How to Get Kids Who Are at Home to Help Pick up Around the House

published Dec 29, 2022
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Messy teen bedroom
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Every year, I look forward to winter break and all the family time we get to enjoy at home. Without places to rush to, school lunches to be made, and the bustle of homework and papers to sign, winter break feels like such a hushed respite, especially in contrast to the whirlwind that is the first half of December. 

But let’s be real: Kids at home all day means constant messes around the house. (I’m practically getting hives from pandemic flashbacks as I write.) And as much as we try to perceive the scrunched-up socks tossed around the living room and the dribbles of hot chocolate all over the kitchen counter as signs of life and things we’ll miss someday (they are and we will!), there’s only so much mess we can handle before we take matters into our own hands. After all, it’s hard to relax in a messy home. 

Too often when I reach the end of my rope like this, I end up feeling like Cinderella. As you can imagine (and maybe relate to), when all the holiday magic disappears, just like Cinderella’s ball gown I start expressing my resentment. 

The solution is for everyone to participate in the picking up and cleaning, but every parent knows how hard that is to do without constant reminders and nagging and wondering if it is in fact easier to just do it ourselves but then what about their character?? Yeah.

My Secret to Keeping the House Neat Over Winter Break

I’ve found that the answer to this problem for parents everywhere is doing one key thing: Put everyone’s responsibilities down on paper. 

In our family, “putting everyone’s responsibilities down on paper” involves two systems. Our four- and six-year-olds have Velcro daily responsibility charts that I purchased on Etsy, printed, and laminated. We fill their morning, afternoon, and evening slots with what they are expected to do and they move their tasks to the bottom area when they’re done. They actually love seeing what’s on their charts and the morning rush especially has become so smooth. Over break, I can replace responsibilities like “unpack backpack” with ones like “pick up toys.” 

Our older kids, who are ten, twelve, and nearly fourteen have daily routine charts with a similar basic setup: there are four different routines based on time of day (morning, afternoon, evening, and bedtime). Their responsibilities for each day are listed with a checkbox to mark them off. The charts we use for this are also from Etsy and laminated. Once the kids finish their responsibilities, they are free to use screens for a prescribed amount of time. 

These responsibility charts aren’t chore charts, although they help the kids schedule their chores. But they have built-in reminders to clean up the spaces they’re in charge of, which means — and here’s the real magic — that my husband and I don’t have to feel like servants to keep the house reasonably clean and orderly. Instead, we know that by a certain point every day, all zones in the house will be reset. 

This keeps us from being distracted by the mess and constantly frustrated. Instead, we’re able to relax, even in the midst of the mess, and be fully present for all the cookie decorating and LEGO-building and soccer playing we all want. What a gift. 

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