Customizing the Chore Routine

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Dear Home Ec 101,
I love your site and I want to love this chore list, but I don’t know how to make it work for our family. We have a 6 month old, a toddler, and two hairy cats. I work part time and have two days during the week to do chores. Can you suggest a 4 day chore chart and/or how to get chores done with two young children. We can manage to pick up clutter, keep up with the laundry, and make home cooked meals. I do spot cleaning of the floors, bathrooms and kitchen when necessary but have a hard time fitting in bathrooms and deep cleaning. Suggestions?
Wilma Whelmed Overly

customize a chore list
Heather says:

I won’t lie, my first inclination was an internal “Does she think it’s any easier over here?” Then after I sat on my hands for a bit, ok after I let it stew and rattle around the back of my head for a while, it came to me, “It’s not about you, Heather; it’s about the overwhelmed lady asking for help.” Sorry, I can be a little defensive and dense at times, bear with me. It’s part of that annoying human condition I suffer from. If you want perfect, I’ve heard Martha Stewart has built quite the empire.

We all have times in our lives where things are going to slide a little bit. You are in one of those times and I promise, it’s not the end of the world. No one is going to come in and take your World’s Best Mom Mug or your parent license -oh, wait, we don’t have those, do we? If you are at all concerned about how to do better and if I were a betting woman, I’d put a lot of money on the line saying it’s not as bad as you perceive it.

I have been exactly in your shoes, just a little over three years and one child ago. Now that the youngest is two, I’m either accustomed to the chaos, completely insane, or things are actually becoming a little easier. Pick one.

You didn’t mention your living situation and it’s none of my business, but if you have a spouse or partner, you are not alone in this chore situation and there needs to be some communication. Write a letter and leave it taped in front of the toilet if you have to, just don’t make it overly long. Something along the lines of:

Dear, Hey you, LOOK!, (pick one)
I’m overwhelmed. I need some help to get things under control around here. Could you please:

  • short
  • detailed
  • very specific
  • list of
  • chores you most need assistance with

Thank you.

Whether we like it or not, chores are a daily event. The addition of every person and pet to a household increases the number of chores that must be performed. Some things have to be done each day:

  • Pet care -grooming / cat boxes / exercising etc
  • Bathrooms need to be wiped down
    especially if a toddler / preschooler is goofing around in there
    -stomach bugs take much more work than wiping down the toilet and sink-
    Use convenience wipes if you need to. Get things under control and THEN find the best ecological solution for your life.
  • Dishes and food prep areas must be taken care of
  • Make your bed -it sounds silly, but it gives you one thing you got right even on the crappiest of days.
  • Ensuring the laundry cycle hasn’t stalled (put something away, start a load, transfer a load, or fold)

In your case sweeping / vacuuming needs to be done more than once a week. Don’t make it a big event, just grab the broom, sweep the middles making sure you get the Gerber Puffs or Cheerios. Same with vacuuming.

For your own sanity, confine eating to the kitchen and dining room only. Yes, it IS a big giant pain in the rear, but sweeping up crumbs is much easier than digging them out of the couch or finding chunks of apple behind the tv weeks later. Most children adjust to consistently enforced rules.

Each week:

  • clean sheets & clothes
  • clean floors
  • catch the missed areas of the bathroom
  • catch the missed areas of the kitchen
  • dusting & fingerprint / smudge patrol
  • ensure there is food in the house (menu plan & grocery shopping)
  • make sure things aren’t falling apart – errands / projects

Really, that’s the rundown; how you arrange it depends on your unique situation.

A friend of mine told me she took the list from the chore schedule and rearranged it to fit her schedule and taped it to the inside of her bathroom cabinet. She sees it every morning and knows what she needs to get done before she leaves for work. Just because I catch up on laundry on Monday (I do it throughout the week, that’s just catch up day) doesn’t mean you can’t do so on Saturday. The chore chart is a starting point and meant to be adapted to fit your needs.

Lastly, if this overwhelmed feeling has been going on for a while, make an appointment with your OB or general physician. Yes, you are busy. Yes, it’s natural to feel a little rundown, but it shouldn’t be constant and you shouldn’t be miserable. If you are miserable, the people who live with you know it, no matter how hard you try to hide it. Your children need a mom who isn’t suffocated by life.

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Find some support if you don’t already have a network of friends and family. Whether it’s secular or faith based doesn’t matter. I don’t care if you “don’t like” or “don’t get along with” women. Go anyway. The idea of hanging out with a group of women used to make me break out in a cold sweat. You will be surprised by how much you share with other women in this same, busy season of life.

Hang in there.

Home Eccers, if you’ve made it this far, please feel free to offer your advice, too.

