Take advantage of kids' love of spray bottles and Swiffer dusters—and how much closer to the floor they are than you—to have them help you clean the house.
"Moms always sit around and dream about cleaning help," says Carol Paul, author of Team Clean: The Ultimate Family Clean-Up-The-House Formula. "'I wish I could have a maid who could be here all the time to help me or at least come in once a week.' I'm like, 'Okay, you have these people who live in your house with you; they're here every day. Why don't you just figure out a way to use them?' Kids want to help."
Paul and her family started Team Clean 15 years ago, donning their cleaning "uniforms" (grubby clothes) and spending 45 minutes every Thursday evening cleaning the house as a family—they've never missed one! Now, even though her four kids are grownups living out of the house, they still return home to help clean their parents' home once a week.
"It became like a family tradition," she says. "It's the one night a week we ordered out for dinner and sat around and watched a TV show together. It was family night in the end."
To start your own Team Clean, Paul suggests coming up with a list of what needs to be done once a week, breaking it into jobs children can do, assigning one or two jobs to each family member, and then teaching them how to do it. "Whatever you have them doing, teach the job correctly the first time," she says. "Have patience with them and give it to them in two or three short, simple steps."
"It's all right to relax your standards, too," Paul adds. "Do you want your kid to end up helping you for the rest of his life? Then make the standards right for his age instead of being so particular that you're not going to get any help at all, ever. Praise them for doing a good job."
Try to do Team Clean the same day and time each week, Paul suggests. "Kids need to know what's coming," she says. "Don't just spring it on them because you're in the mood to clean—and don't have a never-ending to-do list."
Paul prefers scheduling Team Clean for a weekday night to free up weekends and avoid the urge to add to the list of things to be accomplished.
"You're trying to get help, but you're also doing such a good thing for your kid at the same time," she says. "You want to create a family tradition, you want to teach life lessons, and you want to build confidence in your child."
We've compiled a list of Team Clean-approved jobs that take advantage of kids' love of spray bottles and dusters—and how much closer to the floor they are than you—to get them to help you clean the house.
1. Vacuum the floors
Designate one non-rug vacuumer and one carpet vacuumer to do every room in the house.
"We call the non-rug vacuumer the 'floor vac' and have them use a really lightweight commercial shop vac because then even 2- or 3-year-olds can just go to town on any non-rug floor," Paul says. "We'll say, 'Try to suck up everything you can.' Just help them put on the right attachment that won't scratch the floor."
"We make a different person, usually a little bit older kid, the 'rug vac,'" Paul says. "Say, 'You know what, throw your headphones on, listen to music and just vacuum all the rugs.' Teenagers always want that job."
2. Mop the floors
"I always think spray bottles and kids," Paul says. "We give kids spray bottles full of the right solution and rags, and they'll go to town on bathroom floors, laundry room floors, kitchen floors—basically any floor that's a non-rug surface." Because the floors have already been prepped by the vacuumers, the mopping gets done super fast.
3. Empty trash cans and replace the bags
"Tuck new trash bags into their waistbands, so they have new ones to put in as they take out the old ones full of trash," Paul says. "They think it's fun, running around like Superman with those bags flapping around their waists."
Or, if you think they're not quite ready for plastic bags, have them help sort the recycling into the appropriate bins.
4. Clean the bathrooms
"Kids are willing to spray and wipe down the toilets," Paul says. "Give them a little bottle, and they'll spray the whole toilet inside and out, and then just wipe it down. Then use the toilet brush, and they're done."
"We even have the children do sinks with spray bottles and spray it down," Paul says. "We divide up our bathrooms where one kid does toilets, sinks and mirrors, and then someone else does the floors, shelves and showers. I try to make it that people only touch one tool."
5. Wipe down the kitchen chairs, table and counters
"We give them their own bucket—sometimes a beach bucket—with a wet rag and hot water," Paul says. "They think it's so cool because they have beach buckets!"
6. Help do the laundry
When you think about it, doing the laundry is really a series of simple tasks that together combine into one big job, so Paul suggests breaking up the job into different responsibilities.
"Give one kid a colored laundry basket and white laundry basket and ask them to sort by color, or ask another one to strip the beds and towel racks and bring all the lines to the laundry room," she says. "Give another kid a little buzzer or timer and have it be his job to know when the washer is done and move the load to the dryer."
You can also show them how to operate the washing machine and dryer and let them launder sheets and towels (something they can't really mess up!) on their own.
7. Use dusters and squeegees
Kids love using tools like Swiffers and feather dusters for tables and shelves and squeegees for windows and mirrors.
"Tools can be fun," Paul says. "I think kids like them because it's like a toy, and they want to mimic a grownup."
8. Refill supplies
"With little kids, we like to have them refill all the toilet papers and put the spare on the back of the toilet, or wherever the spares go, or refill all the soap dispensers in the bathroom," Paul says.
9. Clean those overlooked places
Disinfecting doorknobs and light switches, wiping down baseboards and mini-vacuuming under furniture are things that totally need to be done, but rarely make it on a busy mom's cleaning must-do list.
"Think about little things like that that you just don't really do, but a kid would have no problem doing," Paul says.
10. Folding towels, rags and even their own clothes
While not normally part of Paul's Team Clean night, folding laundry is a great job for children, especially towels, rags, and their own clothes, where perfect folding is not required.
"We would just throw a basket of laundry right in front of them," she says, "and say, 'Hey, you get to watch a TV show if you fold a little laundry,' and they'll just start folding."