I would love to say that “I don’t thrive in chaos.” That would be such a poetic, positive way to state my problem: I literally can’t handle mess, cacophony or tripping over small objects. I turn into Grumpy Mom. This would all be well and fine if I had pretty much any other job. But, here I am, mom of six (soon to be 7) and my oldest is 9. Chaos kinda comes with the department.
But for THREE YEARS I have been investing in chores. It sounds so easy: make a chart, buy some stickers, sit back and drink some lemonade while the house cleans itself. Let me assure you, that’s not what happens. For THREE YEARS I have been training, working, living and teaching. And finally- after months of sweat and tears (and one night-long hotel room stay two years ago when my handsome hubby kicked me out after a Mommy meltdown) I think we have gotten it. Here is an article I wrote last year, when the children were mostly responsible for maintaining our home. I didn’t realize then that they still required a great deal of oversight, and that the chores took too long in the mornings and left me cleaning up later in the day. It is helpful if you are just starting out, but here are some tweaks that have made it work, and actually lessened my load. Did you hear that? I am doing less cleaning daily and weekly.
Different Times for Work: Mornings were simply not enough. We don’t have a large home, and though we try be as minimalistic as possible, eight people simply take up space. While the day would start out clean, it all had to be put back together again after bookwork and morning time, and again at dinner. This all fell onto my shoulders, and I often felt like I was cleaning and straightening up all day, but that there was nothing I could do about it. It is so important to me that everything is clean when my HH comes home, though he says he doesn’t care. I would much rather come home to a peaceful home free of land mines, so I try to give him that. We now do specific chores in the mornings, at 5:00, and on Fridays. The daily morning and afternoon jobs keep the house tidy but Fridays we don’t do morning chores and instead, after school, we do a deep clean. This is my “anchor,” the time I can count on to get everything to rights. If for some reason we aren’t able to do this on Friday, we do it Saturday. More on deep cleaning later.
Prepare the areas: It is very hard for young children to walk in a room, scan, and see what needs to be put away, and what is meant to be left out. Piles of papers, room corners full of toys, and general clutter all looks the same as the stuff that might need to be cleaned up. When we had our home for sale, I really worked at organizing and de-junking, and finding a home for every single thing we own. It took a long time, and there are a couple areas that still seem to be magnets for the squatters (the top of my fridge is always “temporary” housing, as well as my command post in the kitchen) but I am mostly there. All the surfaces- dressers, tables, desks, etc are empty, and nothing is to be left on there. Same with the floors, and everywhere else. No hiding places, just homes. This is something that you can work on as you go- don’t be afraid to start a chore system before you’ve accomplished this, and simply update whoever is responsible as you complete it. Even photographing the area, and how it’s meant to look, can be helpful for some kids.
Clipboards: These are seriously essential for so many things, including car trips! For chores, everyone has their own clipboard with a sheet of page protected paper. On it in easy, clear, itemized bullet points are their responsibilities. For example, I don’t just write “Clean the Living Room.” That’s way too open ended, and doesn’t really give accountability to areas that may be missed. Instead, I write it like this:
- Clean up anything on the floor, bringing it to its proper home.
- Clean up anything on the couches, and put it where it goes.
- If anything got left on a table, return it to its home. Wipe all table surfaces if there are any spills or sticky spots.
- Look under the couches- everything likes to hide there to escape from you!
- Shake the rug outside if you see any crumbs or little pieces on the floor.
- Sweep the floor around the rug.
Because it’s in a page protector, they can choose to check off each job with a marker, and I wipe them when they’re returned. They did that at the beginning, but now it seems to be second nature to just do the next thing on the list. I like that it’s portable, and when they tell me “it’s done,” they can bring me the clipboard and I can see for myself. The lists also make it easier for me to check and see if everything has been completed, and to keep each child’s job straight. That’s the MAIN component of successful chores, that I learned from the Maxwells’ book: Inspect what you Expect.
Mastery over Rotation: We don’t switch around jobs. If you have a responsibility, it is yours for at least six months, but probably a year. This way, if I get lazy or busy with my governance, I know who is responsible and can make sure they put a bit more elbow grease into it. They get to “own” how things are done, and get really good at it. Our six year old daughter is very particular about the way she organizes the bathroom, and I let her do it her way. She likes certain things in certain places- and sure! She’s the one in charge. She actually came up with an ingenious way to store toilet paper, and I am thankful. No more “emergencies.”
