How I Torture My Kids to Keep My House Clean {e.g. Kids Chores}

I hear a lot: I can’t keep my house clean because I have kids. While I totally get how kids are inevitably messy (mine STILL leave their socks everywhere no matter what I do about it), for me, my kids help our house stay clean. Weird, right? Let me explain.

How My Kids Help Keep My Our Home Clean

Well, first things first: in our house, chores aren’t done for me. None of this “Mom, I did the dishes FOR YOU.” It’s more like “I did the dishes” and I say “good job.” We keep our home clean because EVERYONE enjoys a cleaner house, and I constantly remind them of that. In my experience, you can’t teach like a subtle British TV show: you have to be direct.

So repeat after me: “WE want a clean house, so that we have a nice place to play, relax, and everyone feels comfortable, so WE need to clean the house. All of us clean OUR house.”

Though, for full disclosure, I do pull out the “my” card when they’re irritating me. Like, if they try to rock on 2 legs of a chair during dinner, I say “don’t do that to MY chair.” I know, I’m human and I have real life irritations: like nails on a chalkboard and kids rocking on 2 legs of a chair. Okay, I’m digressing, back to the point. My kids have responsibilities. Keeping the house clean is not my solo responsibility. 

Their responsibilities –

  • They have chores they do every day. 
  • On Saturdays, they rotate deep-cleaning a different room in the house.
  • Everyone Cleans The Kitchen
  • Anything left out at the end of the day gets confiscated and they have to earn it back.
  • I have high expectations. My husband has even higher expectations. (I’ll explain in a bit. Read on.)

The Chore Chart

First of all, my kids have chores. My three girls (11, 11, 9) and my boy (4) have different chores, but everyone has chores.

Elementary/ Tweens/ Older Kids Chores:

I arrange my kids chores to fit my weekly cleaning schedule. For instance, the day I vacuum the house, my girls have jobs to vacuum certain rooms so I don’t have to do the entire house myself. On bathroom cleaning day, my girls have jobs to clean things in the bathroom so I don’t do it all myself. 

I use this chore chart that’s inside of the Spring Cleaning Checklist Pack or with the Kids Chore List Bundle. I have 3 different versions for each of my girls. (To do that, “save as” a different file name when you’re editing the pdf.)

Preschooler Chore Lists:

I don’t want my 4-year-old to feel excluded (yeah, this boy needs to learn he has responsibilities), but I’m not quite ready to rely on his vacuuming skills. Trust me, he gets his fair share of vacuum time, but it is usually spent in the same small area of the rug. 

He really LOVES adding his stickers every day. The fact that we use Star Wars stickers seems to really make his day … every day. I love how kids don’t get sick of their favorite things! Is it childlike how I never get sick of a clean house?!

FYI – An acceptable way for a preschooler to make his bed is to just put all the blankets and pillows ON the bed instead of floor. Baby steps!

Download Preschooler Sticker Chore Chart.

Deep Clean Year Round

In addition to the daily chores, every Saturday my girls have the task to “Deep Clean 1 Room.” They work together and deep clean a room. My husband or I help with adult-type tasks like the Dryer Vent, but there is so much that they can do.

It is one way I keep my house pretty clean year round, kind of like Spring Cleaning in December (Should we start a new thing called Christmas Cleaning????). I use these checklists that are part of the Spring Cleaning Checklist Pack. Since the PDF is editable, I edit each list to fit our house. Like, our piano is in the dining room instead of the living room … and we don’t have windows in the dining room, but we have a freezer in the laundry room.

I printed each list, laminated them, and then cut them out. Using a hole punch and D-ring, I made a little booklet. We use a dry-erase marker when we clean each room, checking off while we go. (I keep track of the rooms we’ve cleaned in my planner.)

Everyone Cleans The Kitchen

One of the most important ways I keep the house clean is to involve EVERYONE in cleaning the kitchen. In my house, I’m not the only one in charge of a clean kitchen. If you’re in the kitchen and it’s dirty, you’re expected to help clean it. In a perfect world people would clean up after themselves as we go, but we are still working on perfect. Good enough is pretty good though. I have mastered the art of regularly asking my kids to clean the kitchen (either by saying it out loud or writing it in their daily chore section). They are in charge of unloading the dishwasher, and usually do that without being asked (because I’ve been training them for years … not that they came magically wired that way. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!).

