If you are planning to make 2013 The Year You Get Organized, Once-And-For-All, you are in luck. New Year’s is the perfect time to tackle household organization, and I’m here to help.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if 2013 is the year to spontaneously invite friends over without fear of dirty dishes throughout the kitchen, wet towels on the bathroom floor, or unmade beds?
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if 2013 is the year to never need mental math to figure out when the last time the kitchen floor was scrubbed? Or how long it’s been since the sheets were changed?
Is 2013 the year your children start helping (really helping) around the house?
Let’s have 2013 be the year where you spend more time with your family making memories and having fun, and less time worrying about the state of your home. This is a completely doable proposition and you can do it in just minutes a day.
I don’t clean much. I never spend an entire day cleaning. If our family is having company over, I only take the time to put out clean guest towels and prepare food. I vacuum after our guests leave. There is no mad dash to crash-clean because the house is always in good order. I may have to put away a few stray shoes or toys, but our house is always company-ready within thirty minutes.
Am I a robotic Stepford-mom ogre? No. Well, at least I try my hardest not to be! But I do have expectations that each member of the household help keep our house tidy. I like things clean, but I don’t really like cleaning. Some people find peace and solace in power-scrubbing the kitchen floor on their hands and knees, or by polishing a huge pile of silver.
I am not that person.
Yet, I notice that our family runs more smoothly when there is order and stability in our home. The kids are better behaved when their living space is organized and they know where their things belong.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey breaks down complex ideas into seven easy steps. While I was implementing our daily family chores, I thought limiting it to seven seemed like a good idea. This way there are enough chores to get things accomplished, but not too many to feel overwhelmed. These seven daily tasks can be done by anyone in the family. They will keep your home running smoothly and promote tranquility. Feel free to delegate to your spouse and children. This is the family’s home and these are the family’s chores.
Make Beds Right Away
The second you climb out of bed in the morning, make it. It’s such a wonderful feeling to have accomplished something at 6 am. Teach your children to do the same—if beds are made daily, they don’t get destroyed as easily, and it really takes less than a minute to pull a sheet taught and straighten the comforter. If you haven’t already done so, streamline your bed linens to the bare essentials. There’s no need for 50 decorative pillows or an elaborate stuffed animal collection. Really.
Do One Complete Load of Laundry
A complete load means one that is washed, dried, folded, and put away. I’m not trying to be bossy; I’m trying to be realistic. It is no fun to save all the laundry for one day a week and not be able to leave the house. Do a little each day, and you will no longer waste away a beautiful afternoon because you are stuck inside tackling a mountain of clothing. Take shortcuts when you can. If you don’t need to separate colors, don’t. If you can hang clothes to dry to alleviate wrinkles, do it. I hate ironing, but have found that if I iron clothes while slightly damp I save a ton of time.
Empty All Garbage Cans
Empty garbage cans leave a room feeling fresh. In our house, the kids help with the wastebaskets in the bathrooms and their bedroom. I take out the kitchen garbage every morning after emptying the dishwasher and before I begin my work day. If you have stinky garbage (diaper, tuna fish can) take care of it right away by walking the item to the outdoor bin.
Keep Your Kitchen Sink Empty
If you put something, anything, into the sink, other pieces of flatware are magically drawn to it and all of a sudden the sink is completely filled and rendered useless. Instead, take the time to put your dirty items into the dishwasher right away or wash the item quickly by hand. It really doesn’t take that long. Just do it.
Clean Up After Yourself and Help Children Do the Same
Remember, your job as a parent isn’t to raise children, it’s to raise capable adults. Chores are not only okay, they are necessary. Model good behavior for your children. Take the time to put your shoes all the way into the closet and hang up your coat. Once you are putting your own things away, your children will be more likely to follow suit. For more on kid chores, see the age-appropriate chore chart that follows.
This is my favorite. I keep a container of disinfectant wipes in the bathroom and wipe down the toilet (inside and out) every day. I also quickly wipe down the shower stall and bathroom floor. After showering, use an item from the dirty clothes pile to dry the shower walls and door. This will keep mold and soap scum from accruing. Now use your damp item to quickly mop up the bathroom floor. Dust and hair will disappear and will keep you from needing to mop. One of my favorite time-saving techniques is to tidy up the main bathroom while my youngest has her nightly bath. I need to stay in the bathroom anyhow, so I use this time to quickly wipe up the floor and sink and tend to the toilet.
Before Bed 10-Minute Clean Up
Before retiring for the night, do a super quick clean up of the living spaces in your house. Recycle the magazine left on the coffee table and stack leftover drinking glasses in the dishwasher. Put the couch cushions in order and fold the blanket. You will wake up much happier each morning if you aren’t greeted by last night’s mess.
