Shortly after the new year, I sent the Musical Memory email readers an email about how we’re trying to start the year off right. In it I mentioned our cleaning chores systems and that seemed to strike a chord with people.
I got several responses to the effect of:
- Wait, tell me about the morning list?
- The kids have the same chores every day?
- The kids clean their own toilets?
So, I figured a response was warranted.
This may be more than you ever wanted to know about one family’s cleaning & chore routines.
On the other hand, I think we sometimes want a peek past Pinterest & Instagram… We ask our friends, “Okay, seriously, what actually works with real people in your actual home!?”
To that end, just take any idea that works for you & ignore the rest.
We’ve had some sort of morning list for a really long time. We’ve called it catchier things over the years, but “morning list,” has just stuck.
My kids’ morning lists include 2 basic personal responsibility things + 3 basic chores. (They’re currently 5-10 years old, and we’ve had this system in place for almost 2 years.) Everything is the same every day.
We all do additional cleaning chores on Friday mornings at the same time, so those aren’t on the list.
I had a friend say to me this week, “But why do I have to put ‘brush your teeth’ on a list for a 7 year old!? Can’t they just remember to do it every day?”
I have no answers. 😂
Maybe I’m doing something wrong in life, but I got tired of saying the same thing several times a day – “Did you brush your teeth? Hair? Are you wearing clean underwear?”
So, I put it on a list.
The kids have the lists taped to their walls or bedroom doors.
Ways to Organize Chores
In our home, the kids have 1 cleaning chore that is the same every day, and stays the same for a lonnnnnng time. So far, we seem to be switching it up every 6 months ish.
This same-chore-every-day has been the game changer for chores in our house. It’s the only chore system that’s ever worked for more than 1 month for us. Win!
Kids younger than 4.5-5 have mostly been responsible for their own toy messes and just helping me with whatever job I’m doing. I almost always say yes to an eager 1-4 year old helper. Even if it slows me down, I know the chance to help mom evolves into children who generally pitch in long-term.
The kids (ages 4-10) have done various jobs over the past couple years:
- Dusting (using microfiber cloth only)
- Cleaning windows or glass doors (using wet and dry microfiber cloths – no cleaning product needed)
- Vacuum one main floor space (we have a lightweight vacuum)
- Vacuum or sweep under the kitchen table after breakfast
- Bring logs from the garage to the rack near the fireplace
- Unloading breakfast dishes
- Cleaning bathroom sinks or counters (microfiber again – no cleaning products)
- Cleaning bathroom mirrors
SECTIONS – The dusting kid dusts everything in the family room one day, the dining room the next day, the piano area the next day, etc. The windows kid works in sections too… kitchen area windows one day, back door glass the next, french doors on the music room the next, etc.
The cleaning chores seem to take the kids less than 5 minutes. Basically, we all do a little work every day (even when we don’t feel like it) to keep our home basically cared for, cozy, and welcoming to others.
Everyone has different things that work in their home! Some other systems that work well for families I know personally:
- A and B chore days – 2 sets of chores and the kids switch back and forth each week. Simple!
- Day of the week chores – Monday dusting, Tuesday laundry, Wednesday windows, etc. Everyone in the house tackles dusting at the same time in different spots; then everyone pitches in on laundry all day; then, everyone cleans different windows on windows day. I could see this one working really well.
- Zones – Each person is responsible for a zone that gets frequently messy… mudroom, school room, main floor bathroom, etc.
Evening Tidy… What’s Next!?
Sometime before the end of each day (usually before dinner, but it could be any time) we typically do a “what’s next” clean up of the entire house.
Again, we’ve utilized different rhythms or systems in different seasons, but this is the one working for us right now.
I usually give a heads up of some sort. “Hey kids, in 5 minutes we’re going to do a what’s next clean up before we….. [watch a show, eat dinner, start family movie night, get ready for sports practice, whatever].”
