a peek inside the fishbowl

07 Apr, 2010

Focused 15 (x4)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: parenting

Our philosophy about kids and chores can be summarized like this:

  1. a) Chores are not tied to allowance. a.k.a. if I don’t get money for chores, why should they?
  2. b) If asked, they are expected to follow through (hopefully without comment and eyeball rolling)
  3. c) We clean up each other’s messes as required.
  4. d) We don’t have chore lists or specific tasks i.e. It’s never Emma’s week to take out the green bin, but if I ask her, she has to do it.

We have had mixed results with this way of handling chores, not terrible, but not great either.

Mark hit upon a good idea awhile ago and I wanted to share it with you because it’s made a huge difference in our household.

It’s not earth-shattering, in fact, it’s laughably simple and many of you might already be doing this… are you ready? The whole family cleans the house for a focused 15 minutes together, right after dinner.

Someone (usually me) is cleaning the kitchen after dinner anyway, which takes 15-20 minutes, so why shouldn’t everyone be doing something to help out? i.e. (INSTEAD OF LOLLING AROUND MAKING ME FEEL RESENTFUL OF THEIR LEISURE TIME.)

There isn’t enough room in our kitchen for four people to help wash/tidy/sweep/put away the dishes. So, we divide and conquer the rest of the house.

Someone grabs the vacuum. Someone sorts the recycling. Someone straightens up the front entrance (a huge issue for us since we don’t have a good place to store our stuff (there’s no proper closet – with a door – to hide our coats and shoes!) and someone takes care of tidying the living room etc.

If anyone is “caught” doing something other than cleaning we tack five minutes on to the remaining time. This has only happened once.

It is amazing how much we get done in that short amount of time. Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, but when four people are keenly tidying it adds up to an hour of cleaning. And it’s made a difference around here.

Next up: the basement. (I keep saying that but I can’t bring myself to go down there. It’s just so overwhelming. Ugh.)

30 Responses to "Focused 15 (x4)"

1 | Danielle

April 7th, 2010 at 8:20 am


Awesome idea – I am going to start that with my kids too – well in the years to come since they are only 1 & 3 at the moment!

2 | Ginger

April 7th, 2010 at 8:29 am


Oh I really like that idea. I have already started thinking about the future and how we are going to handle chores around the house. The boys aren’t quite old enough to understand cleaning up, in fact if we encourage them to clean up with us right now they think we are playing a game where mommy and daddy put things in the bins and their part of the game is to take things out of the bin as fast as we put them in. But soon….and definitely in the years to come.

I don’t want to give money for regular chores either. But I read something once about kids and money and how when they are older and want some money for something to pay them for chores above and beyond what is normally expected. It can either be parent suggested or child suggested and you work out all the details of the payment and expectations and such. But I have a few years before I have to figure all of that out!

3 | @WannabeMomErin

April 7th, 2010 at 8:34 am


This idea is brilliant. We’ll have to try that at our house, someday when we have a house and a family. :)

4 | DaniGirl

April 7th, 2010 at 8:36 am


That’s a really good idea! I do something similar on my own — if I have an hour to myself in the house, I set the oven timer for 30 minutes and promise myself that if I work hard for 30 mins I can have the other 30 mins as free time. It’s impressive how much you can really get done when you dedicate 30 minutes — as long as the mischevious toddler is not running around undoing everything you’ve done and more!

The big boys do have dedicated tidying responsibilities, but I like this approach and I’ll bet they’re old enough — I’m just not sure if I can keep them focused for even 15 mins!

5 | Marla

April 7th, 2010 at 8:47 am


I love your ideas.

For us, allowance is about learning what to do with it. Some is for saving, some for donating, some for spending. Not tied to chores – and only given if she remembers to ask for it too. I have a long story about that, and I won’t hijack the comments with it.

