In my last post, I divulged that we are not a very tidy family. Let me go a step further: I am, by nature, a bit of a slob. Ironically, I also do not function particularly well in a disorganized, cluttered environment. Perhaps that was God’s gift to not let me sink too deeply into my own abyss of dirt and clutter. I won’t automatically clean up after myself, but I will be bothered enough by a mess to deal with it…eventually.
Because I don’t particularly enjoy cleaning I have spent a lot of time considering the fastest and most efficient way to do it. If I can shave 12 minutes off our daily tidy up I’ve gained 12 minutes for something more enjoyable. Happy day!
While other homeschool moms are thinking about the meaning of virtue, I contemplate chores. It is what it is.
I’ve already written about why I think chores are good and necessary, and some practical tips for helping kids to do them here:
Chore Charts and Broken Systems
In the past I wasted too much time devising systems too labor-intensive to manage. I’d be gung-ho for a day or two and then find myself back where I started because thinking up and writing tasks on a whiteboard or moving the (clothespins, popsicle sticks, magnets, etc.) was too much work. What I realize now is that I was, essentially, devising a new plan each day.
There had to be a better way.
The first step was to actually figure out what needed to be done.
I have a child who is a “strewer” of things. On one hand I feel bad about that fact that he would spend a lot more time cleaning up than his siblings. I seem to be constantly stopping him throughout the day to put away another object left in a random and inappropriate place. At the same time, it didn’t seem right that he would only take care of his own mess when the others were able to clean up their own things quickly and help with household tasks.
My thoughts were not neatly packaged, but as I sought a better way I knew I wanted my kids to take care of their own messes, to help when asked and learn valuable skills. I knew I wanted to give my children an allowance for a job well done. I knew that my system for managing these chores had to be as simple and intuitive as possible. No extra steps!
Eventually, I realized that household chores fall into three categories: Chores that teach personal responsibility, chores that teach teamwork and service, and chores that teach skills.
Each is necessary and valuable in its own way.
Chores that Teach Responsibility
Making the bed, brushing teeth, tidying their room – all these chores will teach children to take care of themselves and their stuff. It is no one else’s job. They need handholding and training, of course, but the goal is for a child to grow from a totally dependent infant to an adult who will not assume a magical tidy-up fairy will pick up the dirty dishes and socks they’ve left behind.
Laundry falls into this category. Opinions vary on how much laundry a child should do for themselves. In our house, they do it all from start to finish as soon as they are able – 8 or younger. At very least, a child of 3 can put all his dirty clothes in the basket, and a child of 6 can put folded laundry away (the KonMari method of folding makes it even easier), by 10 they should be able to take complete responsibility for their own clothing.
Do not pay children to take care of themselves and their own belongings. As adults we do not get paid to do these things, so why should our children? Begin with the end in mind.
We set aside specific times in our day and week for taking care of our things. Mornings are for teeth, beds, dirty laundry. Before dinner, they tidy books and toys. Every Saturday morning they thoroughly clean their rooms. Making tidying up their stuff part of the daily/weekly routine is key!
Chores that Teach Teamwork and Service
“We’re all in this together!”
A household needs taking care of – we all live here, we all take care of the place. We clean alongside one another whenever possible, each of us tidying a different zone at the same time.
It’s so much easier to clean when everyone else is cleaning too!
Everyone gets a job after dinner, packing leftovers, wiping the baby’s hands etc. I usually wash the dishes and sweep the floor because I’m picky about how those are done, I’m on the cusp of being able to delegate those too, but not quite.
As every mom knows there are loads of little things to be taken care of every day: recycling to take to the garage, groceries to put away, counters to be wiped. I regularly ask my kids to help with these things whenever possible – I just grab the nearest kid who’s able, ask them nicely, and expect them to do it.
If they balk, I remind them that we are a family, we take care of each other and the gifts God has given us. A quick job is not a hardship! It is, however, a blessing and an expression of love. Which reminds me of this quote from St. Teresa:
“Wash the plate not because it is dirty nor because you are told to wash it, but because you love the person who will use it next.” -St. Teresa of Calcutta
…And love costs. Serving one another is often a thankless job, the rewards are somewhat intangible, though no less real. By choosing to serve another with a happy heart we learn humility and patience, virtues worth pursuing!
