Chores: Outsourcing, What the Kids Do, and other General Q&A

I really enjoyed my weekly series on food a few months back (which even got a shout-out from one of my favourite bloggers – Sarah Hart-Unger). I’ve tackled travel on a budget and spent a week talking about clutter. This time I thought I’d delve into the never-ending world of household chores, kicking things off with a short Q&A.

What Do You outsource?

Really the only thing we consistently outsource is house cleaning. For the last 18 months (as COVID regulations have allowed) we have hired someone to deep clean the house. Every two weeks someone comes to do the floors, blitz the bathrooms and, every so often, dust the fan blades. If we include the basement floors and bathroom, we budget for 3 hours, but typically 2 hours is long enough to do the main floor.

I spend about an hour prepping beforehand. I do all the dusting, we pull things up off the floor (chairs, garbage cans, random detritus in kid bedrooms). This feels slightly like hiring a dog and barking myself, but I don’t really mind this prep work.

Having extra support with the cleaning maintenance has been wonderful. Admittedly, after about 24 hours, the floors already show the wear and tear of life, and the bathroom mirrors are speckled with toothpaste. But I know it’s been clean, and nothing gets grimy. It’s mostly superficial dirt!

The last two summers we’ve largely outsourced lawn care; we’re still in the middle of exterior renovations and we have a lot of landscaping work to be done. It’s not an easy lawn to mow right now and between vacations and an arm injury and lack of time (we’d rather be adventuring), we had someone come 2x/month to mow as well. This winter I think we’ll look to have the same person come with their snowplow and clear the driveway after really big storms. In the grand scheme of things, it’s very reasonably priced and since we save in so many areas, these are places that we can choose to “splurge” and give ourselves the gift of time.

What do the kids do?

We don’t have a set chore routine; there are no charts, no stickers, and no specific schedule of when certain things get done. I mostly have to remind the kids to do their various jobs, but they tend to comply without too much complaining (yes, there is definitely some). I’ve talked a bit about this topic before in terms of kids clutter and how they help keep things under control.

Levi (~7 years old):

  • is responsible for general tidying in his room. I’ll get him to clean up LEGO every few weeks (but it’s downstairs and there is almost always a current project going, so I don’t care too much).
  • collects the garbage cans. Every week (usually Thursday, since garbage day is Friday), he brings all the garbage cans out to the kitchen. I handle combining/disposing of the garbage, but he is responsible for taking the cans back to their respective rooms when I’m done.
  • helps clean off the table; sometimes we’ll have him do everything, sometimes just his own dishes.
  • now puts away his laundry. It is sorted and left in a neat pile in the laundry room but he is responsible for getting it and putting it away. Once a week or so I “straighten” up his drawers, because things tend to get shoved into spots that are already full or hung very precariously on hangers in his closet, but it’s done and I don’t have to do it!

Abby (~10.5 years old):

  • is responsible for the dishwasher. This is her biggest job. Every 1-2 days she has to empty clean dishes (for the most part, an adult loads items into the dishwasher). She doesn’t love this job, and I always let her know when it’s done (i.e. she doesn’t take it upon herself to check if it needs doing). I don’t run it until it’s relatively full, and I think it would be ideal if she could count on a set schedule – say every day when she got home from school – but it’s not and I just let her know when it needs doing.
  • also puts away her own laundry. More neatly than Levi, but as she should at nearly 11!
  • also helps clear the table.

How do you balance chores with work and fun?

There is always something to be done. Sometimes things just need to be left undone, and I’m trying to come to peace with that (I’m having mixed success on that front).

A few things that help:

  1. Have less stuff. Cluttered spaces are generally harder to keep clean. Messy worktops are harder to dust; it takes a lot longer to vacuum a bedroom floor littered in toys.
  2. As much as possible, keep messes localized. I’ll spot vacuum (with our dust buster) around the table every day or so. Then this mess doesn’t get tracked through the whole house, requiring more intensive cleaning everywhere.
  3. Outsource. See above. If it will fit into the budget, consider getting someone to help out with staying on top of house cleaning, laundry, meal prep, stacking wood or yardwork.

