The Chore List Game, with Kids

I have utilized almost every form of chore list or motivational cleaning list ever created. My computer is full of e-Books and pdfs and downloads galore. I finally developed a method that worked for me, and then modified it into a “version 2” because I get bored easily and we get super busy so there needed to be a way to do the same thing in a different order.  It’s been mentioned it before, but I call it “Basically Clean”.  Our house will never been magazine ready, but it can be basically clean.

The best aspect of this list are the time limits. Every item has a time limit. For example, “Bathroom Sinks and Mirrors – 10 mins.” If the house were consistently tidy, then 10 minutes is ample time to swipe out the sinks and get the spots off the mirrors. My house, unfortunately, is rarely consistently tidy. This means that cleaning the sinks and mirrors could potentially be a 30-45 minute journey into decluttering and sorting.

The time limit means that the goal is to spend ONLY that much time on that spot, then move on. The next day, theoretically, it won’t take as long to do the quick swipe and the rest of the ten minutes could be spent tackling more of the sink that didn’t get finished the day before. Eventually, it will all get handled.

The time limits also give me an opportunity to add up all the allotted times so I know exactly how much TOTAL time I am spending on house work on any given day. When I know I have 10 hours in the day, but the actual house stuff is only going to take 3 of those hours, it seems less daunting. That’s an hour after coffee, and hour after lunch, and an hour before dinner.

My issue has always been my children constantly interrupting me (I’m on a timer!) and then things don’t get done or they take forever to get done.

It finally hit me, how to get them to stop and let me work! Bonus: sometimes they actually HELP me work. YES!

Day One of my week (which is typically Monday) has 200 minutes of work. That’s 3 hours and 20 minutes, if I did my math correctly. At the bottom of my printed list is a space for “Helpers”. ANYONE who helps me do any of the items on the list OR goes beyond their regular responsibilities to help elsewhere, gets their name put on the Helpers list.

When the day is over, I’ll add up all the time it ACTUALLY took me to get it all done, and if it’s less than the expected time, the helpers get the extra minutes banked for one on one time with Mom.

For example, yesterday had 200 minutes allotted to it. Because of other appointments, and some health issues, I only actually worked on about 140 minutes worth of chores. Those chores only took me 105 minutes to complete. That left me with 35 extra minutes. The kid who voluntarily cleaned her room while I was at the doctor gets that 35 minutes as one on one time with me!

Today, I already have two names under my Helpers. News is spreading fast. For years, they had been told that if I finished my work I could spend time with them, but now they see it, in print.


In case you’re wondering, here’s my Version Two list. It is specific to us, but you can see how I have it laid out.

Basically Clean Version Two (Day one through five) Printable List

car battery jumper cables

Stranded at Home: Four kids and a dead battery

There was an ice storm coming. I needed to get to my mom’s house, two hours north of our house. We would be riding in our truck, so I felt pretty safe that if the weather came early, or we were late getting on the road back home, we would be fine since the truck had 4-wheel drive.

I loaded all the things we needed for our overnight stay and we piled into the truck, ten minutes ahead of schedule. Mom win.

I climbed into the cab of the truck and turned the key. Did I mention it was freezing outside? Did I mention we hadn’t been driving the truck much lately?

The lights clicked on, and the radio blared, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. The starter sounded like it was trying, but there clearly wasn’t enough juice to make it happen. I tried a few more times, knowing it wouldn’t work, and then removed the key.

Our four kids, bundled and excited to go see their Nanny, started in with the questions and the panic.

“Are we stuck here?”

“What happened to the truck?”

“Dad’s not here, we’re stuck, I knew today would be awful!” <–teenagers…

“The battery is dead. We’ll just jump start it.” I said as I hopped down out of the big green truck and headed for our barn.

I searched the barn, our old red car, my van, the Falcon, and jumper cables were no where to be found. I started to walk next door to my in-laws house, hoping to borrow theirs, when I remembered they weren’t home. In fact, my Mr. was currently taking his mother two hours east of our house to a doctor’s appointment. His dad was at work an hour away. All I had was my wits, four kids, and a dead battery.

