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When I married, I happily took on all of the chores. I loved waking up and vacuuming while a hot breakfast bubbled on the stove. I loved the satisfaction of scrubbing sauce off of dishes until they sparkled white along the drainboard.

Eventually, I went from working part-time to working full-time, I started to feel a little frazzled. Although my love for homemaking didn’t dwindle, my energy did. The jobs that I least preferred began to grate on me.

Specifically, I didn’t want to take out the trash or clean the litter boxes anymore. So I told that to my husband. His response? OK. He’d do it. As long as he had time.

My husband did, in fact, take care of the trash and litter boxes most of the time. And no matter how much in earnest he offered his help, something wasn’t right. I always had to check. Was it done? Did he sweep afterward? Did he replace the bags in the trash can?

At the end of the day, I was still the one keeping track of everything. I began to realize how often I gave reminders, and mentally sorted through what needed to be done and the specifics of how, when, and where it happened. Despite the fact most days of the week I had two fewer chores to complete, I wasn’t any less frazzled.

So I went in for round two. I went to my husband, and I told him I couldn’t do the trash or the litter boxes anymore.

And then:

I didn’t do it.

But I didn’t just not do it. I erased it from my memory. I didn’t check. I didn’t sweep if my husband skipped that step. I didn’t purchase new trash bags when they were low (I didn’t even look if they were low). But most importantly, I never spoke to my husband about the trash or the litter box again.

Holding myself back took discipline! I had to fight my instinct to step in and get the job done. Sometimes he skipped a day. Sometimes the recycling bin overflowed. Sometimes he didn’t replace the bag. And, he moves the litter box a little when he cleans it so that it blocks my way to the laundry room a little. To my great annoyance, I have maneuver to move it back in place to get by while holding the laundry basket. It felt so automatic to remind him, to fix the situation, or to nag him to push it back into its place.

But over time, I began to reap the benefits of letting go.

My mind was free. I no longer bore too heavy a burden. I had space to breathe in the day. I was no longer frazzled.

The really fantastic result lay in how my husband began to develop unique systems and take ownership of his role in the household. I didn’t always agree with his methods. But after all, I wanted to give up these chores so I could relax more. Taking on the mental load would have been going in the opposite direction. If I had continued worrying about it, I might as well have just DONE it, because that was easier.

And that’s precisely the problem. Women tend to take on this attitude that “if I want it done right, I have to do it myself”. It’s tempting to get into the cycle of taking control and then complaining about it. This is a very toxic cycle. It may take work, but it’s up to us to take responsibility for what we take on. We need to embrace this attitude if we want to escape the drudgery that we find ourselves griping about.

We decide what we take on.

We decide what we let go.

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Elisa Cinelli

Elisa is a loving wife and mother in San Francisco. A housewife by day and a writer by night, she somehow finds time for her dual passions of vinyasa yoga and reading Hans Christian Andersen in a bubble bath.

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