Too much stuff?  Here’s an easy way to purge.

Too much stuff? Here’s an easy way to purge.

It’s true.  You have too much stuff.  So what do you do?


What a loaded word that is.  It’s one of those things that is so much easier said than done.  But why?  I tend to think it’s because there are so many layers of decision.  And too many decisions can lead to feelings of overwhelm.

Decision 1: To keep or not to keep?

That is the question.  (Or, if you’re more of an 80’s music fan, “Should this stay or should this go?”)

Do I keep this can of leftover paint from the kitchen remodel?  Do I keep my daughter’s artwork from elementary school?  Do I keep these receipts?

For most of us, none of these have a clear yes or no answer.

Yes, keep the can of paint…for now.  But maybe only keep it as long as the kitchen is that color.  (And if you move, leave it at the house.)

Of course, you should keep some of your daughter’s artwork.  But maybe only 3 or 4 originals.  (I’ll share in another post what you can do with the things you choose not to keep.)

And those receipts?  For 7-years and then you can shred them.  (Managing paper, especially financial paperwork, is a whole topic of it’s own!)

Just to complicate things just a little more, obligation, sentiment, or memory are tied up in many of our possessions which makes deciding whether or not to keep it just that much harder!

No wonder it can be overwhelming trying to make a decision!

So most of the time, we just don’t.  We leave the paint on the shelf, the papers in a pile, and the receipts stashed in a shoebox and hide them all away out of sight.

I think it there is an easier way to work through the decisions we need to make in order to purge.  And it’s simple enough that your kids can do it. (Bonus: teaching them this skill when they are young will help them make purging decisions more easily when they are older.)

I call it The Stoplight System.

Just like a stoplight, this system operates off of Red, Yellow, and Green.

So, let’s talk about what they mean and how to use it.

The Stoplight Colors

Red is anything that you are going to get rid of.  Simply put – it’s a goner.  Don’t worry yet about how you’re going to get rid of it.  Just know, it’s leaving your house.

Yellow is anything that you could get rid of at some point, but not yet.  That can of paint would fit in this category.  These things would be the first to go once that condition occurs or circumstance changes.  The biggest example would be moving.

Green is anything that stays.  These are your favorites, your most valued, your old stand-bys.  Things that you know you love or use, whether it’s annually or daily, it serves a specific purpose and it stays.

These labels start to give you the language around which to talk about things with your family in a neutral tone.  Often the hardest part of any process is making the decision to let go, and when we’re talking about personal possessions, it can feel like an even bigger decision yet.

Download your own set here: Stoplight System Sorting Labels. (I laminated mine so that they would be easy to reuse and move from box to box or bin to bin.)

The Sorting Station

The next step is to set up a sorting station.  You can make piles on the floor, but personally I prefer to use cardboard boxes (and sometimes I line these with a garbage bag).  Why?

  • It’s easy to label the boxes
  • If you have to stop mid-way through, it’s easy to stack the boxes
  • It keeps your bags from being overfilled.

Once you have your sorting station, let the purging begin!

Where to Start?

There are different schools of thought on this, so depending on your timeframe and end goal, you can do this a few different ways.

  1. By container (such as a drawer or bin)
  2. By type of item
  3. By room

Each of these has it’s benefits and pitfalls.

Purging by container

Plus: This keeps the job small and defined, so you can feel very accomplished.  It can feel good to get through 5 bins in an afternoon.  It’s a measurable accomplishment and can be easy to clean-up.

Minus: You may find yourself doing things redundantly as you discover things in the next bin that belong in this bin.  It has the potential to be too narrow of a parameter.

Tip: The exception may be a highly specific space like that kitchen gadget drawer.

Purging by type of item

Mari Kondo advocates this approach.  If you are working on books, she would suggest that you gather all your books from all your rooms together, purge, and then put away what is staying.

Plus: This can be very helpful in making sure that you don’t have cookbooks in 3 rooms of the house so can make the putting away easier because you know exactly how much space you need to accommodate the books.

