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I am a mathematician at heart.  I love numbers.  I love number theory.  I delight in understanding and playing with the relationships between numbers.  As an undergrad, I focused on theoretical rather than applied mathematics.  My senior project was on chaos theory and fractals. This branch of mathematics deals a lot with irrational numbers.

From your math days, you may remember that rational numbers have recognizable repeating patterns (2.33333) and irrational numbers are those numbers which have no repeating pattern (π=3.1415926535897932384626433832795…).  Rational numbers can be written as a ratio.  Irrational numbers cannot (the ever popular 22/7 as a representation of π is an approximation, not accurate).

Enough of the math lesson for now.  I want you to see what irrational numbers look like.

Bright Julia Sets

Isn’t that beautiful?

OK, one more math fact:  that is a picture of a modified inverse iteration of a Julia set – named for Gaston Julia, I’m not that good. lol.

I would LOVE it if chores with no recognizable repeating pattern produced a home that beautiful.  Unfortunately, when I put my number toys away and come back to the real world, I realize my failure to have a repeating chore pattern looks more like this:

Garage clutter

Our garage a month ago. Not so beautiful.

I have my own “Julia sets” a.k.a. chore plans.  They are very rational and serve to push back chaos in our home.  Less chaos at home = more time to play.  That is beautiful.

So how do I do it?

First, I sit down and make a list of absolutely everything I want to have cleaned or maintained in our home.  I put each item on its own line.  (One exception:  Laundry.  All laundry in our house happens on a parallel schedule.  I’ve had several questions about laundry in particular, so I’ll handle that in a different post.  But you need to realize all of what follows completely ignores the laundry question.)

Second, I go through the list and make a note of how often I think the item should be cleaned.  For instance, I want the floors vacuumed every week, but I only want to rub the dining room table with lemon oil once per month.  I want to vacuum the dryer vents every six months, but I the trash cans in key bathrooms need to be emptied twice per week and I will need to cut rolls of paper towels in half every other month.

Third, I divide the list into groups by frequency.  I literally cut the list into strips of paper that I can move around.

Fourth, I start scheduling chores.

Sounds easy, right?  Well, if I am honest, it’s not that easy.  There are a lot of decisions to be made, but having made them, I won’t have to think about it again for quite a while, so it is worth it.

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions.

