I did not grow up in the kind of household you see in detergent commercials—the kind where parents keep the kitchen sparkling clean and wash kids’ soccer uniforms with a smile. My household tended toward chaos in the cleanliness department, meaning I graduated into adult life without a clear grasp on how to organize a functional household. Or, you know, do basic chores.
Over the going-on-twelve years David and I have been together, we’ve struggled with the basics of managing chores. Luckily for both of us, he has always been reasonably good at cleaning, and I am a marvel when it comes to tidying, so we somehow stumbled through without ending up in total squalor. But household management has always felt haphazard, and hence, a struggle.
In the last year, we introduced the fourth (and probably last) member of our family: a baby girl. With a family of four, the amount of work that needed to get done was suddenly substantial. (Seriously—you should see my laundry pile by the end of the week.) And I realized that the only way to manage the work was by setting up a very clear routine. Haphazard was no longer going to cut it if I didn’t want to revert to chaos. And I really, really did not.
So in the past few months, I’ve started to work out a very clear system for myself about what gets done when (and how). Thus far it’s increased the work I do around the house, while somehow vastly decreasing my stress. The current chore hacks I have in place look a little like this:
1. Clear Division of Labor
David and I try to divide up the big chores in a way that’s fair overall, even if it doesn’t look fair day to day. David cooks and does grocery shopping, which takes up a fair amount of time during the week. (I watch the kids while he’s cooking.) That means on the weekends, I pick up the bulk of the work: doing laundry and tidying and organizing.
Instead of doing chores when it seems like they (really) need to be done, I’ve set up a clear structure for my weekends. Every Saturday morning I get up from the breakfast table, take the sheets off all the beds, pile them with the towels and the bathmat to be washed, and put on new sheets, and fresh towels. (We have two sets of everything, so we don’t have to wait for the washing to be done for fresh sheets.) I start the (many loads of) laundry on Saturday morning, and try to do all the folding for the week by Sunday night. (I often fail on the folding, but being flexible is part of the plan.) I have various other routine chores I try to tackle, while trying to carve out time on slow weekends for some KonMari style decluttering. Which brings me to…
3. (Way) Less Stuff
This sounds insane, but in the last six weeks, I’ve easily gotten rid of half of our belongings, if you count our storage space. Living in a house for the first time, after years of apartment living, allowed us to collect more stuff… and store it in places we never looked at it. Turns out, if you have fifty percent less stuff, you also have about fifty percent less tidying up to do. (Particularly if your preschooler will haul any object you own to the middle of the living room floor, and just leave it there.)
4. Getting Help
With the addition of small children to our household, we decided it was time to set aside part of our budget for house cleaners. We don’t have room in the budget to have them come every other week (or even every week, which seems magical…) but they do come once a month, and take care of all of the deep cleaning. That means we have more time to play with the kids on the weekends without a scrub brush in our hands, and we really value that.
Thirty-five years into life, I’m only starting to get a grasp on household organization, and I’ve got a long way to go. But starting to develop routines around cleaning has eased my stress tremendously… with the additional upside of fresh clean sheets every week. But mostly I’ve realized that providing a well-organized household for my family (and you know… myself) is something I really value.
I normally work really hard to not model my life after some sort of false ideal presented in the commercials. But if, after a childhood of household chaos, I can live something approximating the dream of the shiny kitchen and fluffy fresh laundry… I’m in.
What household management strategies have you figured out? What are your pain points and your chore hacks? I’m feeling passionate about improving my chores skills at the moment, so please share your best tips.