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Family Matters: Making cleaning a family project


If you’re like most of us, your house may start out clean and tidy at the beginning of the week, but after a few days, the clutter and dirt of daily life catches up with you. And, of course, this is multiplied by 10 if you have children in the house.

So why not make the kids part of the solution? A few minutes of work by every family member will make the cleanup go faster – and start teaching children the skills they’ll need to keep house when they finally move out. Plus, it means you’ll have less work to do come the weekend, and more time to spent together as a family, doing the things you’d really rather do.

Combat clutter: Even a clean house can start looking junky from the flotsam you accumulate during the week, like school papers, unopened mail, jackets and toys forgotten in the kitchen. Create a system for catching all this – a basket or drawer for junk mail, a folder for that week’s school papers (which you should clean our frequently).  Another mom I know has a “freebie bowl” – specifically designed to catch all those miniature toys collected from fast-food visits or venues like Chuck E. Cheese.

Conduct a “toy sweep:” In most houses, toys and games and books have a way of migrating from their “home” to other resting spots throughout the house. Some friends make each child do a mandatory “toy sweep” before dinner, by having each child search for dolls, action figures, crayons and games and return each to their room.

Five minute bursts: Create a list of tasks that can be done in five or ten minutes – sweeping the kitchen, wiping down the bathroom mirror and counters, dusting the furniture in just the living room or just the dining room. Then, if your kids are old enough to do the work, let everyone draw straws to see who has to do what.  Have everyone do their job at the same time, then meet back in the kitchen or living room for a family reward, like a favorite video or a quick game of cards.

Give assignments: For older kids, say, 8 and up, it’s time to start assigning a daily task that is their responsibility alone. It can be as simple as making the bed and making sure all their dirty clothes actually hit the hamper, taking out the trash, or for older kids, loading and unloading the dishwasher. If your kids balk at chores, like most do, gently remind them that everyone lives in the house, so everybody has to take some responsibility for keeping it clean and livable. (And if that doesn’t work alone – sweeten the deal with a small but non-monetary reward, like an extra 15 minutes of reading time before bedtime, or watching a favorite TV show together.)

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