I’ll be honest: I’ve never been super into cleaning. I’m the sort who gets easily overwhelmed by messes, yet gets too stressed to clean them up!
Every summer, I think, “This year, I’m going to get life together! The house will be perfect all the time!” I make some progress, but then I fall off the wagon.
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This year, it came to a head. I was pregnant and always felt like I’d been hit by a truck. We have three kids running around, and it felt like they were always leaving messes behind them. I just flat-out gave up on the house.
My husband does his part, of course, but with him working full-time it’s not like he could do everything.
So finally, we had a conversation a few weeks before back-to-school. I told him I needed some kind of structure. He suggested a chore chart for the whole family, and he put it together (which I really appreciate). With some adjustments, it has worked beautifully! I’m excited to share our family chore chart with you and why it works so well.
Why I was overwhelmed by mess before
In the past, when the house got to a certain point, I would A. freak out and fall into a sobbing disaster, before going into an angry cleaning frenzy, or B. just shut down and ignore the mess, letting it got worse until I eventually collapsed into option A. Not pretty.
But I think it’s important for me to delve into the mindsets that kept me trapped in a messy house and stressed-out state. Hopefully these thoughts can help you too!
I had an all-or-nothing mentality
Mindset has been my biggest problem around cleaning. I remember being told as a kid, “If you’re gonna do something half-assed, you may as well just not do it!”
Keeping anything clean and tidy for long is an impossible task in my house (see: three kids six and under). So there’s no way to keep things “whole-ass” cleaned, at least not at this stage.
Therefore, I subconsciously decided that I may as well give up before I even started.
And of course, my anxiety about a cluttered, dirty house grew. When we would work together on the house, I told my husband I was too overwhelmed to know where to start. I was just paralyzed.
He didn’t really get it. “Just start…somewhere! Anywhere!”
But in my head, I was defeated before even trying. I had to have a new mindset around cleaning, one that allowed for less than perfection.
I let the mess get out of control
I was an only child growing up, so my messes were pretty contained. The house was never in too bad of shape.
My mom liked to have one big cleaning day, where we vacuumed, scrubbed bathrooms, dusted, everything, in one big chunk of time (usually on Saturdays) between loads of laundry. That system worked for her.
But when you have three kids under the age of seven, cleaning for hours on end simply won’t work. If I try to get everything done at one time, I end up feeling defeated and cranky, and most likely my kids are cranky by that point too. Beyond that, there simply aren’t enough hours to do all the laundry for five people in one day.
Why I initially resisted a family chore chart
Even though I knew something had to change, I was afraid. Sure, some of it was pregnancy hormones, but that wasn’t my only source of fear around chore charts.
I was afraid of failure
Having a chart “committed” me to accomplishing tasks. Granted, these were daily tasks that need to get done, but the fear was still there.
What if I didn’t have time that day? After all, if I get home by 5:30 or 6:00 and have to do dinner, homework, and a bedtime routine, when am I supposed to do anything around the house?!
What if I didn’t feel like it, or a kid was sick, or whatever other excuse my brain could come up with?
You can probably see the rigidity of my mindset in all these questions. After all, missing one day shouldn’t ruin everything. But still, these concerns were real fears for me!
I worried about “one more thing to keep up with”
The other thing that kept me from wanting to do a chore chart is knowing that I would have to lead my kids in it. I mean, if I was having a hard time motivating myself to do basic cleaning tasks, how much harder would it be to get three children involved on a daily basis?
To me, getting the kids involved in cleaning didn’t look like a way to delegate responsibility for the house. It looked more like one more (difficult) chore for me!
But I knew something had to change, and I was desperate. So I agreed to try.
When the first week went really well, I worried about the future. “But we have to go back to school soon. How will we keep up then?”
My husband simply said, “We’ll deal with that when we get there.” And it’s actually been okay!
Our easy family chore chart
When I first thought about a chore chart, I had one of those adorable, Pinterest-worthy charts in mind. You know, the ones with the fabric background and perfect decorations and takes hours to make?
But let’s be real. Those are usually too complicated, and they just don’t work for people like me.
You know what we got? A white board and some markers. Done (We did at least pick a white board with a wooden frame instead of aluminum so it looked a little nicer).
Then, we made a grid and made a row for Mommy, Daddy, and each child (yes, even the two year old). Each person has their chore written in the grid for each day.
Why our chore calendar WORKS!
As I said, I was nervous (have I mentioned I deal with some irrational anxiety sometimes), but I have been pleasantly surprised! The chore chart has been a God-send, and we’ve been able to keep up, even after the school-year routine began.
The first week: The “hard reset”
Fortunately, the first week of our chore system was before school began, so we were able to do an extra-good job and catch up with all the backlog of clutter and dirt.