But That’s Why We Had You! (aka: Chores, a Necessary Evil)
I wish I could say it is internal motivation and drive that keeps me on task when I’d much rather goof off, but I’d be lying to myself (and to you). No, it’s not a desire to be The Best Person Ever, but instead an acute awareness that I’m under constant surveillance by three little ones. It takes daily effort to get my children to put their clothes, toys, school stuff, and random paraphernalia away. That’s just how it works. If I slack off, the kids slack off. If I put my dishes on the counter because it’s “too much work” to open the dishwasher and stash it away, the kids do the same.
Remember that any little bit is better than nothing. It’s the process that counts, not the end result. Resist the urge to step in, criticize, or “fix” the way your child tidies up. Jumping in too quickly will give a child the impression that he isn’t capable of accomplishing the task. An older child (or spouse!) may begin to sabotage his work in order to get out of his daily duties if you routinely come to the rescue.
Depending on the age of the child and his developmental level, you may be able to give only a one-step direction. If the playroom is in shambles, telling a child younger than about age ten to “clean up that room” is completely overwhelming. Instead, focus on one small piece at a time. Start with what you will do and then what you expect your child to do. “I will put the Lincoln Logs away while you put the Legos into this bin.” Hand your child the bin you expect him to use. If you have a very young toddler, even this request might prove too burdensome. Try breaking it down even more. “I will put the Legos away, but I’m going to need your help. I’ll do the red and green, but you are in charge of the yellow and blue. Put them into this bin.”
One to Two Years of Age
Babies and young children enjoy being “big helpers” and can begin to participate in the following household chores with adult supervision, help, and guidance:
- Sort laundry
- Empty wastebaskets
- Bring in the mail/newspaper
- Match socks
- Pull out bed clothes
- Empty spoons and plasticware from the dishwasher caddy
- Put toys away in appropriate containers
- “Dust and clean” with a baby wipe
Three to Six Years of Age
Preschool-age children can continue to help with all of the chores listed above, along with the following added responsibilities:
- Make their own beds
- Load and unload the dishwasher with assistance
- Help younger siblings clean up strewn toys
- Feed and water pets
- Pull weeds
- Water plants
- Use a whisk broom to clean up crumbs under the dinner table
- Use a handheld vacuum cleaner to spot-clean or to vacuum the stairs
- Put away their own laundry
- Set the table for meals
Seven to Ten Years of Age
School-age children are capable of fulfilling all of the tasks listed above, as well as these new additions:
- Complete an entire load of wash
- Help younger siblings put away laundry
- Vacuum their own rooms
- Maintain order in their bedrooms
- Load and unload the dishwasher independently
- Sweep the kitchen
- Walk the dog
- Clear the table after meals
Pre-teen through Teenage Years
Although teenagers would rather lie around and talk on the phone (or these days, text!), they are fully able to help their parents out with most of the housekeeping duties, inside and out, including these new ones listed below:
- Vacuum the house
- Sweep the house
- Clean the refrigerator
- Wipe down the bathrooms
- Wipe down the kitchen countertops
- Help younger siblings as needed
- Perform more strenuous work in the garden
This may seem like a lot (and it does to me, now that I see it all in writing!), but remember back in the “olden days,” children were expected to be productive members of the household. Whenever I start to feel “mean,” I think of The Little House on the Prairie books and remember all that Laura and Mary did to help out. By the time children leave for college, they should be able to make a meal, sew on a button, do laundry, mow the lawn, and tend to the household pets. Nothing needs to be perfect—this is real life, not a Pottery Barn catalog or an episode of House Hunters. Our house isn’t spotless. It isn’t pristine. But it is clean and orderly, and yours can be, too. Have an absolutely wonderful 2013. It’s going to be a good year. I promise.
Fun Cleaning Games:
- Mop-sock Skating: Pour some sudsy water in the middle of the kitchen floor and let your child(ren) “skate” the floor clean. This also works well with no water as a (somewhat) efficient way to dust mop a hardwood floor.
- Fizzing Antacid Tablet Toilet Cleanser: The bubbles from an antacid tablet clean a toilet bowl surprisingly well. Permit your children to take turns dropping the tablets into the water. Denture-cleaning tablets work well, too, and leave the water tinted blue and smelling minty.
- Wash the Car: Have the kids put on swimsuits and flip flops or rain boots. Let them get wet and soapy along with the car.
- Toothbrush Clean: Give your child an old toothbrush (child must be old enough to understand that the brush cannot enter his mouth) and have him scrub the shower or sliding patio door track.
- Shaving Cream Fun: Plop your child into an empty shower stall or bathtub with a can of inexpensive shaving cream and allow him to paint the walls clean with suds.
Written by Stephanie O’Dea