Weekends and chores

In the comments on my last post, Karen took issue with my statement that there are no prizes for hitting Monday with the fridge stocked, the laundry done and the house clean. While I don’t think Karen literally gets a prize for these things (there are precious few prizes for anything grown-ups do) she wrote that having these things done helps one feel in control of one’s life.

I know many people feel this way and so I’m using this post to explore exactly why I am not a big fan of the mindset that weekends are a good time for chores. I’m not saying don’t do them, but don’t make their accomplishment too central to your verdict on a weekend (which may be how many of the people I’m allegedly arguing with feel about them too, but I needed an introduction to this blog post!)

One reason? Many activities, like chores, expand to fill the available time. Take the procurement of groceries and household supplies. Some items are hard to substitute (like diapers or baby formula). Others less so. This week I’ve been eating English muffins with melted cheese and tomatoes from the garden because we have that around. For dinner last night I cleaned out the veggie drawer and mixed those greens with a chopped up sausage and some rice. If I’d gone to the grocery store last weekend, I probably would have bought a lot of Lean Cuisine type frozen meals and wouldn’t have been nearly as creative with the food we have in the house. Obviously, the shopping has to happen at some point, but if there’s more than one adult in the house, sending one party out some weeknight after the kids go to bed can make for an efficient trip (no rush hour traffic or crowds, and this is often TV time too — so not a huge opportunity cost).

A similar thing happens with laundry. We do wind up doing it most weeks, but we have enough clothes to go two weeks between loads. If we did it less, we’d probably find we needed to do it less. As for house cleaning, this really can take any amount of time you want to assign it. You can clean the toilets once a week and pick up the kitchen when it’s awful, or you can dust every bit of your millwork with a toothbrush daily and iron your sheets and pillowcases for good measure. A lot of this comes down more to preference than anything else. If you use weekdays for chores, rather than weekends, you may just spend less time on chores — because you have less time.

I also like the idea of focusing weekends on our most meaningful core competencies. For most of us, these include nurturing our families and nurturing ourselves (in the form of adequate sleep, exercise, hobbies, volunteering). Choices are seldom black and white, but I do think if you have the option to go for a long bike ride with your kids and then volunteer at a homeless shelter together, vs. spending the day organizing your attic, the former is the better choice.

I was reminded of this when I read a review on Amazon of 168 Hours. One “Tina C.” gave me a 1-star review for this “novel” (her word) because “I can’t even begin to imagine outsourcing all of my responsibilities to my family like cooking, cleaning, shopping, organizing just so I can fill my dayplanner with me, me, me!” I find this mindset fascinating, since I think a parent’s responsibility to his/her family is nurturing children’s brains and souls, and maintaining her own health and sanity so she’s in a secure enough place to truly give her family her best. Cooking, cleaning, shopping and organizing may be part of that, or may sometimes get in the way.

I understand that for some people, hitting Monday with empty hampers and clean floors feels like an accomplishment, much like ending the day with an empty inbox feels satisfying too. Other goals are more nebulous — but in the long run are more important. Writing a book is more important than laundry. Teaching a kid to ride a bike is more important than organizing the home office. The key thing with chores and weekends is not to focus so much on the easily seen and measured goal of scratching everything off that grocery list that you divert energy from the bigger goals of life.

What’s your philosophy on chores and weekends?

In other news: Are you into running? I’ve been reading Runner’s World for the past seven years or so, and have gotten quite into the sport. So I was excited to meet Lisa Alcorn at #BlogHer12. Alcorn’s blog is called Early Morning Run, and she writes about health and fitness and, of course, running.

Photo courtesy flickr user Jos Dielis



45 Responses to Weekends and chores


  1. Arden says:

    I have to say that we do most of our chores/errands/stuff on Friday night/Saturday and Sunday is just for us (lounging, biking, whatever). For me, it’s the best of both worlds because I’m able to get a running start on Monday with groceries and laundry under my belt but feel that I got good family time in too.

    Love that you’re sharing new blogs with us from peeps you met at BlogHer. Thanks!

    • Laura says:

      @Arden- I’d like to share another blog most days! It’s a good way to remind myself of all the voices out there.

  2. KtP says:

    Facing Monday with a (relatively) clean house and a menu (or at least a meal) plan, makes me feel ready to go. It’s an easier week for me if I use part of the weekend for chores.

