Would you describe yourself as a control freak? Does the idea of letting a cleaning woman into your house give you a minor panic attack? Does the thought of letting your husband organize your closet make you want to cry? Well, then you might sit on the freaky side of the control spectrum. Chances are, you are kind of content being this way — you are who you are, etc. But maybe if you'd take that coal-cum-diamond out of your ass, you'd be a lot happier.
Kristin Van Ogtrop, who is the managing editor of Real Simple magazine, thinks so. She writes in Time about a survey her magazine did that found that letting go of some control and delegating tasks is the way to feeling more satisfied with your life.
This all started because Real Simple wanted to investigate what, exactly, women are doing with their time, and so they partnered with the nonprofit Families and Work Institute to conduct a nationally representative survey of 3,230 women between the ages of 25 and 54. One issue that emerged in the survey is that women don't have a lot of free time. No kidding. But does anyone, really? It seems like even toddlers have busy schedules these days. Anyway, two-thirds of women said it wasn't their jobs that were the problem. It's their work at home that sucks up all the time. They're busy doing things like laundry and cooking and watching the kids and managing the finances. Though it's not because their partners refuse to help them—it's because the women have assigned themselves all these tasks.
Why would we do that to ourselves? Well, the survey says it's a combination of us enjoying doing some of these things (like caring for our children) and also feeling that if we want things done right, we'd better to do them ourselves. Raise your hand sheepishly if you secretly think the only correct way to fold laundry is the way you do it... It's not even that we think our spouses are incompetent. In fact, six in 10 women said their spouse had the same or higher standards when it comes to household chores, and eight in 10 said their spouses had the same or higher standards for childcare. Yet we don't delegate to them, and we don't even want to pay people to do things for us—even when we have the money to do so.
The number one task women said they'd like to get off their list was cleaning. (Ladies be cleaning.) Yet almost half of women said they would not hire someone else to clean their house, even if money wasn't an issue. The survey report positions this as a problem of "gatekeeping," women preventing an equal distribution of work or stopping a partner from getting involved. And Van Ogtrop talks about it as a problem of women being too control freak-y for their own good. But it's more complicated than that. For one thing, it seems unlikely that you'd be able to convince your partner to do all of the cleaning since she or he probably hates it just as much as you do.
But more to the point, it often is true that when someone else does the work, it's not done the way you'd want it to be done. Should that matter? Not always. Whatever way the bathroom gets cleaned, what is important is that it's clean. But the same can't necessarily be said for childcare or cooking or all kinds of other things. We care about how things are done because the results affect us. We want our children to be happy and healthy. We want our food to taste good. We want our house to be organized in a way that means we can find things. Sure, we can sometimes take this notion overboard to a counterproductive extent. But it's not crazy that we want things the way we want them.
Should we be delegating to our partners and children more? Probably, but it's so dependent on your own situation. And one thing Van Ogtrop fails to mention is that when it comes to delegating to people you're paying to do things for you, it can often create extra work for you in the long run. If you're financially able to do so, you have to put some work into finding a cleaning lady, a nanny, a whatever, that you like. You've got to train/instruct them; you've got to manage them; you've got to cover for them when they're sick; and you've got to stress about how big of a holiday bonus to give them. Maybe it's just easier to do it yourself. And, in the case of cleaning ladies, you often feel like you've got to clean up before they come—yes, it sounds crazy, but it's true for a lot of people. So while theoretically hiring someone might save you some work on a basic level, it can create other stresses and variables, which might explain why a lot of people don't want anything to do with it.
But this brings us to an interesting point, which is that second to cleaning, the thing the most women said they'd give up is "nothing." The executive summary of the survey says this "implies that women may actually enjoy their daily tasks—or are so used to doing them, they can no longer distinguish work time from leisure time in their minds." Hmm. It seems insane to suggest we're suffering en masse from some kind of Housework Stockholm Syndrome, wherein we've been brainwashed into thinking that taking care of things on the home front is actually not that bad. What's more likely is that the line between what's leisure and work is a fine one and is difficult to locate. Take cooking, for instance. For some people it's a chore; for others, it's their favorite thing to do, and it relaxes them. So if you're someone who isn't totally repulsed by all tasks on the homefront, why does not wanting to give them up make you a control freak?
What's more, Van Ogtrop sees our refusal to delegate, aka "control freakishness," as being "masochistic." Why? Because their survey found that "55% of women who delegate to their spouses more than once a week reported feeling satisfied with their lives." As for the women who didn't delegate? Only 43% of them say they're very satisfied. Fine, but that reasoning seems a little hazy. Van Ogtrop uses the example of a woman she knew who wouldn't ask her children's babysitter to go to the grocery store for her. When asked why, she said, "Because she will buy the wrong kind of lettuce." Van Ogtrop says she identified with this once upon a time, but she now sees, after reading the results of their survey, that we need to "relax our standards" and "embrace the chaos" in order to make ourselves happier.
Yes, maybe we need to stop fretting about the exact kind of lettuce someone buys us, and women certainly deserve free time to do whatever they want to do. But the problem is that, given the way we've set up our lives at the moment, all of the work still needs to get done. I mean, we don't have to use a q-tip to clean the crevices in between the kitchen counter and the wall every week, but the leaves still need to be raked and dinner still needs to get done, whether we're incredibly anal about it or not. And, while maybe in theory, we want lots of this mythical free time, in practice we don't seem to hate what we've got on our plate—and, in fact, it sounds like we're enjoying a lot of what we have to do at home. So, maybe we aren't control freaks after all. We might just be, you know, people living their lives.
Why Being Less of a Control Freak May Make You Happier [Time]
Women & Time: What Makes Her Tick [Real Simple]
Image via SFC/Shutterstock.