The number one sanity saver I have discovered, over my years of trial and error in attempting to raise my crew, is 15 Minutes in the Kitchen.
Raising lots of hungry kids and feeding them three meals a day (and snacks in between), along with all the necessary meal preparations, adds up to one incessantly dirty kitchen. Well, maybe not incessantly dirty, because there are those brief interludes in between the kitchen being cleaned up and somebody being in need of more food. Mama’s kitchen isn’t supposed to be a full-time restaurant, but it does feel that way at times. I’ve tried various tactics over the years in trying to keep up with the endless kitchen duties. I’ve tried assigning kitchen clean-up duty to various family members, having each child take a specific night of the week, or a specific meal each day (often too overwhelming for the younger ones; gets more complicated as they grow and have work schedules and other commitments), or having them team up to clean up after a meal. (It’s amazing how two junior age boys can be “cleaning up” the kitchen for lengthy periods of time with no visible progress. The situation can actually get worse as they
goof off clean up. Brings to mind Mark Twain’s quote: “One boy is a boy, two boys are half a boy, and three boys are no boy at all.” Something like that, if I remember correctly. I couldn’t find that quote on google, so I’m relying on word of mouth for that one.)The system that has actually worked well for us over the years is what we call 15 Minutes in the Kitchen. It’s not rocket science and it doesn’t involve any chore charts or schedules.
Here’s how it works: everyone who was there to eat the meal contributes to helping clean up. We set the timer for 15 minutes and then I take on the role of friendly commander, usually standing at the sink, washing pots and pans, and giving instructions as needed. When all hands contribute for 15 minutes, a remarkable amount of work can get done. Trash taken out, table cleaned off and wiped down, counters cleared, food put away, dishwasher emptied and re-loaded, pots and pans washed, floors swept, maybe even a candle lit on the freshly cleaned table or stovetop! (It’s ok if you don’t have a dishwasher. We didn’t have one at our old house and this system still worked just fine for us there.)
It may not ALL get done, but usually the kitchen is quite tolerable after this 15 minute segment of team effort. If anyone slacks or slinks away into the shadows they are promptly retrieved by the friendly commander, with a warning of more work time being added. (Eyes in the back of your head are necessary for this, if you take up a dish-washing post like I normally do.) Children will not automatically see what needs to be done. So you are there to urge them onward and forward, and tell them what to do next. (“Straighten up the chairs, please. Find the broom. Put a trash bag in the can. Dump this grease outside.”) Lively ongoing conversations can distract from the task at hand. So you are there to give an eyeball which says, “Talking is fine BUT get the job done, please!” You get the picture.
If there are, say, four capable people working together for 15 minutes, that adds up to what would have been an HOUR of work for one person alone. Nobody enjoys having to clean up, but we can tolerate anything for 15 minutes, right? And everyone will hopefully feel glad they aren’t doing the job alone. Sometimes we put on happy loud-ish music and I attempt to be heard over the din. Such great family memories! 😉
And for those children who aren’t capable quite yet, this is a prime training opportunity. They can be given small jobs and trained how to do bigger jobs, all during this 15 minute segment after each meal. The first thing they will have to learn is that slinking off into the shadows is not allowed.One good thing about having this chore time immediately following a meal is that everyone can see the direct correlation between working and eating. If the complaint is raised, “WHY do we have to clean up?” a great answer is, “Did you eat?” (Scriptural principle here too– II Thess. 3:10). It’s amazing how many practical truths for life can be learned just from living family life together and figuring out how to make it all work.
Even if you mainly have little ones right now, this system can still work for you. If you have a child old enough to play with the baby for 15 minutes while you work, that’s a step forward. If you have an additional child old enough to help you for the 15 minute clean up, you are in good shape. You will likely be surprised at how much will get done! A bonus would be if your husband is home and able to contribute to the process after the evening meal.
If your children are still super tiny and can’t help at all yet, then just remember that they will grow and be able to help sooner than you think!We have gone through quite a few years where our family has utilized this system after every single meal. Currently it’s happening for about two meals per day.
What type of system does your family use? I’d love to hear about what works for you! ♥