  3. Emily says:

    I’ve got to agree with others. If we don’t have the laundry done, the groceries bought and a menu plan for the week by Monday, the week tends to be chaotic. We tend to get most of the laundry done between Friday night and Saturday morning. I’m pretty flexible with grocery shopping. It can either get done on Saturday or Sunday, depending on what else we’ve got going on on any particular weekend. But we do tend to try to have at least one weekend day where we are just spending time as a family, relaxing or doing something fun.

  4. Kt says:

    I can see both sides – granted, my husband and I don’t have kids and his job determines which weekends get to include fun together time, but I find that using the odd weekend to really knock the chores list blank helps me stay in the present that next week or two when my husband is actually around on the weeknights.

  5. Rachel says:

    I don’t do chores on the weekend. It’s my small sliver of time for rest and renewal. I do however do my grocery shopping and cooking for the week on the weekends, but those are both activities that I really, really enjoy. I subscribe to the flylady (flylady.net) version of breaking bigger jobs into little activities for each day so that I never have to choose between fun/life-giving things and ‘chores’ (define them as you will). Laundry every other Tuesday, vacuum on Wed, meal-plan for following week by Friday, etc.

    These habits do free up that (near) sacred ‘down time’ for the weekends. While I’d love to be teaching my kids to ride bikes (don’t have any, kids that is) or having a picnic with my S.O. (haven’t found one), usually I end up reading on the porch, working on a crochet project listening to NPR shows, or flipping through some German lesson. Or maybe that’s ’cause I’m an introvert ;)

    And I love to run! One of the best decisions I’ve made in the last couple of years.

  6. liz says:

    Thank you for this! I’ve been stressing far too much about having everything done by Sunday night. Definitely time to focus on spending better time with the kids!

    • Laura says:

      @Liz- you’re welcome! Glad you find it helpful.

  7. Laundry IS a fun family activity at our house.

    • Laura says:

      @NicoleandMaggie – I have high hopes of this eventually happening in our house. The middle kid likes to help with chores. You have to do something as a middle kid to get attention!

  8. Rinna says:

    Do you really believe in a no-chores weekend? I’ve heard you talk about preparing your “priorities list” for the week on a Sunday so that you can hit the ground running on Monday? That’s a chore, isn’t it? So for somebody else, it might be getting the laundry done…

    For me personally, I’m a huge outsourcer, which is part of why I loved 168 Hours. However, if you have different financial means, I can see how the book might strike somebody as not useful. That being said, I think Tina C. got the absolutely wrong message out of it (sometimes we hear what we want to, not what’s actually there…)

    As to my chore philosophy, I make a meal plan for the weekend and following week on Tues nights, prepare the shopping list on Wed nights, my husband goes food shopping on Thurs nights. I (and to a somewhat lesser extent, my husband) also intersperse the multitude of other errands that come with having 3 children throught the weeknights and some on Sunday as well (planning bday parties, buying clothes, signing up for swimming lessons etc). I have a full-time nanny/goddess who does ALL the laundry, cleaning and cooking while the kids are at school. I cook only on the weekends as a fun activity with my children (this past weekend, we made brownie ice cream sandwiches, yum…) We do no errands at all on Saturdays as a rule (we are Jewish and celebrate the sabbath) and have a mix of fun and some work on Sundays, including me getting ready for my week at work. It’s busy and there are certainly many efficiencies still to be found (less time on blogs and FB, more time exercising), but it’s a decent balance and works for us. I’m just not sure it could or would work for others…

    • Laura says:

      @Rinna- I like the idea of observing a Sabbath from chores/errands (and email!) I think it’s not so much a “no chore” weekend as much as not viewing weekends as a time for chores. You can spend all Saturday shopping if you’re not careful. The idea is to minimize the amount of time devoted to these things. If they can’t all get done during the week, then maybe a very short block of time on weekends so they don’t take over all the time that’s supposed to be for rejuvenation.

      As for Tina C… ah. She starts the review by claiming she’s appalled at how I describe a day at the beginning of 168 Hours, and how apparently I’m neglecting my children for me me me. Re-reading the day I described, I take it that mothers are not supposed to work, exercise, volunteer with non-profits or talk to their husbands, since those are the things other than hang out with my then-2-year-old I did that day.

