners, a wash and fold and dry cleaning delivery service might be able to come to your rescue. They so far operate in a little more than 12 states.
Childcare: Double Up or Go Halfsies
Kara Goldin, the founder and CEO of Hint water, has hacked childcare for her four children, ages 15, 13, 12 and 8, by hiring not one — but two — part-time caretakers, one to help with the busy mornings before school and one to assist with after-school needs like school pick-up, homework and preparing dinner. “I fought to find that person that could help with everything from keeping the house neat to helping with the homework and driving the kids around when needed,” she says. So, she doubled up on daily sitters to better accomplish all the family’s needs — and even save money in the process.
Goldin estimates she saves about 25% with two part-time sitters, instead of one full-time, 40 hour per week nanny. Her sitters only get paid for when she needs them (before and after school). “Someone who cares for your child as a baby might not be the same person who is perfect for your kids to kick a soccer ball around with or help them with algebra,” she says. “And often a quieter more nurturing person in the morning might be more needed than someone who can drive and do homework in the afternoon.”
Meantime, Kate Dailey has benefited from going splitsies in a nanny share. She and her neighbor both have infants roughly around the same age — 7 months — and have agreed to share one experienced caretaker who alternates between each of their homes every week. While the nanny earns more than she would caring after just one child, the divided cost saves each family about 25% compared to hiring one full-time sitter.
If you’d rather the daycare route and have more than one child, some places may offer a "sibling" discount, which is always worth asking about!
Farnoosh Torabi is the author of the soon-to-be-released book, “When She Makes More: 10 Rules for Breadwinning Women.” Order a copy now and win several freebies, plus the chance to win a visit to the NBC TODAY SHOW in New York. Also, want a chance to outsource help for free? Click here to be entered to win a $150 gift card to TaskRabbit.