Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Heart My New Chore Chart

Okay, so here's what happened.

Last spring, Jeana sent me a link to Ann Voskamp's post about redeeming the house. Chores redeem the house.

Yay. I like redemption. Cool.

Around the same time, I began to read Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend. It suggested I was inappropriately slaving away for my children, rather than teaching them how to be responsible for their own stuff.

I was raised to clean up after myself. It took me a while to figure out that my boys weren't following suit cuz my mama didn't come here and teach them that. I realized I would have to teach them myself.

There was an immediate change after that realization. Whenever I noticed the boys had left something out, I had them put it away.

But I didn't always notice, see.

I noticed the shoe bin being pulled out from under the bureau because it sat in the walkway. Plus, shoes kicked off willy nilly are one of my pet peeves.

But I didn't notice books lying around. Or toys strewn about. Or papers. Especially not dishes. My mind very readily blocked out dirty dishes on living room surfaces.

So even though I was requiring the boys to take their own throw blankets back to their rooms after they had warmed up each morning, there was not really a vast improvement in the general state of things.

Then I went to Seattle to visit my family. My sister-in-law, Celia, is, like, put together. Her house is cute and functional and clean. She gets the dishes done every day and doesn't have excessively large mountains of laundry lying about.

I usually associate clean with Type A people. For years, I thought I was Type A, so I could not figure out why my home didn't reflect that. Come to find out, I'm not Type A. I'm Type F.

F is for Fly. Not FlyLady. Fly by the seat of your pants.

Usually when I ask people how they keep their homes in order, they give me Type A answers. "Oh, I have this ridiculously elaborate tertiary-color-coded system using only hieroglyphics, which I studied during my time in Cairo and have since taught my 1-year-old daughter how to read and write. Every day, with her pudgy hands, she studies her special hieroglyphs, and then, without being told, she mops all the floors, pays all the bills, makes all the beds, and prepares one of the gourmet meals she learned during her summer classes at Le Cordon Bleu Advanced Track Tot School."

But Celia is not Type A. Celia is an artist. Look.

This is the part where I confess to stereotyping. In my mind, all artists are messy. This notion was brought to me by the limited perspective of the mainstream media. I apologize.

Celia does not match my artist stereotype. She's, like, a Proverbs 31 Artist. (I just coined that term.)

So while I was visiting with her earlier this summer, I asked her how she spends her days. She shrugged and said, "I don't plan my days. I just sort of decide as I go along."

So liberating.

"But... your house is clean..." I mumbled with confusion.

Celia laughed her musical laugh. "It's not always," she replied with grace and humility, like a Proverbs 31 Artist.

She explained how she keeps her house in order. As it turns out, Celia decides what to do as she goes along... after the dishes are done. She just does them every day. Period. Hard and fast rule. And she added, "If I can't get to them one day, it's for a good reason, and it's knowing that they will get done the next morning."

She just does them.

(I know that. I know I just have to do them.)

Thinking about my new anti-slavery boundary in the home, I asked Celia what is required of her younger siblings, the youngest of whom are close in age to my boys.

Celia's answer changed my life.

(She just found that out when she just read that. You're a life-changer, Celia. Well, I mean you're, you know, obedient to the Holy Spirit and stuff.)

Celia's younger siblings are each responsible for a community living space in the home. Kitchen, living room, bathroom. They rotate rooms weekly. I don't know what all tasks they have to accomplish in each room, but I know Celia's sister who's almost the same age as James is an adept dishwasher loader.

I quizzed Celia about chore specifics for the better part of an hour.

Then I came home.

Then I made chore charts for my boys.

Then I made them do the chores on the chart.

At first, I did the chores with them. Then for a few days, I closely monitored their work. After that, I did grand inspections. (Ann Voskamp says what's inspected is what's expected.)

Now, they inspect each other's work. They are natural competitors, so Inspection by Brother is very effective. After they conduct their inspections, I do a quick final inspection and then release them from the torturous drudgery of the side effects of living in community.

Their tasks are really simple. They have to feed their reptiles, gather up dishes, laundry and trash in their designated section of the house, and clean up after themselves. For each completed task, they put a classic star sticker in a little box on their chore chart. When they have enough stars, they get a dollar, which happens about once a week or so. And I know I'm cheap. They get $3 just for closing the neighbor's chicken coop door when she has to work late.

I also made a chore chart for myself. Do the dishes. Do the laundry. Feed the cats. Etc.

Suddenly, we were all doing chores every day, and it was making a huge, huge difference. Our home spent more time being clutterless than it did being clutterful. For the first time. Ever.

I wanted to blog about it, but I thought I might jinx it. Usually, I blog at the beginning of grandiose home function changes, and as soon as I write about them, I stop doing them. I think that's because I really just like the idea of them, and once the idea is all fleshed out in writing, I move on. So I didn't blog about the chores.

Plus, there were a couple of things I wasn't pleased with. I had once-a-week chores in my little system, but they were basically just the glaring must-do things. Clean the toilets. Sweep the floors. After a few weeks, I felt dissatisfied with all the stuff that wasn't getting done.

My other problem was that the boys weren't learning anything new. Gathering up dirty dishes is not rocket science. (But learning to balance too many of them in two small hands is, as my boys discovered.) I wanted them to actually develop some real cleaning skills, ala FlyLady.

