"I’ve put the dishes away!" I announced to my wife last evening. It’s not an exciting event. Every day, more or less, there are dirty dishes, generated by my wife, our son and me. The dishes go into the dishwasher, and then someone has to put them away. It's a natural process, like going to the bathroom. My wife doesn’t care that I’ve put the dishes away; she just wants the dishes to go away. Why do I inflict this useless and mildly irritating information upon her?
I do it for the same reason that she tells me that she got rid of a bunch of her mugs so that the cupboard now closes. We want credit.
Housework is repetitive and unrewarding. You don't get prizes for housework; you don't get paid for putting your own dishes away. If you say on social media, "Some personal news. I’ve stripped the bed because the cat vomited on it again," people may be mildly amused, but they're not going to be impressed or jealous. If you tell Facebook friends every time you empty the dishwasher, you’ll soon have fewer friends.
Of course, random people on Facebook aren't supposed to care that you've taken out the recycling. But your spouse does. If my wife brings up the laundry, that's to my benefit. If I walk the dog, so that he doesn't poop on the laundry room floor, everyone in the house is the richer. I’m walking the dog For Them, Out of the Goodness of My Heart. They should appreciate me!
They can't appreciate you if they don't notice, though—and housework is the sort of thing you don't notice unless you have to. When the mugs are packed so tightly in the cupboard that they try to brain me as soon as I open the door, I notice. If the dust bunnies attain sentience and attempt to eat the cat, I may notice. But short of that, you shuffle along, as oblivious as possible to the laundry and the dog poop.
So I could empty the dishwasher and just be bitter that no one cares. Or, I could brightly tell my wife, "I put the dishes away!" And then she can say, just as brightly, "Thank you!" as if she really wants to hear about the dishes being put away. Which she doesn’t.
My wife does want to hear about the dishes put away in the sense that she (a) wants the dishes put away and, (b) doesn't want our marriage to disintegrate. Similarly, I’m happy to tell her I appreciate her beating back the mugs because I want her to feel appreciated. We don't necessarily care about housework, but we care about each other.
I think this is the secret to Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. Much has been made of Kondo's system for choosing what to keep and what to throw away. What really sparks joy, though, isn't this shirt or that piece of Tupperware, but just the fact that someone important is swooping into your home and patting you on the head for doing the housework. Kondo's real function is less as guru than as audience.
We want to feel like what we do matters to other people—especially to those who are close to us. If you can't turn to your spouse for gratuitous affirmation, who then? And how will your spouse know you want gratuitous affirmation if you don't tell them?