      • Rinna says:

        @Laura – if you are writing your next e-book on weekends, I would (humbly but highly) recommend including some discussion about the idea of a “sabbath”. It doesn’t have to be religious in nature at all – in fact, I didn’t grow up very observant. But I believe it’s a huge part of having a balanced life, especially in our plugged-in world. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s (in)famous article actually mentions this in a round-about way. I can give you loads of examples of how this observance has actually helped my career and my personal life…too long for a comment, but if you’re interested, we can email/chat separately. Anyway, just my two cents’ worth…

        • Laura says:

          @Rinna- I do like the idea – and will email you. You definitely don’t have to be religious to observe a sabbath. It gets a bad rep due to the legalism but the original idea is that people need a rest. It’s not about following rules, it’s about not working. Since Sunday nights are prime work prep time for me, I tend to think that Sat night to mid-day Sun would work for me, but some folks have it religiously prescribed at certain times of course…

  9. Cloud says:

    We fall in the middle of this one. We do some chores during the week and some on weekends. One thing to keep in mind with the “send an adult out after the kids are in bed” approach is that for people with lower sleep needs kids, there isn’t that much time between kids’ bedtimes and adult bedtimes. My kids were asleep by 9:30 last night, which is a little later than usual but not hugely outside the norm. I get up at 6 a.m., which means I should be in bed by 10 p.m. Also, at least a couple nights a week, one or both of us needs to log on after the kids are in bed and do a little work. So for us, doing chores during the week means someone solos bath and bedtime- doable, but not our preferred mode (yet- we’re working on harmonizing the kids’ bedtimes better, but that may have to wait until the little one is a bit older). What we tend to do instead is try to keep the chores from having a huge footprint- most weeks, I menu plan while watching the kids play outside after lunch on Saturday. I take one of the girls grocery shopping with me (they love it so much that we have a strict rotation on whose turn it is). My husband does yard work while the kids play around him and/or help out. Etc. We usually plan our weekend on Friday night, listing out the chores and work that we need to do, and planning in at lease one fun outing (could just be to the park).

    • Laura says:

      @Cloud- I like this image of not giving chores a huge footprint. The idea is to have them take very little mental space in addition to little actual time. I just took my 5-year-old grocery shopping. While I like getting one-on-one time with him, I wind up buying so much extra stuff when he’s there. I think I’d save money by paying someone $20 to go grocery shopping for me. Ah, the old problem of taking one’s own advice…

      • Cloud says:

        Interesting! I guess I’m ruthless- I don’t buy extra when the kids are along. Except for a very small bag of open bin candy (approximately 3 gummy sharks or the equivalent). I do, however, frequently have to empty out the stupid little kid size cart and abandon it somewhere when it is my 2.5 year old’s turn to come with. So don’t think I have any amazing shopping fu or anything like that.
        My biggest chore problem is the tracking of things that need to be done, like getting my asthma meds refilled. There will be a post about that on my blog in the next few days, I think. I let the prescription lapse, and by the time I got it filled I’d gotten to a bad place with the asthma, and tonight I ended up at urgent care. (I’m fine now. But I have to take prednisone, which sucks big time. So I really need to solve this one. I don’t know how yet, though.) I guess on the bright side, this is something that can be done after the kids go to bed. Except as noted above, that is when I should go to bed, too.

        • We don’t buy extra stuff either. I like taking my 5 year old along because he pushes the cart for me and helps pick out things (which cheese should I get). When DH takes him along, he reminds DH exactly which ice creams I can eat (high fat, no gluten).
          ***
          As for paying someone to shop for you– a lot of grocery stores have the service that they will pick everything out for you so you can just pick up the bags. Whole Foods does this. Much easier than the PITA it always seems to be for us to find someone competent to do things (which is the main reason we don’t outsource more… good help is a PITA to find).

        • Rinna says:

          @Cloud – Wow – I hope you feel better soon! I’ve had to be on prednisone twice in my life for terrible, runaway asthma. I can honestly say it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had – I had insomnia, anxiety, gained weight, etc. The pits!!! Hopefully you are not as bad off as me…
          I also really recommend Symbicort if you tend to bad asthma – I found it worked much better for me. (Sorry, this has nothing to do with weekends and chores, but I thought I’d respond anyway.)

