Making chores a family affair

A couple of weeks ago after a long day out at our homeschool group, I told the kids we were going to clean after dinner so we wouldn’t have to worry about it over the weekend. I mentally prepared myself for their whining, but when they finished eating they got started right away, motivated by the prospect of having most of it done.

Their cheerful hearts reminded me that we’ve come a long way in the last couple of years. In early 2015, as we were coming to terms with a surprise baby due that fall, I realized that our home had become chaotic and disorganized. The cause was clear: somewhere along the way our kids had decided to turn into big kids rather than preschoolers, and our systems and routines had not adjusted accordingly.

We set out to get them more involved in chores, become more disciplined about “cleaning as you go”, and regain control of our home, and the changes we made had a huge impact on our survival during Lucas’ very tough first year of life.

Don’t get me wrong: our home is not perfectly clean, and there’s also been some lowering of standards along the way. But everyone pitches in and does a pretty good job of it, which makes all the difference.

I have a feeling we’re not the only family who has struggled with realizing that the kids really need to do more around the house, so today I wanted to share some of the strategies we used (and still use) to make this transition:

1. Teach one new thing at a time.

One of our biggest issues was that we hadn’t expanded the girls chores as they’d gotten older. They would help unload the dishwasher or pick up toys, but no one could do the dishes or laundry from start to finish. Slowly, we began teaching them how to take charge of various chores—cleaning the bathrooms, their own laundry, dishes (including pots and pans), and so one. But we didn’t do it all at once; instead we focused on one chore at a time.

2. Teach them exactly how to do it.

For each new chore, we are careful to show them exactly how to do it, which includes demonstrating, practicing together, and (maybe most importantly) revisiting how it’s done every few months. No one’s born knowing how to clean toilets or the best way to vacuum a room, and teaching these skills properly is an important part of being able to delegate.

3. Be willing to offer reminders.

In a perfect world, I’d never have to remind my girls to do any of their chores, and they’ve gotten pretty good at doing the daily ones without prompting. But if I set out with the expectation that I shouldn’t have to ask them to vacuum or clean the bathrooms, I’m going to be disappointed. Now I just write the chores down on their daily checklists when I want them done, and everyone is happy!

4. Check on it periodically.

I mentioned this already, but it’s worth repeating: It’s really not enough to teach them how to do something and then set them loose forever. Instead, we make it a point to check on how they’re doing things and revisit the proper methods every so often. This isn’t done as criticism or nitpicking, but just as a regular part of our process for everyone.

5. Notice the good.

But while we are careful to ensure that the jobs are done well, we’re also quick to notice the good—whether it’s their willingness to volunteer, attention to detail, or remembering to do something without being reminded. We don’t do this to be manipulative, but I do think everyone is more willing to pitch in because we show appreciation for a job well done.

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Finally, here a few more tips to make chores and cleaning a family affair:

  • Set a timer. When you need to clean quickly, set a timer and race against it. It’s surprisingly motivating for everyone!
  • Turn on music. Similarly, some fun, high-energy music can get everybody moving and help them choose good attitudes while they clean.
  • Use transition times. Sometimes I feel like we could clean alllll day every day. Since that’s ridiculous, we use the transition times—mealtimes and bedtime—to straighten and clean instead.
  • Surprise them by doing it for them. Although I can’t do all of the chores all the time by myself, now that it’s not all on my to-do list I love to quickly unload the dishwasher or fold the laundry for someone when they’re least expecting it.
  • Pay for extra chores. Whatever your philosophy on chores and allowance, paying for extra jobs is a great way to get kids excited about working hard while also getting things done.

How do you get your kids involved in cleaning and chores? 

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