We do the “Three Things” game – I ask “What three things can we do right now that will make the living room as tidy as we like it to be?” and we each do three things. Josie might take any dirty dishes to the sink, pick up her dirty socks and sweater (she sheds them like reptile skin wherever she is) and pick up a toy or two. I’ll quickly vacuum or swiffer, swab the surfaces and do a sweep for extra clutter. Steve might do a couple of handyman things or do a sort of the TV cabinet. We do that before bedtime in our rooms, and we do it in the kitchen after dinner. We might even repeat it if the room’s really messy – but usually three things each is enough to make a big difference.

6 | Vicky

April 7th, 2010 at 9:22 am


Great idea! I’ll definitely have to keep this in mind for when my kids are older. Already my 3 year old loves dusting for me – he loves spraying the furniture and then wiping it down. Any time he spills something on the floor (accidentally or intentionally) I give him a cloth and tell him to clean up his own mess. Training starts early!

7 | Carla

April 7th, 2010 at 9:57 am


Good idea to put a time limit on it, I’ll think of incorporating this. We do a version of this all together, it is never to early to start. Our kids are 4 and almost 2, and one thing we always do is clean up their room before bed (I have this thing that room must be clear or you’ll have bad dreams, not sure if it is true, but it makes me feel better) – so they put away toys, clothes, books, etc. I do find that it does take the adult working with them (ok, me), and saying positive statements like ‘clothes go either in the clean drawer or in the laundry hamper’, or simply ‘clothes’, rather than the command of ‘put your clothes away’ which usually just gets me a ‘NO!’.

8 | Binki

April 7th, 2010 at 10:06 am


Our kids (8 and 5) have never really learned to clean up (yeah, bad parenting). I guess it’s never too late to start. We’ll give this a try.

9 | karen

April 7th, 2010 at 10:25 am


I think I just might try this one. My kids are 7 and 11. At one time they were both enthusiastic helpers. Not so much now. My 11 year old now says “no one is supposed to have a perfectly clean room.” I assure her that her room has never been perfect and that I’m not looking for perfect. I just want to be able to walk in to her room without wanting to pull out my hair. I find her attitude toward cleaning up has rubbed off on her brother. Hopefully your suggestion will really help because I do so hate the way I sound when I’m nagging.

10 | Finola

April 7th, 2010 at 11:17 am


I’m sending this link to Hubby right now to see if he is on board. I love this idea.

It also ties into a post that I have been mulling over about housework, and how I have been feeling VERY lazy about doing any lately. This might be just the kick we need!

11 | Betsy Mae

April 7th, 2010 at 11:32 am


Funny you should write this post today because something similar happened over here on Saturday. The weather was gorgeous and everyone was itching to get outside. I was busy doing some prep for Easter dinner the next day while everyone else got dressed, brushed their teeth etc. We were all ready to head outside at the same time except I noticed that there was a bit of tidy up needed in most of the rooms in the house (a glass on the coffee table, the odd toy lying around, dog’s leash out, that sort of thing)!!!! So I announced to my hubs and kids that rather than me spending forty minutes tidying up inside, that everyone was going to spend ten minutes tidying up at the same time so that each of us could go out together!!! they weren’t happy but after ten minutes when we all went outdoors and i wasn’t stuck inside for another thirty minutes tidying up everyone’s mess i was happy!

12 | Mark

April 7th, 2010 at 11:57 am


I want to add here that one thing that makes this work is that we often do not attach specifics to the 15 minutes. My philosophy is that it doesn’t matter what tidying you are doing in the 15 minutes, just do something. If that involves just tidying the books on their bookshelves for 15 minutes, or sweeping for 15 minutes they are free to do so, as long as it fall under the category or tidying/cleanin. I find they are much more willing to clean for 15 minutes when they make the choice of what to do rather than us telling (nagging) them what to do.

13 | Kellie

April 7th, 2010 at 12:37 pm


Great idea, Andrea. In our house, if one adult cooks, the other adult cleans up, almost without exception. But the 10 year old also has to clear the table, with the 5 year old feeding the dog and putting a few select things away in the fridge (unbreakable things!) It is a fair work distribution system for post-meal cleans.

