8 Chores We Have Learned to be Helpless at Doing

This week, Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his Columbia professor wife Anya Schiffrin discussed our book in New York Magazine. Bottom line: They liked it. I think I can retire.

They did make me think, though, when they brought up the topic of learned helplessness, which is “if somebody doesn’t want to do something, they’re going to pretend that they don’t know or they’re going to do it badly.” And that, says Stiglitz, is what could get in the way of a housework system based on comparative advantage.

I will admit, there are things in my house that I have learned to be helpless at, and so my husband appears to have the comparative advantage in them:

Changing the lightbulb in the hallway. It requires a ladder and darn it if I can’t remember where the ladder is.

Making chicken soup. Who the heck knows how to cut up a whole chicken? Not me. And is the water supposed to simmer or boil?

Buying dog food. My husband has the number of the pet food store that delivers and he knows the size of the bag we buy. It would be extremely inconvenient for me to ask him for that number.

Sweeping the patio. He’s way better at getting those little pine tree needles out of the cracks. I don’t know how he does it!

In my defense, my husband is equally helpless at some fairly basic tasks:

Doing the taxes. He’s right, I am the only person in the house capable of gathering our W-2s and our receipts and sending them to the accountant. Does one use Fedex or regular mail? This is a challenging question only I can answer.

Calling our parents. He would do it more, but every time he thinks of it, I’ve already made the call. Not his fault.

Finding babysitters. See above.

Checking the mail. He can’t find his mailbox key. Have I seen it anywhere?

Now that I look more closely, there’s something noticeably different about the things we’re each helpless at. One is a list of physical chores, the other is a bit more psychological. What’s up with that? Now I’m wondering if I’m the dummy here, and I’ve learned to be helpless at the wrong stuff!

Posted in housework

One Response to 8 Chores We Have Learned to be Helpless at Doing

  1. Learned helpnessness is too easily abused by shirking partners. We used to call it being passive agressive.

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