Cancel the housecleaner (and get your kids to help)


Picture this…Sicily…1913…just kidding. I am channeling the spirit of Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls. Mr. Tucker and I have been binge watching old episodes for the past couple of weeks (read: I am making him watch them with me). Still, this is a tale from the past so get out the wayback machine. So picture it…Canada…2005…after a stint working in the corporate world and watching my life crumble all around me as the organization I worked for lost its funding, I decided to go an entirely new direction and so I started to clean houses for a living. How’s that for a life story (and run on sentence)?

For many years before we had kids, my income was based upon manual labour, and I loved it. I needed to get as far away from the corporate world as possible when I did and I needed the security of determining my own future (as much as one can) by starting my own business. I loved being a housecleaner. I had the most interesting, incredible clients, I could say yes or no to whomever I wanted and I could make my own hours. What is not to love?

Learning how to make basic meals is a part of this complete childhood

Of course, as soon as you have kids life changes immensely. I managed the business until the second child was born & I realized that I was making more money being a dependent with the kids than I would be by working (particularly because I did everything above-board including carrying insurance and paying all my taxes). It wasn’t until the youngest was 2 that I decided to dip my feet back into the corporate world.

Naturally, having been a housecleaner, I knew the value of having one. Although many people consider having a housecleaner a frivolous expense, I consider it a lifesaving one, especially if your children are young. So soon after I made the decision to head back to work, I made the decision to hire a housekeeper. In fact, my first kick in the butt came the weekend after my first paycheck came in. Exhausted from the work week, we mustered the troops and headed to a restaurant for dinner. I couldn’t muster the energy to face the chaos of the house so that we could make dinner, so instead we threw money at the problem. When the bill came however, the reality set in: I just paid a fortune for dinner and I STILL had to go home to my messy house and deal with it tomorrow morning.

Sometimes you make a mentally positive, not financially positive, decision

Of course, when your children are 2 and 4 and haven’t seen you all week, they don’t want to let you spend the two hours it will take to clean the house. So a job that should have taken us absolutely no time in fact took us almost four hours. No one got what they wanted that day and we all just ended up miserable. It was then that I realized that I could have taken the money we had spent on dinner the night before, hired a housekeeper, and instead happily eaten Kraft Dinner (Mac’n’cheese to you Americans) for supper in a clean house as opposed to eaten dinner out and still coming home to a pig sty. So we interviewed a bunch of potential cleaners that following week until we settled on the woman who would eventually work for us for four years.

I am not going to lie: we had her come every week while the kids were young, and there was nothing more glorious than coming home on a Friday night to a spotless home. Our weekends were our own, with only laundry and meal prep to contend with. As the kids got older, we moved on to a biweekly schedule since the house was less messy. At every step of the journey, a housecleaner was money well spent. No regrets.

Still, there were a few things that started to change. Our housecleaner started becoming unreliable, especially during the summer months. We would have plans to have people over on the weekend only to find out last-minute that she couldn’t make it. Most times she would make up the time the following week but we found it difficult to plan because of it. We tossed around the idea of saving the money and just cleaning ourselves for a while, but never could quite make the leap. Inertia is a powerful force, especially when it means NOT having to do something.

It wasn’t until we had a huge party planned – and she bailed again – that we made the decision to let her go. Since we were left panicking, I sent Mr. Tucker to the store to buy a plethora of cleaning products. That day, the whole family chipped in and managed to clean the house within 1.5 hours. After that, Mr. Tucker and I looked at each other and silently decided: it was time to let the housecleaner go. The cost had outweighed the convenience.

The benefits of chores

“Parents today want their kids spending time on things that can bring them success, but ironically, we’ve stopped doing one thing that’s actually been a proven predictor of success—and that’s household chores,” – Richard Rende

You may be amazed to hear that I was not brought up in a household where I was expected to do chores, outside of cleaning my own room (which, more often than not meant my mother just closed the door). To be honest, when I left home I felt I spent a lot of time teaching myself basic life skills and I always swore that if I had kids, that they would learn the life basics before leaving the house.

So no housecleaner + an 8 & a 6-year-old = life skills time!

Early years

When my kids were toddlers, we used to put on music and dance around, teaching them to tidy the living room as they went. It wasn’t perfect but it did set the expectation that what you mess up, you clean up.