Someone from the truck was starting to freak out a bit, and another sounded like they were crying.

“GUYS! THIS IS NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!” (take a deep breath) “I’m not sure where the jumper cables are, but we have a battery charger. It’ll work, it will just take a little longer.”

I grabbed the charger, and leaned into the truck.

“To the two of you who are old enough, or almost old enough to drive, ya think maybe ya’ll should be out here paying attention?”

The 14- year old hopped out and offered to help. She fetched the extension cord while I called the Mr. to make sure I was hooking up everything correctly. The last thing I needed was to ruin his truck.

“I told you going was a bad idea” he said.

“We’re going. Just tell me what to push on this thing”

“You go straight to the parts store and get a new battery! STRAIGHT there! They’ll install it for you” he insisted.

“Sure thing, honey.” I hopped back into the truck and waited for the ‘okay’ from him to try the key.

I took probably a good ten minutes before the engine cranked up and we could remove the charger and get on the road. For the entire thirty minute ride to the auto parts store, the kids pondered what would happen if the truck died en route.

*Insert a lesson on batteries and alternators and who to call and what to do*

Ya’ll, they were making me bonkers and the words escaped my mouth before I could help myself.

“Ya know, when I was a kid…”

I couldn’t help myself.

“we didn’t have cell phones. When my car broke down I had to wait and pray someone stopped to help me or I had to start hoofin’ it back to the nearest phone booth to call for help. I always carried a quarter in my wallet just in case.”

Then I had to explain phone booths.

We did get a new battery and we did make it all the way to my mom’s house without incident. I wish I could say the trip home was uneventful, but I don’t want to lie. I’ll save the lesson on 4WD vs. Lisa vs. Ice Storm for another day.

One of the most used lessons my step-father ever taught me, was how to use jumper cables. For Christmas, my in-loves gave me a Stanley Power-to-Go portable power bank that can jump start my van even if there is no one else around! It can also charge my phone or other USB device.

What is the best vehicle-related advice you ever received?

I fell apart

As adults, most of us feel an obligation to our family and friends to hold it together. Raw emotions are seen as a sign of weakness. We are all supposed to be strong, have faith, don’t worry be happy. We spout cliches about bootstraps and big girl panties.

I feel this pressure even stronger now that I’m a mother, because now I need to be an example to my children, specifically, my girls. I am supposed to be showing them how to be brave, strong, and independent. Leading by example, I am to teach them how to stand on their own and how to be part of healthy relationships, with friends, family and lovers.

But y’all…

Life sucks sometimes.

Adulting is hard and it doesn’t help my kids at all if I make them thing that big, real, hard emotions are bad, to be suppressed or hidden and ignored.

Most days, I do okay showing them that feelings happen. Most days, even in the heat of the moment, I manage to show them how feelings can be felt, processed and reacted to in a healthy manner. Even if my reactions start out wrong, I can typically rein it in and talk to them about good ways and bad ways to handle things.

Most days.

Not this past Saturday morning.

This past Saturday morning, I was up at 6 am. With coffee in hand, I fixed ballet buns and double-checked dance bags for shoes and protein rich snacks and water bottles. I kissed the Mr. and the Lil’ Man goodbye, being careful not to wake them. The girls and I piled into the van and headed off to our first dance classes. As we reached the end of our street, I could feel my chest getting tight.

Three excited girls were laughing and singing to “The Greatest Showman” soundtrack. The sun was bright through the trees and the sky above a shade of blue we hadn’t seen in weeks. The atmosphere in and around the van was light and vibrating with excitement.

There I was, behind the wheel of my near-death bright red minivan, chauffeuring my three daughters to their (and my own) first dance class at our local theater and every last ounce of me was struggling to stay on the road, breath held, eyes squeezed half shut in an effort to hold back the snotty cry welling up inside.

I made it past the small bridge in our town, and past the bank. As we passed the house we used to own, the one on the corner with the burgundy shutters and the azaleas that I hated, the walls around the well begin the crumble and the tears ran so fast my shirt was getting wet.

