Children and chores – no rewards, no punishment

My husband and I have two children, aged 11 and 12. We have always, from a young age, encouraged independence in their day-to-day lives. We try to be firm and set boundaries, but without being dictators about it.  When it comes to chores, we have faced a similar issue to other parents – how do we encourage them to contribute to the household (picking up after themselves as well as extra stuff) without having to resort to bribes, rewards or punishments? Or worse, shouting, tears and slamming of doors?

We don’t want to bribe them because I want them to want to do it (yes, I know, I don’t want to do it so why should they? But at the least I want them to want to help us). We don’t want to reward them because I don’t get $2 or a chocolate for making my own bed, and we want them to be generous and grateful for what they have and not be always expecting some sort of payment for everything they do. And we don’t want to punish them because we don’t believe in a punishment-based discipline system.

So somewhere in all that muddle of trying reward charts (yes, went down that path, failed), checklists to be completed before pocket-money would be dished out (also failed), asking nicely 3759 times (for the most part that worked eventually but who has time for that?) and barking orders randomly (got stuff done but built resentment and we felt mean), we sort of fell into a system that is working well for us, so I thought I’d share it.

It’s based around expectations.

We expect that a certain minimum standard of contribution be met. That minimum is a tidy (not spotless) room, with a made bed and (almost) everything in its home (we are somewhat relaxed because they often like to carry games and activities on for a few days so that is happily left strewn all around until it’s finished), and nothing that belongs to them hanging around the living areas and not in its home.

That minimum needs to be done before we consider allowing privileges. Privileges are things like playing on screens and devices, watching TV, going to play with friends, heading to the park, going for a swim, having a friend over. Basically anything fun ;). So the minimum standard becomes a pre-requisite for having those privileges.

In addition, there are sometimes jobs that also need to be complete before the privileges kick in. If the dishwasher needs emptying, if they have clean clothes to put away, if the table needs setting or clearing, if their bathroom is grotty, or even sometimes even if they need a shower (yeah, they’re still in that “But I showered YEESTERRRDAAAY” phase), then that also needs to be done before the privileges kick in.

I was explaining this to my clients recently, with their 12 year-old present. Of course, she wasn’t overly excited. She didn’t like the idea of tidying her room daily (although she craved order and wanted to be helpful). Her dad explained it well. He said “You know how you can’t go to school until you change out of your PJs? Well, what we’re going to all do is the same – it’s just a pre-requisite, not a punishment”. Another analogy you can use with your kids is “going up a level”. It’s like a game – you can’t get to the next level until you complete the first.

Since doing things this way, I have noticed quite a few positive outcomes.

Firstly, my kids are complaining less and less as time goes by. This is because they expect it. They don’t always want to do it (hey, who wants to clean a bathroom?!), but they know they have to if they want to move to the next (fun) activity so it’s no surprise. I have a real pet hate about complaining – to me it just is evidence of ingratitude and that frustrates me because I want my kids to know just how privileged they are. I recently told my son we are amongst the 4% of the wealthiest people in the world and he was shocked (because we’re not at all wealthy by our neighbourhood standards!) and said “Wow, there are a LOT of poor people”. Yep – that’s why I want you to be grateful. Anyway, I digress…

Secondly, I have less work to do around the house. Most of the detritus that clutters up our living area is kids’ stuff (what’s with all the SHOES?), and when they clear it, Mick and I have little tidying of our own to do.

Thirdly, they have less work to do each time. The more frequently they tidy their rooms (it’s at least daily), the quicker it takes. This is teaching them a valuable life lesson – small steps make for large benefits.

Bathrooms don't clean themselves!

Bathrooms don’t clean themselves!

Finally, I have to think about it less. I have to remind them less about their room and their “stuff” hanging around. It’s less mental work for Mick and I because it’s not in our heads. There are no charts to remember to fill out, no adding up, no negotiating. It just happens.

My hope is that they will develop a habit of getting the minimum stuff done every day so they don’t have to remind themselves, they don’t have to think about it, and they don’t have to worry about it building up. I once told my daughter (when asked “Why?” during a complaint session) that it’s my job to raise kind, generous, and balanced adults. And this is part of it. I also hope to improve our son’s short-term memory. He would forget his head if it wasn’t attached to him (a genetic gift from yours truly) – hopefully by putting basic tasks into his reptilian brain (where our habits are) he’ll be more focused on “the now” and a little less forgetful.

Before you ask, we still haven’t worked out pocket money so they don’t really get any unless they do some bigger jobs like a load of washing on their own, or some admin, or mow the lawns. We’re thinking that soon enough, they’ll be consistent at this habit and we’ll just automatically transfer some money in for them each week as a thank-you for not making us shout at them 😉

 

 

What if you just have a disorganised personality?