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24 thoughts on “Customizing the Chore Routine”

    • For a while it’s a huge pain in the butt, but my six year old unloads the dishwasher. I leave the room while he drags a chair around to put the stuff away. (If I watched, my inner control freak would kick in).
      All of them, even the 2yo now carry their dishes to the sink.
      Mostly if I can get them to put their stuff away I can stay on top of the rest and as they get older they will be asked -coerced- (forced!) to be more helpful.
      There’s a lot of satisfaction in being self-sufficient and it doesn’t come naturally.

  1. Great advice! I agree, everything goes in stages. Honestly, I think Wilma will look back on these days fondly Because while the mess may be lots of toys and cat hair everywhere, it will soon be mud/snow/water trekked into the house, filthy clothes etc and no time to clean it up because she'll have to supervise the outside play. Then it will be the teenage years where cereal bowls and clothes are left all over the house and though she'll have time to clean up the mess, she'll try to teach the kids independence by getting them to help and that may be an uphill battle 🙂 My advice would be to relax, do the best you can and enjoy the journey; kids are kids for such a short period of time. And if it really is too much, get help from hubby (like you said) and make hard choices for the betterment of your family (like giving away the animals and half the toys).

    • Some of us are incapable of relaxing, we just have to learn to just let the less than ideal moments go, no matter how loud that inner voice gets.

      You give great advice, a reduction of stuff can be incredibly helpful and sometimes, if situations are dire, rehoming an animal is the best solution for everyone (including the animal). -Here come the haters, right?

      • as an owner of two dogs and having fostered several others, I think if things are so hectic that a family pet isn't getting the attention or care it deserves, then rehoming is definitely a solution to consider. I (and most others I think) would rather see a pet go to a home where it can receive proper attention and care rather than stay in a home where the owners are unable to do so.

        • Imabug, thanks for bringing a rational and compassionate voice to this topic. I've seen the mere mention of rehoming a pet erupt into flame wars way too many times.
          In situations where things have devolved (and I don't think it's the situation in the submitter's scenario) blame, judgement, and you should haves do nothing but make an already miserable situation guilt ridden. So yes, it'd be great if every pet went to its forever home the first time around, but life can suddenly dish out difficult situations where difficult choices have to be made.

  2. I remember those days all too well. Heather's suggestions of things to do daily are on target. I've never been a brand fanatic, but a few years ago, I discovered the joy of Swifer dusters and WetJets. They make dusting so much easier and faster for me…I used to use dust rags, brooms and rag mops or sponge mops and buckets. Then I discovered the pop-up wipes for sanitizing bathrooms and countertops. There are so many kinds on the market, but it made it easy to keep the bathrooms clean…I could keep a canister in each bath pull one out and wipe up and clean up. The other thing that worked for me was keeping a toilet brush at each toilet and the toilet cleaner near that as well. Now with small children around, I suppose you need to have child-proof latches on cabinet doors. I discovered these solutions after my children were adults, and without grandchildren (not yet boys!) we don't need to worry about small people getting into what they should not get into.

    • I try not to espouse brands too often -they can buy advertising, right?- but the concept, I'm totally down with.
      I use rags and diluted vinegar as often as possible. Then there are months, like now with the book deadline, where I say to hell with it and use paper towels because it's that or let it fall apart.
      I believe there are stages to the choices we make. First we get our lives under control and then we work on making the best and most informed decisions until we find a balance most suited to our (and our family's) needs.Sometimes we step forward and sometimes back, but as long as the general momentum is forward, we're doing ok. (Heck, I think this is a post for later in the week). Thanks Cheryl.

  3. Guess what? Martha Stewart isn't perfect either. Our homes would look as good as hers if we too could pay other people to do the work. And sometimes that can be a solution. If you can come up with the cash, an occasional visit from a cleaning service to do the floors and the bathrooms and such. (You do have to pick up first so they can clean.) Or a cheaper helper, a neighbor's preteen to keep the little ones out of your hair while you clean.

    Years ago my neighbor's five year old was a wonderful helper. She played with my toddler within sight while I got things done — weeding while they played in the sandbox, dinner prep or laundry folding while they built with blocks on the family room floor.

    • I know she's not perfect, but there seems to be a pretty idealistic standard to that particular crowd. That's ok, that works for her and her incredibly large audience.
      It doesn't work for me, so I try to be honest about where I really live.
      I don't mean to wallow in or celebrate mediocrity, I just want to live where it's ok to admit that our socks have holes, the kids don't wipe their feet, and sometimes it all falls apart. Sometimes we just need a little help and sometimes we just just need to vent.
      re: other kids as helpers, excellent advice – there are two little girls in our neighborhood who seem to have adopted our family. For the most part they are great kids and they like to play with my toddler like she's a baby doll. It's been amazingly helpful and I think the girls get something out of it or they wouldn't keep showing back up.

