Teaching families the skills necessary for a successful home life requires patience and know-how. As a professional organizer who specializes in helping families function better, I have firsthand experience with this fact.
And in the past 25 years, I have discovered eight essential skills that have come to my aid over and over again as I've helped families find answers to their organization challenges, work together as a team, and increase their sense of personal responsibility. These skills are best taught to family members one at a time—perhaps in a family meeting where instruction can be given, training can happen, and practicing can be done. Then the skill can be practiced for a week or two until the new routine becomes a more permanent habit.
Skill #1: Individual responsibility leads to group success. Make clear and definitive assignments to each family member.
In many families I work with, there is no clear understanding of where the children's responsibilities end and the parents' jobs begin. The muddled responsibility line causes never-ending challenges. You can change that situation right away.
As an example, let's talk about laundry. If children are in charge of putting their soiled clothing in the dirty clothes basket in the bathroom when they bathe or shower, this skill should be taught and practiced. It is the parents’ role to make the expectations clear and then offer motivation to get the chores done in a timely manner, day after day.
I often suggest that families implement individual "laundry" responsibilities by having a family meeting where it is decided who does what and when. In this meeting, it might be concluded that Mom will do laundry on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. All family members are to put their dirty clothes in the bathroom baskets when they bathe or shower. Any other clothing that needs Mom's special attention is to go in the dirty clothes basket in the laundry room.
Dinner on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening will be served only after family members have put their clean laundry away. To remind all dinner-comers of their responsibilities, place plates upside down on the table. Then, turn the plates over as each person reports that his or her freshly laundered clothes have been hung in the closet or placed in the appropriate drawers. Such a plan is sure to lead to group success.
Skill #2: Bedrooms are a mini-home. Make beds and tidy bedrooms every morning.
A made or unmade bed in and of itself is not important. The skill you are working to achieve is the steadiness of doing something simple day after day so it becomes a part of the "background" of your lifestyle. In addition, when all family members make their beds and tidy their bedrooms each morning, much of the private space of the home is kept neat with just a little effort on the part of each family member.
I have found it useful to have a standards sheet for family members new to this skill. Each morning they can check off the various items needing their attention (such as making the bed, hanging up clothes, etc.). Having such a sheet is also useful for communicating the expectations of the parent to the child when it is time to check the bedroom.
Skill #3: Help out at meal time. Clear your place at the table. Push your chair in at the table. Put one additional food item away.
This skill is useful to relieve mealtime stress from the cook and dishwasher. It shows family members that if everyone helps a little bit, then a lot of the work can be done quickly.
Again, it is important that each family member be specifically in charge of his or her individual dishes and one other item after the meal is completed. Mom might assign specific tasks by saying, "Jon, you are in charge of the pepper and salt. Rachel, you can take care of the napkins. Michael, you get to be our butter dish waiter by putting it away. I'll do the leftovers, and Dad says he'll wipe the table after meals. We'll all push in our own chairs. With everyone helping a bit, the dinner dishes will be done in no time at all."
Skill #4: Don’t put it down, put it away. Everyone keeps their personal items picked up, especially in the public areas of the home.
This skill is somewhat elusive because it takes self-discipline.
When I work with families on this skill, we set up a mock situation. After taking a tour of the home, we decide upon one area of action. I usually suggest focusing on the family room. In our mock situation, I place several magazines around on the couches, an empty glass on the end table, and some shoes near the TV. Then a discussion is held about items that had been put down instead of being put away. I then ask for a volunteer and time one family member as he or she cleans up the mock messiness to see how long it takes.
Of course, putting items away is not about time, it is about habit. I establish this idea by placing the items in a messy state again and letting a second family member try to beat the first "put away" time. And on and on we go with the game.
The goal for the next week is to have a family room that is returned to order again and again because family members using the room put their items away, not put them down.