Minus: It can be overwhelming!  The job of gathering them all can feel like that’s all you have energy for – there is no more energy left to make decisions.

Tip: A variation of this idea might be gathering all books of a particular genre.  All cookbooks, then all children’s books, then all homeschool books, and so on.

Purging by room

Plus: This can keep the mess confined to a specific space which can be very helpful for managing the purge.

Minus: This misses the stragglers from other spaces that need to be integrated into the room. And if the room is, for example, your bedroom, it may impede progress if you need to clear things away everyday so you can climb into bed or get into your closet.

No right or wrong

Experiment and see what works best for you and your family.  But no matter what: Don’t let this stop you.  If you’re not sure, start small with a bin or drawer.  It won’t be long until you get the hang of it.


Whether you are working on your own or with someone, pick up each item and decide if it’s red, yellow, or green.  And then put it in the correct bin.  Don’t do anything else with it at this point.  Putting them in the correct color bin is clearing your mind to decide about the next object without trying to remember anything about the one you just did.  Remember, this is the sorting stage and while it might feel more like you’re just rearranging objects, you’re not.  You’re staging them for the next step which is where our next decision comes in.

If you’re doing this with your kids and their things, be patient.  Resist the temptation to slip back into “keep” or “get rid of” and stick with the neutral descriptions of “green”, “yellow”, and “red”.

Decision #2: where to keep it

Once you have emptied and sorted out the container or space, it’s time to put things away.  Often times this is the last step, but I like to do it next for a couple of reasons:

  1. You have a finished space faster. And this means that you have a visible win.
  2. This gives you an opportunity to reclaim anything mistakenly discarded. You might discover that the mystery tube you put in the red box is an essential piece to something you are actually keeping.

But this step comes with it’s own set of decisions


Settle the green box

These are things you are definitely keeping.  Before you put everything away, you have to figure how you’re going to organize it and where you’re going to keep it (i.e. which container, drawer, or shelf).

Tip: If it’s something that belongs in a different room, take it to that room now.  If this is a settled space, put it away where it needs to go.  Otherwise, just put it somewhere and integrate it in when you tackle that space in the near future. (Need help knowing how to put it away? Check out 7 Secrets of a Well-Organized Home.)

Settle the yellow box

These are things that you are somewhat ambivalent about.  So as you pull them out, if you choose to hang onto them put a small yellow sticker on them somewhere discreet.  This helps you remember later that this wasn’t something you were attached to.  If while labeling these you discover that you don’t actually need to hang on to it after all, go ahead and put it in the red box.

Some things you will integrate into your space with your green items.  Others you may pack up into a box to set aside.  (If you do this, try this organizing strategy for keeping track of what you store and where you store it.)

If you’re doing this with your kids possessions, this box may be the toys they haven’t played with in forever but are now their absolute favorites.  Negotiating with them how you will know when these move from yellow to red can be helpful.  Maybe they’re outside toys and you can agree that they can be enjoyed over summer but won’t stay once Fall hits.  Or they may agree to play with each item one more time and then pass it along. 

With kids, “Yellow” is a great way to negotiate a compromise that meets everyone’s needs.

Once you finish with Yellow, it’s time for the next set of decisions.

Decision #3: How to get rid of the stuff

Settle the red box

As we settle the red box, we start by sorting this box into specific categories and piles:

  • Garbage
  • Recycling
  • Donate
  • Sell

That’s sounds easy enough, right?  Now is probably a good time to tell you that each of these categories has it’s own set of decisions and tasks. (Depending on the age and ability of your kids, you may find that you have to do more of these things on your own without their help.)

Garbage can mostly just be thrown away…unless it’s a large object.  Check with your garbage collection service, but most will allow one big item to be set out each week.  If you have several large items you just need to plan to set one out each week until they’re gone.  (Tip: If you’re friends with your neighbors, ask if they would allow you set a large item with their garbage.  This will clear it out of your space faster.)

