The church of chores Keeping house as a spiritual practice

We don’t do church on Sundays.

We do chores.

thissortaoldlife sink full of dishes

You might think chores can’t be any kind of equivalent to church, but we’ve found that chores actually do for us much of what church does for others (besides fill our Sunday mornings).

thissortaoldlife messy bedroom

If chores were a religion, Cane and I would have the equivalent of a mixed-faith marriage. (If we were actually married, that is.)

Cane grew up doing household chores every day, including making his bed. On weekends, he and his three brothers all pitched in to keep their home spotless.

thissortaoldlife mid-century twins

I grew up rarely doing household chores; my mom did everything. Our house was generally clean, but a perfect home wasn’t a priority, and I had nothing to do with maintaining ours.

thissortaoldlife young rita

You can see the signs of our laid-back home in this picture.

Given our very different upbringings, we are surprisingly similar when it comes to household cleanliness and upkeep. We both land solidly between the housekeeping practices we grew up with. We like our house to be generally clean and neat, and while we don’t load the kids up with a ton of chores, we do expect everyone to pitch in.

We want to have a nice house, but we don’t want to be slaves to it.

thissortaoldlife vacuuming

So, how are Sunday chores like church?

1. It’s something we do every Sunday, as a family.

We have all three kids every-other-Sunday, and it has become our tradition to do Sunday morning housecleaning after breakfast. We rarely stray from this schedule, which we think is important. Kids aren’t excused from it unless they are ill, and if a friend has spent the night, the friend pitches in, too.

thissortaoldlife friend

This friend willingly pitches in with chores, but is not so willing to have her picture taken in her sweats.

It’s one of the few things we regularly do as a family, and we’ve noticed it makes a difference in how we feel as a family.

When we’re going chores together, we are working for our common good, and everyone has something of value to contribute. We didn’t really think bonds would grow from instituting weekly chore time (really, we just wanted a manageable way to keep the house in reasonable order), but they have.

For Cane and me, that’s really become the point. The clean house is just a bonus.

thissortaoldlife living room

2. We have set procedures and some special language (kinda like liturgy).

As breakfast is ending, Cane and I begin making the chore list.

thissortaoldlife chore list

Once we’ve made the list for the week, we call the kids together for input on their preferences. (Our favorite from last Sunday:  “I don’t want to clean a bathroom, scoop dog poop, or clean the dog stain in the family room.  Basically, nothing that involves poop or pee.”)

thissortaoldlife daisy the wiener dog

She looks sweet, but she makes icky messes.

We either scatter the kids again or retreat to a different room, where Cane and I assign chores. We give everyone the same number, and we make sure everyone has one of their chores-to-do choices.

We give out assignments, and then everyone starts with “pick up any of your own stuff that is in the common living areas.” (We start with this because it’s always necessary for other chores on the list.)

thissortaoldlife shoes and tea mugs

I'm often picking up shoes and tea mugs.

Then, each person begins working on their list of individual chores. Once done with a chore, kids get checked off by their parent.

3. It’s time to be alone with your own thoughts.

While “doing chores” is something that we all do at the same time, each of us is working alone. These are tasks that don’t require a high level of thought–which frees our minds up to think about things that get lost in the weekday shuffle.

For me, it’s a time to check in with myself. Things bubble up that I’ve pushed under. It’s a way of taking care of myself that helps me do a better job of taking care of the kids.

thissortaoldlife ella cleaning mirror

4. We go out afterwards and do something together.

I know, this isn’t part of church for everyone–but my parents always go out for breakfast after church, and I like the idea of treating ourselves after taking care of business.

We aren’t as good about this as I’d like to be–we don’t do the fun afterwards part of chores every Sunday–but we want to get better at finding something fun for all of us to do after we’ve all spent time working.

thissortaoldlife will and moose

Will on our outing after chores last Sunday. Yeah, he had to go there. He's 14, and he's a boy. 'Nuff said.

We like going to the river near our house, and then getting some ice cream afterward. Sometimes we’ll go to the library, or pick up something for some kind of project.

thissortaoldlife ella at river

thissortaoldlife ice cream sundae

5. We’re teaching our kids a way of living happily and  healthfully.

Although I loved not doing chores as a kid, I wish my parents had made me do them. When I began living on my own, I knew very little about how to make or manage a home. I was really surprised by how much work it takes to maintain a comfortable, functional home.

thissortaoldlife refrigerator before and after

Cleaning the fridge was my big chore last week. Silly as it sounds, it took me awhile to realize this kind of order makes life better and takes intentional effort.

We’re teaching our kids practical skills–how to actually clean all kinds of things–but we hope we’re also teaching them habits and principles that will help them in many aspects of their lives:

  • It’s better to do small tasks regularly than let them grow into huge tasks.
  • Many hands make light work.
  • We need to be good stewards of the things we’re privileged to have.
  • We don’t have to do things perfectly to make them better.
  • Families are all in it together.
thissortaoldlife cane programming music during chores

Cane trying to put in a music station during chores last week. Rubber gloves made it a challenge. We listen to a little bit of what everyone likes. That means more whiny emo girls than I'd like, and more 80s hairbands than our girls would like. But we're in it together, you know?

Progress, not perfection

It’s been about 10 months now since we all moved in together. While much has been wonderful, much has also been challenging. (Blending (or stirring or shaking) families is not for wimps.) We feel like this is one of the few things we’ve really done right.

thissortaoldlife vacuuming

Are we perfect in our chores? Nope.

We’ll be honest:  Our children have been kinda spoiled. (Completely our own fault). So, imposing a new chore routine was not easy going at first. We had lots of resistance (in the form of whining, arguing, avoidance, and down-right defiance), especially in the beginning.

What we’ve learned through our Sunday chores is that our kids will do what they should when we give them structure, consistency, and guidance. (Duh.) It gets easier every time. That’s not to say we don’t have to keep on top of it.

thissortaoldlife will reading

This is what I found Will doing when he was supposed to be cleaning up his room during last week's Sunday chores.

We are also not perfect in our housekeeping. Some of us clean in ways that others of us might not.

thissortaoldlife cane sweeping counter

While we do make the kids re-do sometimes, we are not sticklers and we don’t criticize methods that get the job done (even if they kinda make us cringe).

We don’t care that we’re not perfect in our chores. Because what we get from chores is a cleaner house, a happier family, and more peaceful hearts.

thissortaoldlife action shot at the river

And we don’t have to dress up!

thissortaoldlife grace dressed up

Does anyone still dress up for church?

How about you?

This is not an obligatory-please-leave-comments “how about you?” (Truly, none of them are.) We’d love to hear your ideas for getting the house clean, building family bonds, and teaching kids how to grow up into functional, healthy, happy adults. Please share if you’ve got some! (Or if there’s anything else you’d like us to know.)