A Messy House vs the Chore Chart: Finding the Lesser of Two Evils


You just cringed didn’t you? Admit it, chores hang over your head like the sword of Damocles. The multiplying piles of laundry on the dining room table. Your fireplace mantle covered with children’s crafts, dust and baking soda from the science experiment that got completely out of hand. The casserole pan that’s been soaking so long in your sink, your youngest thinks it’s part of the sink.

Household chores are never done. All one can do is find ways to manage them so that, at any given time, not everything is a mess all at once. Everyone has a system for their house, or they just live in a pig sty. Not having a system is a recipe for disaster, or so I’m led to believe. If you like to visit/waste time on Pinterest, you’ll see tons and tons systems moms have created to organize their home and keep them that way. Search chore charts and you’ll be bombarded with hundreds of images of charts; magnets, wipe-off, pocket, printable, sticker, on-line, picture only, etc. Who’s job is it to take the time to download / purchase/ assemble this thing? Can “managing the chore chart” go to the oldest child or is that one more task for mama? If I can’t reliably empty the diaper pail, it’s not likely I’m going to be able to stick with a chore chart.

“Mama is this magnet for ’emptying the trashcans’ on my column or Byron’s column?”

“I don’t know, which ever it’s closest to.”

“It’s on a line.”

“Nu-uh, it was on your column and you moved it!”

“Okay, let me see. Who did this chore last week?”

“Me!” they answer in unison.

And about ten minutes into this conversation is when I throw the new chore chart into the overflowing trashcan and take it outside myself.

Chores are fun! And so is busting out the power tools and Modge Podge! I can't wait to blow a whole weekend making this chore system!


My husband and I believe that children need to do chores. Everyone contributes to the household running smoothly, and they do it because it’s what you do as a family member, not because you get paid or because it’s a punishment for wrong doing. I do the laundry because I like to see my kids in clean clothes on a semi-regular basis, not because the hubby slips a fiver in my wallet each week or because I got too sassy with the piano teacher. My husband washes dishes in the evening because he understands that the dishes represent the good home-cooked meal I took the time to prepare (during the witching hour, surrounded by five noisy children.) I provide no financial (or other- wink, wink ) incentive for him to do this. When my kids get in fights, or break the rules, I hesitate to have them do extra chores because I don’t want them to equate housework to punishment (no matter what I may think of it sometimes.) Kids, and all people, respond to incentives, but I want to dangle the correct carrot in front of my kids to get the jobs done.

Chores are meaningful ways that our kids can contribute to our family, obtain  a sense of accomplishment, learn responsiblity and self sufficiency, plus, come to  understand what it takes to manage a home (with a large family.)  If my kids never did chores, or completed them only as punishment I think their future spouses would kill me.

“I know the sink is full of dishes honey, but what’s in it for me??? You know Macy’s is having a sale, hint, hint.”

So, if I’ve admitted my kids need to do chores for all the above reasons, why don’t the fancy charts and planners work for me? And I know other families that work great with financial and disciplinary incentives.  Why don’t I just try their methods despite my reluctance? Because amazingly, we are eking by with no system. Or at least, things aren’t falling apart by me just asking the kids at random to do chores and having them complete each task immediately. (I also have a mother-in-law who loves doing housework. Seriously. The upside is, she helps with my dishes and laundry when she’s here. The downside is, my husband gets used to having his underwear neatly folded in his drawer. )

However, I’d like to do better than just getting by. I’d like the day before a party to not be a mad dash of playing catch up. As it is, the kids love when we entertain, but they know I’m pretty much a tyrant for the 24 hours leading up to the guests arrival and therefore avoid me at all costs, which isn’t helpful when stuff needs done.

“KIDS! KIDS! Someone needs to get all these books off the sofa and watch Teddy while I vacuum and Tony, polish the silver!!!”

“But honey, we don’t have any silver. Besides, it’s a picnic. I thought we were eating on paper plates with plastic forks and knives.”

“WHAT?!? Don’t question me! I want to see my reflection on every surface in this house !!!”

“Kids, who wants to come with Papa to pick up some ice?”

Then when people arrive, I’m exhausted. I think it’s why hosting on Memorial Day wiped me out for a week. The time has come for a better system, especially since my Mother-in-law is away for three weeks. Although, maybe I’m just über distraught by the state of the house since kitchen construction has made everything a mess. And when my life is disorganized in a way I can’t control, all I can think to do is bring order to some aspect of my life seemingly within my control. Therefore, if the front of my house must remain a disaster until the new kitchen is completed, then something- chores, our school day, my nightstand, something must be reworked so my life feels less chaotic. Perhaps that’s the underlying issue, parts of my life are in turmoil so rather than just prayerfully deal with those issues, I’ll just create a whole new problem to conquer so that I can feel good about accomplishing something. At least I’m honest with myself.

Part of me would love to throw out half of what we have so I no longer need to care for it, but I learned a long time ago that having lots of kids, and homeschooling them, tends to equal lots of stuff one can’t discard. Even with twice yearly purges of toys, clothes, books and the like, we’re left with tons of “essentials” that we need to find room for. And if I need to keep all this stuff for these kids, I’d better find a way for them to help take care of it all, cause if one more Barbie shoe or Lego brick winds up in the baby’s mouth, I can’t be held responsable for what comes out of mine.

I’m going to revisit the FlyLady and my Martha Stewart Housekeeping Handbook (which is gathering dust) and work on creating a schedule of chores; what must get done daily, weekly, monthly and seasonally. Then, I’ll figure out a way to distribute the jobs fairly without having to whip out the laminator, the RotoZip or create three dozen magnetic labels.  I’m curious to hear what everyone else does to bring order to their home. And how easy is it to get back on track once you have a lapse in the system for a time. (If you tell me you have a perfect system and you never lapse, I will block you from commenting in the future. Unless you’re Martha Stewart. Then, I love you.) Share your stories! The fate of my household depends upon it!



  1. I’m right there with you Kelly. I’ve tried making charts/schedules and that’s about where I stop. Someday… maybe.

  2. My oldest is almost 8 & he’s very interested in helping out & so I’ve been trying to figure out what that will mean; other than putting away toys, I haven’t called on my kids to help out much as it always seems to be way more torture on my part to train them. I once had a mother of a large family talk down to me for not having my kids unload the dishwasher first thing in the morning; she explained that her kids took care of the dishwasher, did a load of laundry and ran the vaccume BEFORE breakfast. I don’t know, I just want to sit, drink coffee & smell the roses & my baby’s neck in the morning. However, I don’t want to spoil my kids. I guess I’ve got to figure this one out too!

  3. Chore charts. Sigh. We mostly muddle by here, too. The kids know what they need to be doing, but without the added incentive of trying to avoid momma’s breakdown when she finds out things are undone, it ain’t gonna happen. My people would perish in a zombie apocalypse with yours. That being said, they seem to be learning something as the oldest 3 now do all their own laundry and are surviving out there in the big, messy world. They do, however, backslide considerable when they are home during school breaks. At least I was entertained for a considerable amount of time creating the last chore chart we tried to use. I don’t get out much.

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