Don’t show your children this post.
Seriously. Kids need to help out. It is sometimes way way easier to do a job ourselves, but showing the children how to do it and encouraging them and truly needing them is good for everybody in the long run.
I have given my kids areas. So they have two main responsibilities. One is to each do a small job for every meal clean up. Little ones could push in chairs, or wipe the table, or put napkins in the garbage or laundry. Bigger ones could clear the table, or put the food away or sweep around the table. Someone can load or unload the dishwasher. The goal here was to have the kitchen/eating area back together, to have it be pleasing, not pristine, but functional.
Nota bene: being nice is tantamount to the success of this venture. Being a snark monster and barking orders at them, or freaking out guarantees immediate failure to function smoothly. Use your ten minutes of nice here.
The other is to be in charge of their “area.” That means that once or twice a day, the do a quick check of the area that has been designated to them and they tidy it up. It usually takes about two minutes and never more than five. When I started this, I intended that the kids would rotate their areas every month or two. But they really like having their own area stay the same. So they really had their areas for years, I just expanded on them as they were able to take on more as they got older. The main reason they wanted to keep the same areas was that they got really good at cleaning a particular area, it was efficient and the better they “knew” the area, the easier it was.
I was good with that, the goal was to keep the house functioning smoothly. For the first several years of this, while I was in the thick of motherhood, I only was concerned with the main floor of the house. Whatever was going on in the basement, or upstairs…well, I had to define my area. I had to let go of some things. So, main floor it was.
I had someone in charge of the dining room and living room area. Someone in charge of the foyer and hall. Someone doing the mudroom. Kitchen. Sometimes I gave a smaller sibling the helper position for an older sibling. “You pick up the toys in the living room while your brother tidies the other things.”
We had a policy in place for years that we didn’t leave the house without everyone doing a quick pick up in their area. But it was just a tidy up, not spring cleaning. As they got older, they could see to the floors of that area, sweeping up when need be. For youngers, I could leave a small list on the wall of their area, so they could remember what to check for.
So, in the bathroom, wipe down the sink and counter, pick up anything that doesn’t belong, sweep if necessary. In the living room, put away toys, books on shelves, straighten up the room. Just a quick tidy.
But it made all the difference in my ability to cope. Just coming home to house that was pretty tidy, as opposed to profoundly messy made being at home pleasant. I wished I had started doing this much earlier in my mothering career. I think even if I had a few young children, that I could have started getting them to “be in charge” of an area.