  1. How often do I want to clean?  At some points we’ve had a 30 minute block each morning for cleaning.  Right now we are cleaning only on Thursday’s.  We’ve also had phases where we’d divide the cleaning into three or four days per week.  I think about what is most likely to be successful with my family with all we have going on right now.  Often our cleaning schedule looks different when we are out of school than during the school year.
  2. How long do I want to clean when we clean?  If we are doing a little each day, I want to schedule a short cleaning session.  If we are only cleaning once per week, I should expect it will take longer.
  3. How long will each job take to complete?  Always over estimate.  It is important to set realistic expectations or when it comes time to work I will be frustrated by either taking too much time to get things done or by not being able to get to some things because we cannot take extra time.  Either way I am setting myself up  for failure – or worse, tempting myself to a little adult temper tantrum that leaves a bigger mess to clean up than the undone chores.  If we get done early, we celebrate: dance, have candy, play a game, or go do something fun.
  4. Look at the set of chores with the least frequency and divide them into piles by month.  When do they need to occur?  For us, leaves need to be to the roadside in November and January if we want our tax dollars to pay for their removal, but the exterior windows are better cleaned in late spring or early fall.  These jobs tend to be ones that take the longest, so I will want to balance the times they occur with less chores in other areas.  I call these chores “deep cleaning.”
  5. I continue through the remaining sets of chores that occur less often than monthly, assigning each to a month.
  6. When I have everything assigned to a month, I can start looking at monthly chores.  Since our calendar doesn’t cooperate with a nice neat number of weeks per month, I decide on a number of weeks that I’m calling a month.  Historically I’ve chosen four, but the last time I did this, I decided to allow five weeks per month.  I use this number of weeks to schedule chores in a repeating cycle.  Right now we are using a 5-week rotation, which means some things only get done once every five weeks.  This isn’t rocket science.  I went to five weeks because one of our tasks is a trip to a wholesale club for bulk items and five weeks worth of juice is all that will fit in my pantry.  Adding the extra week to the rotation also decreased the time we have to spend each week on cleaning, since jobs are distributed over a longer time period.
  7. Divide the chores over the number of weeks in my month.  I try to distribute them so that no one cleaning day will be too heavy (which means we all dread it or avoid it).  I know I’ve got a list of weekly tasks sitting there waiting to be added to my weekly list.  I can’t ignore it forever, but it’s pretty obvious those things will occur every week.  I usually choose one of the weeks to include the “deep cleaning” chores.  Another week will focus on cleaning and stocking the pantry (including our trip to a wholesale club).  I distribute all the other jobs over the remaining weeks in our schedule.
  8. Add the weekly chores to any given week – and make adjustments where needed.  Sometimes I’m just taking a quick weekly job to a different level.  For instance, once per month I want to move the sofas and vacuum behind them.  I don’t need to have “vacuum the living room” on that list in addition to this deep cleaning version of vacuuming the living room.
  9. Double check the weekly lists to see if they can be accomplished in the time committed to cleaning.  If I’ve allowed two hours per week and the lists amount to 3-1/2 hours per week, I need to cut something.  Keep in mind, sometimes with lots of cleaning helpers tasks can be done simultaneously.  But I need to expect that sometimes bad attitudes and broken vacuum cleaner belts will happen.
  10. If I am cleaning on a weekly basis, I am pretty much done with the decision making at this point.  If I want to divide the weekly tasks into smaller portions to do each day, I need to sort the jobs into sets that will fit the time I have to work on a daily basis.
  11. When I’ve divided and distributed all the jobs across the weeks/days I plan to clean, I make a final list.
  • This list can take many forms, but I need to be able to work from it on a weekly basis.
    • In the past we have had them on index cards and dealt them like playing cards to all the “players.”
    • When we did daily cleaning, I drew our floor plan on paper and color coded the sections of the house we’d clean on any given day.  The jobs were listed right on the floor plan.
    • For a while we had a small box of note cards with jobs sorted by the age of the person who could do them.
    • Then I used the note cards and box to sort by day of the week.
    • Then I used the note cards and box to sort by level of cleaning.
    • Once I got an attendance chart from a school supply, wrote all the jobs across the top and our names down the side.  I laminated it and we used re-positionable stickers to mark when jobs were completed.  It was a race to see who could get the most stickers.
    • I saw exactly one episode of “Eighteen Kids and Counting” and got the idea to assign each child a jurisdiction to maintain.  We might revisit that as our kids get older, but with four kids under five it was a bit premature.
    • Right now I have checklists divided up by person on my computer.  There are five different lists and I print them out in batches and keep them in a file to pull out on the appropriate week.
    • Someday I would like to get them into a shared notebook in Evernote so that everyone in our house with an iDevice can see it and we can save paper, ink, and the planet.  🙂

There are lots of ways to do it, but kids thrive when they know what to expect.  I like thriving.

It is REALLY important to remember that the cleaning cards, list, spinner, box, floor plan, app, whatever are not the stone tablets God wrote on and gave to Moses.

It is a plan that promotes good stewardship of our homes.  But it is just a plan.  I can always veer from the plan when needed, but it his helpful for me to have a plan.  It frees me to choose something different.  It’s actually very powerful to respond in stead of react.  For example:

  • Right now we are cleaning weekly.  If we have company on cleaning day – or over several opportunities to reschedule cleaning day – we skip it.  We’ll just pull that list out the next time.
  • If we have sports or extracurricular activities on cleaning day for two months, we switch the cleaning day for two months.
  • If we only have one hour to clean one week, then we hit the highlights and call it a day.
  • If someone is sick they don’t clean. (Of course, chronic illness on cleaning day would require some remedy.)
  • If we need to help someone outside of our family, we do it.
  • Maybe cleaning day turns out to be the only sunny day in weeks – go play outside.  The cleaning will be there another day.

I constantly have to remind myself that some cleaning is better than no cleaning.  With a well-planned, rotating schedule, it’ll all come around again eventually.  Eternity is not hanging in the balance with changing the water filter in our refrigerator.  But I am training hearts (mine and those of my children) for eternity as I go about changing the water filter.  As C.S. Lewis said,

[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.

Julia Set Photo by Adam majewski [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons