Finally, a Chore System That Actually Works in My HouseHeather Sokol
Over the years, we’ve struggled through a variety of chore systems in an effort to get our kids to clean up around the house in a way that’s actually helpful. I’ve offered payment for chores. I’ve offered prizes for cleanliness. I’ve pulled my hair out in frustration as I cleaned up the messes myself each night. But a few months ago, I finally stumbled on the miracle solution – a chore system that keeps our home cleaner than ever while allowing us all to be a little lazy.
It turns out, the problem was the vast gap between their idea of clean and mine. I want the house to be free of clutter, dusted, swept, and polished. They think shoving a few pair of shoes under the couch counts as “done.” Telling a kid to “clean your room” is likely going to result in her playing in said room for several hours while accomplishing nothing. They don’t know where to start, and each attempt only distracts them with toys they haven’t unearthed in months.
Once I understood this fundamental disconnect, it was easier to find a solution. The key is to make sure that your expectations are defined clearly, so I developed a system of step-by-step chore cards with detailed instructions for each task.
I started by writing out a very specific list for the kids to clean their rooms:
- Put all books on the bookshelf.
- Put all stuffed animals in the cradle.
- Put all dirty clothes in the hamper.
- Put all clean clothes in the bins or on hangers.
- Put all shoes in the tote.
I’ll admit, I also got a little crazy and wrote down every single toy category they might possibly have: put Legos in the Lego tower, put Barbies in the Barbie bin, etc.
We ended up with a long list, but it actually simplified our cleaning process. Now they didn’t have to figure out what I meant by “clean,” and I didn’t have to figure out why they thought it was a good idea to put dolls in the hamper.
We decided to extend the clarity to other rooms in our home, but I kept it short and simple. Each area or chore has its own card (I used paint samples – they’re pretty and best of all, FREE!), and four basic instructions – one for each color shade on the card. It’s precise enough to clarify expectations and broad enough that even the little kids can make an impact.
The younger ones aren’t expected to be as detailed as the teens but they can still complete all four steps. On Sundays, I pass out the week’s chore cards — one per kid plus an extra for teens. (They’re capable of much more in less time and can be expected to shoulder a little added responsibility.)
One of my favorite cards is “Take Out the Trash.” On the surface, that sounds pretty easy, but assign it to a 12-year-old, and you end up with overflowing bathroom trashcans and a completely empty kitchen garbage, right down to the missing liner. With our step-by-step cards, even the 8-year-old knows that the first step is to gather all bedroom and bathroom trash, and the last step is replacing the trash bags.
I haven’t had to empty the trash in months because no matter which kid is assigned the chore, it usually gets done correctly. You guys, I may never have to clean again.
Seriously, though, it’s freeing me up to do more thorough cleaning than I ever used to accomplish. The ceiling fan gets dusted more than once a year. The curtains are washed even when company isn’t expected and our entire home is generally cleaner than ever before.
It may be time to laminate these cards – our chore system isn’t going anywhere!
How to Create Your Own Chore System
Be Specific: Be very clear in your expectations. “Pick up toys” will end up with a stack of toys in a different room or on the furniture. “Put away toys in toy box” gets them exactly where they belong.
Keep It Simple: Keeping each chore limited to a few simple instructions helps kids finish the job without getting overwhelmed.
Color Code: Use the same colored card for similar chores, areas of the home, or appropriate ages. (How you divide the chores will depend on the setup of your home and family.)
Mix It Up: Be sure to change it up regularly by mixing the chore cards or assigning different tasks to each kid. Even if you only have one child, provide 3-4 different chores and rotate regularly.
Define Expectations: Decide on a consequence or reward, like no electronics or television until chores are completed each day.
Give Kids Ownership: Right now, my kids often take initiative to finish chores in the morning, right after breakfast. During the school year, chores are done right after homework before any activities or free time. They are also free to trade, but I don’t referee chore swaps.
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