I often talk in my presentations about personalities that are more prone to clutter than others.

Those personalities are ones that are creative, intelligent, and love information. They are often easily distracted and don’t finish things well. They’re great at ideas, but kind of go off on a tangent and don’t always follow through. I’m one of those myself.

Someone once stood up and asked “So if I have that personality, how do I keep my house under control? I don’t think I can completely change who I am”.

She was right, we can’t completely change the way we are. She will always be like that. I will always be me. I can put in place systems or organisation, but I’ll still default to those behaviours a lot of the time. I’ll still be a bit messy and forgetful and lack focus.

But being like that is not a bad thing, because those personalities are also pretty bloody awesome. We’re warm, empathetic, intelligent, creative and fun.

So my answer is this:

Have less stuff, and do less things. The simpler your life is, the less impact your unhelpful habits can have.

 

It’s all about how it makes you feel

It’s not how your space looks that matters, it’s how it makes you feel.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and think “I’ve got this. I can handle this” then you don’t really need to change much.

If you stand in front of a space or in a doorway and your heart rate goes up, you feel stressed, you feel the urge to escape or you don’t know where to start; then change is needed.

It doesn’t have to look good. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be under control.

Don’t worry about how it should look, or how you think others think it should look. Don’t worry about what your neighbour’s looks like, or your sister’s, or the other school parents. Don’t compare your home to the ones you see on TV or in magazines.

As long as you feel like you’ve got control of it, it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It’s how you feel in your home that matters.

How (and why) your thoughts sabotage you

one way

When you want to make a change, you need to take action. You know that you need to do something, and you want to do something. There’s a problem though; sometimes our brains are just not on our side. It’s usually our subconscious that’s the culprit.

Our subconscious is there to keep us safe and working – it keeps us breathing, helps us to do up our shoelaces when we’re not looking, tells us the way to drive home when we’re off with the fairies, and enables us to respond quickly to danger.

Any time your subconscious perceives a threat, it propels us into an action of some kind (like the “fight or flight” reflex around danger you may have heard of). When you’re decluttering and find something that you consciously want to part with, and therefore make a change, your subconscious kicks in and immediately tells you to keep it. It perceives the possibility of future stress and sets off the panic alarm. That panic alarm floods your conscious brain with thoughts around that item and all the reasons why you need to keep it.

But they’re not real. Those reasons are invented as an automatic response to an automatic reaction.

Every time you reinforce those thoughts (“Danger! Danger!”) with the behaviour that they’re prompting (you keep the thing even though your logic tells you you shouldn’t), you’re telling your subconscious that it’s on the right track, and that it needs to react in the same way next time. And so it gets stronger and stronger.

To help to short-circuit this wiring, you need to listen to the thoughts, acknowledge them, feel the anxiety, but DO NOT act the way it wants you to. Eventually, you’ll find that little voice screaming “Keep it!” goes away because your subconscious gets evidence that you are safe without that action, and it stops trying to make you do it. Anxiety goes away eventually – your body is not designed to stay at heightened levels for long periods. Your brain will eventually kick in and essentially give up on trying to get you to act because it receives no reinforcements.

Tell your subconscious that you’re okay, that it’s all okay. That you know what you’re doing and in this circumstance, you don’t need it to keep you safe.

OCD is not a badge of honour

I personally and professionally object to the use of the term “OCD” to describe “highly organised”, “obsessively clean” or “perfectionist”.

Anyone who suffers from OCD could tell you that it is a debilitating mental illness and that they wouldn’t wish it on anyone. And it is NOT about being obsessively orderly or clean.

In particular I believe that any professionals in my industry that use the term, especially in their marketing or branding (or worse, in their actual business name), should absolutely re-think that strategy. And anyone wishing to hire someone should avoid any business using “OCD” in their branding because they clearly do not have any concept of the psychological issues involved with clutter and organising.

I’m an easy-going person and I’m not quick to take offense but I AM defensive of my precious clients and others with mental illness so I would really like people to stop making light of (or profiting from) serious mental illnesses.

What a PO can really give you

If you’ve ever wondered why Professional Organisers charge a lot more than cleaners do, let me tell you why…

1. We coach and teach WITH you, not do it for you

2. We understand that decluttering and organising is an individual thing

3. We know how to design systems that suit you; not us and not anyone else

4. We aim to set you up for future independence

5. We help you understand the relationship you have with your stuff and how to make it a productive and comfortable relationship

6. We understand the psychological issues involved

7. If we are in over our head re #6, we know it and we know when you’re better off with another service provider.

Rebecca and client

We work with you, not for you.

