Because I Bribe My Children

A messy house is so discouraging, not to mention overwhelming. Yesterday I was determined to get the house ready for our Christmas brunch/craft party. I announced to the children that we were going to clean.

They love it when I do that.

“MOM, I don’t know where to start.”
“It looks fine to me, Mom.”
“What do you want me to do, I’ve already picked up 30 things.”
“You’re kidding me, can’t I do school instead?”

As I looked around at piles of assorted mess – everything from socks to papers – I wondered what was so difficult to comprehend.

“Anything that is out of place needs to go BACK into it’s place. We’re done when the entire downstairs is picked up and cleaned,” I explained patiently.

“Oh,” they all intoned in voices full of gloomy understanding. And then they stood there motionless, no doubt ‘moved’ by my brilliant leadership. Finally I realized I needed a different approach.

I went to the beloved whiteboard (our full size, floor to ceiling white board) and began listing specific jobs with corresponding monetary values.

1. Sweep kitchen floor $0.50
2. Clean red bathroom $1.00
3. Vacuum stairs $0.75
4. Take out recycling $0.25
5. Pick up and organize garage $3.00

And so on. My list nearly filed the board. The kids scrambled to pick jobs, signing their initials next to the numbers. And, this is key, then they ran off to do their jobs. I tackled the areas that needed a mother’s touch (filing papers, clearing off the table, etc). It worked beautifully.

sarah cleans

Sarah is ready to tackle those mirrors!

The children were diligent workers, needing only a little bit of supervision and encouragement. By the end of the day I was blessed with a clean house at a fairly minor expense.

Of course, I could have revised the pay structure to something like this:

1. Sweep kitchen floor – allowed to eat dinner
2. Clean red bathroom – toilet paper provided for your bathroom visits
3. Vacuum stairs – free shuttle service to youth group
4. Take out recycling – clean socks and underwear will mysteriously appear in your drawers

It takes too much time to write all of that down plus I’m not sure they would sense the urgency of my housecleaning needs. Candy also works as a motivating force (check out Sarah’s blue teeth) but there’s only so much sugar they can eat and my house gets awfully messy. There are a LOT of jobs.

I have dreams of becoming an organized mother with a rotation of chores for the children that helps maintain a clean and tidy home.

Until then, I’m content to shell out quarters for laundry and vacuuming.

What about your home? How do you get ready for a party? Is your house spic and span and company-ready all the time? Do you send your kids outside and do the work yourself (at least it’s peaceful and not getting messier every minute)? Do you have a system for powering through the house cleaning?

I’d love to hear more ideas.


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6 thoughts on “Because I Bribe My Children”

  1. Sweet Katherine. You are doing a great job. I hope other moms tune in with ideas. I didn’t do very well when your cousins were little. I think I did it mostly myself. NOT a good EXAMPLE.

    Now I have a wonderful cleaning lady!! Am I blessed!! And still the picking up and dejunking is mostly done by me. Some rooms we can close the doors to. This helps.

    I love you. Aunt Kate

  2. Kathy, I love you. This is such a great post. My kids have minimal chores, and we don’t have a regular “cleaning” schedule. As I look around and want to SCREAM, it seems to make sense to throw a few quarters on the floor, hoping to motivate someone . . .

    I don’t read your blog as often as I’d like ONLY because I know that I will spend a significant amount of time reading through your posts, thinking about them. I think I’m subscribing to your feed, I’m thinking that means I’ll get your posts emailed to me, and I can read them that way.

    Your blog is SOOOOOOO encouraging.

    Thank you!

  3. We usually stick to our weekly chores pretty well, so if I’m smart I’ll plan to have guests on the day(s) the house has most recently been cleaned! Otherwise I have the kids do their usual job but an extra (or earlier) time. NO pay. (We give monthly allowances instead, which assumes being an active, contributing member of the family when needed.)

    We do a monthly chore rotation – each child has one level of the house for that month. They have a chore a day: they each have to dust and vacuum their own bedroom one day, they dust their level one day, vacuum another day, and clean the bathroom another day in the week. The teenagers also are supposed to do their laundry a certain day each week. So they have a chore a day, Mon-Fri. Since the levels in our house are very different in difficulty/time expenditure, the easy level cleaner also is the dishwashing helper for that month. The hardest level cleaner collects and empties the trash (a simple once a week task), and the medium level cleaner helps feed the dog, set the table and give any help needed to get supper ready during the month.

    It sounds more complex than it feels. We have modified it several times through the years to where it is now; at different ages children are capable of different things, of course! And as we’ve moved, our houses’ requirements have varied (we haven’t always had a 3-level house!).

    But it mostly works, and that’s the point.

  4. We do some “Ten Minute Tidy” times; focusing on certain rooms. We do that throughout the week and then LOTS of them getting ready for a party. It helps me to specifically assign certain areas to certain kids. I LOVE your idea for when we’re in a pinch! I think it would work well for us! ;)

  5. I just threatend that my kids weren’t eating dinner if they didn’t at least make a path through their bedrooms and start on the mountain in the middle. We’ve found that decluttering is the hardest part with five kids and parents that are pilers and stashers. (I just filed stuff last week from last December…..about time. ) We clean by throwing everything into the pile that moves toward the dooor of the room as it diminishes. We tend to go from room to room this way and do it all together. My kids are big on things being fair so if they are all in one room then at least they can tell each other what to do. They will sometimes set a timer and see who can put away the most things.
    When company comes…..there are no good days….it’s alway panic mode. We have to race and then I usually give in and let them throw all the “I don’t know where this goes” stuff into the laundry room and no one except children are allowed upstairs. I applaud you who can keep up with weekly chores. We do that for some things as far as daily meals. Maybe in my spare time over the Holidays…in between out of town visitors….coaching extra hours…..making a mess with crafts….trying to finish christmas shopping….Oh who am I kidding—let’s just seize the day and go geocaching instead. That way we don’t have to look at the messy house.:)

  6. Kathy, we do have a regular chore schedule. Mostly this is because I can’t relax in a dirty house. It just drives me nutty, so we have divided our house into 5 zones. Each weekday one zone gets cleaned. Basically, I dust and the boys vacuum. Each of the 3 older kids is in charge of a bathroom (except I clean the tubs & showers). I have found the Kaboom NeverScrub product to be superb. Haven’t cleaned the inside of a toilet in a year. I do one load of laundry a day. The kids put their clothes away. We have toy pickup twice a day, when Carys goes down for a nap and right before bed. I try not to go nutty the rest of the time. :-) Basically, I love organizational stuff and am always looking for new ideas. I know, I’m sick!

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