A few years ago, I was facing burn out and took a much-needed sabbatical, leaving full-time work for a more rewarding part-time job and, with that, more open time to consider my legacy and the type of work I felt called to do.
Quickly, the concept of open time became a fantasy. Like Cinderella being able to go to the ball if she finishes her chores, my family walked out the door for school in the morning and instead of finding myself with free time and space to explore the depths of my soul, I was the sole human at home for the day in the company of dirty cups, dust bunnies, pets ready to be walked and fed and seemingly endless piles of laundry.
The cycle of being ready to get to work on building my business as soon as I was “caught up” on housework lasted longer than I care to admit. For me and, from what I’ve found, many other self-employed creative professionals, the cleanliness of our homes is directly correlated to being under deadlines. A clean space helps me welcome deeper thought, for sure, but it also keeps me out of my seat facing the vulnerability of my work. Knowing what to do for a greater sense of calm in my space and what to let go so I can focus on my goals has felt, at many times, impossible.
So what’s a parent to do? For me, with the financial sacrifices we were already making for me to invest time into my personal work, as well as my work to understand the troubling relationship between white feminism and women of color, hiring help was not in the cards for me. So, for a good while. I just stopped cleaning.
I don’t recommend this tactic, especially if a pandemic parks you at home with your family for the good part of a year.
Finally, I tried the more full-proof approach of realizing where I had dropped healthy boundaries, admitting my side of the problem and asking for help. One Sunday morning, we all sat down at the kitchen table and talked through how we wanted our home to feel. What does a tidy home look like for each of us? What calms our space? What is stressful to see? As housemates, we owed it to each other to learn the needs of the group and collaborate on how each of us could contribute. Our family chore chart was born.
It’s been about six months of us using this chart to track our housekeeping progress each week. We print a fresh sheet on Monday morning and hang it on a clipboard on the wall. We average about a C+ with life continuing its curve balls, but sometimes we do nail it and on other weeks we benefit from the tracking and accountability that having our tasks listed so plainly provides. When the week starts over, it’s helpful to know where we might want to catch up or how we might want to adapt our schedules for a better flow of work, fun and responsibility.
Having a plan of attack laid out in our personalized chart certainly helped us get going. For us, getting enthusiasm for these types of changes in the family can come more from positive communication than organization. On that note, here’s a few ways we worked to take this challenge together on as a positive opportunity over a feeling of more to do.
Everyone Gets a Say
Once we identified the needs of a happy home for us, we went around the table and identified who was willing to do what – from ages 7 to 38. My daughter loves to work a spray bottle and had been doing side-by-side chores with me for years, so she took windows and baseboards without complaint, while my husband can sweep a house in minutes thanks to years logged in the restaurant industry.
Committing to helping more is all easier said than done when it’s been another long day, but often we remember the choice we had at that first meeting and how other family members are taking care of the tasks we’d rather pass on, making it easier to roll up our sleeves and knock it out.
Let Go of Criticism
I’m going to rock your world with something I learned after 11 years of marriage and a boatload of counseling – different people load the dishwasher differently. Early in the pandemic, I was on a call with Beautycounter CEO Gregg Renfrew, who wished us all good health and help at home, closing with, “Remember, no one’s going to want to keep doing the dishes if they’re feeling criticised every time they try to help.”
Helpful instruction when taking on something new feels good. Criticism does not. If I miss something done in the moment and can see the ways I could have done it “better,” I try to remember how good it feels to have help. Even that first time I had “help” cleaning the oven and it ended with a repair crew at my house.
Take Care of My Side of the Street
This to me, is the beautiful thing about our chore chart – it’s in charge, not me. The best way I can get my housemates to contribute to a clean and happy home is to have my boxes on the chart checked off. Why is Mom sitting at the table in front of her laptop, unphased by the dirty dishes in the sink? The checks don’t lie. I am no longer the chore police, but instead a humble and equal contributor to the well-being of our home. Focus on your own checks and we’ll all end the week on a high note.
Knowing our needs would change with time, we made our chart in an easily editable format. All families are different, with different needs and priorities in their space and different members of each family available to help with tasks, whether that’s more little hands eager to help or fewer adults sharing the load. No matter what resources you have, I hope you know you’re worthy of help. With that in mind, I’m sharing our family chore chart template in hopes that its adaptability helps fit the needs of your unique group!
Tools of the Trade
Restocking your cleaning closet with this fresh start? Since my goal is to not be the only person using our cleaning supplies, I love following guides on how to clean using mostly vinegar, baking soda and other household staples. It’s easy to pick up an industrial sized vinegar at Target and top off various cleaning bottles rather than keeping track of a bunch of speciality products. We do have a fair amount of marble and granite in our house and love this cleaner, and I was sold on our cordless vacuum cleaner when I realized a six-year-old could push it around with ease.
How do you approach chores in the home? Do you have any favorite cleaners or tricks for getting it done?