I homeschool six kids (well, technically the oldest has graduated, but we haven’t yet managed to get him out of the house so I’m counting him), run an online business writing curriculum and blogging, and I have a clean house. Also, I’m lazy.
Really, I’m lazy. If it is possible to take a shortcut, I do. If it is possible to procrastinate until it all goes away, I will. If a job can be put off, it is.
And yet, we really do homeschool, pencils in hand, notebooks and textbooks arrayed on the table every single school day from September through the end of May. I really do work on the business (which is blessedly very flexible). And I really do, in the midst of all that plus church, scouts, sports, friends, and music lessons have a clean house.
So how can you possibly be a lazy, busy, homeschool mom and have a clean house?
Don’t Do It Alone
The kids should be doing almost all of the cleaning on a daily basis. They make the mess and they should clean it up. They track in the dirt and drop crumbs all over the floor so they sweep. They get toothpaste all over the bathroom sink and fill the garbage cans and “miss” at the toilet so they clean it up. They are the ones that create the two or more dishwashers full of dishes every day so they wash, load, and empty the dishes. They create the daily loads of laundry so they do the wash. They spread Legos over the living room, train sets in their bedrooms, and “art” projects all over the kitchen table so they tidy up those areas as well.
Set Aside a Time For Chores
We have a daily chore time in the hour before dinner, a habit carried over from my childhood home (thanks, Mom!). While I make dinner they clean the house. They don’t just pick up their toys. They fold laundry, unload dishwashers, sweep and mop floors, scrub bathrooms, take out the trash, clean windows, change light bulbs, scrub marks off walls, and whatever else I need them to do. By the time they reach about age 9 all of my kids can do any of these tasks. There are only a few chores that I don’t have them do like cleaning out the refrigerator because they re not competent. I also don’t have them wash my clothes or clean my bathroom or bedroom or my desk, because that is my personal mess. I take care of those areas.
Ten Minute Pick-up
Another method we use often is the ten minute pickup (or whatever length of time works for you). If we’re in a rush or the house gets out of control at some time other than chore time we set the timer on the microwave for ten minutes and everyone rushes around cleaning as quickly as possible.
During a ten minute pickup we just pick up. We don’t sweep floors or scrub toilets. We do dishes, clean up toys, fold the load of laundry in the dryer and start a new one, take out an overflowing trash can, and so on. If we finish within the ten minutes then everyone who worked gets a treat (like a square off a Hershey bar or a couple of M&Ms; people will do surprisingly large amounts of work for very little sugar). Missing out on the treat and the wrath of the siblings is enough to get the slackers to work the next time a ten minute pick up happens. After a few months I stopped giving a treat every time and now just do it occasionally. But I never tell them when they will get the treat until afterward.
Teach Correct Principles
To make this all work the kids have to be taught a few things from a young age.
- How to do the cleaning tasks correctly. As they grow they learn more and more difficult tasks. Here are some ideas to get your toddlers started. Kids learn best by watching and participating with an adult so have them work with you on chores for at least a few times before you expect them to handle it alone.
- We all live in the house, we all make messes, we all pitch in to clean up, no matter if we actually made the particular mess in front of us.
- If Mom or Dad says “do it” then you do it. End of story. People who don’t obey get punished and lectured.
- Absolutely no whining. Whining gets you extra chores and mockery from your mother.
Handling Chore Time
You can use chore charts to help organize the work and to make it “fair” if you like. In fact Karen has a great system for organizing chores, a system I am too lazy to implement.
I don’t use chore charts. I yell “chore time” and the kids all assemble in the kitchen where I tell each one what his first job is. It’s just easier for me. When they finish their first job they report back to the kitchen and I give them their next job. Repeat until everything is clean and orderly. Often I give them choices. “Would you like to sweep off the front porch or fold the laundry?”
If they fail to report I make them (even the 18 year old) repeat after me. Me: “Say ‘Mom, what is my next job?'” Kid: “Mom, what is my next job.” They HATE that. Therein lies the effectiveness. Also they get lectured on being part of the family and how we can stop feeding them if they feel like they wouldn’t like to be part of the family.
I make an effort to not give the same kid bathroom cleaning duty for five days in a row, but they know that if they do get bathroom cleaning duty five days in a row they are not to complain. Someone else just had to scoop the dog poo off the back lawn so it could be worse and will get worse if they whine. The most hated job at our house is cleaning the cat poo off the shop floor. So at our house whining is called “cat poo behavior” because if you do it, guess what your job will be?
Part of what makes chore time work is that everyone in the family works at the same time. I make dinner while the kids clean. Sometimes they help with dinner and I often do some cleaning while dinner is in the oven or simmering on the stove. Everyone is part of the family. Everyone works.
Another thing that makes chore time effective is praise. When my kids do a good job or work hard then I try to give lavish praise. I make it a point to look for things to compliment them on. The greatest compliment at our house is “You are so useful” or “You are very competent”.
Don’t Be Obsessive, But Be Consistent
I am not a crazy obsessed clean freak. My house does get messy every single day. I don’t freak out if things get spilled, blanket forts get built, or Legos are covering the floor. But we also clean the house every single day. There are no corners of clutter, there are no buried counter tops, there are no filthy sinks or toilets (actually boys can make a toilet filthy in moments so technically I can’t vouch for my toilets 100% but they do get cleaned daily), and there are no rooms clear full of weeks old piles of laundry. Everything gets completely cleaned every single day.
You can homeschool and have a clean house, you just can’t do it all by yourself. Just remember they make the mess so they should clean it up.