We Are Both Right

Keeping the Kids’ Rooms Clean (Enough)

Everything has its place...just as I like it. © Vera Berard/stock.xchng

Memories of my childhood include soaking venetian blinds in the bathtub, spreading the just-washed sheep’s wool that made up our pillows over chaise lounges in the backyard, and listening to my eleven-year-old cousin brag about how she took it upon herself to polish her mother’s silver and individually clean each crystal teardrop on the dining room chandelier.

Somehow I don’t have a Cinderella complex. And in comparison, my children are getting off easy.

Because when I tell them it’s time to clean their rooms, I’m not expecting the furniture to be polished or even the bedsheets to be changed. I’m going for organized more than clean.

As in, no miscellaneous toy pieces left on the floor. Books back on the shelves. Clothes in the hamper. Dolls in the crib. Balls in a bin. Everything in its place.

The clean “look” if you catch my drift. It’s kind of the way that I keep the rest of the house. The floors may not be gleaming and the windows always have the distinct markings of wet dog nose and three-year-old sticky hands, but the counters are clear and the table is available for dining (on most days). We have one catch-all basket on the kitchen counter that gets sorted when it reaches maximium capacity, and each item must be sent to a permanent home or it goes into the trash.

Most of what accumulates during the day is a collection of assorted toys retrieved from the dog who finds it amusing to run around the house with a plastic shark or teddy bear, baiting you for a treat or some attention. It takes a few extra minutes every night to redistribute this pile of rescued toys but to be honest, without our resident toy snatcher, the kids’ rooms might be a whole lot more messy.

They know that if something is important to them and they don’t want it to be missing a foot (like the Daddy in the dollhouse), then it should be neatly tucked away and out of reach of their four-legged sibling. That pretty much inspires them to return games to their boxes after they’re done playing and file football cards away in binders.

If only the dog was interested in laundry. Our biggest struggle right now is getting our son to realize that dirty clothes never need to hit the floor when there’s a hamper three feet away.

The worst is when he dries off after a shower and leaves the wet towel on the carpet in his room. But I don’t let it sit there for long — and I don’t pick it up either. I’ll call him back into his room and ask if that is its final resting place, and he’ll promptly scoop it up along with the clothes beside it to add to the pile in the hamper. I figure if I keep up the pace (and the nagging) he’ll never have one of those stereotypical teen rooms where the floor and the bed are indistinguishable under rolling hills of clothing.

But I’m not all that worried. Because when I do get into a little cleaning frenzy in one of my kids’ rooms, sorting through old toys and papers that have accumulated on the shelves of their closet organizers, the owner of this stuff always happens to join in. And last time we did that, L. told me afterward how good it felt to know where all his things were and that he loved spending time in a neat room.

Ahhhh, a kid after my own heart.

Have scientists isolated the “clean” gene yet? They might want to check in with Amanda, who has some theories of her own.

Chores Mean My Kids Don’t Live a Fairy Tale Life

Not too long ago, my 7-year-old daughter A. left an unfinished cup of milk on the edge of the kitchen table after eating her breakfast instead of bringing it to the sink. Not an egregious error in any sense, if it wasn’t for the fact that we have a toddler in the house, and said toddler enjoys reaching up to things that are higher than his line of sight and bringing down whatever it is he can grab down onto his head.

Right. I won’t take up valuable cyberspace telling you what happened next in the story.

As A. cleaned up the mess, she was pretty annoyed — not with her brother for making the mess, not with herself for not putting her cup away, but with me, of course, for making her get on her hands and knees and mop up the spilled milk (insert corny crying joke here).

“It’s like I’m Cinderella or something,” she snarked at me, sponge in hand.

Um, not quite.

She shouldn’t have been surprised though, because not only do we have a “you spill it, you clean it; you open it, you close it; you break it, mommy yells policy” in our house, most of the time, both A. and her older brother, 10-year-old C. do regular chores — setting the table, sweeping the floor, vacuuming, cleaning up the playroom (which is the domain of the milk spiller, S.), and other assorted tasks as their dad and I see fit. (I say “most of the time” because our chore program has been suspended temporarily as we all get adjusted to the school day and the activities and sports that they do afterwards.)

© mazupan/stock.xchng

© mazupan/stock.xchng

And with these chores come an allowance — an important reward for their work and their contributions to the household, and with that a connection between doing a good job and being compensated for it. I know that some feel that kids should not be paid for the help they do around the house, that there are certain responsibilities they should fill that they aren’t compensated for. We do that too.

When we have our chore system in place, I make up a “Chore Chart” that details everything that needs to be done each day and which ones they get paid for ($.25 per job) and which ones they don’t. The ones they don’t get paid for — clean room, make bed, do homework and others — are non-negotiable and must be done (nearly) every day. The others should also be done (nearly) every day but if they aren’t, they don’t get paid for it.

Let me tell you — it’s a lot more relaxing to have two kids fighting over who gets to set the table than it is over who has control over the television remote.

And when the older kids help out, it sets a great example for the youngest one. It sounds silly, but even at 18 months old, S. does quite a bit to contribute to running a household (besides kisses on command, countless high fives and being in charge of making us laugh). Whenever he is done with his cup, he puts it in the kitchen sink. A stray wrapper or piece of paper on the floor? He’s the first one to grab it and put it in the “YUCK!” (kitchen garbage can). If the broom and dustpan are left out, he’ll pick them both up and attempt to sweep the floor. We didn’t teach him these things — he just learned by watching us.

It will be a while before he gets paid though. As my daughter well knows, I specialize in Cinderellas around here.

Do your kids have assigned chores? Do they get an allowance?

An Organic Approach to Allowance and Chores

I guess you could say that my children are learning the values of volunteering. Or maybe their status is more accurately described as an internship. Because anything they do around the house in the way of chores is unpaid — at least for now.

It’s not that I don’t believe in allowances — I just haven’t made it to that point yet with my eight-year-old son, or my daughter, who’s just three. Instead, the whole concept of giving a child an allowance for completing assigned chores has evolved somewhat organically in our home.

You see, my son has gained a reputation as our resident money bags. Since he was a toddler, he’s had a trained eye on the ground at all times, looking for coins. A gross habit — and one which I reeled at — but there he would be, running his hand along the bottom of the counter at the check-out in the supermarket or under the desk at the bank. There were days when he would collect a dollar’s worth of change in one round of errands around town. I think I used more than that in wipes to clean his hands after every discovery.

His proudest moment — finding dollar bills in the shoe section of Target on a shopping trip with my mom. We taught him to check around to see if anyone would have dropped the money before the finders keepers rule can go into effect. This side gig turned out to be a pretty profitable one for him, which meant that he was never all that interested in an allowance. There were a few times that he wanted multiple packs of Pokemon cards and, with that motivation, he agreed to help his father rake the leaves for $5 (an afternoon, not a bag).

Around the same time that L. started picking up loose change, he also became intrigued with dusting. So much so that I bought him his own plumed feather duster and he would follow me around on a Saturday morning asking what else he could dust.


And in the last year, both of my children developed a penchant for sweeping. We now have several small brooms and dustpans that are theirs for the taking whenever the mood strikes. (With a shedding dog, I never turn down that kind of help.)

This set of circumstances means that chores and allowances just don’t go hand-in-hand at our house.

It’s still important to me that my children understand the value of earning money, and saving and spending wisely. I also want them to learn responsibility for keeping our home in order, by putting their clothes in the hamper, fixing the blankets on their beds and putting toys back in their place. Other than that, we don’t have much structure around the concept of allowance and chores.

How do you approach allowance and chores in your family? By the book or as it comes?