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I remember once complaining to my mother, “It seems like I’m the only one who really cares about how the house looks!”  She looked me right in the eyes and said, “That’s right.  It isn’t as important to anyone else as it is to you.”  Wow.  Light bulb moment!  It didn’t change anything.  But it did help me to set reasonable expectations.

No chore system will fix all of your problems.  No schedule or chart will align hearts and cause people to care about the same things you care about.  But it does help to organize what needs to be accomplished and clearly communicate expectations. Those who enjoy food, clothing, and a warm safe house can participate in the work those benefits require.

In broad terms, the goal of any chore schedule is roughly these three things:

  1. Keep the home a livable, functional place that is comfortable for residents and guests.
  2. Share the work amongst those who are able to help.
  3. Teach the children the physical tasks of housekeeping and the character traits of diligence and responsibility.

There are a million systems and strategies for organizing chores.  None of them is the silver bullet.  But if your chore system feels a little rusty, think about adjusting the levels on some of the following variables:

More Clean vs. Less Clean

What is considered livable varies from home to home and even family member to family member.  I hate it when the bathroom floors look icky.  My husband might never notice that but is irked by cluttered counter tops and tables.

Is your chore schedule based on what a family is “supposed” to be accomplishing in a week, or what it takes to make the house comfortable and livable for your family?  Tune in on the things that work for your family.  Scale back on the things that you never think about except when you’re looking at the chore checklist.  If they never bother anybody, is it any wonder that no one is particularly motivated to work on them?

I loved this Periscope by Mary about how her family manages their chores and especially how they have determined what is really required for functionality in their household!

[embedyt] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzANFCPr-4w[/embedyt]

More Frequently vs. Less Frequently

This spectrum applies to the overall chore schedule as well as individual items on the list.  Some families do all of their cleaning in one day.  Others sprinkle the chores out a little bit every day.  Shifting a bit in one direction or the other could smooth out some wrinkles in your chore schedule.  One-day-a-week cleaning streamlines the schedule on other days.  But if the family tends to loose steam trying to tackle the whole list in one day, doing a little every morning might work better.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  We have a one-day-a-week chore morning for most tasks.  But it was too difficult to keep the laundry cycles running while we managed bathroom cleaning, vacuuming, and other projects.  Now the laundry happens a little at a time all throughout the week.  You could also try switching which day a week you do chores.  Maybe Saturday when Daddy is home?  Maybe Friday to be ready for the weekend?  Currently, we do the bulk of our chores on Monday morning because it seemed like we often spent part of Monday recovering from the chaos of the weekend anyway!

Changing frequency can also help with individual tasks.  Emptying trashcans is a simple task that even my three-year-old can complete.  But helping her to remember it once a week and monitoring the mess of spillage from overflowing bins wasn’t fun.  Now she empties trash cans every single day.  No, it really doesn’t have to be done that frequently, but now she always knows what her morning chore is, the trash cans are always easy to carry and empty, and missing a day isn’t a big deal.  She's at an age where she wants to have a job, so keeping her running with waste bins is a great activity!

Some chores need to be completed regularly because the longer you let them go, the more work they are.  For example, washing dishes from two meals takes almost twice as long as washing dishes from one meal.  Delaying other tasks, however, may save time.  Changing sheets or towels after two weeks of use doesn't take any longer than changing them with only one week's worth of wear.  How long you can go depends on your preferences and your family's needs (like allergies, sensitive skin, and, um, sweating habits!). Here's one mom's sample list of her family's chore frequency.

When I first started housekeeping, my mom gave me the Sidetracked Home Executives.  This book is full of hilarious and functional suggestions for making clean possible.  The appendices alone are worth the price of the book.  You'll find lists for organizing almost any area of tasks you need to manage and suggestions for task frequency. (Remember, "suggestions" is the key word here.  Other people's lists give you a starting point.  Adapt as needed!)

Older People vs.  Younger People

One of the problems with chore schedules is that we forget to update them!  Maybe your seven-year-old has been putting away silverware for two years now and you could hand that task down to the five-year-old.  Then the seven-year-old can be reassigned to a task that perhaps was formerly mama’s job.  Here is a list of age-appropriate chores for children of different ages.  Here's another post of tasks-by-age that includes some Montessori-style ideas for teaching preschoolers about chores!  And finally, here's a big collection of posts on chores by age!

