Over the years of early motherhood and homeschooling, I have learned to be flexible with our home cleaning routine. At times, we have hired help to wash the floors or scrub the bathrooms, a life-saving gift in early homeschool days and newborn-dom, but in more recent years as our children have grown older, I’ve looked for ways to make this a more regular part of our family rhythm. These too are [quite practical] lessons I want my children to learn.
The word chore is most often given to the these sorts of home tasks, but honestly I’ve never really preferred it. Chore tends to convey a certain dismal attitude about housework and the importance of the home in general, I think. Even the word itself sounds dreadful and uninviting. Chore.
Although it may be a small semantic matter, we more often use the word responsibility in connection with our house work around here. Opposed to a chore, responsibility is a gift and privilege that comes with maturity. In short, I like the noble attitude of responsibility a bit more. But does it mean they or I always feel like cleaning or tidying our home? Of course not. But as our children’s freedoms and experiences are growing in one hand, so is what my husband and I require of them around the home in the other. As they inevitably grow up, connecting joy and responsibility is a helpful reference point in all of our family conversations .
Our family cleaning routine loosely divides into two major categories right now: daily and weekly tasks. My children’s daily responsibilities fall more into the tidying up category such as
- making beds
- washing/folding/putting away laundry (they do their own 1-2 times/week)
- cleaning the kitchen (washing/drying/putting away dishes; wiping down counters and table; sweeping floors–each child has a rotating role)
- putting away their toys or school work at the end of the day
Aside from the kitchen, we do little actual cleaning during the week. Then every Friday afternoon, prior to our family Sabbath meal, my children and I set aside a couple of hours for our weekly responsibilities of cleaning of our family home. We spend a lot of time in and around our home, so it’s nice to have a hard finish to our week by tidying up any remaining clutter from our work and play. Ending Friday with fresh linens and clean floors and bathrooms feels celebratory before the weekend, even for the kids. In our current season, Friday seems to work best for this, as it adds an extra layer of enjoyment to Saturday’s play and rest. I try to help them (and myself) remember that part when the tasks become mundane. As with everything else in life, I’d say we’re not perfect but learning. Our home is certainly not spotless all the time, and some Fridays we run out of hours before everything is finished. But isn’t that too a lesson in real life?
Since these sort of conversations can often be interesting to parents. I thought I’d share a bit about our family cleaning responsibilities and routine here in the event it might be helpful in your own home.
Begin laundering the linens in the morning. | After we have eaten breakfast, the children strip their beds instead of making them. Since we have four beds worth of bedding and bath mats to wash, I like to get this moving in the morning so it’s finished by our dinner hour. Bedding and bath rugs are the only laundry for this day. Clothing and towels are washed during the other weekdays. We switch the laundry throughout our school morning
Gather and refill all cleaning supplies. | Since we now make most of our own cleaning products, I usually take a moment to make and refill all of our spray bottles (using my favorite non-toxic cleaning recipes) just after lunch on Friday. I make sure the duster, broom, mops, cloths, and scrub brushes are all in an accessible spot for everyone.
Create detailed cleaning lists for each space. | Over the years, I’ve realized my children do not see things the way I do when it comes to what is clean. Ha! Imagine. When I set them on a task, whether washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom, our ideas of “finished” vary dramatically. This year, I wrote a list of very specific tasks for each space in our home for my children to check off during our weekly cleaning time. Some of the tasks seem almost silly to write out, for instance one from the bathroom list, “Place toothbrush holder and soap dispenser back on the clean counter” or “place the shampoo/conditioner/soap in the shower after it is cleaned.” For adults, these imperatives seem laughingly intuitive, and yet you have no idea how many times I’ve walked into a “finished” bathroom to find these bottles on the floor or another surface. Lists help create a sense of sameness and agreement about what “finished” really means. Although the lists look longer, each task is smaller, giving a sense of accomplishment as each is finished. I’m sure there are beautiful cleaning lists or templates you can purchase on Etsy or elsewhere, but I made ours in a moment with only lined paper and a pencil. I plan to go back to create a cleaner, laminated copy one day, but this works for now. If paper isn’t your family’s style, consider an app like ChoreMonster to help organize your lists and rewards.
Find age-appropriate tasks. | This is the hardest part, yes? I’ve begun by simply taking notice as we clean or work in the yard/garden together. What types of work can be more challenging or too much for them? Is it a matter of attitude or a lack of skill? Then I adjust the work as necessary. For instance, Olive at age six still needs much encouragement every step of the way through folding and putting away her laundry. Leaving her alone for too long with a large basket can be overwhelming and frustrating for her, even though she is capable, so I first ask her to first sort her basket by category: tops, bottoms, undies/PJs, and hanging clothes. I then check back and ask her to fold the tops neatly and put them away, then the bottoms, and so on. This helps break up the tasks she’s completing on her own into manageable bits for her age, whereas the older three (ages nine-twelve) take care of their laundering start to finish. I do often prompt them, “Do you need to do laundry today?” The goal of our parenthood is never to crush the children with burden, but to give them enough weight to make them stronger as they grow. Since at every age they are all learning, we still come alongside them in the process. Also, begin small. If your child doesn’t have any current cleaning responsibilities, begin with simple tasks such as vacuuming or sweeping or wiping down surfaces. I’m convinced all children love using spray bottles, and I keep a child-sized broom and mini dustpan/brush set hanging in the girls’ room, since it’s easier to use than our larger broom. Vacuuming is of course more thorough for children to collect dirt before mopping.
Work in sync. | Again, this seems obvious, but when we are all working at one time, it’s good for there to be order in the work. In our home, we begin in the common spaces: kitchen, dining, and living room, move into the bathrooms and bedrooms, and finish by mopping it all.
Take breaks. | Break up your tasks in a way that you and your children can take periodic breaks. Pay attention to when your children naturally begin to sit down or daze off. Take a break and head outdoors for a bit. For younger children this might be a 20 minute window. Make races against the clock or against you. “Can you clean out under your bed faster than me? Let’s race and find out!” Our older children can work for up to 90 minutes before I generally notice their lagging. We tend to take a mid-afternoon pause for snack on the lawn or front porch. The girls might ride their bikes for a bit and the boys play catch. This renews them to finish the task.
Turn on music. | Rotate music you and your children enjoy listening to and play it loudly for everyone to enjoy. This helps keep the tone of our time together upbeat and light. We all have turns choosing something, which means we listen to everything from film soundtracks to Taylor Swift to Arcade Fire to Andrew Byrd or Patty Griffin. The idea is play music you all can enjoy at some point.
Cleaning and taking care of the home requires a lot of patience for ourselves and our children, but we all share the sense of accomplishment when it’s finished–high-fives and hugs all around. Since the topic of allowance is so closely linked, I’m planning to share a bit about that next week. Stay tuned. Happy Friday!