Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool, also blogs about motherhood at Steady Mom
Lean in closer, let me share a secret:
I don’t clean too much anymore…and I love it.
Why am I whispering? Well, I guess it doesn’t feel proper for a busy homeschooling mama to admit something like this.
Over five years ago, while reading one of the books that has become a foundational part of our homeschool, Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning, I came across this quote:
“A significant part of Love of Learning Phase is to learn to work like an adult, thus many responsibilities can be given to Love of Learners. Still, Love of Learners need to be trained to do jobs well, so we recommend that Mom be released from any cleaning and instead be given a training and supervisory role only.” (page 121)
As my kids were ages five, four, and three at the time, I’m pretty sure I snorted at this impossible and lofty way-too-far-in-the-distance aim that seemed unlikely to ever appear on my messy home horizon.
But now Trishna is 11, Jonathan turns ten on Labor Day, and Elijah is nine. Life looks different around here–far from perfect, mind you–but definitely different. And one variation is the amount of time I spend cleaning.
Looking back, I can see we went through the following phases of cleaning to reach where we are now.
The Phases of Cleaning in the Martins’ Home
Phase I. Young kiddos = Parents clean alone
How long this phase lasted: 5+ years
Young children equal survival mode for parents, and cleaning isn’t the top priority.
What is, exactly? Maybe sleep? Or the ability to take a shower? You know this phase. Solidarity, mamas and papas who are in it.
In this phase you do what you can, when you can. You clean when something strikes your attention, or come up with a method that works for you. FlyLady.net might be an option for those who find it appealing or perhaps once a month cleaning might work well.
In this phase you aim for tidy and hygienic, not picture-perfect. (Well, my advice is to never aim for picture-perfect when there is homeschooling involved!)
Phase II. Getting rid of the clutter
How long this phase lasted: 1 year
Eventually–when toddlers turned into preschoolers–and sleep wasn’t such a distant memory, I began to have the desire to get rid of extra stuff.
I’m beyond convinced that this critical investment in time and energy enabled me to reach the place I’m in now (where I no longer clean much). It would be impossible for my children to adequately care for a home overflowing with clutter.
I’ve written about the case for once a month decluttering here if you decide to investigate it.
Phase III. Teaching my kids to clean
How long this phase lasted: 1-2 years
When my kids were over the age of six or seven, I wanted them to learn the basics of house cleaning. Prior to this, they helped with tidying and doing little jobs here and there.
We began. One day each week we made that our lesson time for the day. At first I tried cleaning with them all together (which I wrote about here), but I found that chaotic.
Instead I worked one-on-one with each child individually in a specific area (typically bathrooms, upstairs, or downstairs). The other two kids would play or read individually until their turn.
By making our cleaning time a weekly priority, I wasn’t trying to fit it in around the edges of our lives. I gave some of our best moments to it, which helped me have patience during the process.
Phase IV. Turning the cleaning over to the kids
How long this phase lasted: 1 year
A year ago I started to feel the need for another change in our cleaning habits. Though I like having structure at home, I also get inwardly restless when the same routine lasts too long.
As my kids got older, I also wanted to set aside our current cleaning day for learning time instead.
By this point they had the basics of cleaning house down (to a child’s standard, keep in mind), so we instituted a new routine: Each morning after breakfast and read-alouds, we clean for 12 minutes.
Every child is assigned to one area of the house: upstairs, downstairs, or kitchen. They keep this assignment for an entire season (spring, summer, fall, winter). This enables them to reach a level of mastery before switching to a new area.
Is this a perfect system? Uh, no.
We’re talking about a regular family here–meaning kids who some days don’t feel like doing their jobs (and a mama who some days doesn’t want to do hers, either!) I also have to reduce my standards so I can be happy with the current best my children have to offer.
But is it a good system for this season of life? Completely!
Not only are my babes learning necessary life skills and contributing to the family, but I am freeing time for other tasks that also bless the family–ones that I had set aside during the years of caring for young children.
Phase V. Adjusting as needed
A few months ago I wrote out a list of everything I still do around the house. I put a circle around each of those tasks that Trishna, Jonathan, or Elijah would be capable of doing instead. This included cleaning up after dinner, making breakfast, taking over the laundry, and so on.
I divided these jobs up, taught the children how to complete them, and turned them loose!
Now: Before you picture me eating cookies on the couch, or scrolling through Facebook while my awesome kiddos (& they really are awesome) work all day, rest assured that I still keep busy.
Plenty of tidying up still falls to Mama throughout the day–tasks that need to be accomplished or helped with. And when we have overnight guests we all pitch in to do a longer deep clean.
But recently, as the children do their daily 12 minute cleaning, I’ve been able to devote time to decluttering projects that have been on my imaginary to-do list for ages. It feels so satisfying to finally cross some of them off.
To pay or not to pay?
Each family will come to their own conclusion about whether or not to pay for chores.
Most of my kids’ work they do without pay, but we did offer them the chance to take on an extra paid responsibility (currently $5/month) if they wanted to.
One child is in charge of trash and recycling for the house, one child in charge of laundry, and one child lost their paying job after too much complaining. When I feel they’re ready I will invite this child to try again–until then they continue on with their other non-paying duties as usual.
I remember thinking, a few years ago, that I needed to find the “one right way” to teach my kids housework if we were to be successful. But like most things in life, I’ve found that with consistency and effort many routes can lead to the same goal.
Don’t look at this post as a formula to follow, but just a collection of inspiration and ideas to choose from as you find what’s right for your own family.
“I am thankful for a lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home…. I am thankful for the piles of laundry and ironing because it means my loved ones are nearby.”
~ Nancie J. Carmody
Originally posted on July 28, 2014.