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with assigning and older child a job that is below her ability level because she’ll be able to accomplish it quickly and well.  Play to the strengths of your child, not just to their chronological age.  Do you have a heavy-lifter or an outdoorsman?  Do you have an organizer or a detail-oriented person?  And don’t forget the ever valuable resource of an older sibling who is able to sweetly wrap in a younger sibling to “help” with a job!

If you move a child into a new job, be willing to flex your standards a bit as you get them up and running.  If this is a job you never manage to get to, kid-grade work is better than nothing!  On the other hand, it isn’t necessary to set yourself up for a lot of follow-up work just to raise children who are good workers.  If you’re dealing with other struggles in the chore schedule, keep the job on your plate or on the list of an older child.  There will be time later for training in this task.

Fixed Schedule vs. Flexible Schedule

The advantage of a fixed list of chores is that your kids will always know what to do every day.  You won't have to spend time daily or weekly setting up or rearranging the chores and kids will get good and efficient at their assigned tasks.  The advantages of a flexible chore schedule are that kids can experience some variety in their tasks and learn how to do multiple chores.   And no one will be eternally saddled with that job.

The downside of the flexible chore schedule is that, as with most any other household process, mama will be the bottleneck.  There just isn't enough mama to go around!  Especially if you have younger children, you may want to consider less flex in your schedule.  I mentioned above that my three-year-old empties trash cans ever.singe.day.  She's a pro.  No supervision needed.  My children (all age 11 and under) have a fixed list of chores they tackle every single morning and a list of Monday-chores for our once-a-week cleaning.  They know what to do and when they're done, they're done!

One suggestion for a compromise between flex and fixed is to have a floater.  Pick one of your oldest and most capable children and assign them to "float".  This means that at chore time, they come to you and ask what needs to be done.  While the other kids are on auto-pilot, you have a chance to hand-pick some currently-needed assignments for someone who is old enough to handle them competently.

Because "floater" can be such a pot-luck job, my two oldest take turns.  On even (date) days, my oldest is the floater while his sister has J-Day (playing with the toddler).  On odd days they switch.  Because J-Day is a really popular assignment, this balances out the challenge of floating.

Divide and Conquer vs. Many Hands

You've heard the phrase "Many hands make light work"?  This is so true...assuming they are all actually working!  At the end of the day, we often tackle the "school room" (the place where we keep toys, games, and school stuff and spend the majority of our time) altogether.  This enables mama to supervise everyone at once.

But, it also means that we encounter the inevitable: some people are faster workers than others.  The faster workers, then, end up doing a greater share of the work than the pokey workers, essentially rewarding slow work and penalizing diligence.  Part of the remedy is to have a conversation about how those who are older and more able (including mama and daddy) will naturally bear more of the responsibility.  This is a part of the ebb and flow of life and service in community.

Another option is to find a balance between "many hands" and "divide and conquer".  Some families do Zone Cleaning. That way, each child knows his responsibilities and can be released from work time dependent on his own work, not held back by the (lack of) work of other children.

We do a combination of both.  In the afternoon, we start off straightening the school room altogether.  I assign particular tasks within the larger job ("Robyn, work on the books, please."  "Henry, put all the shoes by the door.")  As I see tasks being accomplished, I let kids head off to their individual tasks.  When their individual jobs are done, work time is finished for that child.

Chore System Implementation

Now that you've tweaked your chore schedule, here are some great suggestions and resources for implementing it!

You can find more info on the system above here at this post.


More Ideas for Implementation …

In researching for this post, I pinned TONS of articles to my Life Skills Ideas Pinterest board.  You might want to check that out, too!

You know what I want your main takeaway from this post to be?  I want you to leave this post saying “People choose and organize their household chores in all kinds of ways.  But I’m the expert on my family and our needs.  I have the power to choose what works best for us!”  And don’t forget …

There is no such thing as the perfect chore system. But if you'd like to tweak your schedule a bit, here are five things to consider!

  • What a great post – love your mom’s comment to you! It DOES matter most to us. That is an important place to start. Thanks for the youtube link 🙂

    • Sometimes the best “fix” is an expectation adjustment, right?? 🙂

  • I’m the oldest of 9 children and I was often overwhelmed by the amount of chores. For my children, a cash reward system seems to be their most motivating factor. I didn’t grow up with an allowance but, I believe it helps children learn to manage money they’ve earned.

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    Lynna Sutherland is the mother of eight kids ages teen to toddler. She hosts the Sibling Relationship Lab podcast and writes about sibling conflict resolution and sibling relationship building. Lynna believes that the gospel transforms sibling conflict from an obstacle to an opportunity and loves to show other parents the freedom and confidence of gospel-centered parenting.