It took a full song and a half before my sweet 14 year old noticed that Mom was doing some heavy breathing exercises. I had sufficiently dammed up the water but regaining a normal breathing pattern was still a struggle. I shook my head to say “Yes, I’m fine” which suddenly created a new tsunami of tears at the realization that I was NOT fine and I was lying to my kids.

So, I fessed up. My nearly-adult daughter found a Wendy’s napkin the door and offered it to me. I patted my eyes, caught my breath, and said “Actually, I’m not fine, but it’s okay.”

I told them how sometimes so many things happen at one time,

and how sometimes those things seem to pile up at once,

and how sometimes those times make sleeping hard,

and how no sleep makes processing and dealing and handling harder,

and how sometimes, no matter how strong you are, how brave you are, or how much faith you have,

you just need to let yourself feel

Snotty cry,

scream in a field,

head bang to a heavy metal song,

shred a napkin,

throw paint,

lose you’re breath exhaling all the feelings.

Take time to be hurt, or angry, or sad, or frustrated, or lonely.


Be disappointed.

Be flabbergasted.

Be weakened.

Let it out, and let it be.


Then you can inhale, take a fresh breath, get a new perspective, put on the big girl panties or find your bootstraps, unholster your faith and keep swimming.

I fell apart.

They saw it.

They also saw me be okay.

I’ll clean if you’ll clean.

Let’s face it, Mary Poppins was right.

In every job that must be done
There is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap!
The job’s a game

Spoonful of Sugar, Mary Poppins, Disney

My mom used to make having “Kitchen Duty” a game. She used to tell me to race myself and see if I could clean it faster than I did the night before! Somehow she managed to get me to play a game all by myself while doing something I hated doing. Moms are magical, y’all.

I guess it works, because here I am about to declutter my bedroom and my main motivation is that last night on Facebook, I managed to volunteer myself for bedroom cleaning while showing support for my friend’s desire to get more organized in the new year. I shouldn’t have been typing in the dark, or I would have seen what a hot mess was waiting for me. (Before pics are coming)

I’m all about baby steps, and that’s how I’ll tackle today.

Four Tips for Tackling Overwhelming Chores

  1. Set a time limit.  I usually aim for 15 minutes, but since we are working on the whole room, I’m going to allot one hour – in four 15-minute increments. Sometimes I’ll binge watch Netflix, something I’m sure none of you ever do, but I do, I’ll admit it. I’ll finish an episode of Gilmore Girls and then set a time for 15 minutes, tackle an area or chore, and THEN I can push play on the next episode. If you’re working in the same room as the TV, you can tackle TWO 15 minute blocks per episode of Friends! 
  2. Set a simple goal. One bag of trash -or- one bag to donate -or- one drawer -or- one shelf (not the whole bookcase, Cassie!) Most often, I will end up way exceeding the goal. One bag turns into two, I get on a roll with that shelf and find myself moving on to the next one. Something about hitting the goal makes it fun. If a kid runs in and interrupts you and you can’t finish the second cabinet, or another bag, it’s okay, because you already met the goal. Keep it short and simple.
  3. Reward yourself with something that does not require others to go along. I may need to explain this a bit. I used to get so discouraged when I would work my butt off all day with the expectation of getting to have an hour alone to read, or an hour to take a hot bath, or quiet trip to Target alone, only to never get my reward because it relied on other people participating. It never failed the kids would get sick that day, or my husband would forget to tell me he had invited company over, or a friend would need me (and I have an issue with saying no- yes, I know, it’s a thing, I’m working on it.) Now my rewards are quick, and usually instant: the next episode, popcorn, the next chapter in my book, 15 minutes to write in my journal, a cookie…. literally a cookie, there’s a story there, better saved for another day.
  4. Phone a friend, or poke, tweet, message, snap, whatever the kids are doing these days, find your friends. It just takes one. Scratching off “clean nightstand” feels really good but it’s bonus fun if you’re friend can send you a “way to go party time” gif when you’re done. (Yes, Cassie, I am expecting a gif… please and thank you.)

As embarrassing as they are, here are the before pictures, taken from my current spot on the bed:

It’s almost 9 am here.