While chores can feel…like a chore…I also find them satisfying. They’re part of the rhythm of life and while it can be frustrating to launder the same sets of clothes and wash the same dishes and empty the same garbage cans, there is an element of productivity and satisfaction. I don’t grow my own vegetables or sew my own clothes; some of the working subsistence practices from previous generations don’t apply to me. But I can still find comfort and a sense of accomplishment from staying on top of the daily – admittedly mundane – chores of organizing a household.

Also, I think chores can also be a cue for gratitude. James Clear talks about changing “I have to” sentences into “I get to” sentences. Instead of “I have to do laundry…again” we can recast this into the realization “I get to do laundry again” which might trigger a swell of thanks that we have clothing, or easy access to water in which to wash our clothes, or gratitude for a modern washing machine without a washboard or handwringer in sight; “I have to cook supper” can become “I get to cook supper” which means there is enough food in the fridge to feed the family or feelings of gratitude that you have someone with whom to share meals.

4. And, like I said in my very first blog post: let’s not let the perfect get in the way of the good, or the done! A 15-second wipe-down of the bathroom counter with a baby wipe can be almost as good as a 5 minute deep dive with cleaners and special equipment.

Casual Friday + A Work Update

  • My father-in-law is visiting. It’s the first time we’ve seen him since October 2019 due to the all-too-familiar travel restrictions of COVID. We’re looking forward to Thanksgiving (the Canadian variety; second Monday in October), sharing good food and just spending time together. It’s a long time to go between visits and the kids have grown so much – Levi hadn’t even started school the last time we were together!
  • Abby started cross-country this week. Because of COVID they have a reduced running schedule (only 3 meets and their practices happen during school hours). It’s fun, though, and I’m proud of her hard work. It also makes me wish we’d kept running with her over the summer…
  • We took family photos last weekend. One of my close friends, Joy, takes them for us most years. She’s a saint. A cheerful, happy, saint. To say we dread Family Picture Day is an understatement. Our last photo session (in 2019) ended in tears (after Joy, the saint, left). I purposefully lowered the bar this year. We went 2 minutes from home, picked outfits out the day-of by shopping our closets, and took fewer pictures/poses than any other years. But still. It’s family pictures. This year was definitely easier – yet another activity that improves as the kids get older. As per usual I have my eyes closed in at least 50% of the shots (it must be a family condition because one of my sisters and my father suffer from the same affliction), and the kids were constantly squirming – as kids do. But we got a reasonable number of winning shots. I’ll do a bigger post in a few weeks about how and why we do family photos. But for now I’m heaving a huge sigh of relief that they’re over.

At the very end, we were getting some last-minute pictures of just the kiddos and I asked Levi to smile ONE last time. He said “Sure, but then can you please take one of a silly face.” Absolutely, bud. After an hour of smiling, he earned it – I happen to love the silly-face outtake very much.

A WORK UPDATe

So, I have a new job. It all happened so quickly and I’m still in processing mode, but it felt like too good of an opportunity to turn down.

One of my former research supervisors reached out to me a little over a week ago – out of the blue – asking me to join his team of researchers and industry collaborators. My role will be as project manager. It feels nice to dip my toe back into the research waters while staying clear of any fume hoods and pipette’s myself. It was also a fun exercise in polishing up my CV (wow, I have gotten to do some pretty cool stuff) and reconnecting with references (wow, I have gotten to work with some pretty incredible people).

While exciting, and likely a great career move, it’s a bit overwhelming. Although part-time for now, I already have my hand firmly fixed in other roles with our small business + some other project management. And then there is the fact we, at this point, have no childcare aside from school. That may have to change, but we’ll test the waters for the first few weeks and see how it goes. The kids are used to being flexible after a decade of having work-from-home, entrepreneurial parents, but I have my eye on a few high-schoolers that could fill some afternoon gaps.

So, yeah. In a little over a week, I was pitched and then accepted a job I didn’t apply for – exciting, daunting, and just another new adventure. Hopefully I’m not biting off more than I can chew, but perhaps I’ll just have to tackle the chewing part later?