The Rules of What’s Next
The day I introduced this, I said cheerfully: “We’re going to try a new way to tidy up. You each ask me what’s next? I’ll give you one job, you do it as fast as possible, and then come ask me what’s next when you’re done. BUT I will also be working so you have to come find me. No one is finished until I say so. And I’ll time how long it takes us to tidy up the whole house! Are you ready?”
Yes!!! (Enthusiastic cheers… haha because I made it sound fun and they were little. It’s definitely not always met with enthusiastic cheers lol! 😉 )
But it seriously works. Almost anything out of place in our house can be put back this way…
- Pillows on the floor back to the couch
- Take apart the fort and put the blankets back in the basket
- Put the cushions back on the couch
- Run this basket of clean laundry upstairs
- Put the toilet paper rolls we bought at target into the cabinet
- Clean up puzzle or game pieces that got left out
- Unload a dishwasher
- Clean up school supply project items
- Clean up a craft explosion
- Any single toy/ kid activity
- Outside things too! Bikes, chalk, cushions, sand toys…
The possibilities are endless. It works so well for us! It even works when we have friends over. We don’t always have friends help us clean up but when we do, I just explain the system and get very specific. It takes 5-10 minutes and the entire house is tidy! Friends don’t seem to mind helping either…. maybe because I usually offer snacks afterwards!
Keys to Success with Family Chores
Finding a chore rhythm that works for our family took a lot of trial and error. I’ve also changed routines with life’s seasons. I’ve also tried a lot of things that didn’t work well and thus learned a few tricks to making whatever chore system you do work for your family:
- Make Time. Set aside specific chore/ list time each weekday. Our kids have 15-30 minutes before or after breakfast.
- Demo it. Do the chore with your child(ren) at first until they truly feel independent. The younger the child, the longer you’ll need to help. If chores aren’t working well for your family right now, try starting at ground zero and showing each person how to do each required chore for a couple weeks. Gradually transition from the child watching you to you watching the child to the child doing it on his own!
- Don’t Assume. Don’t assume your child knows the details of the task. Do pajamas go back in the drawer, under the pillow, in the laundry basket, or somewhere else? What do you do when the laundry basket is full? Just keep piling clothes on top of it? Bring it to the laundry room? Tell Mom?
If I find myself repeatedly frustrated over a small thing like this, we go back to step 2. Haha…. Re-explain, practice it, show them how, let them practice, etc. If it’s just laziness or carelessness, I just have a child practice 5 times in a row.
- Inspect!! Point out what they did well – make a big deal! “Wow, your bed looks so neat. I love how you lined up all your stuffed animals. Doesn’t it feel great to have such a cozy, clean bed to read in later!?” If something specific is not up to par, gently point it out. “I see that you cleaned these windows, they’re all sparkling. Except, do you notice this giant spot of old boogers that got missed?” (Lol try to correct, but don’t be too negative, and don’t nitpick too much. It’s a fine line. 🤣)
- Be Patient. Give the system time; adjust as needed.
- Keep it simple!!
- Write it down. For us, having written lists has been key. I print one out with cute icons (free on Canva), pop it in a page protector for each child, then they’re responsible for posting it somewhere that’s helpful to them – bedroom door, above bed, bathroom mirror, whatever. The non-readers’ list has pictures.
You can steal my winter themed checklist printable here.
Fun Rabbit Trail – Canva is a free design tool that I make all my printables in. Some features are paid but you can do a lot for free. If you want to edit my printable, create your own Canva account, then click this link to copy my template and edit it yourself. You change the icons, add or delete lines, and add names or chores.
A couple years ago, I realized I felt like a crabby mom. I don’t want to be a crabby mom. I don’t want to
Our kids have been responsible for clearing their dishes from a meal for several years. If they forget, I just have them do it 5 times in a row. I try not to sound crabby (though I definitely do sometimes).
But I try to just say matter of factly, “Since you forgot to clear your dishes, will you please practice 5 times.” Then they walk back and forth from the table to the sink holding their plate 5 times. Usually we end up laughing. It’s just a minor inconvenience for everyone, but enough of an inconvenience to help the habit stick.
