Now the second month is drawing to a close. Tomorrow I will count up the children's remaining tokens and issue allowance. But I'm too curious to wait! So I'm going to run upstairs right now and see how they did.
[insert sound of me pounding up the stairs, a pause, and then the sound of my footsteps returning to the computer]
Of the 30 tokens I put into their jars at the start of the month, assuming they keep their rooms clean tomorrow and don't lose one more:
- My thirteen-year-old son has 28, and will receive $14 in allowance
- My ten-year-old son has 21, and will receive $10.50
- My seven-year-old daughter has 17, and will receive $8.50
Meanwhile, even though they didn't all meet the standards I set every day --
-- and a reminder, the standards were "floor clean, covers pulled up, closet door shut" --
every room was cleaner every day than it typically was before starting the system. Before, we had periodic marathon room-cleaning sessions, one day before the paid housecleaner showed up for the monthly vacuuming.
So from my point of view, this system is a spectacular success. I am doing almost zero nagging. Once each day, I pop into their rooms for a check. If I forget, they get to keep a token (so I'm not actually obligated to check).
+ + +
Only once did I use the promise of a token for something extra. One day I needed the kitchen cleaned up really fast, so I challenged my two big boys to speed through it in under fifteen minutes and without complaining, with a promise of one previously-lost token returned to each of them if they could do it.
There's no way they would have done it if I'd said, "I'll pay you fifty cents."
The psychology of gains and losses is very interesting.
+ + +
My teenage boy still hates the system. He explained to me this morning that it makes him feel sad and angry every single day to see his jar of tokens on his shelf. He asked again if he couldn't start from zero and gain tokens, rather than starting from thirty and lose tokens. "It feels like a punishment," he said, "instead of a payment."
"I do pay you," I said, "at the end of the month, almost just like a paycheck works. Think of the tokens as an easy way for me to keep track of what you are going to be paid for the work you do." But he said the tokens were the same as money as far as he was concerned, and when I remove one it is like having his money taken away.
I acknowledged that this system is probably not the best system to fit with his particular personality, but that I was going to keep it going for now because it was working pretty well for the family as a whole. "It isn't perfect," I said. "It will evolve and adjust as we all learn what works and what doesn't. I will make changes to it. But I am going to make the changes slowly. This is a long-term project."
+ + +
On Thursday we begin a new month, and the children will receive a refreshed jar of thirty tokens. They will also become responsible for their own laundry.
Now, Mark and I see eye-to-eye on most of the important issues that face today's married couples, but one of them is not "How To Tell If The Laundry Is Caught Up." Therefore, I broached the subject with some trepidation, which turned out to be well-founded.
(I think the laundry is caught up if no baskets are actually overflowing with dirty laundry yet. Mark will tell me if I have gotten this wrong, but my current understanding is that he thinks it is caught up if there is less than a full load of dirty laundry total in the entire house AND all the clean laundry is put away.)
About thirty minutes later, we were ready to discuss the new laundry system for kids. My teenage son also participated, strenuously insisting that it would be inappropriate to treat him exactly like his younger siblings, since he is already in the habit of putting clothes in the wash when he's about to run out. After some discussion, we decided that he was correct, and modified the system accordingly.
We made our plan based on the answer to the question, "What problems do I want this system to solve?"
+ + +
Number one, I don't want to hear, "But I don't have any clean clothes!" On Sunday morning, I want there to be clean clothes for church. If there's a Scout or AHG meeting, I want each child to have a clean uniform. If it's swimming lesson day, their towels and suits should be ready to go. No one should run out of clean pants and shirts.
Number two, I don't want clean clothes to accumulate in the laundry room. We have room on the shelves and counter for about five baskets full of clean clothes. Occasionally we will stack towers of clean baskets, but I don't like that because the dirty bottoms of the baskets sit on clean clothes. Also, we risk losing items that fall behind the washer and dryer. So five baskets is really the capacity.
That's basically it. I don't have high standards. I just want the kids to make sure they don't run out of clothes, and I want them to keep moving items OUT of the laundry room as they move their clothes IN.
+ + +
Today, two days before the month starts, we had a dry run. I distributed to each child two brand-new square black laundry baskets, labeled with names. And I pointed them to a brand-new sign posted in the laundry room, headed "Kids' Laundry Responsibilities."
Your clothes (uniforms, church outfits, etc.) clean when you need them (3 tokens)
You may have 1 black basket of your clothes in this room at a time (1 token)
In other words: If ever they don't have the clothes that they need clean when they need them, they'll lose three of their tokens. And, if ever I find more than one basketful of a particular child's clothes in the laundry room, he'll lose one token.
There's more to this. Such as, when must laundry be done?
I am allowing my oldest to decide when he needs to put his laundry in; but the younger two, I expect I'll have to micromanage just a bit more to start with. So for now, my daughter is required to wash her dirty clothes on Tuesday mornings, and my second son is required to wash his dirty clothes on Wednesday mornings. Each of them pays a penalty of one token per day that the weekly load is delayed.
Once those younger kids are in the weekly laundry habit, I hope to lift the specific-day requirement.
+ + +
It seems a bit too fussy for our family to insist that each person wash his own clothes, dry his own clothes, and then remove his own clothes from the laundry room and put them away. We have one washer and one dryer, conveniently located on the same level with the bedrooms, and laundry is a continuous operation. So instead, the ideal we've always had in mind is "one load in, one load out."
Whoever wants to put a load into the washer mus first:
- make room for a new basket on the shelves by delivering at least one basket of clothes to the correct part of the house
- move dry clothes from the dryer to a basket on the shelves
- move wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, and start the dryer
In this way, we are all helping each other get the laundry done. But everyone has the responsibility of putting his own clothes into the system (and dealing with the basket of clean, dry clothes that he might find awaiting him on his bed at the end of the day).
Now I just have to confer with my husband about whether to raise the value of a token along with the increased responsibility. I'm inclined not to raise it until I find out how well they take on their new jobs.