Apr 01 2012: Mess Equals Stress: Embrace a Cleaner, Saner Living Environment

by Marta Oti Sears

No one enjoys living in a cluttered, dirty home. But when laundry, toys and papers pile up, and kitchens and bathrooms get gross, parents can feel overwhelmed and paralyzed.

“A dirty, cluttered environment embezzles precious energy from family members,” says Laura DeVries, executive director of Finding Simplicity. “A clean, orderly home allows parents and children to rest, think clearly, and be more creative and imaginative.”

If you’d like to experience a greater sense of peace in your home and enjoy more space for the people and passions that matter to you, try following these simple steps.

List the Household Chores

Start by making a list of the chores that need to be done daily. Then make two more lists of chores that need to be done weekly (or every-other-week) and monthly.

Take Your Pick

Sit down with your spouse to determine together which chores on the lists seem reasonable for each person to take on. Both parents should have the opportunity to choose the chores they like the best (or hate the least). If one parent stays at home, that person will likely take on more chores, but stay-at-home parents shouldn’t be responsible for all of the housework.

“Parents have a crucial job of helping their children internalize values about work,” says child psychologist Dr. David Paltin. “It’s important for both parents to share chores in the home because it demonstrates a positive, active work ethic. The message that kids should get from seeing both parents do chores is that meaningful work makes a person feel they have a meaningful place in the family.”

Involve Your Children

Parents often continue to do all the household chores even when children are old enough to help. It’s good for children to learn responsibility and to feel that their contribution to the family is necessary and important. Don’t let the fact that they do chores more slowly or less well than you, keep you from enlisting their help. Coach them on how to do the chore well and praise their efforts.

“It’s important for parents to recognize that chores are skills that need to be learned over time,” says family therapist Dr. Holly Crossen. “Some parents expect perfection but they need to realize that chores are a process for which children will need feedback and support. After much practice, they will get better, but perfection should never be the goal.”

“Kids should participate in developmentally appropriate chores because it gives parents the chance to teach kids about coping with frustration, getting to work when one doesn’t feel like it, and other things we have to learn to be successful in our adult lives,” says Paltin.

Include Pick-up Chores

Pick-up chores keep the house from being in a constant state of clutter and chaos. They include picking up toys and dirty clothes, putting away laundry, and dealing with mail and papers of all kinds.

It’s helpful to develop pick-up routines that are tied to daily events such as waking up, coming home from school or work, and going to bed. An after school routine might include kids emptying their backpacks and lunchboxes, and putting away their shoes and coats.

Kids’ imaginative play is often messy. This type of clutter is appropriate and necessary. Embrace these beautiful messes while they’re in progress, and then coach your little ones to pick them up before moving on to the next adventure.

Post Chore Lists

Post your daily, weekly (or every-other-week) and monthly chore lists on the refrigerator or in a place that’s easy for everyone in the family to see and refer to. Consider highlighting each chore for a particular family member in the same color so that it’s quick and easy to read. (Some parents like to use chore charts for kids.)

Set Up Motivators

When something is new it’s easy to forget and fall back into old habits. Set up some motivators to help your family to stay on track. For example, “Kids are free to play with friends and have their allotted screen time after they’ve completed their chores.” You may also want to model this by saying, “I’m also free to read and have screen time after I’ve completed my chores.”

These mantras may need to be repeated for a while, but it’s far better than getting into the rut of reminding kids several times about every chore. Once children realize that this is just the way thing are in their home, the push-back will lessen and it will become part of their daily routine.

Whistle While You Work

Take a tip from the Disney classic and encourage you family to make their chores as enjoyable as possible. If the whole family is doing chores at the same time, crank up some music and sing, dance or whistle while you work.

If you’re doing chores alone, pop in some ear buds and listen to music, an audiobook or a favorite podcast. “I listened to the audiobook of The Help while I was cleaning,” says Heidi Pender, mother of three. “Cleaning is my time to listen to something I really look forward to.”

Check Your Attitude

When you feel the urge to complain about housework, try to put it into perspective by replacing the complaint with a statement of gratitude. When you start to think, “Here I am again, cleaning up the dishes for the third time today,” try replacing the complaint with, “I’m grateful that I have clean, running water in my home and enough food to feed my children three meals a day.”

Evaluate Your System

After the first month of putting your cleaning system into practice, evaluate how well it’s working. Is mom feeling overburdened by the number of chores she signed up for? Can another family member take on another chore to lighten her load? Do some or all of the weekly chores need to become every-other-week chores?

Consider Paying for Cleaning Services

You and your spouse may decide that some chores are simply worth paying someone else to do. Perhaps you can eat out less or scale back in other areas to free up some money. Don’t feel guilty about paying for cleaning services. Every family spends money on things they value. If living in a clean, peaceful environment is important to you, it’s okay to invest some money in it.

“A clean, uncluttered home invites us to appreciate the things we have and enjoy the people we love,” says DeVries. With intentionality, follow through and full family participation, you and your family will soon enjoy the freedom of a cleaner, saner home.

Age-Appropriate Chores Ideas

By Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Discipline Solution

Ages 2 to 3: Put toys away, fill pet’s food dish, put clothes in hamper, wipe up spills, stack books or magazines, choose clothes and dress self.

Ages 4 to 5: Above plus, make own bed, empty wastebaskets, bring in mail or newspaper, clear table, pull weeds, use hand-held vacuum to pick up crumbs, water flowers, unload utensils from dishwasher, wash plastic dishes at sink, fix bowl of cereal.

Ages 6 to 7: Above plus, sort laundry, sweep floors, handle personal hygiene, set and clear table, help make and pack lunch, weed, rake leaves, keep bedroom tidy, pour own drinks, answer telephone.

Ages 8 to 9: Above plus, load dishwasher, put away groceries, vacuum, help make dinner, make own snacks, wash table after meals, put away own laundry, run own bath, make own breakfast, peel vegetables, cook simple food (such as toast), mop floor, take pet for a walk.

Ages 10 and up: Above, plus unload dishwasher, fold laundry, clean bathroom, wash windows, wash car, cook simple meal with supervision, do laundry, baby-sit younger siblings (with adult in the home), mow lawn, clean kitchen, clean oven, change bed, make cookies or cake from box mix, have neighborhood job — such as pet care or yard work.

(Elizabeth Pantley gave me permission to use these age-appropriate chore ideas.)