      • My sister and I are 10 years apart (boy in between) so from day one I was watching her so my mom could get stuff done. By the time I graduated HS, there were 27 kids under the age of 18, and 22 under 12 living on my street. The kids would kind of move in groups from house to house as needed (i.e. Jan's expecting company so her kids go to Dot's, then tomorrow Dot's & Jan's kids go to Mary's). Most of the time it wasn't planned, and the older kids spent a lot of time just distracting the younger ones so adults could get things done (cleaning, grocery store run, nap, etc.)

  4. You don't really list laundry on the chore list, but I find that to be one of the things that really bogs me down. I don't know why, but the amount of dirty laundry for two adults and one toddler astounds me. How can we possibly dirty so many clothes? Most of them are the toddler's, too.

    As for Martha, well, I realize this is off the topic at hand, but seriously, she's no role model. You all can, I hope, say that while your house may be a little bit unkempt or even a little on the grungy side, you've not spent time in prison, nor have you, I hope, set up impossible standards to stress others out. I'm actually not ANTI-Martha, but I don't see her as the person who has it all together while we are all slackers. Even when I've watched her show, I usually feel annoyed rather than inferior. Who has time for all of that perfection? She doesn't have kids running around, as far as I can see. I'll admit, though, that I do like the magazine, especially during the holidays.

    • Stacy, this is exactly why I need an editor, I'll throw the laundry in the daily / weekly. With toddlers, it's partly outside influence that creates the problem. Their clothes are cute so relatives enjoy buying them. As kids get a little bit older it's easier to reduce the amount of clothing they own over all, which makes the biggest difference. If a kid has 5 pairs of shorts they can't create a mountain of clothing in the summer and shorts are one of those things that can be reworn without being nasty. So can jeans / pants / skirts. . . It will get better if you stay on top of the amount of clothing coming into the rotation.

      You raise good and valid points, but I just want to note that people can make mistakes and can change, so I don't want anyone with a record thinking that their chances are over.

      I'm not anti-Martha either, it's exactly that stressing people out part that concerns me.

      • My new niece or nephew isn't due until December, and I've already bought 5 or 6 outfits for him/her. I'm sure the rest of my family is doing the same, which means the kid will start out with 100+ outfits, not including whatever my bro and SIL buy or recieve as baby shower gifts.

          • Soooo cute. My mom thinks it's hysterical that within an hour of the 'we're pregnant' phone call, both my sister and I were online ordering baby clothes (I got a NY Yankess onesie, and I did remember to order it in the 6-9 month so it will fit during baseball season, and she bought a onesie that says 'Daddy's Little Republican).

  5. Heather, your advice is spot-on, especially the part about the Mom's group. I'm the world's biggest tomboy. Ever since I moved away from my childhood "best friend," the VAST majority of my friends have been guys and even now, I just feel more comfortable sometimes talking "guy" things. But MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) has been a WONDERFUL thing for me. The preschool years are T-O-U-G-H and it really helps to know that a) there are other moms out there who have the exact same issues you do (in fact, I'd wager that ALL the other moms of preschoolers have exactly the same issues you do, some are just more honest about it than others!) and b) there are moms out there who have gone through what you're going through right now who are at least proof that it's survivable, if not actually helpful with advice!

    One other thing that I've found to be helpful (as a listmaker anyway) is to write down everything that needs to be done, then cross it off as I go along (sometimes breaking something down into smaller components if necessary for the sense of accomplishment – e.g., "do laundry" becomes "wash/dry x # of loads, fold laundry, put away laundry, match socks"). The key to that method though is letting go of the things that don't get done. You just move them to tomorrow's list of to-dos and forget about it. No guilt. No shame. It just didn't happen today and that's ok. I also make sure that my list includes almost EVERYTHING I do – including make breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and each room for "minimum maintenance." Maybe I didn't get everything done off of the list, but it's not because I was sitting on the couch watching soaps and eating bonbons. It's because I was doing the most important job – caring for my kids. Your list could even include "home school," "play with kids @the playground," "go to MOPS meeting," "work," etc. Focus on how much you're accomplishing instead of how much you're leaving undone.

    • wow you are so smartcan you tell me how to tearvl to other galaxies .you must know if you how to wash a man shirt. please tell me i will give you one million box of water and soap

  6. As long as we're on the subject of toddler/baby outfits, I'll just say that I never buy newborn or 3 month sizes as clothing gifts for expecting moms. I usually get 9 to 12 month sizes. Some babies are big; also, they grow fast and before you know it the mom will be faced with dozens of useless outfits. This way she doesn't have to dash to the store and get a bunch of new stuff the day she realizes that Baby has outgrown all of his/her clothes.

    • Everything I have bought is 6-9 or 9-12 months. I learned my lessone with my sisters nieces, they are big for their age, started out in 3-6 months and were at toddler clothes before a year. Now they are 4 and wear boys 8-10.