Recycling is not all created equal.  “Regular” recycling can be tossed into your recycling bin, but batteries (some battery stores will take them for you), electronics, and chemicals all need to be recycled in different manners at different places.  Sort them out into boxes and schedule times to properly dispose of them. (Tip: Making an appointment with yourself on your calendar to take care of them gives this task importance and increases the likelihood that you will actually remove these items from your space.)

Donations can all be boxed up and taken to (or picked up  by) one place, or they can be separated out and shared with several different non-profits.  For example, you could take books to the local book bank, clothes to a women’s shelter, household goods to a charity resale shop, and so on. 

Selling items can be done in various ways as well.

  1. Hold a garage sale. This lets you get rid of a lot of things at one time.
  2. Sell on Facebook Marketplace. This lets you get rid of things one at a time but does require a little bit of tracking to make sure that you’re responding to messages. 
  3. Sell on eBay. Depending on the item, it may be worth the fees and the shipping if you can sell it for a higher dollar amount than you could at a garage sale. 
  4. Use a local selling app let’s Let Go or OfferUp.

Tip: Put your description and pricing on your listing photo to keep all the info together

And that’s it!  As easy as 1, 2, 3, Green, Yellow, and Red!

Why Cozi is the Only Family Calendar App You’ll Need

Why Cozi is the Only Family Calendar App You’ll Need

You’re in the middle of one of a thousand significant things you do each day – changing the laundry loads, prepping dinner, writing that piece that’s due tomorrow, finally having a chance to get to the bathroom – and someone interrupts with a quick question.

What are we doing Thursday?  Your mind goes blank as you try and remember everyone’s schedules and plans.  Nothing pops to mind, so you say nothing only to discover on Thursday that you double booked.  Oops! You did it. Again!

Sound familiar?

Maybe it’s time for you to use a family calendar app.

Where to start?

Google “family calendar app” and you will find a ton of options. It can be overwhelming!  Finding a simple effective solution can be hard to do with this shot gun method.  You find an app that is promising so you download it and just as quickly abandon it because it’s not quite what you thought it would be.  Somedays it feels like it would be faster and easier to design your own app!  How hard can it be to track a family calendar?

Why do so many apps fall short?

  • Not intuitive. You find an app full of promise.  It says it will do everything that you want it to do.  These apps, while well-designed by engineers, stop short of having simple and intuitive design that is natural for the average person to figure out.  You end up spending too much time trying to figure out how to use it so you just stop trying.
  • Too basic. Some apps strive for simplicity and do so at the cost of usefulness.  I remember downloading an app and it didn’t allow for an event to be repeated.  I contacted them to see what I was missing and they suggested that if I needed to do something each week – like attend a regularly scheduled meeting – that I should just manually enter it each week. By trying to keep things simple, they made it more difficult.
  • Too many things. And then you have the Swiss Army knives of apps that promise to do it all!  Calendar, task list, chore tracker, meal planner, shopping list, budget tracker, weight loss tracker, etc.  They do it all, and they often do it all poorly.  Rarely do these provide the help we’re looking for.

So what is the solution?

Choose apps that do one thing very well instead of looking for one to do everything.  At the end of the day, using a handful of excellent apps will prove more efficient than using one mediocre app. 

For example, I use Plan to Eat for all things food (recipes, menus, shopping), for tracking and paying off our debt faster, and Swift To-Do to manage all my lists, tasks, and projects.

And for our family calendar app I use Cozi.

What is Cozi?

Cozi is a cloud-based calendar app that allows for multiple individual calendars to be maintained and viewed at the same time.  It is a free app with the option to upgrade to a Gold subscription which unlocks some additional features.

Where Cozi shines as a family calendar app…

  1. Easy to add all your family members.

Each family member is assigned his or her own name and color.  Each person essentially has their own calendar under the umbrella of the family account.  This means that you can schedule a commitment and tag all the family members who need to be aware and it is automatically added to their personal calendar.