Friday Deep Clean: they have always had weekly chores that were extra, but the jobs themselves weren’t as imperative or just not that helpful to me. I am very much my mother’s daughter and like everything to be cleaned and tidied all on the same day. Though the bathroom is wiped down daily, I like everything to be mopped, dusted and CLEANED once a week. It helps my mental health. This is the day that beds, closets, behind the doors- all the hiding places are shed with light, and order reigns again. The children do most of the house, and I do the family closet and kitchen counters because those areas are my favourite. When I’m done, I help whoever has the biggest load depending on the week we’ve had. When the house is turned to rights, and I pray someone will “pop over” (no one does: people only surprise visit after/during school time) we have a special snack. Since we homeschool, I never bought granola bars, cookies or fruit snacks, but now I buy a box just for Fridays. If you’re a super-amazing mom, you can bake something. It’s their highlight of the day, and even though it’s usually lunch time, I let them scarf em down!
Enjoy it!/Music: I let them listen to their music of choice. Obviously I have final say, but they all have their own playlists on my phone or Youtube and they love to sing (or in the One With the Role’s case, dance) while they work. I will have to catch a video of him, it’s so classic. It is veeery annoying to walk from room to room and hear a different, loud song in each place, but the payoff is great. I think this goes hand in hand with being a family who “values” work, and doesn’t just try to get it done as quick as possible. I want all our children to grow up with a good work ethic like their dad, so I want to model an attitude that says, “Hey! This is our home. It’s worthwhile to take care of it wholeheartedly.” This means I have to watch my attitude about almost all of my life. They can’t see my whining or putting off chores, or grumbling while I clean something up. Nope, it’s good to work. We often repeat: the family that works together, plays together. And mercy, can we play!
Last Notes: I don’t let them waste time. Chores lasts until about 9, and then I like to start our Morning Time. Obviously, there’s a big amount of wiggle room. If one of the kids is doing an awesome job and just needs a few more minutes, I’ll wait for them. But I don’t tolerate procrastinating. If the chores didn’t get done before school, they will have to be done immediately after books, before they can have lunch or screen time or whatever they were looking forward to. Same with 5:00 chores. If they aren’t done by dinner, they’ll have to do it right after instead of doing whatever the family is doing. This has seemed to be a good natural consequence of a bit of time-wasting we had going on. If the chores aren’t done by lunch (school is usually done around 11-11:30), their screentime is forfeited for the day. It’s only happened once, and now they see it’s much easier to just get ‘er done. I can’t remember the last time they weren’t done before school, though. THREE YEARS. It took us THREE YEARS to find this flow.
We don’t tie allowance into this at all. They work here, because they live here. If they are saving or trying to get more cash for something in particular, I will offer extra jobs for money that they can do on their own time. We would like to start doing allowance, only to help them learn about money and budgeting, but it will not have anything to do with their chores. I don’t give stickers or stamps. But mercy, they get huge hugs for being such upstanding, invested, members of our family. I also try to really notice the “special touches” they leave to bless the space they care for.
**Chores are important. It’s important that children know how to care for a house, know the ins and outs of managing a home, and are able to clean up after themselves. It’s also the first “work” or “employment” that children can be trained in. They will be working in some form or fashion their whole life, and we need to start believing that it’s not a bad thing at all! Of course we want a good balance between work and play, but if they don’t have those bits of work, they often don’t even appreciate the play. It does our children a favour when we teach them how to work hard, to find fulfillment in the work of our hands, and that they are a crucial, needed member of our family. I also believe it’s important that they know that work needs to be done, and it shouldn’t all fall on Mom. There are no magical fairies that come to clean the house, do the laundry and make the meals. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with helping your children, or serving them in some ways (I love doing laundry, and keep that job to myself) but if they don’t notice what’s being done, it isn’t much of a gift. I believe it’s my duty to set these children up to be contributing members of society, and its starts at home.**
What chores do your children have? Was it a struggle for your family? Do you do all the work in your home? I’d love to hear from you!