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The Family Chore Jar: Solving the After Dinner Dilemma

Updated on June 1, 2012

A few years back, a commercial aired showing an exhausted mother slaving over the after-dinner mess while her husband and children blissfully (and obliviously) played board games in the living room. I don’t recall what product they were pitching (Paper plates? Dishwasher detergent?), but it supposedly got Mom out of the kitchen and into the family fun faster, improving her overall outlook on life. I remember the commercial, not because I bought whatever they were selling, but because I was so indignant over the whole concept. Why was Mom cleaning up all those dishes alone? Why wasn’t Dad taking any initiative? And why was my own family doing the exact same thing?!

Families that function well do so in part because of good communication. So rather than rant, rave, lecture, or guilt my family into helping out with the after dinner chores, I laid out a clear plan with clear expectations. It was the first of many strategies that I used to raise more self-sufficient and conscientious children, and it also helped to keep the contention out of my marriage.

To begin, I brainstormed every individual chore that needed done in the kitchen, pairing like chores together. They had not always been chores that we had relegated to the evening, but once I added them to the whole-family routine, they got done a lot more consistently. Any chore that was related to the kitchen was added to the list:

· Load/Unload the Dishwasher

· Sweep/Mop the Floor

· Feed/Water the Dog

· Take Out the Trash

· Take Dirty Towels and Dishrags to the Laundry

· Wash/Dry the Dishes (any that can’t go in the dishwasher)

· Take Recyclables to the Garage

· Clear the Table

· Wipe Down the Table/Counter

Of course, you may add or delete chores from your list according to your own lifestyle.

Next, using colorful permanent markers, I wrote each chore on a wide wooden craft stick. My lovely daughter decorated the opposite side of each stick, for her own purely aesthetic reasons. The sticks then went into a Mason jar on the kitchen counter. Our décor has a country vibe, so a Mason Jar fit right in. You could choose an alternative to the traditional chore jar, including:

· Pretty stones in a decorative bowl

· Toy fish in a fishbowl

· Plastic or wooden eggs in a basket

· Ping-pong balls in a large gumball machine

· Flowers in a vase

The system works as follows: After dinner, each person draws a stick. According to house rules, no one may “browse” through the sticks to choose a chore, but must choose one blind. Once the chore is completed, another stick is drawn, until all of chores are completed. Unless there are extenuating circumstances (a potty emergency or an activity for which one person is running late) no one can leave the kitchen until everyone has completed their chores. So if you have completed your chores and there are no sticks left, you must stay and help anyone who is not yet finished.

The advantages of this system are numerous. The chores are completed quickly (usually within fifteen minutes), and no one is left to slave away in the kitchen alone all evening. Being in the kitchen working together creates positive family time. No time is wasted disputing whose turn it is to clean the kitchen (as my brother and I did when we were kids), or arguing over individual chores, because at our house “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit!” The kids are allowed to practice their negotiating skills to engineer a trade (as long as they can take “no” for an answer), but they usually just stick with what they drew. When the kitchen is messy, it has a way of infecting the whole house, so making sure that every chore gets done daily keeps us ahead of everything else.

A brief word about kids and chores...

If you suffer from crippling perfectionism, as I do, teaching kids to do chores can be tricky. For perfectionists, the pendulum swings between two extremes: Doing every job ourselves because no one can live up to our standards, or reducing our children to tears because no one can live up to our standards. When you are teaching your kids to do chores, resist the temptation to do it for them, even though teaching them can be time-consuming and frustrating, and learn to bite your tongue. Maybe they don’t do it as well as you do, but they are doing their best. The only way to improve their skills is to allow them to keep doing it. You can gently critique their performance as they get older.


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    • adawnmorrison profile image

      adawnmorrison 5 years ago from The Midwest

      moonlake-everyone takes their own dishes to the sink/dishwasher. There's no stick for that because it's everyone's individual responsibility. I confess that the reason I find the chore jar and other "directives" necessary is because I would try to do it all myself and then resent everyone else for letting me! Thanks for the vote!

      janikon-I had to decide that getting the job done, even if less than perfect, was better than not getting it done at all. Don't tell anyone, but sometimes I come along later and "fix" it when they're not looking! Thanks for the feedback!

    • janikon profile image

      Stuart A Jeffery 5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario

      This is a wonderful and creative idea! I think - when I have kids - it will be one that I borrow. I too also suffer from perfectionism and often times choose to do it myself rather than allow my roommate touch anything, perhaps I'll use this now.

      Voted Up. Shared. Useful and Interesting.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Our kids always had to take their plates to the sink. From the time that they could carry a plate. That was really all that I ask them to do when small they later had to clear the table. Their Dad took his plate to the sink also. This helped me so much. The rest of the kitchen I could do and would rather do. When our oldest son stayed at a friend's home, the Dad called the next day and said what a nice boy he was and he could not believe he took his plate to the sink.

      The kids are in their 40s now and still take their plates to the sink. Our youngest always jumps up and helps clean the kitchen even now.

      Your idea is a great way of getting help from the family. . Voted Up on your hub.

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      EXACTLY!! lol!

    • adawnmorrison profile image

      adawnmorrison 5 years ago from The Midwest

      JamaGenee, something occurs to me from your comment about several families living under one roof...I wish I had thought of this idea when I was living in the college dorm. One roomate in particular had much lower standards of cleanliness than I did!

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Such a jar certainly puts to rest the traditional (but sooo inaccurate) attitude that anything taking place in the kitchen (or with housework in general) is "women's work". Having dated several men (two of whom I was stupid enough to marry), my own son was NOT brought up with this attitude. In fact, today he's a much better housekeeper than his wife!

      A "chore jar" is also useful when members of several families (or several generations of one family) are, for whatever reason, living AND eating under the same roof.

      Great hub! Voted up and awesome! ;D

    • adawnmorrison profile image

      adawnmorrison 5 years ago from The Midwest

      Fabulous idea! I should come up with something similar for my kids for their other chores. Or when it's time to practice their tae kwon do. The chore jar works even if there's only two people doing chores, and this is the one time of day when we all do chores together, Mom and Dad included.

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      Great advice, I really like this idea. As I have one daughter, this won't work for me now, but maybe in the future. One thing we have is what my husband calls the "constipation jar." She gets a "commission" for doing chores. Commission rather than allowance, because she has to work for it, and she only gets paid if she does it and does it well. Well, the constipation jar began when my daughter started grunting and groaning when it was time to do chores. My husband said she sounded constipated, hence the name. Well, whenever she grunts or groans a dollar comes out of her commission jar and goes into the constipation jar. This cured her of groaning quite fast.

    • adawnmorrison profile image

      adawnmorrison 5 years ago from The Midwest

      Thank you! Not to be melodramatic, but it made such a big difference in my own stress level and in our evening family time. My oldest son (10) has even explained the system to other moms who immediately said, "I'm going to try that!"

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 5 years ago from Indiana

      Excellent hub! I'm going to try this at home.