Bonus: if you upgrade to a gold account you can have family members notified when something they need to be aware of is added or rescheduled.  No more needing to remember to tell them about something (which means no more comlaining that they were never told).

Additionally, if your spouse or kids want to know what is going on, they are able to see for themselves.  Cozi takes the idea of the central family calendar and removes the bottleneck of the calendar having limited access – often because we hang them in the kitchen — to only being available if you happen to be home.  You will now answer those questions with “What does it say on Cozi?”

  1. Easy to put in most recurring events.

Isn’t it frustrating when there is something that happens regularly and people forget because it wasn’t on their calendar?  Setting up a recurring appointment is very easy and makes sure that it is on the calendar.

Junior has speech every Monday at 3:00 – it shows up every Monday at 3:00.  Committee meeting the first Tuesday of the month?  It’s already there.

You can set recurring events to have an end date (useful for school year events) or let it go indefinately.

  1. Both app based and web based.

This is a strength for sure.  Your calendar data is stored in the cloud, so anyone in your family group can see it updated on their phone app or logged into via a web browser.  This means hubby can check the family calendar from his desk at work and you can check while out running errands.  Everyone can be on the same page all the time.

Where Cozi falls short as a family calendar app…

  1. You can’t copy an existing event. This means that you have to re-enter it manually.  Examples where this is nice would be leaving the dentist and scheduling your next cleaning.  It would be great to simply tap on that days appointment and copy it over into a new appointment without needing to re-enter all the other details.
  2. It doesn’t adapt to your time zone. If you are traveling and had previously scheduled a phone call for 9 am Eastern, a trip to the west coast will not adjust this time to 6 am Pacific but will still show 9 am.  So if you forget to mentally account for the time change you’ll either be late or miss it altogether.
  3. While you can filter to see only one persons calendar, it doesn’t allow you to filter to include more than one specific calendar (or exclude specific calendars). Because some families have students at college, this is a feature that many would benefit from having available.
  4. Printing is super basic and very limited. It would be nice to have more options for layout and size.  There are times when it is nice to be able to print out the schedule for the week and the options to do this well just aren’t there.

Strong non-calendar features

  1. Family Journal

This is an absolutely amazing feature.  As our family has grown (both in age and size) it has been harder and harder to connect with friends and family who don’t live nearby.  Add to that mix that many older relatives aren’t on social media and it can be very challenging to keep everyone current on what is going on.

Enter the family journal.

Here you can add a picture and/or text to share things that happened that day.  It could be something you did, a picture of real life, or a sweet story about the kids.  You can have one entry per day or many entries.  When you add your photo, you pick the date which means that it is very easy to add several days worth at one time.  Personally, it is my goal to add something each day, but I find that I often do this once a week while watching we’re watching tv as a family.


Decide who you want included on this monthly email and add their email addresses.  (The people you choose have the option to unsbuscribe without you being alerted, so you don’t have to worry about spamming someone.) Then, early in the morning on the first of each month those people will receive an email with the pictures and stories from the previous month.

We’ve be doing this for well over a year now and each month I receive email responses thanking me for the pictures and stories.  The family journal is something that our older relatives really look forward to each month.

  1. Birthday Calendar

Different than simply showing a name on a date, the birthday calendar gives you the option to set reminders about upcoming birthdays.  This can be particularly useful for birthdays that creep up on you because they are early in the month or follow a major event.

Weak non-calendar features

  1. To-do or task list

This is simply a short list of things to do.  It doesn’t allow for a task to recur or be duplicated, be assigned a due date, or have notes of explanation added to it.  This would be a great place to assign family members weekly chores but without those capabilities it’s not practical.  This feature is simply too basic to be of much practical use.