As they got older, we had more of an expectation of tidy. The kids actually are pretty decent at cleaning up after themselves but that is mostly because Mr. Tucker and I have been diligent about staying on top of them to make them do it. We also started drilling in the basics from a young age, starting with the things they had to do when they got home after school. At first, it was just asking them to put their lunch bags on the counter & any communication from school on the table for us to look at. As the eldest got older, she came home to a sign that said she had to do the three H’s: Homework, Harp, Helping (lunchbag). I even posted a sign at her level with pictures to remind her.

Chores today

Over this summer, I have taught the kids how to fold and put away their own laundry. It is the one chore I hate the most, so teaching them how to do it will pay dividends over the next couple of years. Of course, the youngest is horrible at it but with encouragement from the eldest or a parent, it gets done…in a reasonable time frame.

Then, once we let our housecleaner go the kids had to step up to the plate and help us with cleaning on the weekends. It’s definitely been slow going but I encourage them to finish their work in 1.5 hours (or less). I constantly point out that the quicker we do it, the quicker we get to do fun things but they still insist on the mess-around-and-avoid-tasks method, which is infuriating. Of course, it would be easier to just give in and do it ourselves but by getting the kids into the habit, eventually they will get better at it, making it easier on the whole family.

I have to say, living in a small 1200 sq ft house makes getting all the work done much easier. I tackle the bathroom and the parent’s room, Mr. Tucker starts in the kitchen, and the kids are responsible for cleaning their room by putting the toys away, changing their sheets, and then sweeping/mopping their floor.

Once they are done their room, I am usually done the bathroom so I tidy the dining room while the kids tidy the living room (usually their toys) & we wipe down all the surfaces. Then I put the eldest in charge of sweeping the living and dining rooms, while I get the youngest to help me gather the laundry to take downstairs. I then change our sheets, sweep and mop the floors in our bedroom, & then Mr. Tucker helps the eldest finish sweeping/moping in the living/dining areas and the hallways.

That seems difficult to read, so to simplify, this is what it looks like in chart form:

What about allowances?

My kids are two years apart but they are pretty close and they share a bedroom. I know that current wisdom says to give them a dollar per year, based on their age but for us it’s been easier for us to give them each $6 this year. The money isn’t tied to their chores but they only get paid after they clean the house. Since they have an issue turning off lights, every time I find a light hasn’t been turned off, I dock them .25 cents. The jury is out on whether or not this works, as they seem to have a hard time learning this lesson.

Colour-coded for little people who can’t quite read yet

We also make the kids put their money away: $2 in save, $2 spend, $2 share. I want them to get used to saving money for the future, and we use the share money to sponsor a family at Christmas or for any charity work Girl Guides or their school does. We bought jars from the Dollar Store & had them decorate them so they knew which jar was which and they know they are expected to contribute to every jar, every week. If they have a reduced allowance (those pesky lights!) they have to take it out of their spend jar.

The school year begins

A new school year, and a new sign has to go up in the vestibule to remind the kids that they have things to do as soon as they get off the bus after school. Since Mr. Tucker gets them off the bus in the afternoons, it will be his job to get them into the habit of completing the things on their list. I’ve even come up with a new acronym now that the youngest will also be starting music lessons: CHAMP.


My poster may be silly looking but it gets the job done

This poster has pictures beside it to remind the kids what is expected of them every day before dinner. Since they get home at 3:30 it is more than enough time to accomplish these goals before we eat dinner around 6pm.

Final thoughts

Cleaning and chores with kids is an uphill battle. I would be lying if I said it was in any way easy. However, what we are trying to do is lay the foundation of having every member of our family contribute to the smooth running of the household. Also, kids do well when they know what to expect and thrive when they have a schedule. Soon enough they will know what to do when they walk in the door in the afternoon, and know what we will be doing first thing after breakfast on the weekends. As these things become habit for them, we can then add more complicated chores and jobs to their every-growing roster of life skills.

Oh, and on a positive note, we will save over $2000 by cleaning the house ourselves this year. As I pointed out to the kids: that’s a nice two-week cottage vacation, or money for ½ a trip to Disney for the family. When you put it into terms they understand, they are more likely to be able to understand the benefits of doing things yourself.