This is how we taught the kids to close the door to the house from the garage. Ha! Every time it didn’t close all the way (it’s tricky) or they forgot, we’d just have them stand there and close it 5 times in a row.
Even the task seems so simple that it’s silly, just explain it gently & graciously & matter of factly. No need to be condescending, but the kids can practice & then for a few weeks, you can go out of your way to encourage the new habit.
Room cleaning is such a matter of personal preference!! But I hear mom’s talk about it all the time so I’ll share our approach.
We’ve gone through seasons of I-don’t-care-just-close-the-door. Particularly when we’re in a busier season of life.
I only very recently taught my kids how to make their beds. After the first few weeks/ months of practice, all four (ages 5-10) have gotten the hang of it and are able to lay a decently smooth blanket, and put the pillows back nicely.
Currently, I make time & space each day for the kids to spend a few minutes tidying up their rooms. Theoretically, everything has a place so all they have to do is put the thing in the place.
All moms everywhere know that this is not actually how things work in reality though. 😂
Less is More
While there have been times where our kids’ rooms were basically empty and we kept zero toys in the bedrooms, all of our kids actually use and play in their rooms a lot now! They all have various projects & activities they get really into.
I have found that the fewer things are in my children’s rooms, the easier it is for them to clean.
They go through different phases of what they enjoy. We’re home a lot (#homeschoollife) and they play a lot in our home & in their rooms, especially in the winter. And we don’t do a ton of screen time.
Slowly but surely I’m learning that if we’re all going to enjoy our home, use it fully & be in it a lot together, it’s going to be messy sometimes! So rather than stress out about it, might as well come up with ways to ‘put it all back together’ easily.
To that end, our kids’ rooms are actually never pinterest worthy spic & span. But they are typically able to be tidied in less than 15 minutes each morning. And if it ever gets so bad that there are tears, we skip it until a weekend when I help out and we remove a bunch of things for a fresh clean slate.
Again, it’s a personal preference, but I typically don’t mind an extravagant fort in someone’s bedroom if it means an afternoon of fun & creative play. I don’t mind legos all over the place from hours of building. Eventually it does get cleaned up. If the mess gets beyond the child’s capability, I just carve out 10 minutes for us all to pitch in and many hands make light work.
Of course there have been times where I’ve lost my marbles and threatened everyone that we’re throwing out all the toys if they don’t GET THIS ALL CLEANED UP RIGHT NOW.
But that usually ends in tears and my apologizing and us all pitching in to help out a while later. Ay ay ay. No perfect moms at this house.
Quarterly-ish Deep Cleans
This is not a scheduled things. But, occasionally, I notice – someone’s bedroom is always a mess, things are in piles, it doesn’t seem fun to play anymore because the child can’t find anything, and I feel crabby just trying to walk across the room to say goodnight.
When the kids were super little, this never happened because they had very few toys. Haha but now their individual hobbies and projects seem to come with so many pieces. We could say ‘no’ to those things, but I tend to say – “Sure, why don’t you take up crochet?! Great idea.”
Soooo sometimes the kids’ rooms get suuuuuper messy.
If this is the case, I try to carve out a Friday or Saturday morning where I can help the child sort through the chaos. It’s irritating sometimes, but it is what it is.
We make a big concerted effort to pile things in “give away” or “put elsewhere” or “throw away” baskets and basically get a bunch of stuff out of the bedroom. I would say we have to do this with each kid’s room about once a quarter.
Bottom Line on Bedrooms
Our kids are expected to tidy their rooms pretty well Monday- Thursday. Friday is “bigger room tidy” day. It has to be clean enough to vacuum the floor. Then, no room cleaning on the weekend! 😀
None of the room cleaning business happened overnight. It’s been years in the making. But, slowly & surely all the kids are learning to manage our things with a good attitude (even when we don’t feel like it), and to throw out or give away things that are no longer useful or enjoyable.