  1. Shopping List

Similar to the to-do or task list, this is just that.  A basic list.  It would be great to have the option for staples or things which are purchased regularly.  A good application for this spot would be to keep a running list of things that you are on the look-out to purchase.  Things like winter boots for next season or a basket of a particular size to be used in a specific space.

  1. Meals

If you are just looking for a place to write down the menu, this could work.  However, if you are looking for something to help you streamline your meal planning, shopping, and cooking, this is not it.  

Go ahead, give it a shot

At the end of the day, the right app is the difference between something being overwhelming or under-control.  For your family calendar app, Cozi is that app.  Why don’t you go ahead and give it a try?  Click here to download it: Cozi.

When You Have to Eat at Home

When You Have to Eat at Home

All of a sudden we find ourselves in a strange place as a country.  Life looks differently today than it did just last week.  Social distancing has required many of us to make changes to how we do life.

Suddenly almost everyone is homeschooling, working from home, and just generally stuck at home.  Add to this the underlying need to significantly reduce contact with other people and even grocery shopping becomes a challenge.  About the only option you have is to eat at home.

So what do you do when eating out is no longer an option?

Don’t panic. 

We’re in this together.  This is something new for most of us.  Social media is full of posts and pictures of how people are pulling together, helping each other, and figuring out how to make it work.

Inventory what you have on hand.

What do you have in the refrigerator?  What do you have in the freezer?  What is in your pantry?  Make a list of each of these so you can use things you have and shop smart for things you may need. This will also help you better plan meals for you to eat at home.

Use up fresher ingredients first.

In other words, if you have the choice between frozen green beans or fresh peppers in the fridge, use up the fresh peppers first – maybe as a salad topping or sautéed as a standalone side dish – and save the frozen green beans for later.

Make things ahead of time.

If you’re used to going out for lunch or having your kids buy lunch at school but you now have to eat at home, you can replicate that into your routine. Tonight as you clean-up dinner, pack lunches for tomorrow.  You can even enlist your kids to help with this.  It can be sandwiches or leftovers – whatever you have available.  Prep it tonight by making the sandwich, assembling the salad, or putting the leftovers into meal sized portions, and thenput it in the fridge. Then at lunchtime tomorrow instead of figuring out what to make (and making a mess), you can just grab it out of the fridge, heat it up or put it on a plate, and lunch is ready in less time than if you had actually gone out to pick something up.

Freeze things to save them for later.

Instead of letting the things in your fridge spoil and be tossed out, put them in Ziploc bags and freeze them.  Freezing things will extend their life and you will have more ingredients available when you make a meal to eat at home.Think creatively.  Slice lemons and use them as ice cubes in a glass of water.  Package up leftovers into single meal servings to microwave later.  Distribute shredded cheese into smaller bags.  Fresh mushrooms in the fridge?  Freeze these to use late in a stir-fry or stew.  TIP: Don’t forget to date and label them with the contents.

Order groceries online.

With social distancing, this is an even more attractive option!  With Instacart you can order for pick-up or delivery for a variety of stores (including Aldi and Target).  Shipt lets you place an order and have a personal shopper purchase and deliver your groceries to your door. Walmart pick-up and delivery lets you shop online and choose a convenient time to pick-up your groceries – you don’t need to get out of your car or anything!

Make friends with Plan to Eat.

Literally make friends!  Plan to Eat is a program that lets you see and share recipes with friends you make.  Once you sign-up, find friends (I’m MrsJLUren – you can friend me) and you can see their recipes to get new ideas for what you can make for dinner.  As you search online for new recipes, saving them is as easy as clicking on a browser extension icon.

A bonus…

Learn to make meal prep work for you.

I have one more tool for you. Last Fall I created a course called “Easier Than Takeout” to help people who don’t love cooking make it a simple and natural part of their week.  And right now, when eating out and ordering in is less of an option, it seems rather timely.

Over time I developed a system that not only made meal prep simple, but it saved me time and money, and it even made this dreaded task of making dinner something that might even be considered slightly enjoyable.