On a practical note, I don’t pay my children for the small little jobs that need to be done every day. Not only would I find it exhausting, but I also don’t want to give them the impression that helping around the house is optional. If I pay them 50 cents every time they unload the dishwasher, what happens on the day they decide they’d rather play than earn 50 cents? Helping each other is an expectation. If I ask my child to do something I expect it to be done, not for the reward, but hopefully out of love (or at least respect and obedience).
Chores that Teach Skill Development
This final category is probably what most people think of when they think about chores – specific jobs a child is required to do on a regular basis.
A task may seem simple, but to a child, the proper way to wipe a table, sweep, dust, sort recycling is not at all intuitive. These are essential skills our children need to learn through patient training and practice.
Indeed, many adults struggle with housework because they did not learn when they were young, their skills are weak and their approach inefficient. For example, I recently observed someone sweeping a kitchen floor before wiping the counters, after which the floor needed to swept again. How many bemoan cleaning the bathroom as a big job? In reality, a two-piece bathroom can be cleaned in less than five minutes, with one cloth and one bottle of cleaner, if you intentionally start from the top and work your way to the floor. I want my children to have these skills and know these hacks, not flounder as young adults feeling like housework is a full-time job.
Here’s what’s working for us right now:
Child #1 (10 years) puts the clean dishes away – whether on the counter or in the dishwasher, every day. Some days it takes 2 minutes, some days it takes 10. Regardless, this is his responsibility. I’ve communicated my expectations clearly, but I don’t micromanage or nag him with all sorts of (well-meant) tips about efficiency. I’m letting him take ownership over this job and see it to completion in whatever way works for him.
Child #2 (8 years) currently presides over the laundry. She sorts everything into a basket for each person and makes sure it all gets washed and dried. We try to do it all in one day, and it’s quite a task to keep that machine chugging. I fold the younger boys’ clothes, she and her older brother fold their own. The next day she puts away the baby’s clothes, helps the little boys with anything that needs to be hung up and puts away her own.
Child #3 (6 years) must make sure the table is cleared and wiped every night after dinner. He needs lots of reminding, but it’s starting to work, especially since we’re working together.
Child #4 (4 years) puts all the shoes and boots in the closet. Shoes in a basket, boots lined up on the mat. It’s just the right job for him.
Child #5 (1 year) takes all the plastic dishes out of the cupboard and scatters them on the kitchen floor. He’s so good at it, a prodigy! 😉
When a child masters a certain task, or the needs of the household change I switch the jobs.
For completing their assigned task, with a minimum of reminders and a good attitude they each receive a small allowance. This gives them a small-scale experience of working for a wage and learning to spend their earnings (wisely or not) while they’re young. Better to waste $5 (a week’s wages) on a Lego Minifig than $250 on a pair of designer jeans when they’re in college with more pressing expenses – at least I’m hoping that this experience will help prevent that foolishness.
You could totally use a chore chart if that’s your thing. I follow Cindy Rollins’ (mom of 9) advice to assign a task to each child and expect it to be done every day for several months or longer. No fussing around with high-maintenance chore charts!
Here’s a picture of our super-simple allowance system. They get a hash mark for every day they complete their job (my daughter gets 5 all at once on laundry day). I’ll pay them out when requested, or just deduct money they’ve spent from the note. Easy peasy.
With a three-part system even my messy family is kept in check. At some point in the day the house looks decent and that’s enough to keep me sane. Drop in unannounced and you might be surprised by how out of sorts the place is, but remember there are seven people living a full life in a modestly sized place! I’ll pile up the books on the couch and make you a cup of tea without an apology.
As for my “strewing” child, it’s his choice to get into lots of things throughout the day and not clean up after himself – that fact does not change my expectations regarding helping out as part of the family and completing his assigned chores. Those tasks are different. With our regular tidy-up times, the messes are at least more manageable. I hope that with training and maturity he’ll get a little better about leaving things all over the house – but if not, he will at least understand that he needs to take care of them himself. That might be the best I can hope for – he’s just like his mom!