And I’m learning to choose patience when training the kids on these things, to keep my expectations reasonable and realize these things take time, to keep their stuff & lives simple (less is more), and to do things I don’t feel like doing with a good attitude too. (Like spending a Saturday morning helping a kid sort through all the crap they brought into their room and forgot to deal with over the past couple months.)
Turns out doing things we don’t want to do with a good attitude is something for all ages to work on.
Less Frequent House Cleaning Chores
Weekly Friday Cleaning + Bathrooms
We carve out time Friday mornings after breakfast & morning time for extended chores. Friday is a lighter school day for us & I don’t do any 1 on 1 lessons with my younger kids. So everyone is responsible for cleaning their room thoroughly enough to vacuum. (The older kids vacuum their own rooms too!)
And all the kids are responsible for the shared bathroom cleaning job too. The girls share a bathroom and the boys share a bathroom, so it all evens out.
Again, I just taught the kids how to do it, helped as needed for a while, and eventually they got the hang of it and they’re pretty fast at it too. They sometimes groan, but we are all cleaning at the same time, so it never seems like that big of a deal. (I even have one child who loves cleaning bathrooms, so he does our ½ bath on the main floor & earns extra chore money for that work.)
Would the bathroom be cleaner if I paid a cleaning lady? Yes
Would the bathroom be cleaner if I did it myself? Yep.
But…I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at the general positive effect of cleaning chores on my kids’ attitudes & helpful spirits that it’s just been a worthwhile tradeoff.
Not to mention, now that the kids are old enough to do a legitimately good job on the basic cleaning chores, it saves us a ton of time and money to just do it ourselves!
It’s definitely a personal choice & of course there isn’t a right answer. I’ve cleaned them all myself in the past, and I’ve hired out cleaning in the past. But right now this works for us. (I do occasionally consider hiring someone once a quarter to do a deeper cleaning job than I feel like making the time for.)
One more note about cleaning chores on Fridays… it may sound silly, but I do really feel like it’s been a huge improvement in our weekly rhythm to carve out time on Friday mornings to clean together. A friend of mine recently called it, “extended home blessing time,” which I love.
We’re more diligent about getting school work done Monday – Thursday so that we can clean Friday morning and have the rest of the day free for play, errands, a library trip, and a gymnastics class. The kids get all of Saturday to play and hang out. Sunday is for church/ rest/ family time.
Setting aside Fridays for house work & errands forces me to be choosy in what I plan for our school load and not just pile things on to check more boxes.
And the kids learn so many intangible lessons about working with your hands & working together that are hard to recreate through schoolwork and kid-centered activities. In a time of incredible material abundance and convenience, cleaning our home together seems like it’s been a small way to just sow those seeds of hard work.
I guess time will tell.
Seasonal Chores & Deeper Cleaning
I don’t have any sort of specific system for seasonal deep cleaning. But it seems like every so often I sort of get fed up with the house feeling dirty or notice that some of the grime has really piled and we just have a random deep cleaning day.
I pull out all the cleaning supplies (mainly Norwex cloths, Norwex cleaning paste, and magic erasers), list out alllll the things I’ll pay extra for and we just go for it. Kids start cleaning & tallying up what they’re earning, and it sort of all works out.
Our house is never THAT clean. But we use our house hard, the door is open and anyone is welcome to come over…. As long as you don’t look too closely. 😉
[image of chores list & supplies]
Typically, I’m the type of person that wants to do all the things all at once!! But I’ve found when it comes to adding new habits or routines at home, we kind of have to do one at a time or it all falls apart and we do nothing well.
If you’re looking to get your kids on board with helping more around the house, try picking 1-2 things to start with and build up over time. In a few years, you can put your feet up and eat bon-bons while your kids clean the house. (JK 😉)
Happy homemaking!! What a gift to have a roof over our heads & a warm home so large that it’s difficult to take care of sometimes. Put it on the perspective scale, as my sister-in-law sometimes says 🙂