I did put the kids to work this Friday. I discovered that we owned two Swiffers, so 7 yo and 3 yo became the "Swifferers of the Day". They picked up everything in their room, and wiped the floor, then moved on to my room: "That's where all the dust bunnies are!" proclaimed 7 yo. Meanwhile I wiped the toilets and sinks (thank G-d for Clorox wipes and that we do not have a gazillion bathrooms). 7 yo mopped the bathrooms and then we moved on to the laundry room. The cleaning people have not been quite good there ever, just mopping a small floor area that was showing. Since this time I was in charge, I took out everything and the floor was quite grimy. 7 yo attacked it with a mop, even under the fridge. I got to throw out a bunch of things, send a double stroller to the garage and organize a few others. Since the baby was up and 9 yo was with his mishna teacher, this was not a major project, just a few minutes or so. I made sure to comment on how clean the floor looked and 7 yo beamed.
Then, when 9 yo was finished, we tackled the living/dining room area. First all the things were picked up, then 9 yo came up with the idea of putting chairs on the table to sweep under. When he was sweeping the living room, I discovered a crazy amount of dirt in between couch cushions. Since my kids like to vacuum, I offered it as a job up for grabs. 3 yo and 9 yo shared it, working out who will unwind the cord, turn the vacuum on and vacuum each section. Finally, as they were getting ready to put the couch back together, 9 yo decided to rearrange the furniture in the room. I told him not to block the air vents and gave him carte blanche. He first pushed an armchair into one corner, then tried getting a couch next to it, then decided to get a yardstick to measure the couch's length to see whether it will fit. It wouldn't, so he moved the armchair out. 3 yo was helping by carrying the baskets from the toy shelves. I helped swing the furniture corners. I kept thinking, it will take five minutes to put back the way it was, so why not? He pushed the couch against the door frame, and made an armchair into a throne. 7 yo popped up from his reading and said that he does not like the couch blocking that doorway, so they pushed it further into the room. Next they added a poster and a map to the walls and started playing some kind of ranger training game.
When my husband came home, he took one look at that room, also said that he does not like it and also added that it is easy to rearrange back. I guess we unschooled him, too. He said how he surely did not get to move furniture around as a kid. I thought, they are not painting walls or anything, they are making the room to their liking. They spent a chunk of the day cleaning the house and all of a sudden they have a stake in it. Later, 9 yo asked to mop the kitchen. He used a bit too much water, so it took a really long time to dry, but it was OK at the end.
At the end of the day, I came to a few realizations. Our house is nowhere near as dirty as I imagine it to be. It is even not that messy, otherwise the kids would not be able to get everything off the floor so quickly. Other people do not have a stake in the cleanliness, so if I want it cleaned a certain way that shows caring ( like moving things out of the way instead of cleaning around them), I am better off doing it myself. The kids are quite eager to help if they are given a meaningful task. The kids will "own" their cleaning if they have a stake in what they are doing. Maybe they will even make less mess eventually. Finally, it will probably take a year of weekly cleaning to get everyone into a routine of it. It took over a year for the boys to work out how to unload the dishwasher fairly and not grumble about it. It took the boys a year to fold and put away their laundry. Am I ready to usher the era of new level of responsibility? Will I get fed up with imperfect job and just jump in and end up doing it myself, grumbling that nobody cares about anything around here? I do not know now. I did clean the house myself before I got pregnant with the baby. I consciously decided to outsource cleaning. I just like to know that I can rally my troops if need be and get the job done.