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 ;)



Churning (or: Why You’re Getting Nowhere)

Sometimes you think you’re working really hard at trying to gain control of your clutter, but you find you make no progress.

deck-chairs-on-TitanicYou are constantly sorting and organising, tidying and moving things around in an effort to gain order and be able to find your stuff when you want it, and have clear surfaces, but you don’t get anywhere.

No sooner do you clear a spot than you turn around and it’s full again.

“Whhhyyyyy??!??!!?” I hear you wail….

Here’s why – you’re just churning, or as my best friend puts it, “moving deck chairs on the Titanic”

Churning is the act of sorting, categorising, grouping into piles or sections and then having to do it again when the piles all merge together after a few days or weeks.

You need to stop churning and face the reality that the only way you’re going to gain control is to reduce the volume of your possessions. That means letting go of things you don’t need, use or love – and even some things you do.

Unless things actually leave the house, it’s just churning and you’re going to get nowhere.

Tipping points

I’m going to preface this article by saying I don’t like to tell people how much stuff is the right amount of stuff; I think everyone should be able to have whatever volume of belongings they are happy and healthy with. This article isn’t to specify a “right” or “wrong” but it may perhaps give some people a guide to go by when decluttering or maintaining their home’s ”stuff levels”.

My house isn’t overly minimalist. It’s not overly tidy all the time, either. But it does have one thing going for it – we have only as much stuff as we can comfortably store. That means that when I do want it tidy to my satisfaction, it doesn’t take long because all the stuff that’s laying about annoying me has a home to go to.

What that also means is that I can easily see where things are going awry. I have “trigger points” that show me I need to declutter (not tidy, as I have kids and pets and a life I pretty much need to tidy constantly, as I’m sure you do too!).

Here’s some of my “It’s time to declutter” trigger points:

1) There’s stuff staying an extended time on tables and benches because it won’t fit in the cupboard or doesn’t have a home. That’s a huge alarm bell for me. Right now I have a big pack of Rice Bubbles on the kitchen counter because it won’t fit in the pantry – it’s been there a week. Silly me bought when we already had a full pack in there. I need to do something about that. I think I need to remove a container. Or just eat a LOT of Rice Bubbles very quickly ;). It’s not bothering me too much because I know it will get eaten eventually, but if it’s not a consumable like that I quickly resolve it. If you leave it, the table just attracts more stuff and then it grows to an unmanageable level.

2) I have to rifle through a pile on my desk to find something. When I notice myself doing that, I make sure I put aside 5 minutes as soon as I can to go through it and file stuff. And get some stuff done, too, as lots of it will be important actions to take. Also, when my files are getting fat that’s a warning flag too – time to prune.

3) I have things on the floor. As far as I’m concerned, the floor in my house isn’t storage. It should store furniture and half-finished Lego constructions only. And maybe the odd train track development project ;) . So if I’m seeing stuff persisting on the floor, I need to declutter a cupboard somewhere that that stuff should be going into. Or get rid of said stuff.

4) I can’t find stuff or get to things easily. If I’m having to rummage through a storage container/shelf/cupboard then I add a declutter to my to-do list for that week. I can’t stand not being able to find things!

5) I feel cramped. This one is a slow-burner but it’s responsible for a whole bookcase leaving our house recently. I just wanted more empty wall space so the room felt bigger. It worked well too :)


Here’s some other posts that might help you declutter:

Declutter first, organise second

The “No Brainers” declutter list

Will it stay or will it go? How to make declutter decisions




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.


“Free” stuff still costs you

One of the things I see a lot in clients’ homes is free stuff.  Branded pens, notepads and stress-balls; t-shirts with event logos on them; samples of cleaning goods and cosmetics. Conference goodie-bags full of marketing disguised as bargains.

What about the free toys/cards etc given away by supermarkets for your kids? To get you to bow to either store pressure or kid pressure to shop at their store so you can get more of the “collection”? They’re prolific and also make a big mess.

It’s okay to say no, you know. It’s okay to say “No thanks, I have enough pens” or “No, my kids have plenty of toys”. Or even just “No thank you!”.

Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you should take it. There’s no obligation. You’re not missing out by not taking it. You’re not going to offend anyone (although it would be amusing if you did).

If you needed it before you saw it, you can take it. If you didn’t, don’t take it.

(ps – also please teach your kids to say no to free stuff as well. Except the little samples of icecream they offer you before you buy one – who can say no to icecream?! ;) )

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 (, 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.

“No-Brainers” declutter list

When I’m with clients, I’m always on the lookout for what I call “No-Brainers”. The things that should be culled (recycled, donated, sold or trashed) without thinking about it.

Without negotiating with yourself, and without worrying about it, they can go.

Here’s my top 10:

  1. Clothes you wouldn’t wear in public
  2. Things you didn’t know you had and don’t know how you got them
  3. Things you have to google to figure out what it is
  4. Cords and cables from long-gone devices and appliances
  5. Odd (that have been odd for aaages) socks
  6. Broken, damaged, soiled things
  7. Things you’ve kept to “upcycle” or “do up” when you “have time”
  8. Expired food, toiletries, chemical, medicines, sunscreen, vouchers, coupons, tickets etc
  9. Things that belong to other people. You’re not a storage facility!
  10. Old magazines and newspapers. They recycle the stories anyway – you’re not missing anything.

Do you have any No-Brainers you’d like to add to the list?




Decluttering or organising?

There’s a difference between decluttering and organising.

Decluttering is removing things permanently from your home, organising is grouping like with like and storing it somewhere (and “stashing” is a whole other beast entirely!).

If you’re living in chaos, your first step is to declutter. Don’t try to skip over it to organising (I know you would love to have it all looking beautiful in lovely matching storage but hold out a bit) because unless you declutter, it won’t last.


I read a recent article about certain spaces you shouldn’t bother trying to keep organised in your home. They included the junk drawer, kids’ toyrooms, laundry cupboards, your utensil drawer and photos.

It had an impact in my industry, with lots of Professional Organisers saying “WHAT??? WHY?? NOO!!!!” to the ideas expressed in the article.

But I agreed with the article (most of it, anyway, I DO think the laundry should be fairly well organised because having an efficient clothes-washing system and routine has a flow-on effect to the rest of the house). I agree because I think we place too much pressure on ourselves to have our spaces organised to the “nth degree”. To have all our drawers neatly divided and our books colour-coordinated. To have all the kids’ Lego sorted by colour. To have a house that looks like the ones on Pinterest.

I think life’s too short for that.

To show you how it’s possible to let go on some of these high standards, I’m going to show you my stationery drawers. They are sorted into broad groups (writing, drawing {my art}, attaching, labeling, personal and technical) and labeled all neatly on the outside. Now, that’s pretty organised; I always know what’s in those drawers (or what should be in them if I’ve been good and put stuff away!).

When you open the drawers, however, it looks like a bit of a shemozzle; it’s all just chucked in. And I think that’s fine. It still takes me no time at all to put my hands on what I want, and isn’t that what organised really means? I can see there are a few things that shouldn’t live in a couple of those drawers, but they aren’t bothering me right now so I don’t really care. I can find what I want when I want it.

Organised chaos. That's my thang.

Organised chaos. That’s my thang.

The same goes for my son’s Lego, which is in one big long, shallow tub. Not sorted. Not at all. He doesn’t care one iota. And neither do I.

And my utensil drawer – everyone just throws the stuff in anyway, so why bother trying to keep it tidy? I keep it decluttered so that it only holds what’s necessary, but… tidy? Not worth the effort!

So chill out. You don’t have to have everything lined up with the labels all pointing outwards to have an organised home. You just need to be able to find things when you want them, and have only what you can fit easily in their space.

So, if you want to throw stuff willy-nilly in your top bathroom vanity drawer, go for it. If you want to just throw your undies in with your socks all messy and unfolded, feel free. If you want to have your hairbands in the same box as your clips and bobby-bins, go your hardest. If you can’t be bothered putting your books in order of genre or author, that’s completely okay. You are free to have a jumble if you so wish.

You’re welcome.

freelancer web developer