But here's the thing. FlyLady doesn't work for me. It's a full-time job. It's just too complex. My brain can't keep up and I am just not that routine-oriented. After several attempts to learn to FLY, I have concluded that I would have to stop every other thing in the world I do each day and change my personality in order to make FlyLady work for me. I'm just not going to do that. So I pressed on with my very simple chore chart and put "clean bugs out of windowsill" on my long-term project list.

Then one day, Jeana posted a little link on Facebook to a chore chart. I didn't follow the link. "I have a chore chart," I said to my laptop. But a few hours later, Carrie reposted the same link. TWO friends loved the chore chart? Well. That was worth looking into. I scrolled back down to Jeana's post. Something like 17 comments! LOTS of people loved the chore chart.

I followed the link to a website called Motivated Moms.

I looked at the samples.

I deliberated for 0.357694 seconds.

Then I dug my wallet out of my purse, paid the $4, and downloaded the chart.

Then I found Jeff's nifty old day planner. Then I found Jeff's nifty hole punch with adjustable holes. Then I printed the month of August. Then I cut each printed page into half sheets with Jeff's nifty paper cutter. Then I punched holes in each page. Then I put the pages in the old day planner.

Then I started checking stuff off the list.

Then I really, really wanted to blog about it. Really, really. But I decided to wait until I had been doing the chores for a while before I posted about the new chart because there's a difference between "I'm going to try this" and "This is working for me." (And my fervent hope is that this blog post won't jinx it, because I'm sharing an established routine and not an emotionally-charged good intention that I want to flesh out in writing.)

After I put the new chore chart in the old day planner, stuff started to happen. Weird stuff. Pipe dream stuff. I cleaned out my purse. James cleaned the master bathroom mirror. Jonathan cleaned the main bathroom mirror. I clipped the boys' fingernails and toenails. I started really actually remembering to take my vitamins every day. Jonathan cleaned the dishwasher door. I changed the sheets on my bed. I dusted the knickknacks in the dining room. I did the mending. I did my nails. I washed the window of the utility room door. James and Jonathan dusted all of the living room surfaces.

Not all at once, mind you. Over two weeks' time. But holy cow. That's a lot of stuff that would never have gotten done in two weeks. Or two months. Or six months, around these parts.

Stuff. is. getting. done.

It's a miracle.

I have prayed for ten years for stuff to get done around my house. I have slaved, slacked, lamented, ignored, tried, quit, tried again, quit again, prayed some more. An endless, endless cycle of dissatisfaction and self-condemnation.

Why is this different?

Well, it's different because God has chosen this year to make it different. But here's how He did it.

1) At the women's retreat in February, a couple of gals my age discussed a home management trick of some kind, and one of the ladies nearby said, "Oh, that sounds like a great idea. I'll have to try that."

She was my mom's age.

Why is that significant? Because I suddenly realized that housekeeping is organic. It will always change and grow and mold. There will always be new tricks to try. There will always be areas that need shoring up. There is no such thing as arriving at perfect housekeeping. People whose houses are perfectly kept hire someone else to do that for them. For the rest of us, becoming Proverbs 31 women, or Proverbs 31 artists, takes a lifetime. Just like sanctification.

And just like there is grace for sanctification, there is grace for housekeeping.

2) My perusal of Boundaries (just the first few chapters, Carrie) revealed the difference between serving my family and being their doormat. While it may have looked nice and caring for me to give my kids a carefree childhood by cleaning up after them all the time, doing so was not a service to them. It was a disservice. The chores they do now are for their benefit. It also benefits their future wives. It also saves our home from my fibro days, when I can't do even the simplest tasks.

3) Our pastoral staff is preaching through Ephesians. There's all kinds of stuff in there about who we are in Christ, and about the good stuff we do when we remember that. Eph. 2:10 says God prepared, in advance, good works for me to do. Eph. 3:16 says the Holy Spirit gives me the strength and power to do them. Eph. 5:15 says to walk wise and make the most of my time. Eph. 6:6 says I am to do my work from the heart, as a servant of Christ.

Our pastor says each day is a gift from God, and He has a specific plan for it, and if He didn't, I would be dead. He also says that the good works I am predestined to do are accompanied by a desire to do those good works, which is given to me by the Holy Spirit. He says everyone basically ends up doing what they want, but as we seek Christ and become sanctified, it is our changed desires that bring about lasting change in our actions. God has used this year's sermon series through Ephesians to whisper to my heart one desire change after another, and I am beginning to see myself acting differently. Another miracle.

The Motivated Moms chore chart took all of the above concepts and clicked them into place for me, in terms of housekeeping. The chart comes in several formats which you can see on their site. One format shows a week at a time with several check boxes after each daily task, and the other format shows a day at a time with just one check box for each daily task. I chose the page-a-day version because if I did the page-a-week version, and I missed a day, or missed some tasks, I would have to stare at those unfilled check boxes for an entire week and get totally discouraged.

The page-a-day version is grace to me. Yesterday is done, for better or worse. Each morning, I turn to a new, blank page and start fresh. God's mercies are new every morning. There is housekeeping grace for me every morning. I get to try again every morning. I have a brand-new chore chart every morning. If I miss a day, I can leave it behind.

I don't use the chart every day, but I use it every day that I do chores, and I love it very much. The Motivated Moms have done all of the thinking for me. I don't have to keep track of what areas of the house have been neglected, I don't have to decide where to focus, I don't have to put "clean bugs out of windowsill" on my long-term project list. I don't have to think.

Finally. A chore chart that just tells me what to do already.

"And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work." ~2 Corinthians 9:8