We do something similar to yours called the “Two Minute Tidy” – everyone picks up toys, papers, personal belongings …. it is amazing how much we can do in a short time. This is a life saver for me, a clutter-aholic – who can’t stand the sight of “stuff” everywhere. I call out for a “Two Minute Tidy” when I feel an attack of clutter resentment coming on. (And secretly, if we’re doing well …. I cheat and extend a bit on the timer!)

14 | Laura Daub

April 7th, 2010 at 3:28 pm


I absolutely love this idea and will send this to my hubby as well to see if he’ll be on board with it as well!


15 | milkfacemama

April 7th, 2010 at 3:49 pm


Fantastic idea – I’m going to try it tonight in our house!

16 | andrea

April 7th, 2010 at 3:56 pm


So I see that many of you have the same challenges! If you are trying this at home please let me know how it went!

When the girls were small we learned a “tidy up” song at preschool. We tried it at home but it never really worked … probably because we didn’t have the same kind of authority that the teachers had! :) Anyway, they’re much too old for that kind of thing now.

p.s. The best thing to do during the 15 minutes is crank the stereo.

17 | andrea

April 7th, 2010 at 3:57 pm


And Mark makes a good point; this has really cut down on the nagging factor BUT certain people still need direction i.e. bring this bottle down to the blue bin etc. But I think that’s ok. It’s still helping.

18 | lacoop

April 7th, 2010 at 4:20 pm


Wait a minute…are you saying my wife feels resentful when I go to the den after dinner?

19 | Laura Daub

April 7th, 2010 at 6:06 pm


It worked like a charm, thanks! No complaints from our 6 or 14 yr old and the younger one said he wasn’t finished when the timer went off and wanted to complete his chore… I’m sure it always won’t be this way though! ;)

Good idea about the music too. Just a note, we have told them this will be a Monday – Friday thing after dinner each week… giving them a break on the weekends… but we will still get them to clean their rooms then!

20 | Sue1788

April 7th, 2010 at 9:06 pm


Great ideas! I was just discussing with my husband what to do for help because I feel overwhelmed. We were going to do a responsibility chart but perhaps we’ll try this idea first.

21 | andrea

April 8th, 2010 at 8:22 am


lacoop: what goes on between you and your wife is none of my business. :)

Laura: AWESOME. And I agree about it being a Monday to Friday thing. We save the weekends for other chores too. ;)

22 | andrea

April 8th, 2010 at 3:09 pm


A writerly person is following this thread and wants to know: why does this topic (kids and chores) strike a chord with parents? Anyone care to answer?

23 | Toronto Star readers… >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 19th, 2010 at 4:16 pm


[…] … the link to the article you’re looking about kids and chores can be found here. […]

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July 8th, 2010 at 5:05 am


[…] back I wrote about an idea we had re: kids and chores. I was later contacted by a reporter who wanted to talk more about this topic afterwards and we had […]

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August 3rd, 2010 at 7:06 am


[…] we’re rushing to feed Piper, clear the table, go for our after-dinner dog walk and do our Focused 15. (Although admittedly we’ve fallen off the wagon on that one a little bit. Time to climb back […]

26 | Financial literacy for kids: part one of two >> a peek inside the fishbowl

October 8th, 2011 at 9:40 am


[…] The first question we grappled with was whether allowance should be tied to chores. My thinking at the time was that it shouldn’t be tied to chores and I still feel that way. We aren’t strict about chores around here. The girls are just expected to help out with anything we ask them to. We all take turns cleaning the kitchen after dinner, and usually remember to do a Focused 15. […]

27 | Chores, chores, chores « wise.owl.homeschool

February 18th, 2012 at 3:08 am


[…] I need to make this a part of our homeschool day. So, I’ve been looking around at what other people are doing, and I’ve sort-of put together something that might work.  I’m a little […]

28 | Chore bore >> a peek inside the fishbowl

January 31st, 2013 at 9:38 am


[…] written about household tidying routines before. Some of you may remember the Focused 15, and it still works although we haven’t been initiating it as often as we used to. (If you […]

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November 19th, 2014 at 2:06 pm


[…] Focused 15 – We stopped doing this, but I’m bringing it back! […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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