        • Laura says:

          @Cloud- yikes! Hope you’re doing Ok. That’s definitely a mental load thing that has to get up to the top of the list… Maybe I’ll try concentrating my children on one treat from the grocery store so nothing else gets picked up. I don’t have a particularly good reason for not buying Lucky Charms, given that my granola probably has more sugar. So I went for that one.

        • ARC says:

          @Cloud – I have a Google Calendar for recurring monthly tasks I’d forget about otherwise and schedule most of these things either for the 1st or last day of the month – things like giving the dogs flea protection, changing out my disposable contacts, picking up long-term prescriptions, etc.

          I’m much better now that I get the email reminders a few days before.

        • Cloud says:

          Thank everyone. I’m breathing better now, which is the main thing. But yes, prednisone sucks, even after one day of use, and I am officially making it a life goal to never have to take it again.
          I was on Pulmicort because that is the only one rated safe for pregnancy and nursing, and I haven’t been back to my doctor since I stopped nursing in February. I suspect that I’ll be back on Advair after this- that worked well for me back before I had kids.
          @ARC- I think one aspect of solving this problem is that I will finally be getting a smartphone so that I can make better use at home of Google calendar and other tools that I use to keep track of things at work.

  10. Mary Vanderkam says:

    Laura,

    Remember “Saturday night blitz”–the time that all four or five of us cleaned for 30 minutes or so? Maybe you have repressed that memory!

    I enjoy your postings and also the comments. Judging by the number of comments on this one, the book should do well!

    I have always tried to do a Sabbath rest which for me meant no lesson plans, record keeping, etc. on Sunday. I do laundry and cleaning because I don’t consider that my regular “work.” I have been and try to be a “Sabbatarian” in avoiding restaurants and shopping on Sunday so that others can take a Sabbath as well. I have not been consistent on that however.

    I appreciate the way you make your weekends family time.

    So nice now to have the time to read blogs and follow wherever they lead me!

  11. Kathy says:

    I enjoyed this post very much, Laura. I have often found that chores expand to fill every spare minute if you let them. I trick myself into focusing (because that’s one of my issues) by using a kitchen timer–I set a reasonable time for the task, then quit when the timer goes off. I do some chores on the weekend because I take time during the week to pursue my hobbies and sometimes that means I have to vacuum my house on Saturday. This works for me, because my husband has a buddy he rides his bike with and our teenager sleeps all morning, so there is no loss of together time.

    Oh, and I’m putting “Writing a book is more important than laundry” on a 3 x 5 card on my desk… I think I’m using household responsibilities to avoid doing the writing I want to do!

    • Laura says:

      @Kathy- I’m seldom tempted to do laundry, but I loved Calee’s guest post last fall on seizing laundry time to write that first children’s book. And now she has a whole publishing empire. It’s amazing what we can do when we keep our focus on first things.

  12. J. says:

    We keep a non-religious Sabbath on Sundays. We may cook or bake that day, or spend a little time gardening, but it’s for fun, as a family activity. I do the laundry on Thursdays, the day I work from home (having to get up from sitting at my desk every 45-60 minutes to switch loads is good for me). Otherwise, we do chores and errands during the week, and then cram as many larger projects into the baby’s nap time on Saturday as we can (we practice triage, attacking the worst problem first). Part of the issue is, who do you consider responsible for the upkeep of your home? And, do you consider all chores drudgery? For me, it’s the whole family who needs to participate in homekeeping, and there are ways to make chores less of a drag. I have great memories of Saturday housekeeping growing up. My parents would put on a musical soundtrack, and we would divvy up and race to get our tasks done, singing at the tops of our voices; that’s how I learned how to take care of a home, a life skill that I want to teach my kids–I consider that part of nurturing them. And there are ways to make chores less of a pain or more of a fun family activity–we have a Roomba; I use Amazon Prime for diapers; we shop as a family for produce, bread, eggs, etc. at the local farmers’ market (which features a folk band and freshly made donuts, and is a prime meeting place for our friends in town); we have a set weekly meal plan featuring our favorite foods that makes meal planning easy and flexible (Monday is some kind of pasta, Friday is fish, etc.). And we keep pretty low standards. My priorities are: tasty, healthy food to eat; clean clothes and comfortable beds; bills paid; no bad smells (run the dishwasher, wipe the sinks, clean the litter box, and take out the trash); having extra toilet paper/soap/diapers on hand (keeping essential supplies stocked); and being able to find the scissors or stamps when you need them (basic organization). If there’s toothpaste specks on the bathroom mirror or a stuffed animal circus in the living room 6 out of 7 days of the week, I don’t care.

