Get Your Family to Clean

By Kristen
Updated November 24, 2007

I can't even begin to count the number of times my mother complained about nobody in the family helping with the chores. When I was a kid, I thought she was just nagging, but now that I'm an adult, I have a completely new respect for her, especially when it comes to keeping up with the chores.

If you want your kids to help you, you need to help them.

  1. Be an example.
    Don't demand that children clean their rooms if your room is a mess. Don't insist that they take their shoes off at the door while you walk around the living room in you work boots. Don't be a hypocrite.

  2. Have them help you when you do chores, so they can learn how it's done.
    It's never to late (or too early) to have your kids help with the chores you are working on. First, explain to them what they need to do (each step). Then demonstrate it for them, describing each step as you do it. Then ask them to do it, too. Don't nag them about not doing it perfectly because that's a sure way to make them avoid helping you in the future. The more they watch you, the more they will eventually do it like you do it (or teach you an even better way to get it done). Save criticism for things like putting bleach on your colored clothes and learn to put up with imperfectly made beds.

  3. Use labels on storage areas.
    It's amazing how something as simple as a label can make a big difference. If the sock drawer has a label that reads "Socks" or a picture of socks (necessary for little kids who can't read yet), there's a very good chance that socks will end up going in that drawer. To get kids involved in labeling, have them decorate the labels to fit their style, and you can even have them decide where things will go ("Do you want the socks to go in the top drawer or the bottom drawer?"). Even adults will conform to the labels. If your desk has a basket with the label "Bills to Pay" there is a very good chance that your adult loved ones will only put bills that need to be paid in that basket. If other things start ending up where they don't belong, figure out where those items belong and create spaces with labels for them as well. Labels don't need to be plain white boxes with black block text that stand out like a price tag. You can get creative. Use your crafting skills to incorporate the labels into your decor.

  4. Make sure that each person has his/her own things, and make each person responsible for taking care of his/her things.
    Give each person their own set of towels, washcloths, bedding, clothes, and so forth. Make sure that each set looks different from all the other sets, but you can have a theme tying all the sets together (such as all the bathroom towels being primarily blue but with different shades or patterns). Now let everyone know that you will not be taking care of these things. If they want these things washed, they will have to wash it themselves. You can impose certain limits (like if your towel is stinking up the bathroom, you must wash it). Put a laundry basket or hamper in each person's closet, and let them all know that you will not be handling anything in those baskets (and no, they can't dump their things into somebody else's basket). If everyone has his/her own room, then each person is responsible for cleaning his/her own room. If some people share a room, those individuals will have to decide the rules of cleanliness for the room. Of course, Mom and Dad always have the right to establish guidelines and do inspections.

  5. Assign turns for common tasks.
    Everybody gets a turn to cook dinner (and he/she gets to decide what the family will eat). Every person gets a turn to set the table, clear the table, wash the dishes, and so forth. There are two ways to do this. 1) Say "Every Monday is your turn to ..." or 2) assign turns one after another, which will probably cause the day of the chore to change every week unless you have seven people in your house (Mom cooks dinner on Monday, Dad on Tuesday, Kid on Wednesday, Mom on Thursday, Dad on Friday, Kid on Saturday, Mom on Sunday, Dad on Tuesday...).

  6. Give kids a paycheck (allowance) based on the chores they do.
    Washing the car, taking out garbage, mowing the lawn, and other chores that aren't necessarily the responsibility of the child and aren't common tasks that you take turns doing are perfect chores for earning a paycheck. Just make sure the pay isn't too stingy or as much as a professional would get (if you can get your car washed for $5 at the car wash, pay your kid $3 but not a lousy $1). Do not give them money any other way (ok, well for birthdays and such are ok, but don't go crazy), not even for prom or lunch at school (they can make their own bag lunch at home for free). If you want cash, you have to work for it, just like everyone else in the world has to. Otherwise, they'll just rely on that unearned money.

  7. Use charts to keep track of who has done what.
    First of all, this helps figuring out whose turn it is and calculating pay much easier, but it has an additional benefit called "social pressure." Very few people want to be in last place or not up to speed with the rest of the group, and when you see that everyone else has a happy face sticker, you'll want a happy face sticker too. For young kids, use stickers and stamps or other creative methods of keeping track of everyone. Older kids can use a plain chart with a check in the box (but secretly they would rather have a happy face sticker). The key is to make sure everyone has their chart next to everyone else's (so incorporating it all into one chart is a great idea) to make that "he has more happy face stickers than I do" concept more obvious, and keep the chart in a place of plain view (such as on a bulletin board or the refrigerator).

  8. Assign deadlines and enforce consequences when those deadlines are missed.
    So it's Sally's turn to clear the kitchen table after dinner on Thursday. It's now 10:00 pm, and it hasn't been done. Make a deadline, such as "dinner must be started by 6:00pm" or "the table must be cleared within one hour after the last person finishes dinner." If the deadline isn't met, there is a consequence. Perhaps that consequence is getting to take over the turn of the person who had to clean up your mess or losing a privilege (like television or the stereo for the evening). If Junior says he will wash the car to earn his allowance, let him know that it needs to be done by Monday, and if it isn't done, you will do it yourself and keep the cash (or take it to the car wash and give them the cash). Whatever the consequence is, just make sure your family members know what it is before they make the decision to not do the work on time. Don't wait until after they miss the deadline to say "ok, let me think of a consequence" (except for very special circumstances, especially unforeseen circumstances, such as when a child doesn't take care of his/her own things and it affects the rest of the family). Knowing the consequence ahead of time will give you more leverage (and you won't be the mean-old-parent for being too tough or the marshmallow-parent for being too soft).