Solving Family Problems with Excel

Denisa texted me yesterday with a problem: household chores had gotten out of control. The kids seemed to be taking them very lightly, and she was feeling overwhelmed by having to continually run around cleaning up after them. So I turned to the one resource that never lets me down in times of crisis: Excel.

I suppose it says something about me that when I’m confronted with a problem, I like to break it down into cells, columns, and rows. But really it’s true. If you take any big overwhelming job and break that up into individual pieces, it becomes far more manageable. Sort of like building something awesome by following Lego instructions.

So I made a family chore sheet.

I searched the internet a bit first, looking for inspiration (and hoping someone already had such a sheet that I could just copy). I didn’t find anything that satisfied our immediate needs, so I created one by scratch. There were a few things I thought it would be important to have on the sheet:

  • Rotating chores: We’ve been doing permanently assigned chores for the last year or two, and that just hasn’t seemed like it was working. The problem (as I’ve seen it) has come down to an issue of equality and the grass is always greener. It’s easy to look at the chores someone else is doing and decide they’re getting things much easier. With rotating chores, that problem is solved. If any of the chores really are easier or harder, it’s no big deal, because everyone takes a turn with them.
  • Parental inclusion: I knew either Denisa or I had to be part of the rotation. It didn’t make sense to include Denisa, so I volunteered myself. For me to be able to pitch this as a family chore sheet, I needed to prove to the kids I was in the trenches with them. Otherwise it turns into an us vs. them mentality. Nobody needs that.
  • Very clear instructions: “Clean your room” hasn’t been enough, it seems. The definition of a clean room is too up in the air. So now I put on the sheet precisely what cleaning a room will entail.
  • Carrots and Sticks: The carrot is simple. Once the kids are through with their chores, their time is their own to spend as they see fit. Video games, computer, movies. Whatever. But the stick is also simple. Until the chores are done, no electronic devices (anything with a screen that plugs into the wall) can be used. And the only way they can be deemed “done” is by having Denisa or me sign off on the sheet.
  • Mechanism for squelching complaints: I came up with a three strikes policy for this. Kids get strikes each week for talking back, lying about chores, using electronics when they shouldn’t, or needing more than one reminder to do a chore. The first strike is a warning. The second strike means they can’t have dessert the rest of the week. The third strike means they need to pick a chore from a separate list (with chores that don’t need to be done as often) and do that in addition to their other chores that week. Any additional strike costs them $5. We’ll see how that goes.

So after I had the sheet made, we introduced it to the kids last night. I didn’t think it would take a terribly long time. Go over the sheet and move on. It turned into an hour long discussion. The kids wanted precise definitions of what was expected of them and when. But after all was said and done, they seemed at peace with it all, and they all agreed to follow the new rules.

In the end, I believe a lot of the success or failure of this new approach is going to rest on the way it’s enforced by the parents. If Denisa and I can stick with it for a few weeks, I think things will be fine. But it’ll take some work to keep at it, and there might be some growing pains involved. But if the end result is kids who are more active in keeping the house tidy, that would be great.

Wish us luck.

Leave a comment