I have allotted one hour to devote to this today. I’ll do my first 15 minute sprint after I feed the chickens. My reward? Hot coffee.

The First Fifteen

I tackled my nightstand first. It was closest to me, and it is usually the spot that gets ignored the most. My timer buzzed, but I was close to finishing so I kept going a bit longer. I found a grocery bag worth of trash in, on, or around it.

Y’all, I hide a LOT of candy in there. I tossed it, because I couldn’t be certain how long it had been in there. Also, candy does not help my medical issues at all so while I had the will power I tossed it out.

I found my missing stapler. I found my hunting knife (not that I ever use it, but I know where it is now). I found my new set of tweezers that I’ve been missing since I did Steel Magnolias in the summer. See that big red mug in the picture? My kids wrote their names on it as a gift one year, so I don’t use it as a coffee mug. I has spare change in it. I also was stuffed with Reese’s cup wrappers. The wrappers are gone now. Maybe when I turn on my little black fan, I’ll actually feel the air!

Time for a coffee reward and since I can’t JUST focus on this room today, I’m going to throw some clothes in the laundry. PASSIVE cleaning is my favorite! I take 60 seconds to toss clothes in and it does the work for me.

*** The kids woke up, had to make breakfast, and start schoolwork. I started a load of laundry, found the kitchen table (it was covered in stuff from New Year’s night, cleaned dog barf off the couch, and took a trash bag through the house to gather trash from bathroom and bedroom trash cans.

Also, just got the call that my sister-in-love is in the hospital about to have baby #5!  Whoo hoo!!!  Lots about to be up in the air as we were on call to come help pet sit while they were in the hospital. He’s a few weeks early, but docs are optimistic about the little guy being okay.

The Next Fifteen

Reading, reading, writing, and math. Stopped to make some frantic “the baby is coming” phone calls, and then I headed into the bedroom for another 15 minute sprint. I tackled the dresser.


I have a love/hate thing going on with this dresser. It’s technically mine, as far as the clothes go. Mr’s is in the closet because our room is small. I had planned to have my jewelry box on it, and my retro radio; however, since we have limited space, it ended up being the piece of furniture that held the DVD player, and the WiiU (don’t even get me started on that one. Grrr). Also, his fancy humidor can’t stay in the closet because the closet is in the bathroom and there a humidity blah blah blah, excuses, and it had to be in our room. I did get the 8000 random Ikea parts off of it, and put my earrings away. I collected all the random bobby pins and hair clips and put them in the bathroom.

I did not put the hair things where they went. That would have made sense, but it also would have wasted time I had dedicated to the dresser. They were dumped in my random basket that I will sort when I decide to spend time decluttering the bathroom. A 15 minute sprint is not the time to start squirreling off on another project….we are not playing “if you give a mom a chore” today. Focus.

No real reward this time, as all the interruptions have put me behind a bit and I just got a text asking if I could give someone a ride somewhere around 2 pm. The washer is done, so I’ll call the kids to move it to the dryer and I’ll fix lunch. I think I’ll have them empty the dishwasher too, they look bored.

The Last Fifteen

Okay, phew! Glad that’s done.

This definitely isn’t perfect, but it’s the best I could do for today (and with only 15 mins to play). The laundry pile has been put away, and the desk cleared. The stack of green and pink boxes are craft supplies I brought in from our storage barn. I’m trying to get a few items made for my Etsy store, but it’s slow going.


That brown box on the right? That’s a shoe organizer from Ikea that I haven’t built yet. I haven’t built it because I can’t get into the kid’s room where it is supposed to be going. That’s for another day. That project will be more of a “shock and awe” event in our house. Empty to space and start over kind of thing.

But first, babies!  I’m done for today with this project, now I have to figure out what I can do to help my brother and his wife welcome their new one to the world!

Leave me a comment below and tell me what your biggest decluttering/cleaning challenge is and I’ll try to answer it in an upcoming post!

New Plan

Bad mornings, new game plan, and accountability. Wanna play?