I want to help you get meal prep and planning under control, especially now that you have to eat at home.  And as you eat at home more, the bonus is that you will save money, save yourself time, become healthier, free up time for hobbies, spend more time with your kids – the list is endless.

Click here to get instant access to “Easier Than Takeout”.

Why did I create it?  Well, I have a confession to make. Making dinner not something I enjoy doing.  Regardless, cooking for my family was healthier and cheaper than eating out or ordering in.  It was what was best for my family.  So, making dinner was something I still had to do – like it or not.

New Year, New Choices

New Year, New Choices

 It’s New Years Eve and the day is electric with anticipation at the new choices on the horizon.  At midnight the clock will chime and the calendar will turn to a new day.  A new month.  A new year!  

But what if instead of moving forward to January 1, 2020 it rolled back to January 1, 2019?  What if you were given a chance to redo some things?  Maybe change them or experience them all over again?  What would you do differently or better?

A chance to relive it

We got home a month ago from a 5-week road trip.  It was a trip we had spent most of the year planning and anticipating.  It was fabulous!  And just like that…it was over.  I would love to relive those 5-weeks.

Some things I wouldn’t want to redo.  Potty training the Littles happened this past year and I wouldn’t want to go through that again.

A chance to change it

But if I’m honest, there are some things I would love the chance to do differently.  In particular I wish I had tackled hard things instead of hoping they would get easier on their own.  (Shocker: the longer I avoided them, the harder they became.)

Things like picking up the phone to make that uncomfortable call.  Having the conversation about how to pay that bill.  Doing the physical therapy exercises.  Knowing how to say no instead of always saying yes.

I would love the chance to do it differently.

The chance to choose to do it differently.

The gift of new choices

But that’s really what every day offers us, isn’t it?  Each day gives us new choices.  The choice to do what we’ve always done or a new choice to do it differently.

But it’s so overwhelming!  I know.  It really can be.

I recently was reading about persistence and this illustration was used:

“It can take many months (sometimes even a full year) for water to fill the reservoir behind the dam.  Drop by drop, day by day, the water gets higher and higher.  But when it reaches a certain level the water begins to turn hydroelectric generators. Then, a huge amount of power is released that can light up a whole city.”

Each day we can are adding a drop to that dam.  The question is are we filling it with action or avoidance?  Either one has a huge impact.  Action is filling that dam drop by drop getting it to the point of creating energy, giving us margin, and reducing out mountain problems down to manageable molehills.  

Avoidance is taking a full dam and adding to it drop by drop until the pressure is too great and the dam bursts.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I have had my fair share of dams about to burst under pressure.  I want dams that generate energy and give life!

So what do we do?

How about if instead of wishing things were different, you make new choices to do thing differently?

Tomorrow is a new day and a fresh start.  And it has nothing to do with the date on the calendar.

The Simplest Storage Solution Ever

The Simplest Storage Solution Ever

Simplicity is not only something to be valued, but is often the secret to success.  Today I’m sharing with you the simplest storage solution and it will transform your basement, attic, and crawl space.

I think we can all relate to this from our childhood.  Mom needs the tablecloths and gravy bowls that she uses every Thanksgiving, so she asks Dad to go to the basement to get them.  He returns with the box marked Thanksgiving, but finds it filled with camping gear.  Mom doesn’t know why this is the case until she remembers buying some other cute Thanksgiving serving pieces.  So now the Thanksgiving box wasn’t big enough, and she ended up putting them in a new box.  Only she doesn’t remember which one or where it is.  So all the boxes are pulled out and opened, old treasures are rediscovered, but no Thanksgiving items are found.  Surrounded by a mess of open boxes, she suddenly remembers storing them in the back of her closet so they would be easily ound.  And dad shoves everything back into boxes and onto shelves until the next time something is needed.

It is chaotic and overwhelming.

One common solution frequently offered is labeling the outside of the box with the contents so that you can see at a glance what is inside the box.  But what happens when, like in the example above, the contents change?  Or there is more than one label is on the box?

