The floors are dirty and the bathroom smells.
Did that get your attention? This morning, it certainly got mine.
As much as I hate to admit it, the condition of my home this morning was, well, less than acceptable. Not that I look for perfection, mind you, because I was required to lower my standards many years ago when I married my free spirited soul-mate (a contradiction in terms, I realize…if you know me…), began producing off-spring, moved out to the country and began adopting all manner of homeless dogs.
But when things are obviously dirty or smelly, not just the usual-dirty as in flecks of garden mulch on the floors, or normal-smelly as in dog breath in the air, I know that something must be seriously wrong.
And, right after noticing the dirt and smelling the smell, that’s what hit me this morning.
So, after cleaning the bathroom (strangely remembering my days in grad school and use of the New York City subways), and inviting the dogs to help me clean the kitchen floor (slurp!), I did a little investigating.
I began by interrogating the children to determine who hadn’t been doing their chores. I typically supervise chore time, and probably would have noticed a lapse in somebody’s participation, but figured this was as good a place to start as any. But, since the kids all knew their chores by heart, I decided I was barking up the wrong tree. Sorry, kids.
The next thing I did was spend some quality time with my chore charts. After taking them all down from the pantry where they like to hang out, I looked them up and down, backward and forward, and inside and out. I noted both what needs to be done around the house on a regular basis and on a rotating basis, and then made sure that some member of the family was assigned that particular chore every time it needed to get done. That checked out fine, too. No holes that I could see.
The only other thing I could think of at the time, which is where I headed last, was to check the school schedules. Here again, I looked at the daily sequence of activities, allotted amounts of time for all of the different subjects (I use block scheduling for the most part) and even spent some more time reflecting on every child and his or her age, capabilities, level of maturity, plus anything else that I thought might be impacting household maintenance. Nothing jumped out at me. Weird.
It was about that time that I began snacking on some of the holiday goodies still loitering around on the counters of my kitchen. If you are anything like us, you still have crumbs at the bottoms of all the holiday cookie tins, stray candy canes laying around (because nobody really eats those), a box of Russell Stover’s caramels partially eaten, and a bowl of mixed fruits and nuts laced with hard candy, ornament hooks, rolled up little wads of Scotch tape, and a variety of other assorted odds and ends that have fallen into the bowl since the last time you checked.
That’s when it hit me – VACATION. Winter vacation is the reason our home isn’t as clean as it usually is. Duh.
Wait a minute…huh?
It goes against common sense. One would think that, with all that time at home, and no homeschooling going on, the house would actually be cleaner, right? Not the case.
Like many of you, our family took a little bit of time off from homeschooling to enjoy a holiday break. And a lot has happened during those two weeks, not the least of which included frequent visitors, a steady influx of new merchandise, and greater-than-normal amounts of eating, cooking, shopping, staying home, using the fireplace, and generally kicking up dust and making a mess. Not to mention those piles and piles of papers and extra trips to the trash cans.
It isn’t that we weren’t doing our chores. It’s just during that busier times of the year, or busier times in our lives, our regular chore systems may not necessarily hold up.
It’s like the chore charts were doing their very best, chugging along like little engines, but ultimately collapsed under the pressure of all that vacation activity.
Sometimes even the best systems of household organization aren’t completely perfect. They work under some circumstances, even most circumstances, but not all. They hold up well during normal days, normal weeks, and normal times of our lives, but not when changes occur that disrupt the daily flow.
It is important to realize that chore charts, school schedules, or any system of planning and organization for that matter work MOST OF THE TIME. That is, on average days, typical days, and the kinds of days the charts were designed to handle.
But sometimes, systems can break down during busy times, stressful times, or as in this case – vacation times.
What to do? There are a couple of options.
The first is what I decided to do (compulsive as it may seem) – devise a regular chore system plus a more intense chore system. The regular chore charts still hang on the pantry doors, and will continue to be the primary charts that we use in our home. Then, I’ll break out the intensive chore charts when we need them, for times when a little more intensive cleaning and maintenance is needed.
Another option would be to go ahead and add a chore next to every child’s name called, “other” or “as needed”. This extra chore would be one that you assign as needed, and direct the children verbally as to what that additional chore might be, if and when it is needed.
A final strategy is to call for an impromptu cleaning period from time to time, independent of chore charts altogether. [Read THIS to see what I mean.]
Do what works for you.
The lesson is, when scheduling and charting, remember that you are only planning for typical days – not extraordinary days.
So, when your home isn’t up to your standards, taking a good hard look at your existing chore system could be just the ticket. And, if you (gasp!) don’t have a chore system at all, it’s time to create one. Pronto.
A wise person once wrote (when referring to child behavior) that you know a system of positive reinforcement is working when an unpleasant behavior stops. Applying that to chore charting, you know your system is working when your home is clean and in good order.
You can’t get any better than that.