For example, scrubbing the kitchen is on our list of chores twice a week: I do it once on Wednesday, and my husband gets it on Sunday (we keep up with dishes between times). I had the first go at the kitchen, so I really doubled down: I scrubbed out the sink, the microwave, and made the stove top look good. My husband finished off the “hard-core” kitchen stuff on Sunday: Cleaning out the gunk at the bottom of the dishwasher, wiping down the cabinets and fridge.
Now, when it gets to kitchen scrubbing day, we still have the basics of dishes and wiping down counters, but if that’s all we get to, it’s okay. If we do manage to do a few of those deep-clean tasks, it’s great!
I plan to do one of these “hard resets” quarterly or so. That way, things that we may have become lax on (because life is relentless) can get caught up on.
Each person has one simple task per day
Like I said, my biggest worry about a chore chart was whether I’d be nagging kids every day about doing their chores. Fortunately, that (mostly) hasn’t been the case.
When we first started, my husband and I presented a united front: We discussed that the house wasn’t staying as neat as it needed to and that we were concerned, and that to solve the problem we would work together as a family (after all, one of our family rules is “Families help each other”).
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The beauty is, each person only has one task per day, and each task has really clear boundaries! Several days a week, the girls’ task is either to clean up the living room or to clean up the play room. They know exactly where they are supposed to be working, and they know what everything should look like when they’re done.
That’s not to say that they’re exempt from doing anything else. Often, they’ll be asked to put their clean clothes away after I fold them or to wipe down the table after dinner. They know that they can be asked to do a few other small things each day.
The chore chart keeps us encouraged and motivated
Now, there are always at least a few rooms I can look at and feel good about. The living room (before, one of the biggest eyesores) is cleaned at least every other day. And since there’s not so much “stuff” in the floor, I can actually vacuum without having to work around toys and remote controls!
And even when a room is cluttered, I know that it will be cleaned within a few days. Just that knowledge makes me feel better. My kids seem more motivated to put things up as they go, too (maybe because they’re realizing it’ll make chore time easier!).
And if there’s other daily tasks I have a hard time with, I add them to the chore chart! My six-year-old has nightly spelling words, and to keep us accountable (I have to guide her, after all), it has been added to the board. That way, I have to look at it when we check off chores for the night.
Our cleaning system is flexible
I change which chore the kids will be doing on a given day when I need to. For example, if they’re supposed to clean the play room on a day when it really looks okay, but their room is a wreck, I just tell them to clean their room instead. There may be a little more argument when their reading skills develop, but for now it works.
And yes, there are occasions when we skip chores. I limit these days to once a week, usually when getting home is extra-hectic. I don’t have many skip-days though, because I don’t want us to get out of the habit.
Benefits of a weekly chore chart
Not only is the chore chart good for keeping a cleaner, tidier home, it’s helpful for our whole family!
The chore calendar reduces stress for everyone
Now, the clutter is no longer staring me in the face, and I’m no longer completely overwhelmed by our home. It’s such a relief.
On top of that, my stress used to spill over on the kids and family, but by getting everyone involved, that anxiety and resentment is gone!
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Chore time usually takes around 20 minutes each evening. That small bit of time each day is a good trade for the reduced clutter and stress!
Chores teach kids responsibility
Getting the kids involved in the home on a daily basis teaches them that they have a place in our household.
In addition, they learn how to tackle jobs independently, instead of shutting down due to stress (like I was doing before). For example, my four-year-old does tend to get overwhelmed by chores still. If it’s her turn to clean the bedroom, she might say that it’s too hard and she’s “too tired.”
But if I go in and point out things one at a time (take these toys to the play room, put these books on the shelf, these clothes go in the hamper), she can get it done.
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Tedious? Yes. But I’ve already seen improvement from her (and I’m so proud!). She’s starting to be able to break down her chore into smaller, bite-sized tasks. This skill is only going to improve with practice.
Our chore chart can grow with our family
These ideas work whether you need a toddler chore chart, a preschool chore chart, or want to make daily tasks for older kids.
Each child is given chores based on their ability. For example, our two-year old has tasks such as “Clean your room,” “Make your bed,” or “Put clean forks and spoons into the drawer.” As he gets older, he’ll get more responsibility.
My girls (4 and 6) are responsible for a whole room each night. And my oldest is beginning to pick up on doing laundry. Right now, she knows how to transfer laundry from the washer to the dryer and turn it on. Yesterday, she even brought a (light) load of clean laundry up the stairs to me without being asked! I’m looking forward to the day when I can have the kids do their own clothes, hopefully within a few years.
As the kids get older, their chores can become more complex. Doing laundry from sorting to putting away is one big task, but we can move to letting them put up dishes (they just need to get taller), mowing the lawn, scrubbing bathrooms, and even cooking dinner.
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Conclusions on weekly chore charts
I hope this article has helped you rethink the way you approach house-keeping. If you’re like me and get stressed out easily about the house, a flexible, simple chore chart can make a big difference! Happy Parenting!