I’ve been awake for almost two hours. The coffee and meds are doing nothing for my raging headache. My inability to determine what caused the headache is negatively affecting my attitude. The house is only a half-step away from being trashed thanks to a last minute dinner party for 12 that was thrown together at 5 pm yesterday.
Maybe that caused the headache.
Unfortunately, I’m an adult, with four children and enough animals to start my own zoo. This means I must get up, and get going.
But how do you get going when you were overwhelmed by your to-do list? How are you supposed to make a new plan when you’re head is pounding and your body feels like an old punching bag after a workout session?
I don’t know. I was hoping you did.
New Plan
I dug through my old day planner and found my “Mostly Just The Basics” note cards that I made years ago, when I first started getting sick.  They are a bit of an old standby plan that usually can pull me out of a housekeeping hole when my brain is on overload.
Each day is split into four parts: Morning, Around Lunchtime, Afternoon Before Dinner, and After Dinner. If I remember how I did the math, each section takes no more than an hour….unless I get on a roll, which happens, just not today.
Card “Day Three”:

  • Morning: Collect Dirty Laundry, Start Load Laundry, Bathroom Sinks/Mirrors, Porches, Dust Fan & Lamps.
  • Midday: Dry Laundry, Take Out Garbage, Empty Dishwasher, Make Beds
  • Afternoon: Fold Laundry, Sweep Floors, Gather Eggs & Wash, Quick Pick Up (living room), “Mop” Floors <–totally not what you think
  • After Dinner: Load Dishwasher/Wash Pots, Clean Counters and Table

Not too bad considering the kids can totally collect the laundry, sweep the porches, move the laundry to the dryer, do the bathrooms, take out the garbage, the teen emptied the dishwasher last night when she couldn’t sleep, make their own beds, sweep the floors, gather eggs, “mop” the floors, and I can fold laundry while re-binge watching House on Netflix {It’s too soon to re-watch Supernatural}.
What also helps is that I’m in love with my Norwex and it makes swiping the sinks and mirrors and “mopping” the floors super easy. But this isn’t a sales pitch for Norwex. I’m happy to tell you about it anytime, just message me!
That leaves me with: dusting the fan (they are too short, even with my Norwex wand), folding laundry, loading the dishes after dinner, and fixing them food.  That’s 3 things, and basic survival (food). I CAN do three things today. I’ll probably do more…. once I get going. But somehow knowing that if I start feeling that bad, they can do it, helps me feel less overwhelmed.
So why am I still in bed, sipping coffee and nursing my slowly waning headache?
Because no one is here to tell me to get off my backside. I need a friend, or 15, to cheer on and to cheer me on. Accountability Friends are what really get the “Just the Basics” plan going. Won’t you join me?
Hop over to the Polka Dotted Daisies Facebook Page and let me know you’re on the team and let me know what THREE things you’re going to try and do today! Feel free to copy my “Just the Basics” list above.
When we get 15 people on the team, we’ll have a contest for a team name!
For now, I’ll share a secret to how I feel productive while sitting on my tush:
I start laundry. BWAHAHAHAHA… the sound of that machine churning away makes me feel like I’m getting something accomplished, yet… I am doing absolutely nothing! So, first, I shall start the laundry. Let the delegating begin!  {Can’t wait to “meet” you on the page!}

homemade oreos

Sneaky teens…I mean, adults.

homemade oreos
Boy, I thought my days of being sneaky ended when I grew up, moved out, and started living on my own. (Not that I was all that sneaky as a teenager)
If I had known I needed amazing ninja skills as an adult, I would have practiced sneaking around more as a kid.
I’ve never had to sneak around so much in my life!
I sneak off to the closet to eat chocolate, so the kids don’t ask for any.
I say I’m taking a bath when what I’m really doing is hiding in the bathroom to watch Hulu and have a glass of wine.
I stay up late so I can tip toe into the kitchen for a late night snack.
I have to hide things in the van, the closet, the nightstand, the barn – just so I can get gifts on sale and keep them hidden until Christmas or birthdays.
Do you sneak around more as an adult/parent? Or did you do all your sneaking as a kid?