I’m not going to claim I know any more than you do about parenting. We all have our strengths, right? And mine decidedly do not lie anywhere near the housework area. But one thing I do know is that I want to raise kids who understand responsibility and teamwork. And I don’t want to live in a pigsty.
Plus, chores are good for kids. They teach important lessons and life skills. That’s why the pediatrician asks about them and so do the therapists and special education teachers. But how do you get your kids to actually do them?
I feel like I tried everything under the sun (like this homemade dinosaur chore chart) before we stumbled on a system that works for our family, and guess what? Like a lot of other things in life, we discovered that simple truly is best. This is the easiest chore system you are ever going to find. There are no charts, no checklists, no clipboards, nothing. It won’t make your house look perfect, but it will make the kids start taking responsibility for some of the annoying tasks around the house and make you feel a lot less like Cinderella, constantly being the only person doing all of the grunt work. Are you ready to learn my secret?
Assign every person in your family one daily after dinner chore, and three easy chores for Saturday morning. Make sure they are things that are easy and only take a few minutes. That’s it. I know. It’s so ridiculously simple it seems laughable. That’s the entire system, and it truly will change your entire family dynamic.
You may already be doing something similar, but it’s not working. That’s probably because the key to this system is that everyone does their one daily chore at the same time. There is less complaining when the kids know everyone is working and it just becomes part of the routine. The other secret is that the jobs need to be easy and age-appropriate. They shouldn’t take more than five minutes. This is not the time to tell a kid to dust the entire house or mop the kitchen floor. In our family, we use the 5 minutes immediately after dinner. We all get up from the table and do our one chore at the same time.
When we are finished, everyone takes another minute or two and puts away their own laundry. It never takes long because we do laundry every day, so it’s only the three or four things everyone wore yesterday. (I just wash everything together on cold with a high-quality detergent like Tide. I have been doing this for fifteen years and nothing bad has ever come of it.) This system has allowed us to keep up with both the dishes and the laundry without a ton of effort, which in itself is huge! (We have a large family. If you are a smaller family, consider assigning everyone two simple jobs.) Our daily jobs are:
- Nicholas- wipe the kitchen counter
- Abigail- unload the dishwasher
- Donny-straighten the shoe closet
- Ana-Wipe down the kids’ bathroom counter
- Penny-Wipe down the dining table
- Mom- start the washing machine and sort yesterday’s clothes from the dryer
- Dad- Load the dishwasher
Then we each have three additional chores on Saturday morning. These take slightly longer, but can still be done in around 15 minutes for the kids and less than an hour for the adults. We expect the kids to have their bedroom straight enough to be vacuumed and do these three things. These chores need to be completed and rooms need to be straight before anyone turns on a screen on Saturday morning. The jobs can be anything you want, but should be things the kids can do independently. In our house this looks like:
- Nicholas- clean off the steps, clear toys from the upstairs hallway, put away LEGOs
- Abigail- Refill toilet paper in all bathrooms and replace hand towels, wash upstairs windows, carry everyone’s sheets to the laundry room
- Donny- Sweep front porch, wash downstairs windows, take all stray kids’ toys to the person’s room
- Ana- Dust, wipe down light switches, straighten the backpack area
- Penny-Dust upstairs, wipe down doorknobs, straighten the shoe closet
- Dad- Vacuum, Mop, yardwork (we have a small yard that takes about 20 minutes to mow)
- Mom- Clean bathrooms, wash sheets, wipe down kitchen
We use allowance for motivation. Our kids earn $1/day, but on days that their chores are not done or their rooms aren’t clean they lose their chance to earn their dollar for that day. They get paid on Saturday mornings, but not until the Saturday chores are finished. We use a Google Doc spreadsheet to keep track of how much they’ve earned throughout the week. Eddie and I can both access it right from our phones. You don’t have to use money, you could do anything that works as motivation for your kids. Maybe a family movie or game night starts when the weekend chores are done?
We do also keep a list of ways they can earn more money by doing additional chores. In our house small tasks like sorting laundry are worth 50 cents, and larger tasks like mowing the lawn are worth $10. A few examples from that list are cleaning the car (inside or outside), picking up the dog mess from the yard, and weeding the garden. Basically, anything I don’t particularly like to do. We have some kids who are very motivated to earn extra money and some who couldn’t care less. If you don’t want to use money as a motivational tool, I find earning time on electronics works just as well. Maybe weeding the garden could earn and extra 30 minutes of screen time?
I am a much happier mom since we started this system, about a year ago. Before that I would try to implement these complicated systems and then get frustrated and feel defeated when they didn’t work. Sure, with this system our house is not perfectly clean all the time (or ever) because kids do kid-level work, but I don’t constantly feel underappreciated and worn out and that is priceless. The division of labor is much better. I no longer spend every day doing chores, just to feel defeated when everything is a wreck an hour later. I do try to do two additional things as part of my morning routine to keep up with the house, but I find that if I add just two small things in combination to our daily chores, that is usually enough. So I might clean the mirrors and the stovetop on Monday, and dust the ceiling fans and clean out the refrigerator on Tuesday. You get the idea. I don’t have a schedule, I just look around and chose two things I can accomplish in less than ten minutes. I try to be finished whatever two things I chose by the time I drop the kids off for school in the morning, so I don’t have to think about housework for the rest of the day. It’s freed up so much time for me to do things I enjoy, like read a book or do some writing.
The one caveat I will add is that this system works much better if you declutter your house first. If your bathroom counters are cluttered with a hundred beauty products, then it is going to be hard for a kid to wipe them down quickly. Spend some time getting your flat surfaces like countertops and dining tables clear, then this system works amazingly well!
Please comment below with more examples of easy, kid-friendly chores. Let me know if you try this system at your house, and don’t forget to pin and share!