Chores Are a Real Chore

Nicole Leigh Shaw essays

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There comes a time in every parent’s life when she must say, “No, I won’t help you put away random scraps of paper you've scribbled on but insist are “important.” And while we’re at it, you know whose new job it is to feed the dog? Yours, junior.”

I’m living in that time right now. I've instituted chores.

Here’s the thing about household chores, allowances, and teaching kids responsibility. Everybody has a method. If you check on Pinterest you’ll find hundreds of pins for chore charts, incentive charts, allowance algorithms, and quite a few gluten-free recipes. I dare you to search for anything on Pinterest and not have a gluten-free recipe pop up in the results. Gluten-free pancakes! Gluten-free bread! Gluten-free gluten! Gluten-free chore charts!


Being both entrepreneurial and lazy, I decided not to research other people’s methods, choosing instead to blaze an uninformed path to my own failure. I realized I’d need a few core components to make my chore and allowance distribution work:

  • Colors. Kids love colors! It makes crappy things seem less crappy!
  • Perceived fairness. I have four children, so I listed only multiples of four in my chore lists. That way every child has an equal opportunity to feel oppressed.
  • Round numbers. No one gets $1.25 for putting shoes in the shoe closet when a dollar will do. In fact, no one in my house gets a $1.25 for putting shoes in the shoe closet because I put that chore on a list I've titled “Must Do to Live Here.”
  • Imbalance of power. I’m in charge, and if you don’t make your bed and wipe the toothpaste out of the sink, not only will you not get your dollar, you’ll owe me five dollars and will be grounded for life.

With these important elements in mind, I created a set of lists containing four items each. There’s an upstairs list that reads:

Upstairs Chores All (Must do to live here)

On it I have the following daily checklist:

  • Make Bed
  • Pick Up Floor
  • Wipe Counter and Sinks
  • Clothes in Hamper or Drawers
  • Turn Off Lights

Whoops, that’s five things, not a Perceived Fairness Factor of four. Good thing I've include the Imbalance of Power element, which, roughly translated for “turn of lights” is “you’ll turn off the lights or I’ll throw out the charger for your DS.”

There’s also a downstairs must-do list that involves, exclusively, picking up the DAMN TOYS.

Our paying chore list consists mainly of feeding our three pets. The dog and the fish are easy-peasey, what with living indoors and requiring no more than a scoop or a sprinkle of food. The rabbit, however, is an outside pet that requires both kibble and hay, has a complicated water bottle, and sometimes gets treats from our vegetable crisper. But they all have the same thing in common, these are chores I do not want to do. That was the primary motivation for making a chores lists in the first place: relieving myself of burden. I needed a fourth downstairs chore, and while running out to buy a hamster did cross my mind, I settled on that whole bit about rounding up the shoes and putting them in the closet. Whew, now things are fair, unless you’re the rabbit feeder, in which case, tough boogies!

Lest you think I’m nothing more than a rich landowner managing indentured servants, my children get a dollar a week for the downstairs chores. Adjusting for inflation, that’s a half-penny. Oh, and I technically require them to save half the money because I’ll need them to pay for my retirement, but even I’m not cheap enough to cut half-pennies in half, so I let them spend it all instead, learning the lesson that the quickest path to being penniless is through Target.

My children have an opportunity to make more money for Target by completing two-dollar chores off of the two-dollar list. These are chores I’d like to do, but never get around to and won’t be annoyed if they are done poorly. They include cleaning baseboards, dusting doorknobs, beating carpets, polishing the silver, and other things from the Disney classic, Cinderella. We haven’t gotten to many of the two-dollar chores because I’m still waiting for my son to come back in from feeding the rabbit on Friday.

The short of it is, I’m proud. Not proud of my kids, who still haven’t managed to get their blankets on their beds, never mind tidying the floor, but of myself. If there’s one thing I will be damn sure my kids learn before they flee the nest, it's that it's hard to earn enough money to buy non-clearance items.

Don't stop now…read more from Nicole here!

About the Author

Nicole Leigh Shaw

Nicole Leigh Shaw consistently wonders, "Why did I come into this room?" Once upon a time she was a mostly serious news journalist, an accidental magazine columnist, and a mediocre editor. Now she funnels an enthusiasm for meeting minimum requirements into her blog, , and finding pairs of socks for her kids that kind of match. With four kids under age eight (two are twins), she can say with confidence that she's finally gotten the hang of this birth control thing: Facebook. Because one cannot procreate and update statuses at the same time.

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