When our 3rd child was just 2-months old we were in the process of moving.  I was still nursing so much of my time was committed to the baby, so several friends helped us pack our house.  Additionally, our moving boxes were used and had writing from (other peoples) previous moves.  Writing listing the contents or denoting which room the box needed to be placed in at the new location.  So as we were moving into our new house, no one knew where anything really needed to go.  And since other people had done the labeling, we didn’t always recognize handwriting.  In many cases we just had to guess which label was new and which was old.

Unpacking was already going slowly because of the baby, but it was even slower because of the chaos of finding master bedroom stuff in the kitchen, garage items in the master bedroom, and kitchen items in the garage.

So labels are not quite enough.  We need something simpler.

So what then?

This is the simplest storage solution.  Ever.


Yep.  A simple number on the outside of each box, tote, or other container that you want to know the contents of without opening the lid.

So how does it work?

The idea is simple.  Start by putting a number on the outside of the bin and finish by keeping a master list to track the bins and contents.  Personally, we keep our in Google Keep, but you could have a spreadsheet, or just a piece of paper.  The list should have three columns.

  • Box Number
  • Contents
  • Location

So it might look like this:

So now, not only do you know which container, but you also know where to look.

When we need to change out the kids clothes, I pull up the list on my phone, know which bin needs to come upstairs, and then update the list to reflect that the bin is now empty or with it’s new contents.

It’s that simple.

Here are some ways to customize this a bit:

  • Use descriptors with the numbers. When I started this system, I was only using white cardboard bankers boxes with lids.  So when I see a plain number, I know it’ a white box.  But then we added blue totes and clear totes, so those boxes will say “Blue 4” or “Clear 4” which helps narrow things down even further, especially when the majority of your storage is in the same place.  (And to further clarify, yes, I do have multiple boxes labeled 4, but only one of each bin type.)
  • Use specific numbers for correlated contents. I use the number 25 for all things Christmas, so I have a 25A, 25B, etc.  This makes it easy to know that any box numbered 25 needs to come up for decorating for Christmas.  15 is for Tax Day so that is where I keep older financial records we have to store.
  • Use plastic sleeves like these for the label if you don’t like the idea of writing on your tubs and totes.

So there you have it.  The simplest storage solution. And it’s one you can start implementing today.

5 Steps to Get Kids Helping with Chores

5 Steps to Get Kids Helping with Chores

You’re in the middle of cleaning up the kitchen, you pull out the broom to sweep breakfast up off the floor, and like sharks attracted to blood in the water, the sound of the broom hitting the floor has your toddler running into the kitchen. Honestly, the last thing you want is your toddler helping with chores.  You can do it so much faster (and better) without their help.

But fast forward to middle school.  For some crazy reason, the sound of the broom no longer calls to them.  In fact, the sound of your voice calling to them doesn’t always get a response!  But now you want them helping with chores around the house – they just don’t want to do it.


Why is helping with chores important?

Doing chores is a life skill that our kids need. 

More than just a task, doing chores can be highly relational.  When your kids are helping with chores, they’re engaged in an activity that impacts someone else.  Picking up their toys helps with getting ready for Grandma’s visit.  Cleaning up the dinner dishes provides the time and space for the family game night.  Doing chores together provides opportunity to learn negotiating skills and hone cooperation, things that I want my kids to be able to do well with anyone.

More than that, the countries longest running longitudinal study, the Grant and Glueck Study out of Harvard has found a correlation between helping with chores as a kid and being successful as an adult.

When it feels easier to just “do it myself”, it’s important to remember the long view impact that helping with chores can have on kids.

What can they help with?

It’s important to keep chores age appropriate.  Google chores for kids and you will find an endless array of lists of chores broken out by age.  As you use these lists, remember that you can scale chores up and down.  Don’t expect your three-year old to be able to move furniture around for vacuuming, but expect them to learn to vacuum.  As they get older, you can scale this chore to include steps for a more thorough cleaning.

