I’ve said to my kids on more than one occasion that I am not the maid, this isn’t a hotel or a restaurant, and everyone in this family helps. I cannot and will not clean up after seven other people like a servant. I sound just like a mom, don’t I?
Raise your hand if this has happened to you. It’s time to rally the troops. “Ok everyone, let’s clean up the family room really quickly.” You say it optimistically and with pep. “We can be done in 5 minutes if we all help!” Child number one flits back and forth trying to look busy while doing absolutely nothing. Child number two sulks and slowly starts to kick a dirty sock in the general direction of the laundry room. Child number three is typically a good helper, and gets to work, but soon starts up with the, “I’m the only one working. No one else is helping. Can I be done since I already helped a lot?” It’s really obnoxious, but you don’t say anything because it’s also true.
Child number four stealthily slips away for a good ten minutes before you realize it (so much for that 5-minute prediction). Child number five plops in the floor and starts playing with a rock that is suddenly fascinating. Child number six is so young that you have to direct every single movement and this focus of attention allows the other five to sneak off.
Anyone? No? This just happens in my house?
I got really tired of this scenario, so I divided the main living areas of the house into zones, and assigned one to each kid. This situation works out great for both sides. I always know who has done their part. I’m no longer keeping score of who put away 10 things instead of 12 and how big they were and who worked the hardest versus the longest. They get to go play as soon as they are finished. No one is a hostage to a group clean up situation and punished for the slowness of others. Those who work quickly get to leave quickly. Those who don’t work quickly get to stay.
HOW IT WORKS
We have six kids, so we have six zones.
The Kitchen: pick up anything on the floor, sweep, close all cabinets and drawers (because half of them are ALWAYS OPEN. I don’t understand it.), unload the dishwasher, spot clean the cabinets, put stools and chairs back in place.
Family Room and Stairs: pick up anything on the floor, hearth, chairs, couch, table, etc. Close the cabinet doors (seriously!), put the chairs back in place, pick up anything on the stairs.
Foyer: Pick up anything on the floor. This is for our three-year-old. Before she was old enough to start helping it was part of the next zone.
Main Floor Bedroom Hallway, Bathroom and Office: Pick up anything on the floor in those areas, close the coat and linen closet doors (why are they open?). In the bathroom wipe the mirror, counter, sink, faucet, cabinet face, toilet, and scrub the toilet bowl, close the cabinets and drawers. We keep a bottle of Clorox wipes under the sink for them to wipe and throw away. Empty the trash on trash day. We save the shower for me to clean.
Garage Entry Hallway, Guest Bath, Mud Room, Basement Stairs, Garage Stairs and Landing: Pick up everything off the floor or stairs, close the pantry and bathroom doors. In the bathroom wipe the mirror, counter, sink, faucet, cabinet face, toilet, and scrub the toilet bowl. We keep a bottle of Clorox wipes under the sink. Empty the kitchen garbage cans every night (so they don’t get too heavy and overfull to lift out).
Basement Living Area and Bathroom: pick up anything on the floor, hearth, chairs, couch, table, etc. Close the cabinet doors, put the stools back in place. In the bathroom wipe the mirror, counter, sink, faucet, cabinet face, toilet, and scrub the toilet bowl. Empty the trash on trash day.
We switch zones every six months. This gives them a really good opportunity to learn their zone, and it saves mental anguish for me. I don’t have to make new charts, train, and keep up with who is cleaning what.
I have adjusted the zones each time based on age and ability. All the zones started out as just pick up the floor. I started this zone system when they oldest were six, and they are now 10, 10, 10, 9, 7 and nearly 4.
I always ALWAYS check for completion. I have great kids, but seriously, they’re kids. Any kid worth their salt is going to try to get away with doing as little as possible. I have to hold them to the standard.
I do not expect white glove service. I expect them to do the best they can for their age and ability. After they are done I thank them for doing their part, and I tell them I will do my part. I then finish the things that are above their ability or skill level. They know I’m not redoing their work or fixing it. Their effort was sufficient, and now I do my part.
We do zones before each meal, and the rule is they are welcome to join us for that meal when they are finished.
My children still do those exact acts described above, but now I can take them one by one and redirect to their job if needed. I don’t have to worry about child number 4 sneaking off because after I check off some of the other kids, I will retrieve him and he WILL do his zone.
On school days we do it twice a day, and on weekends, holidays and summer break we do it three times a day.
When I create the zones, I make sure each zone is geographically connected.
BONUS TIP #1
We have four bathrooms in this house, and no matter which one I went to, I always found an unpleasant surprise. My kids are still at the ages that not everyone wipes and not everyone flushes. Please tell me this changes. Anyway, I got really tired of having to scout out the guest bathroom before a guest could use it. Inevitably I would have to wipe down the peepee on the seat, flush a mystery surprise, pick up the hand towel and someone’s underwear off the floor, and wipe off the counter. I mean, it wouldn’t matter if I had cleaned it floor to ceiling ten minutes before. Somehow the bathroom would end up in this state in a matter of seconds. By the time it was presentable, the guest was in quite a panic. I decided this had to change. Now, I always have a clean guest bathroom BECAUSE, as soon as it’s clean, I LOCK IT!! When a guest is in our home and needs to go to the bathroom, I unlock it and ask them to lock it on their way out. It gets refreshed once a week.
BONUS TIP #2
We have a large play room upstairs that I only make them clean quarterly. I think of it as their space, and I avoid going up there. When we do clean up there, I divide the room into small zones, one for each kid and follow the same principle.
This system works really well for us. It gives each of them a sense of ownership and responsibility and they can see the end of the chore before they begin. What tips and tricks work in your family?