    • Laura says:

      @J – we seem to have the same stuffed animal circus going on in our house. If I put them away, they come right back. So I tend not to put them away. I’m also aiming for a set weekly meal plan. Sundays are hamburger and hot dogs. Friday is often pizza. We tend to have pasta some night too. I imagine we eat on other nights as well but I can’t remember what.

    • Emily says:

      How do you like the Roomba?

      • J. says:

        My husband is obsessed with the Roomba–and so is our 10-month-old. It doesn’t completely eliminate the need to vacuum with a regular vac but it keeps the pet hair tumbleweeds at bay, and our floors are much cleaner than when we were relying on finding time to vacuum ourselves. We live in a fairly large 3 bedroom apartment in an old building, and the Roomba occasionally gets trapped somewhere (usually behind a door). However, we run it every weekday while we’re gone at work/daycare, and it eventually gets the whole house done a couple of times even if it gets trapped somewhere a day or two out of five.

        • Laura says:

          @J – I always pictured robotic maids to be more of the Jetson sort, not the Roomba kind. Oh well!

        • Calee says:

          Beware of the black Roombas– ours scuffed all our baseboards. It needed a battery replacement after a couple of years and now sits unused under a bench in my office. Just like computers (at least in our house) the life span is only a few years.

    • Rinna says:

      I think you raise a really good point about teaching your children life skills about how to keep a home. While they may get to the point in their lives where they also outsource much of this (as I do), I’m also a believer of outsourcing not because you CAN’T do it but because you WON’T.
      Truthfully, I struggle with this as my nanny is so amazing that she does everything by the time they come home from school. Every few months, I have to remind her to leave their laundry for them to put away, make the bigger kids take out the trash, etc. But I do feel a bit guilty that I’m doing them a disservice in this regard. Not sure how to get around it, though, when both parents work full-time…

      • Laura says:

        @Rinna- there’s a common story financial advisors tell of very wealthy families requiring the kids to make their own beds, then around age 7, one of the kids tries to pay the housekeeper extra (out of his/her allowance) to get out of cleaning their own room, and the parents are always trying to figure out what this all means. Not sure how they iron it all out (so to speak!) but there we go.

        • Rinna says:

          @Laura – Well, that’s quite creative of the children, I guess. If my children did the same, not sure whether I would be appalled or impressed or a little of both? Probably more on the appalled side…Maybe b/c I try to get them to see my nanny as more a part of the family than a paid worker. (And to sidestep the inevitable complaints, she is VERY well paid. Not as well as my husband and I, of course, but that’s a function of the market.)
          So what’s the way to get around it? I know you’re a bit outsourcer too. Your kids are a bit younger than mine (who are 8, 5.5 and 3), but what are your tentative plans in this arena?

          • Laura says:

            @Rinna- I think many were unhappy, even though they did find it creative! We haven’t figured this out yet. I have started with simple things, like getting the kids to carry their dishes over to the sink, and putting clothes in the hamper. Even if the laundry gets outsourced, you don’t have to leave it lying on the floor. So that’s a start.

  13. Jenna says:

    We have tried to flip the weekend-full-of-chores model so that instead of hitting Monday with a clean house and organized life, we hit FRIDAY in that state. That means that weekdays are rather insane and overly scheduled to cram in all the laundry, cleaning, etc – but I think they feel that way even when we’re less productive. And when you can wake up on Saturday morning and everything’s in order, it feels great. You’re mentally ready to focus on family, recreation, or bigger projects. Now, we don’t always pull it off, some weeks are just too crazy. But it’s a good goal ;)

    • Laura says:

      @Jenna- I like that idea– of aiming for Friday rather than aiming for Monday. When I suggest not doing chores on weekends, people ask when they’ll get done. This answers the question.