Learning to do Chores

While all these things are true, helpful, and important, there is often a huge disconnect between assigning a chore and the chore being completed.  Why?  Because too often we do a poor job of teaching how to do chores.  We go straight from telling them to do something to expecting them to do it.

Think about when someone gives you an instruction.  At some point you needed to be taught how to do it.  As adults we don’t notice the process as much because we have greater life experience from which to draw from.  We’ve also learned how to ask clarifying questions.  So when someone asks us to vacuum the living room, we might need to ask where the vacuum is kept but we don’t need to ask them what a vacuum cleaner is and how to use it – we’ve already been taught that.

5 Steps for Teaching How to do Chores

Teaching our kids how to do the chores we assign them does take a bit of effort, but it isn’t difficult.  And the good news is that this process can work for children of all ages.

1.     Tell them


 You always want to start by telling them what it is you want.  This is an important step to laying out expectations.  Be specific while remembering their age.  Remember that toddler who wants to help sweep?  Maybe you tell them they can sweep the middle of the kitchen while you do the edges and under the table.  Telling them what you expect keeps you from tripping over each other and let’s your child help in a meaningful way.

Laying out the expectations not only helps our kid know what we want, it helps us not to expect things we didn’t ask them to do.  You want your 4-year old to be putting their toys away, so you tell them to put their toys away in the bins on the shelves.  This provides the expectation of what they should do, and what they shouldn’t do.  So when they pick up their toys but don’t shelve their books on the bookcase, go back to what you told them to do to make sure they met the stated expectations.

2.     Show them

This is where you can help them understand exactly what you want.

If you just want toys in bins and don’t care about keeping sets together, then show them that it doesn’t matter.  But if you want like items together, show them how to do that.  Side note: If you want to keep like items together, it can be helpful to print out pictures of container contents and tape those to the bin so that they know what goes where.

While you’re showing, talk about what you’re doing.  “Oh, this is a car, so I’m going to put it in the car bin.”  “These are blocks, so they go over here.”

Depending on the age, you may need to do this several days in a row.  It might feel like you’re doing it for them, but you’re not.  Showing them what to do is foundational to their ability to do the job on their own.

3.     Help them

 Now trade spots.  Have your child take the lead on the pick-up process with you helping them.  If they miss or forget something, you can gently remind them.  This is your opportunity to make sure that they fully understand what is expected of them.

4.     Watch them

After a few days and once you are comfortable that they “get it”, sit back and put your feet up in the same room as your kids.  For a few days to watch them handle this chore doling out very little direction and tons of praise and affirmation while you do it.  (Just remember to be commenting on their efforts and not their character.  Things like “Nice Job!” or “I love how you remembered to look under the couch” and not things like “Good boy” or “You’re so smart”.  Why, you ask?  Because it encourages kids to focus externally on process and outcome rather than internally on their self-worth.)

5.     Empower them

Once they have it down, you can officially make this their responsibility.  They now have the skills to be helping with chores so you can do something else.  Trust them to do their job, but verify that they are doing it well.  This means following through by checking that they did their chore.  Depending on the chore and the age, you might find it helpful to have a checklist of pictures or words to help your child remember the steps.  In either case, have them let you know when it’s done so that you can not only verify, but positively affirm their job.

When should your kids be helping with chores?

We’ve talked about being observers in our homes to see patterns of how things are done (see 7 Secrets of a Well Organized Home).  So far we’ve talked about this with regard to structuring space and storage, but it’s also true of time and schedule.  When chores should be done will depend on how your family functions.  If mom and dad both work full-time, then the weekends might be when chores are tackled, but if mom is home with the kids, then these chores might fit in best after breakfast or before dinner.

Regardless of how chores are structured into your home life, they are an important part of growing up.  Putting the effort into teaching kids to do chores well is giving them a life skill that will carry them far into adulthood.

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