If you get someone who is saying that they can organise or declutter for you at cleaning rates or less, please be aware you get what you pay for. By all means try them if you want, but keep my warning in mind to avoid getting at worst, psychologically damaged and at best, one or two hundred dollars out of pocket for nothing. Or thousands, in the case of one of my clients before she found me.

Also make sure the PO you’re thinking about using is a member of an industry association (www.aapo.org.au, www.napo.comwww.organizersincanada.comwww.apdo-uk.co.uk or google your country and “professional organizer”) because that’s proof that they take their job seriously and are invested in making sure you get the best service possible.

We don’t cost more, we give you more.

What kids really need. And it’s not toys…

I’m going to come straight out and say it – our (western) kids have far too many toys.

Even families that I meet with financial struggles have too many toys in their homes.

Too many toys causes significant stresses to families and can have negative effects on children (or at least take away some opportunities for positive growth).

A lot of parents feel like they are robbing their kids of a fun and fulfilled childhood if they minimise their toys. They feel that giving toys shows they love them. This could not be further from the truth.

Minimising toys teaches kids how to improvise, to use their imagination, to be grateful for what they have, to spend their money wisely and intentionally, to not be so uncomfortable when unstimulated (or “bored”) and to be resourceful and content.

Some parents justify it by saying “But they play with them all”. This is a fair statement. I don’t argue with that as the parents always know their kids best and it’s likely to be true. Because after all, kids do play with toys.

But even if your kids lived in Toys’R’Us, eventually they’d play with all the toys – simply because they are there!

BUT…

That doesn’t mean they NEED ALL the toys in order to be happy and healthy.

Your kids’ favourite plaything is you. And you are free and don’t take up much space. Next time you think about buying your kid something, instead give them a hug, tell them you love them and ask them what they’d like you to do with them for a bit of fun.

 

What I’m all about

I have been mulling over a passing comment someone said to me recently. It made me feel as though I (as a Professional Organiser) was generally regarded as judgmental and a promoter of perfection.

I want it clear that Clear Space is NOT about making everyone a perfectionist.

I don’t promote an unhealthy obsession with cleaning or minimalism. I don’t think that a clean house is a sign of a better parent. Nor do I think that a messy house is a sign of a dysfunctional family or poor parenting.

I don’t think that anyone “should” be anything – organised, not organised, messy, clean etc. They should be doing what makes them, and their families, happy.

I am here for people who are in a mess/muddle/overwhelm/block and they want to change. I will then help them change.

I NEVER judge someone by how much stuff they have, don’t have, or how clean it is. I certainly couldn’t live like some of my clients do, but they don’t want to live like that, either, so we roll up our sleeves and try to meet their needs.

I have friends who live in chaos, and friends who live in show homes (and clients in both categories, too!). I love them all the same! I’m somewhere in the middle myself, and I’m happy there.

I’m here to get you into a place that you’re happy in, too 🙂

Letting go of useful stuff a necessity for some

When I’m coaching clients through the process of decluttering and letting go, I use these questions initially:

  • “Do you NEED it?”
  • “Do you USE it?”
  • “Do you LOVE it?”

These questions help people decide if they really are going to keep the item.

Sometimes, though, you can have such a high volume of “stuff” that an item can fit that category but still need to go. It might be used, it might be needed, it might even be loved, but it can still need to go in order for you to achieve your goals.

It’s a very hard concept for people to get their head around, but if you want your house to have less clutter, it’s just going to have to happen.

Saying “No” at work

Whenever you answer your phone, reply immediately to an email or answer a knock on your office door with a “sure, I can help you now”, you’re effectively saying to the person at the other end “Here is my time – you do with it as you wish”.

As soon as you say “Yes” to a request, you’re changing from proactive work to reactive work. It’s not on your terms. Only you know your priorities, and only you should be making decisions about your time.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to respond immediately, of course. But if you’re honest with yourself, a lot of the time you don’t have to.

How to say “No” so you’re working on your own priorities first:

  • Have times during your work day that are proactive, focussed times and your phone goes to voice mail or to a colleague (you can return the favour during their quiet time if you both work together)
  • Turn off your email notifications and choose a few blocks of time a day for email and only check and reply in those times
  • Have a carefully scripted response to people who interrupt you. Something like “I’d love to help you; I can see it’s important to you. Unfortunately my focus is on another task at the moment and I can’t give your issue the attention it deserves. How about I come and see you in an hour?”. And then honour that promise.

You don’t need to say yes all the time – you can still help people and be proactive in your own work at the same time.

 

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