Teaching Children Tidy Habits Early On

Teaching Children Tidy Habits Early On
Responsibility and having to participate in housekeeping is good for children, it helps them to feel needed, important and trusted. It helps them feel like they belong.

Setting Realistic Timelines

Though essential for raising future adults, teaching children to do chores can be exhausting for mom (or whoever the primary caregiver is) if preparation isn’t undertaken and unrealistic expectations are in place. Unfortunately, we can’t just assign tons of chores to each child and be done, no, we will have to follow through with instruction, patience, and consistency when we require chores.
Before outlining all you want the children to do, you need to know how much time you as a parent are willing to commit to; because teaching them to do chores is a commitment.
If children aren’t accustomed to doing chores, you will need to be vigilant in your guidance. Depending on their age and temperament, they may be excited to help, may complain or possibly may mope all the way through the task. But it’s worth it!
Teaching children to do household tasks means when they are older they won’t be paralyzed with certain tasks, instead, they will be capable.

Chores without Charts

There are various ways to implement chores. What I’ve found that works the best in our family, is to not have assigned chores, but just to ask people to do what needs to be done; setting the table, clearing the table, feeding a pet, etc.
What that looks like: when we’re getting ready to sit down to dinner, I will have one person setting the table, one person helping me take the food to the table, someone else might be cleaning up the toys in the living room- it’s really just that I look around and see things that will make our evening more pleasant and I ask someone to take care of it.

Dishes are done during the day by whoever is home with the children(myself or my husband), then the older kids do the dishes and clean the table every evening.
The little kids do their personal chores daily- brush teeth, put away clothes, make their bed. We don’t have a list for it, or a chart. If we have things that need to be done throughout the day, we ask them to do it. Faster than I expected, they started taking care of all of these as needed, without being asked.
What that looks like: When the clothes are clean and needing to be folded/put away, I separate them into piles, each child has their own pile and when I’m done separating, I call the children from wherever they are and ask them to take care of their clothes. They each have to fold and put away their own, sometimes I ask them to fold and put away towels, but not always.

Deep cleaning weekly chores

On Saturday morning, we talk about the plans for the day, who is doing what, where, etc., and then we set a time we are all going to clean the house- and this is when we do the deeper cleaning- all the floors are swept and mopped, the bathtub gets scrubbed, the sinks get scrubbed, windows are washed and surfaces are dusted. Since there are, at the moment, 7 people in our home, it goes fairly quickly; typically 30-45 minutes. Then the kids are free to do their own thing.
What that looks like: Saturday morning we talk about plans for the day, arrange when everyone will be home to clean together. We turn on some loud music, most often dubstep that the olders like and get to work. Below is our weekly cleaning chart, generally the teens call the bathroom & kitchen, the little ones clean their own room while Brian and I clean the living room/dining room and take care of misc. items (directing young children, taking care of laundry, etc.)

We use this chart as more of a reference guide, so nothing is forgotten.

Weekly Cleaning Checklist

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We didn’t always do it this way. I’ve been a mom for 20 years and I’ve tried all sorts of  methods, some have worked better than others, but to be honest, all the different charts or gimmicks only worked for a few days (if we were lucky, a few weeks) and then we’d have to move on to something else to inspire.
Instead, what has worked the best is to build cleaning and tidying up into our normal everyday life. To follow instructions and to be available to help others.
It’s not a chore chart or a set of rules to follow, it’s a rhythm of life. 
My goal is to teach my children how to live: we take showers on a regular basis, because as a person, we need to keep our bodies clean. In the same way we take care of things around us, because as a person, that is what needs to be done.
When children grow up with the belief that “we do what needs to be done”, it makes the transition to adulthood less overwhelming.
Now, granted each personality is different and some will do things more readily and others will wait to be nagged, but generally, if it’s built into a daily or weekly habit, it will be accepted.
Now I will say that before I learned this myself, I had to follow a routine chart to make sure I did all the things that needed to be done. I didn’t know how to keep up on daily chores so the house was tidy. I had to learn that, and I was in my mid-twenties with 3 little ones before I finally started to learn.
So, my goal as a parent, among many things, has been to have my children have cleaning habits in place, without having to struggle to learn them.
Now, lest you think our family is perfect, there have been many mornings when I woke up to find a full sink of dirty dishes because someone put it off and then conveniently forgot. And I’ve had to use my strict “mom voice” and let them know they don’t have a choice, they have to contribute in some form.
But now and then I catch glimpses of success. Like when the garbage leaked as the 17 year old was taking it out, and he noticed and cleaned the floor without being asked. When my 19 year old son walked into the kitchen and did the dishes, simply because they needed to be done. When the 7 & 9 year old take their dirty clothes to the washer without being asked and when my 2 year old spills water, gets a rag, wipes up the spill on his own.
It doesn’t happen every day, but those glimpses are what keeps me going.

photo credit

Weekly Cleaning Checklist

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About Rachel Jones

Hi there! I’m Rachel Jones, and I founded Nourishing Minimalism in 2012 at the beginning of my minimalist journey after I'd been doing a yearly decluttering challenge for 4 years and started to see a change in my home. If you're looking for encouragement in your journey, please join our FREE Facebook Group: Nourishing Minimalism Facebook Group


  1. Alix on 07/17/2016 at 1:14 am

    Thanks Rachel, this is very helpful. I’ve got a soon-to-be three-year-old and have been wondering about this, as I think it’s time for her to start contributing to the home. I also am struggling to learn how to keep up with it all, as I did not have a positive role model as a child. This seems doable!

  2. brielle on 07/26/2016 at 2:52 pm

    In our home we make the chores a game. i have a mix of teens and little, so we sat down and everyone wrote chores on little slips of paper. they had to contribute at least 5 chores. then i added the ones that were missed. Now on chore day (for us it’s Wed, but could be Sat) we turn on the loud music for the teenagers and a timer 15-30 min depending on how messy the house is. the goal is to see how many chores can be completed by the time the timer goes off. (finish if you are mid-chore of course) some chores are more difficult so the are weighted and count for more. Whoever completes the most chores then chooses the afternoon activity: picks the movie to watch, the board game to play, ect. My kids actually ASK to clean house now!

    • Shallon on 04/12/2019 at 7:06 am

      wow! this is brilliant

  3. Cred on 05/25/2017 at 11:45 am

    Very useful advice; it makes sense and is consistent with my experience. At what age did you make a shift away from chore charts and focus more on taking care of things as they need to be done? I fear that I’m too late (12 yr old and 17 yr old) to establish good habits.
    Part of the problem is me. I am not good at policing- I won’t notice that some one left their dishes downstairs or jacket not hung up, until well after to correct the behaviour. I’ve found a good routine as far as, chore frequency. I like the rhythm of washing all linens on Sunday and remaking the beds, for example. But even though the kids know what tasks they need to do and when, I still have to nag them.
    Please tell me it’s not too late to make tidying up easier

  4. Kathy on 02/12/2018 at 11:37 am

    I love the idea of chores as part of the rhythm of the house. Chore charts never appealed to me because it felt like one more thing to keep track of and the chart was a constant reminder of what I didn’t accomplish. I appreciate your honesty about the realities of family life and your emphasis on how each of us has to define and create a minimalist lifestyle that works for our own family. Your thoughtful observations have helped me through this journey. Thank you!

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