Spring Clean Your Family, House and Kids
Parenting expert offers tips on how teamwork, chore charts, and de-cluttering tactics can help parents tidy more than just dust bunnies
It's amazing. Parents are (usually!) diligent about changing oil to make the car runs smoothly or visiting the doctor for annual check-ups. But the most important part of our lives – family, house, kids – can unravel quickly in piles of "to do'" and "should've dones" – if we don't have good systems in place for staying organized and systematic with daily tasks.
Internationally recognized parenting expert Amy Kossoff Smith – a mom of three boys who offers "tips and tools for the business of motherhood" at The MomTini Lounge – says, "We can take the 'spring cleaning' cliche a step further this year, by applying that same enthusiasm and fervor to our family, house, kids this year." (And no, that doesn't mean spraying Windex on junior!)
The key benefit, she adds, is that moms' (and dads') "energy deficit" at the end of each day can dramatically decrease, making parents feel more confident, satisfied, and "uncluttered."
Teamwork is key
Too often, it's easier to do the job ourselves than to engage the help of others. We promote teamwork through sports, put our kids in uniforms to celebrate the "membership" with their peers. But too often, Smith says, we forget to implement it at home.
"Consider a 'team' meeting where the family sets aside a certain time each week to put together a game plan," she suggests. "After dinner, put on some fun music, and tell everyone it's a clean-up party until the job is done."
Make chores work
Smith knows it's a chore to make chores work – but it's also one of her favorite topics. She advocates giving chores creative titles to increase kids' enthusiasm (and compliance!).
For example, the "electrician" turns off the lights, while the "assistant chef" helps at mealtime. It takes a bit of effort to set up a chore system, but imagine the relief when half of your "to do list" is being done by others.
Plus, Smith says, "You're helping your children not only develop a work ethic early on, but you're showing them a healthy dynamic in a family where everyone makes a valuable and necessary contribution."
Try posting a chore chart, Smith suggests – especially when kids are young, so they see what's expected of them. "Think about age-appropriate jobs for everyone in the house, and consider varying the tasks every so often to prevent 'chore fatigue.'
"Kids can help at any age," she continues. "Little ones can sort laundry; big kids can do laundry. Guaranteed, our kids' electronic games and consoles are more complicated than a washer/dryer, but we're hesitant to get them to help, or we're tired of asking over and over again. Just do it! You'll be glad you did, and your kids will feel satisfaction after a job well done."
Use a write-on/wipe-off chart where kids can check off completed jobs – or any system that works for your family.
Smith is a huge fan of "charting" tasks, to-do's and important info. Her favorite is tracking medical history, or recording family member's major illnesses (sniffles, step aside – rather, track whenever you go on antibiotics or have big medical events).
"This gives you a reference point – and also helps your doctor prescribe the most effective path to wellness, especially if you keep notes about what works, what doesn't, what gives you problems when you take it," she says. "This same philosophy can apply to carpools, birthday party RSVPs and gifts, and more." In other words, if you organize it in categories, you'll be able to accomplish (and track) it much more easily.
The change of seasons is a perfect time to prescribe the "out with the old, in with the new" spirit. "Plastic bins can be your best friend," Smith says. "They let you store things neatly, and you can see through for quick access later on!"
Buy a variety of sizes and styles, and store out-of-season items by category (hats, gloves in one; winter sports uniforms in another – and so on). Plastic bins can also stack to store in-season items you'll need to find quickly. Choose containers that'll close and stack, so you can find it when you need it (think sunscreen, swim goggles, flip flops).
They're also great for weeding out out-grown duds: "I keep an empty box in each kid's closet with a Post-it note that says 'too small' so they can dump as they go," Smith adds, "rather than putting that tight pair of jeans back into circulation in their own closet week after week."
De-clutter garages and common areas
De-cluttering is really the "heart and soul" of a spring cleanup, Smith says, so it deserves more detail. "The garage becomes a dumping ground for so many things," she says. "Let your kids play on the driveway if they're old enough while you attack the beast!"
Think about other areas (foyer closet, powder room cabinets) that could use a purge, too, and trash or donate unused items to make space.
So, even if your spring cleanup turns into a summer activity, you now have a game plan and some easy tactics to get the job rolling.