  14. Ana says:

    First off, great topic & discussion & now I’m looking forward to the e-book!
    I like how Cloud put it “not giving chores a huge footprint”. We tend to follow that rule, too, and thinking back on it, we’ve inadvertently kept a “Sabbath” or rest day, too (Saturday). We do our week’s cooking on Sunday, and put away all the laundry we’ve been doing throughout the week on Sunday night, but we fit those tasks in the cracks between kid-time and family-fun-time. We have such a fine-tuned system going that it takes no brain power, just a little bit of forethought to change out a load of clothes, cook/puree up a veggie for the baby, or throw the chicken on the grill when we have a few minutes.
    The “prize” for us is healthy home-cooked meals for the week & ability to find the necessary clothes without any bedtime or morning hassles (there are some things we don’t have enough of to last more than a week, like my toddler’s beloved “blankee” lovies–we’ve tried buying more—disaster). I absolutely love the idea of doing chores together & look forward to those days in the future. Even now, I like to cook while my older is around, he frequently takes an interest & will pull up a stool to watch or “help”…he knows all the ingredients and steps for several of our tried & true recipes & has reminded me to add a splash of milk to the scrambled eggs or to go snip chives for a casserole. I’m training him to sort laundry next…

    • Laura says:

      @Ana- that’s the good thing about blogging! I probably would have had a more limited discussion on doing chores on weekends, but it seems to have hit a nerve. So now I know it’s worth including in more depth.

  15. ARC says:

    I booted laundry from its weekend spot because I realized it was taking up too much precious family chill time. I now do it on several weekdays instead of a gargantual pile every week or so.

    If you have access to it, grocery delivery is pretty awesome. I love Amazon Fresh. It’s a little more expensive, but worth it if you are tempted by random impulse buys at the store. Most grocery stores here have it.

    • Laura says:

      @ARC- this is the idea I’m getting at — using weekends for relaxation, and taking advantage of the fact that you’re already in work mode on weekdays to do the chores. Ideally, since you have less time on weekdays, the chores will take less time.

  16. Lisa says:

    Hi Laura! So great to meet you at BlogHer! And thanks for the mention in this post. I’m a huge fan of Runners World too! I hope you’re feeling better and able to get out for a run!

    Lately the only time my husband and I have to do chores are on the weekend and it’s really starting to take a toll on us. We’ve been working extremely long hours and just don’t have the time to do chores during the week. Plus, living in NYC without any close by grocery stores makes it difficult to do shopping during the week. We definitely need to get out of this rut because we are really missing out on a lot just trying to get ‘things’ done!

  17. bowdenjm says:

    Great discussion! I recently changed jobs – fewer hours, but also a smaller paycheck – so I had to give up the outsourcing. We haven’t quite hit our stride in terms of chores so it’s helpful to see how others address this.
    First thing in the morning I go for a run before my husband leaves for work, then throw in a load of laundry. There are a lot of disorganized areas of our lives but we don’t run out of underwear mid-week anymore. We also make a meal plan for the week every Sunday afternoon and do our grocery shopping, then write the list of meals on a dry-erase board in the kitchen. That way, whoever gets home from work first can start cooking and we don’t waste as much food; we can’t rely on carryout or restaurant dinners as a backup because my husband has a lot of dietary restrictions, so being organized in this area is essential. Each kid gets to choose a meal, so if they don’t like what we have one night they know that a favorite is coming up soon.
    Sundays are also my night to sit down and write a list of errands, phone calls, small projects, etc. that I need to do in the coming week, so I don’t do things like forget to get my prescriptions refilled. Longer-term projects are written down electronically but I find that most of them aren’t getting done (e.g., clean the basement, refinish the headboard). As long as I know they’re captured somewhere I feel like there’s a chance they’ll get done eventually; if I get 2 or 3 done per year it’s still progress.
    Friday is family game night. Regardless of what else is going on, we sit down and play board games or do crafts. It helps everyone wind down from the week, starts the weekend with some fun, and makes sure that we have some family face time even if the weekend is very busy. My kids are at an age where overscheduling is common so we’re trying to stay very conscious of that and build in down time every weekend.

    • Laura says:

      @Bowdenjm – I wind up using later Sunday nights to plan out my weeks, but I guess I don’t include this in the “chore” category because it’s more mental and strategic. This is also a reason my 24-hours-of-not-working would have to be more late Saturday to late Sunday rather than one calendar day. I love the idea of Friday crafts/game night.