  7. I’m in a very similar situation to the questioner (one 3yo and one almost 1yo) and had thought about emailing Home Ec 101 something along the same lines. Not so much for advice but reassurance that I’m in the ballpark when it comes to keeping on top of every thing. What I’ve learned (so far, that works for me):
    1 – Try to have a daily “minimum maintenance” routine. I do mine right after the kids go to bed. Make it exactly the same Which is boring as anything but I’ve found that I can get the same stuff done in less and less time as the weeks and months go by. I’m down to 25 – 35 minutes, which starts with loading the laundry and ends with putting it in the dryer. (Putting clothes away is my DH’s chore.)
    2 – I hate housework so much that I loathe the thought of moving into a bigger home.
    3 – Keep your cleaning supplies as excessible as safety will allow, AKA minimise barriers to cleaning. E.g., I keep a squirt bottle with vinegar/water right on my glass dining room table. My garbage bags are in a basket hanging from a wall-mounted spice rack. It’s not attractive but my garbage is changed more frequently.
    4 – Clutter is a problem (for me!). Swistle says that you can’t clean clutter. I’m just not disciplined about putting stuff away and many things in my house just don’t have a home (yet). Being on maternity leave means I’m bothered all day by clutter that didn’t bother me at all when I was working. I’ve developed a little theorem about children and clutter. My oldest keeps needing new age-appropriate stuff but I can’t just get rid of his old stuff because the younger one still needs it and I’m keeping her old stuff because we want a third. So you’re always playing catch-up. I’ve got to anticipate my storage needs before they arrive. Sorry for ramble.

  8. Since you probably don't have time to read a long post, here's the nutshell version:

    1. Definitely explore the wonderful world of sanitizing wipes. I can get the bathroom really clean in under 5 minutes with those puppies.

    2. Invest in a small, handheld vacuum (like a DustBuster). I makes cleaning up toddler messes quick and easy. I use mine constantly.

    3. Remember this season won't last forever. You will eventually be able to see your living room floor again…at least that's what I'm hoping for!:)

  9. Re: keeping clothes. Is there a friend that maybe has a child inbetween your two? When my sibs and I were little some of the clothes went through 7 or 8 kids between when I wore them and my sister wore them. Poor Betsy ended up with a lot of 'outdated' stuff, like a Montreal Expos shirt when they don't exist anymore.

  10. I'm almost in this boat (2nd due in 6 weeks) so I've been looking at how I clean and how the realities of my life may change and steps I can take NOW to get a better routine for working around two kids. Currently I've been doing a lot of my cleaning while my 2 year old naps, but I know I can't count on two kids sleeping at the same time.
    So, for the past month or so I've been looking for more ways for my 2 year old to help. Then I can at least clean while the littlest one sleeps if the other one is up.
    First thing, we rotate toys. I keep very few toys out (literally about 10 toys and only 1 set with a lot of pieces at a time). Every couple of months I switch them out. We also don't feel bad about getting rid of toys. I make it very clear to all family members that I'm not attached to things, so they should not be offended if, after the kids are finished playing with them (or the toy annoys me!), I will get rid of it. This rotation helps my daughter to actually play with her toys instead of spreading them everywhere just for something to do. She is a naturally organized kid (I promise I didn't teach her that because I'm still learning myself!) and likes to have things in their place, so it is helpful that when I tell her its time to put the toys away she will.
    The other day while cleaning my bathroom she was getting underfoot and I was getting frustrated. Then I got a brilliant idea. I use norwex cloths (they are antibacterial and you can literally just clean with the cloth and water), so I gave her one of the travel size ones that I had free from an order I had placed. I made sure it was the same colour mommy was using and she wiped down all my cabinets and the tub ledges for me ("Just like Mommy"). Since I didn't have to use cleaners, it was safe for her and she was actually helping.
    When I vacuum I try to get her to dust (I have a dust mitt that she likes to wear). She doesn't do a good job, but she's "helping" and she likes that and it keeps her from making a big mess in another room while I'm occupied. I have a wall-to-wall carpet house (except kitchen and bathroom) so it takes a while to vacuum. If she's not into dusting for the whole time, then I give her one of the little vacuum attachments to "help" with. She'll pretend to do the couch and other little corners. It doesn't do anything but keep her occupied, but she doesn't know that. I may have to get her a little dust buster when she's older!
    I figure this helping gives her the feeling of accomplishment and eventually she will learn how to do all these jobs properly, by herself. Which means less for me to do!
    For laundry, she's not super helpful, but she can find all the socks and I don't think it will be long before she can match them for me. So my biggest piece of advice is to train your kids to help! From the moment they're slightly interested in helping, give them something to do. Why would discourage helping? Sure it's not to my standards, but when my mother-in-law shows up this afternoon and I tell her the dusting was done by her granddaughter, I know she will be more thrilled that she's learning to help than to care that it's not perfect.


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