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.

7 thoughts on “Chores: Outsourcing, What the Kids Do, and other General Q&A”

  1. We are not at the kid chores stage yet but this is helpful for me to think about! I did A LOT of chores when I was younger – I was always glad to go back to school in August because my summer days were filled with laundry, cleaning and mowing our huge lawn. I am sure I had lots of downtime to have fun, too, but those chore lists are what I remember most! It did teach me how to take care of a home, though, and my parents both worked outside of the home so I understand why my mom left us to do lists!

    The only thing our 3.5yo does is tidy up his toys at the end of the day. But he wasn’t really able to do that not so long ago so at least he can help in some way. We used to have a house cleaning company come every 2 weeks but we cancelled that service during the early part of the pandemic and then about a month before I had our son in December. I thought we’d re-hire them after I went back to work but my husband decided he didn’t want to… I have always felt strongly about hiring cleaners as I don’t enjoy cleaning and I think my time is better used in other ways. So we had a discussion about it and he decided to take on all of the cleaning. He does not do it as regularly as the house cleaners did, but if an area starts to bug me, like our kitchen stove, I’ll mention it to him. And I gently remind him that when/if he gets sick of it, we can re-hire the cleaners. So right now we don’t hire anything out as he also takes care of the yard and snow removal. We live in a corner house on a hill so snow removal is a total pain. But he is very stubborn and frugal so would prefer to do it himself.

    I do help out with tidying around the house/organizing things and I am the one who gets rid of all the stuff our boys grow out of – either by giving it away to friends with babies or by selling it on Facebook. I also do most of the laundry. He will put clothes in the washer/drier and he folds his own clothes, but I fold my clothes and the boys clothes. He’s not great at folding and while it’s not something I should care that much about, I’m kind of anal about laundry and how it gets folded/put away!!

    1. I’ve got a post about laundry ready for Friday!

      Outsourcing took along time for us (just started 18 months ago) and I am so frugal that I still find it hard to pull the trigger every two weeks, but something pleasant would have to give (i.e. leisure time) to fit this in myself (and DH has no extra time in his schedule either). And while I actually enjoy maintenance cleaning and decluttering, I do NOT enjoy cleaning tubs or mopping floors.

      I know your two are still very young and I didn’t have anyone doing chores (other than tandem help cleaning up toys etc); I will say that our son (6) started doing chores earlier than our daughter (10.5) because when we ramped up work for her, it only made sense to include him. I feel like so many people have very organized chore charts, but I just don’t see that happening. I ask them for help with random household tasks and expect them to help…but for the most part, my requirements are pretty low for them right now; partially because I like things done a certain way or I want to do things on my own timeline.

  2. I prepped a post on this topic a long time ago but never ended up posting it…I should pull that back out!
    We don’t have any fancy charts really, but we have some set chores that the boys do. Our level of “enforcement” varies a bit…ha. In theory there are supposed to be set consequences if specific chores aren’t complete by certain times, but in reality we often let it slide and just remind them until they do them. Bad, I know.

    These are our chores, and have been for a few years now (currently 11 and 13): Deep clean bedrooms (both boys), including dust/vacuum/ straighten/ etc. each weekend. Then, we have some set chores that they do one month and then the next month they swap. They each clean a bathroom every OTHER weekend. Used to be every weekend, but kinda seemed like overkill. With touchups in between, the bathrooms can go 2 weeks. One takes the main bath, the other does the basement rec room/ guest bath. (flip flop the following month- keeping it fresh and exciting for them! LOL!). One straightens our “jackets/shoes” area/ hooks by the door and puts extra sweatshirts, shoes etc that accumulate back in closets and where they belong and makes that area look nice. The other one cleans out the van. (But this sometimes doesn’t always happen…grrr…supposed to include decluttering, vacuuming it, etc. Not “washing” the outside.). Then during the week one has to gather all the garbage and recycling and take it out to the curb.

    They help cut the grass or unload the dishwasher just as needed, when we ask them to. They also help clear the table, set the table, etc just as needed, as we ask. The above chores are their main duties though that we tend to really enforce, i.e. “You can’t go to your friend’s house this afternoon until your chores are done” means the above ones. Piano practice is also a general expectation on the list, but not exactly a “chore”.

    I have struggled with chores and chores implementation over the years. I always wish they would be more independent, or do things without needing to be asked! Drives me crazy. But I guess it’s probably pretty normal.

  3. I prepped a post on this topic a long time ago but never ended up posting it…I should pull that back out!
    We don’t have any fancy charts really, but we have some set chores that the boys do. Our level of “enforcement” varies a bit…ha. In theory there are supposed to be set consequences if specific chores aren’t complete by certain times, but in reality we often let it slide and just remind them until they do them. Bad, I know.

    These are our chores, and have been for a few years now (currently 11 and 13): Deep clean bedrooms (both boys), including dust/vacuum/ straighten/ etc. each weekend. Then, we have some set chores that they do one month and then the next month they swap. They each clean a bathroom every OTHER weekend. Used to be every weekend, but kinda seemed like overkill. With touchups in between, the bathrooms can go 2 weeks. One takes the main bath, the other does the basement rec room/ guest bath. (flip flop the following month- keeping it fresh and exciting for them! LOL!). One straightens our “jackets/shoes” area/ hooks by the door and puts extra sweatshirts, shoes etc that accumulate back in closets and where they belong and makes that area look nice. The other one cleans out the van. (But this sometimes doesn’t always happen…grrr…supposed to include decluttering, vacuuming it, etc. Not “washing” the outside.). Then during the week one has to gather all the garbage and recycling and take it out to the curb.

    They help cut the grass or unload the dishwasher just as needed, when we ask them to. They also help clear the table, set the table, etc just as needed, as we ask. The above chores are their main duties though that we tend to really enforce, i.e. “You can’t go to your friend’s house this afternoon until your chores are done” means the above ones. Piano practice is also a general expectation on the list, but not exactly a “chore”.

    I have struggled with chores and chores implementation over the years. I always wish they would be more independent, or do things without needing to be asked! Drives me crazy. But I guess it’s probably pretty normal.

  4. Sounds like you have a great routine in place.
    I’ve had the kids help with actual cleaning (dusting, bathrooms) but honestly, at this stage, it just feels like too much work. The get Pledge on the floor and everyone starts slipping everywhere; the mirror looks worse after it gets washed. I know it’s the best way to learn, but at this point, I’m trying to meet them where they’re at PLUS considering the energy I have to oversee.

    The dishwasher, laundry, garbage feels about right for us now, but I do feel guilty they don’t do more… That said, I know how quickly these things can change with time; in a year or so, maybe I will be ready to assign more responsibility.

  5. It is always so interesting to see how other people organize the mundane every day life. I used to outsource deep cleaning but it got ridiculously expensive and the lady rather talked to me (while I wanted to work) instead of cleaning. After that I used an online service when guest were coming over or I couldn’t keep up. But the last experience was not great as the girl stole from us (only food but still). And then Covid. Haven’t had any help since then. I want to though. All other chores you mentioned don’t apply to us ( no kids, no lawn, no house).

  6. great post. We are spoiled to have helper while we live in the philippines so don’t have to do much. when we were in the US for two months, we got to divide. kids were in charge of folding laundry, tidy up, put dishes in and out. Husband was in charge of cooking, and I did a bit of everything when they didn’t finish. I also enjoy tidying up from time to time, it takes few minutes and changes the entire surrounding and lifts up my mood. It’s also a nice break during working hours to just pause my mind for few minutes. it’s kind of meditative.

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