What my kids do in the kitchen: everything. My husband and I pitch in too, but we’re rarely cleaning alone. If I’m cleaning in there, I will definitely “invite” my kids to help. I even have a short broom just to make my 4 year old feel useful and keep him busy. For the record, his sweeping is not yet useful. Technically I keep 3 brooms in the kitchen, since sweeping is the last thing we do when we’re cleaning, people start sweeping as they finish dishes or wiping counters, and many hands make light work.

FYI – I’d rather my 4-year-old not do the dishes yet because more water is out of the sink instead of in the sink. He tries every once in a while, and then I’m reminded why I give him other jobs.

And the biggest thing: no one leaves the kitchen after dinner until it is clean. No one. And when we work together, it goes quickly … and more importantly, I’m not stuck spending my personal time cleaning the kitchen after the kids go to bed!

Beware of Leaving Your Junk Out

My children have been warned. Leave your stuff out at the end of the day, and it will go missing. I’m okay with books and toys being spread around WHILE they are being used or during brief pauses where I’m pretty sure they’ll come back soon, but no leaving toys out. And who am I kidding with toys. Only my son leaves out toys. As for my tweens – it’s books. Books are left everywhere in my house! 

In the past, we’ve had a basket called the what-not basket for all the kids. It was a part of their weekly chores to empty the basket into the right place. That was the age-appropriate thing at the time. Now, I have a place in my room I put my big kids’ stuff and they have to earn it back, but I still have a place I stuff my son’s stuff he leaves out.

The What-Not Basket


Work Before Play

Want to play outside, read, play on the computer/iPad? Your room better be clean!

In my house, we work hard and we play hard… I’m the mom who has a fun activity planned for every day of Spring Break

But, would playing be as fun without work? No, kids actually enjoy fun more when they’ve earned it a bit. Trust me on this, it sounds too good to be true, but it’s real.

Speaking of fun – this is a picture my little Michelle drew in Kindergarten. This is what she thought mom and dad date night looked like: playing on a playground. I love this picture so much.

High Expectations

Another thing that we do is have high expectations. Our kids are totally normal kids, who yes, don’t love chores. They’ve accepted them, though.

When we first moved, it took me about 4 months to re-start chores because we dealt with so many floods in the first few months. Life felt chaotic for so many reasons, but chores was a big part of it. We would just ask for help when we needed it, but didn’t realize that was stressing out the kids. They prefer to know the expectations, because they feel more in control of the timing. Our girls actually asked us to re-start chores!

We’ve found the balance of chores between my husband and I that feels right to our kids ages and abilities. By ourselves, I’d probably ask less and my husband would definitely ask for more. I didn’t have chores growing up – my mom was obsessed with cleaning and I kept my own room clean because I liked it that way. Matt, on the other hand, had a million chores and he knows kids are capable of a lot of work. He thinks we’re easy on the kids! So we go for a balance in our home and it works for us.

Just Hold On While The Kids Are Young

If your kids are all young, just hold on. Start chores while they’re young, because it is easier to teach if it is always there, but build on baby steps. Your kids aren’t going to be super helpful at first, and it is more work for them to help, but the young-kid-thing is a season. One day they’ll be 9 and  and you’ll be so glad they can clean the microwave by themselves (my 9-year-old has to stand on a stool – so cute!).

Young kids are exhausting, but just hold on. Kids grow up – I promise!

Summary – Make kids work! It makes life better.

When you start chores, your kids may react like you’re torturing them, but just work through it! It is so worth it!

I just.this.year. taught my girls how to clean a toilet because that was a hard one for me to imagine kids doing sanitarily. Do what feels right, but just know that your kids are capable of more than you know! But they may not be capable of putting their socks away, nothing will be perfect.

And if you want the editable checklists, check out the Spring Cleaning Checklist Pack, there’s lots of good stuff in there!

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Don’t forget your Spring Cleaning Printable Pack!


7 thoughts on “How I Torture My Kids to Keep My House Clean {e.g. Kids Chores}

  1. This is one of the most brilliant articles I have ever read. I grew up with outdoor chores but not indoor. Not only does this help the parents tremendously, it prepares the kids for life. I just wish I had children to implement this strategy.

  2. My kids have asked for a chore list as a way to earn their own spending money. I keep saying I’ll put one together… Three years later… THANK YOU!! Once again you’ve given me a place to start and I can just tweak it for our home.

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