Now that you’ve got rid of all those nasty, dangerous chemicals, your kids can help you keep the house clean! But how can you get them to do so, without resorting to bribes, yelling, and dire threats?
I am writing specifically with the kids in mind, but I think these tips can be extended to apply to roommates and husbands as well.
(with a minimum of whining)
- Start early. If your kids can’t remember a time when they weren’t expected to pitch in, they won’t complain about it.
- Tailor the task to the age. The oldest brings the laundry in from the line and distributes clothing to the room in which it belongs; the middle child matches up socks and puts those away; the youngest folds napkins, placemats and washclothes. Everyone gets a job that fits their capabilities and they can feel they do well.
- Give compliments….Kids should feel good about their contribution to family harmony.
- But don’t overdo it. Remember that you want this to become a commonplace habit, ideally to the point where chores undone will just not “feel right” to everyone involved. Give praise when jobs are particularly well-done, or when you didn’t have to remind them to do something, or when they helped a sibling.
- Don’t complain. It starts with you. The more you act like cleaning is horrible, horrible stuff, akin to slavery, the less your kids are going to want to do it. Of course, I’m not saying you have to pretend you love it, either. Just that it needs to be done and nobody likes a martyr.
- Trade off jobs. When the kids mop, one sprays the floor down with cleaner, paying attention to dirty spots. One mops. One dries. Every room, they trade off so everyone gets a chance at the good job and does their time on the bad job. (Note: the good job and bad job seems to change all the time, for no particular reason.)
- Let the kids do the adult jobs sometimes. Once I cut my hand open and didn’t want to do the dishes. My kids were delighted to do it. They have asked to be allowed to do it ever since. Sometimes they will make dinner. Sandwiches and salad, to be sure, but kids like to feel that they have done something truly helpful.
- Let them do it their own way. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Remember that the goal is establishing habits and making life easier in the long run.
- Don’t hover. Be resigned, in the beginning, to going back and getting the bits they missed, but don’t ever let them catch you doing it. This undermines the confidence in younger ones, and leads older ones to think that a so-so job is good enough because you’re just going to redo it anyway. But let them do their job, without you breathing down their neck.
- Relax your standards. If you are crazy nit-picky, your family will conclude that there is no pleasing you. Pick one thing and let the others go. My pet peeve is socks on the floor. I have put everybody on notice. If I find socks on the floor, that person is in trouble and he knows it, but it is fair for me to be mad because he had fair warning. But if you have a laundry list of things that will make you mad, then you will always be after your kids to remember to do things. They will not be able to keep track of it all. That sets up a vicious cycle where you’re always critical, so they give up; on your end, it feels like nobody is trying, so you become resentful. I speak from experience: Let it go.
- If you need to, make “supervisor” a job. Have one kid vacuum, then have the supervisor point out the spots missed. Kids will delight in showing their siblings their mistakes, and your floor will be very well vacuumed. Make sure this job gets traded off fairly, and use it sparingly.
- Make daily chores routine. Obviously the table needs to be set and cleared every night, but sometimes we’re tempted to let room cleaning or countertops slide. That’s how we sentence ourselves to a beautiful Saturday wasted on cleaning. Have everyone chip in every night to clean the community areas, and every night spend five minutes picking up their own bedrooms. Daily maintenance will make weekend power cleaning a breeze.
- Make weekend cleaning routine, too. Our kids have free time until noon on the weekend. At noon, the TV goes off and they owe me an hour of intensive cleaning. For them, that means floor mopping, vacuuming, and really cleaning their rooms. Since they know for a fact that there is no wriggle room on the 12:00-1:00 time slot, they don’t bother to argue. Plus, they enjoy a clean bathroom as much as anyone else.
- Make it fun. Play loud music. Sing off-key. Dance.
- Make it worth their while. Having less housework to do means I have more free time. I use that time to bake goodies for lunchboxes, and to make brunch on Sundays. My kids have a hard time complaining about cleaning when their mouths are full of the pancakes their father and I made while they were tidying. Note: I don’t tie chores or housework to an allowance. This falls under the category of “social responsibility”, which is an unpaid obligation, and it applies outside the home, too.
- Set an example. You can’t expect kids to keep their rooms clean when your office is a mess.
- Keep it consistent. Cleaning a bedroom every night is doable. Let the mess pile up for a week, though, and you really can’t expect kids to handle it. It’s just too much; they’re not equipped to figure out where to begin. Same with the weekly mop: if it’s done every week, I can be reasonably sure they’ll do a good job. Leave it for a month, and now we’re dealing with serious grime, and I’m going to be the one applying the elbow grease.
- Be consistent time-wise, too: I try to always have dishes done by 7:30 so I have time to read to my daughter and have lights-out by 8. If it’s 7:25 and I still have a sinkful, my husband will often grab a towel and start drying without being asked, because he can see I’m behind schedule.
- Have less stuff. Seriously. It took me years to see the simple wisdom here. If you can’t keep the clutter under control, you have too much stuff. The less stuff you have, the less time you spend picking it up and putting it away.
- Know when to stop. Be reasonable. No matter how dirty the house is, at 1:00 on Saturday, we are done, excepting the everyday stuff like laundry. The rest of the day stretches invitingly in front of us, guilt-free. We have done our time, the house is clean enough for today, let’s go out and play.
I cannot overemphasize how much setting up schedules and routines simplified our life. It just becomes a part of your daily rhythm and muscle memory. One day you will find that you cannot go to sleep with clothes thrown on the floor. You will automatically wash out the coffeepot and put it away without even registering the act. And you will look around your house in amazement, because it is clean, and yet you have free time.
I only started these measures about six months ago, when I simply had had enough. I would spend all day Friday cleaning, and Monday morning I would survey a house worse than it was before I started.
The kids grumbled at first. My husband shrugged me off. I kept going. I think it took about eight weeks before they- and I- realized it wasn’t just a passing phase, that I was serious, that this was important to me. They did their part, grudgingly. Then, it slowly became habit, and the complaining stopped. I had more time to cook, to read. I became a nicer mom. I was starting new projects, I was excited about things, I was more fun to be around. I think on some subconscious level the family wanted to reinforce that, so they in turn became more helpful.
And now, we’ve hit a point where if things get messy, it bugs us, and nobody complains when we schedule an hour of extra cleaning time. Because we’ve become used to having a clean house, and the serenity, the peace of mind, that comes with it, and we are willing to put in a little extra time in to have that.
But it’s not just about a clean house. It goes beyond that, too.
More thought along that line in tomorrow’s segment:
Also see Green Cleaning 101 to review what cleaning products we use.