Does “fun housework” seem like an oxymoron? Creating order and cleanliness isn’t always a party at my house, but for those who are committed to getting the family involved with the scrubbing and polishing (and having some fun along the way) here are eight ideas to turn those household chores into your family’s best memories.
Before I begin, I’d like to establish some realistic expectations. Please don’t assume that my children are happily skipping around the house like Jane and Michael Banks tidying up the nursery with Mary Poppins. Yes, my children gag sometimes when they clean the bathrooms. Someone is always whining over who has to match the socks or clean the banister, and you can expect to hear at least one complaint that “I didn’t make that mess!”
Sometimes it’s enough to make me want to put everyone to bed and just do it myself, but you see, that only leaves me me resenting my family and feeling like the martyr who has absolutely no time to curl up on the couch with a good book at the end of the day.
So we do our best to work together, we “practice” having fun with housework each and every day, and the more we do it, the more we love it.
Let’s talk specifics now. How do we structure family work so it’s not a battle?
I’m not talking much about chore wheels or specific house-cleaning routines here. This post is based on the assumption that you’ve already decided what needs to be cleaned and who is going to do it. Instead, let’s talk about what we can do while we clean.
(1) Focus on How Housework Feels
If we’re running around the house screaming, “Look at this mess! Why are you all a bunch of piggies?” no one is going to enjoy doing family work. Instead, try something like, “Doesn’t our house feel so great when it’s clean?” or “Don’t you love walking around the kitchen without crumbs getting on your feet?”
When I focus on how beautiful “clean” feels, my children want to help us get there.
It’s also great to focus on the relationships we’re building while we clean. I say to my girls, “I love working right next to you. Someday you’re going to be all grown up, and I’m going to miss you so much!” (I know I will.)
One day, I was dusting the family room with my son Ethan, and I said, “You are going to make such a great husband someday.” He smiled and said, “I’m going to do the cleaning, and I’m going to let my wife rest.” (Jaw-dropping cute.)
If the point of cleaning together is really to build the relationships in the home, then infusing the mundane work with laughter is the perfect solution. This morning, I was emptying the dishwasher with my children (Grace helps me with the glass stuff, Ethan does plates, Spencer does cups and bowls, and Alia does silverware this month).
We started talking about how I left a plastic plate on top of the van yesterday, and then it fell off when I turned the corner. Two of my children were not in the car at the time, so I took a picture of the plate on the ground, and then we all laughed about my forgetfulness. It was a silly little moment, but talking about it distracted them from the fact that they really don’t like dishes, and even my four-year-old was cracking up as he stacked the bowls on the counter.
Emptying the dishwasher takes two minutes. It only takes one funny story to get you through, and then when you’re done, everyone wishes the moment had lasted just a bit longer.
(3) Wear “Work” Uniforms
We have several little aprons, cute handkerchiefs for the girls’ heads (as pictured above), and baseball caps that the boys like to wear. Make the work feel a little more “official” by getting dressed in something fun.
(4) Buy Exciting Tools
I have this dream of starting a line of work tools for kids–like a hand vacuum shaped like an anteater (sucking up the dirt like ants . . . wouldn’t that be cute?) or a duster that looks like a bird with feathers. But since no one has invented something like that yet (PLEASE, somebody!), we buy whatever child-friendly tools we can find.
Swiffer dusters, Shark vacuums, Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, and a twisty mop that’s easy to wring out in the sink are four of our favorites. My eight-year-old son also loves to spray Pledge on the table.
It seems so funny to me that the only children’s cleaning tools I can find online are pretend. Why would we want our children to pretend to clean when we can teach them to actually do it. Honestly, our culture has got to change here.
(5) Make a Cleaning-Time Playlist
(6) Clean in Small Bites
Whenever I try to get my children to clean for more than 20 minutes, they get tired, and I get cranky. A long, hard day of physical labor builds good character (and I’m not opposed to those at all), but quick bursts of 20 minutes, done maybe 2-3 times a day, also keeps the house clean and the children happy.We have a morning pick-up, where everyone makes their beds, empties the dishwasher, and helps get things straightened before school. Then we have after-school jobs, where we spend 20 minutes doing some deep cleaning. Everyone helps, and it’s a nice little buffer between homework and play time. We also do our evening tidy (each family member participates in the “dinner clean-up,” and then each person is in charge of a room/zone that needs to be clean before bedtime). We’ve been doing this for years now, and the whining over these routines has virtually disappeared as cleaning has become a habit.
(7) Set Children Up for Success (Get Rid of the Clutter!)
The cutest chore chart in the world won’t take us far if we’re sitting in some serious clutter.
Cleaning a cluttered house is nothing short of frustrating. You can work for hours, but it will never feel “done.” There is an amazing book out there called, “It’s Here . . . Somewhere,” and I promise you–if you follow the ideas in this book and de-junk your house, cleaning will be simpler, happier, and longer-lasting. When I was pregnant with my fourth child, I couldn’t even stand up, and the bedrooms upstairs got pretty scary. One day, I said to my 7-, 5-, and 4-year-olds, “Go up and clean your rooms, guys.” What was I thinking? Their rooms were so full of clutter, and the messes were too overwhelming (even for me). Clearing out the junk and then keeping the surfaces clean brings the work down to our children’s level. So please, order this book. You will thank me every day of your life.
(8) Don’t Get Uppity if the Work Isn’t Efficient
I used to kind of freak out when my children would mop the floor backwards (starting from the sink full of water, moving toward the outer parts of the kitchen). “Why are you mopping where you will need to walk?!” I’d cry out. Then my daughter would hang her head and say, “I’m bad at this.”
No more freaking out.
We clearly need to teach successful practices, but if the work isn’t done as well as we’d like, that’s okay. This is training. It’s not worth the angst.
For example, my son likes to make his bed like this:
I used to go in and insist that he “re-do” it, so the room would look a little more like a catalog photo. I wanted the pillows arranged symmetrically at the top of the bed, the blankets folded perfectly at the bottom, and all the mangy stuffed animals completely tucked out of sight.
But do you know what? My son feels happy when his favorite blankets are lovingly draped over his bed. Does it really matter if the bed is made my way? I really don’t think so.
The very best moments at the Perry home are when the family works together. We smile, we laugh, we tell stories, we praise each other, and we get the house clean all at the same time. That’s a win-win if I’ve ever seen one.
QUESTION: What makes cleaning fun in your family?
CHALLENGE: Instead of doing housework alone, invite your family to join in–and use some of the ideas above (or some of your own ideas) to make it a fun experience.