Friday, January 29, 2016

What we do with Eight Kids to Keep the House (mostly) Clean

We all feel a bit more sunshiney when the house is clean, but when we have kids, this can be a daily struggle!  In this post, I’ll tell you how I do it with a family of ten in a little house.

 I’ve tried lots of different “programs” over my years of parenting:  Gunny Bag, the Bedroom Fairy, marbles in jars, points for privileges, chores on index cards with “to-do” and “done” pockets, even having the kids work for pay! They were all good and they all worked for a while.  I found that I couldn’t continue the programs because I got wiped out!  I think I’ve learned something from all of them, though, as I discovered what works for me

I should start with my principles on this subject.

     1)      I should not do the picking up.  Exceptions to this exist, of course, but on the whole, I do my children a disservice by not teaching them how to return things to a state of order.  My first job as a parent is to teach my children how to be competent adults!  This will not happen if I am always the straightener.

     2)      Kids need to make messes to really get involved in their play.  I believe in play!  I believe in imagination and creativity!  I provide my kids with a home and toys and props so they can spread out and have fun and do what’s best for them—not so the home is tour-ready.  I don’t want to squelch any of this creativity even if it means the couch cushions are being used for forts and all the blankets are spread on the floor for gardens and the dolls and stuffed animals are scattered haphazardly everywhere.  “There was a ‘splosion, Mom.”  It’s good for them.  I won’t make them clean-up until the day is done.

     3)      Ownership motivates kids and boosts their self-esteem.  “Clean up the things that you played with,” or “Everyone just clean up your own mess,” or even, “Hey everybody, clean up this house!” has never worked for me nor for our kids.  If “everyone” has been asked to clean the room, there’s always kids bickering about who’s doing the most work and everyone usually quits before its all the way done.  If you give them their own space to be responsible for, however, they can see the extent of the work for which they are accountable and take a sense of accomplishment in how it looks in the end.

So.  I let the kids play.  I do not interrupt.  I do not follow them around straightening as I go.  I find my own thing to do and leave all the cleaning for later.  (This appeals strongly to my time-management side, too!) 

The best time for “later” for me has turned out to be right after dinner.  The family is gathered.  They stopped all their activities in order to eat and they haven’t started new activities, yet. 

It’s time for After-Dinner Jobs!

The purpose of After-Dinner Jobs is to put the house back in order.  Each child is assigned a room to clean (as in the public rooms, not the bedrooms).  “But I didn’t make that mess!”  Doesn’t matter.  You clean it for everybody this week and someone else will clean it for you next week.  We all help our family. 

I now have more children than I have rooms to clean.  (Ha, ha!  You’re jealous now, right?)  So the job chart looks like this:  Family Room, Front Room, Clear Table, Sweep and Trash, Hall and Bathroom, Vacuum Front Room, and Clear Kitchen Bar.  It doesn’t take anyone longer than ten minutes.

(Dishes are a different job entirely with everyone being assigned a day.  On that day they do dishes in addition to their after-dinner job.)

We have had different assignments over the years and different ways of divvying up the chores.  The important elements 1) it’s right after dinner and 2) everyone has a specific area of responsibility has stayed the same.

We do Big Jobs on Saturday morning.  (For a little while, I woke everyone up early one day a week for Big Jobs.  This worked nicely, too, until I decided I would rather sleep in! J)  Big Jobs is where the actual cleaning gets done and the kids learn how to clean a bathroom, mop the kitchen floor, and vacuum. 

I also have enough kids so if they were lucky enough to not be assigned one of the aforementioned jobs, they get jobs that don’t need to be done every week but are necessary every now and then:  organize the game cupboard, rake leaves, put away coats from the coat room, clean the refrigerator, pick up walnuts, whatever random thing that Mom wants done or Dad needs help with!

We keep a list of who did what each week (I keep it taped on the inside of one of my kitchen cupboards) so I don’t have just one child learning to mop the floor.

When I am on top of my game, I make these assignments Friday night or early Saturday morning and then ask the kids to get the job done before they play with friends or eat lunch, whichever comes first.  I have been known to be really laid back about it, too, and ask that they just get it done before they go to bed.

I talk to my kids with respect for their activities and busy lives.  If they forget and don’t do their job, they feel bad!  They want to do their part to help our family and they see the work their siblings do and how it helps them and they appreciate it.  They don’t want anyone to have to do extra because they didn’t do their part.

I’m not making this up. 

Afterall, a child’s strong sense of fairness goes both ways.  There’s also something to be said for teaching a child not only the right things to do but also the right reasons for doing it!  It has worked for me.

What has worked for you?  I’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!


  1. I'm just holding on for dear life! We clean together and it seems to work better for us, although on Saturday they do get their own areas. I struggle with the kitchen because I love to clean the kitchen by myself so they haven't learned as much in that area. But... I'm trying.

  2. I'm just holding on for dear life! We clean together and it seems to work better for us, although on Saturday they do get their own areas. I struggle with the kitchen because I love to clean the kitchen by myself so they haven't learned as much in that area. But... I'm trying.

  3. We do something similar--we call it "15 minute jobs". Everyone gets assigned a job that needs to be's always changing depending on the need. It's amazing bc if everyone works for 15 minutes, the house stays manageable. and I set the timer too. It seems like no one minds working when the end is in sight.