Cleaning House, a Must-Read for Parents

by Jennifer Donovan

As a book reviewer, I read a lot of books. A lot of books — like 10 a month. There are a handful of books that I read each year that I love so much that I buy them for friends and family and urge all with whom I come in contact to read. Cleaning House: A Mom’s Twelve-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma is one of those books for 2012.

I have two kids: a daughter who is starting high school in the fall and an 8-year-old son. They probably don’t do as many chores as some kids, but they probably do more than others. They are each responsible for cleaning their own sink area in their bathrooms, but since I’m not a super-neat freak, I don’t enforce it well. They unload the dishwasher. They get the mail. They pick up after themselves when I ask them to. But this summer I had decided that I wanted them to learn to do more. My daughter likes to cook, and when she was 10 or 11, she prepared several meals for our family. But instead of sticking with it, I let her enthusiasm die down. I told my kids that this summer, they’d be responsible for one dinner a week. Because the first few weeks of this summer were our busy ones, I haven’t started yet, but it’s coming.

My reason for requiring more from them was similar to Wyma’s, as you can tell from her subtitle about ridding her home of entitlement. Kids and teens today — at least mine — are entitled. “Why do I have to unload the dishwasher?” they’ll whine. “I just did it yesterday.”

Well, yes, dear child, I know you just did the one chore I require you to do on a regular basis yesterday, but I have prepared several meals for you since then, and you have had snacks and drinks, and all those dishes had to be washed and now have to be put away.

I value independence. I want my kids to understand the value of work, and yes, I’d like a little more help with a little less whining.

Kay Wills Wyma focused on one area each month, adding several to-do’s to her children’s lives, including meal preparation, outdoor chores, errands (see my post at my personal blog Snapshot where I tried to get my teen daughter to return a movie at Redbox — not very successfully), laundry and more. Her kids are 14, 12, 10, and 8 and took to the project with varying degrees of protest, but with equal — surprising — levels of success. She also has a 3-year-old who was too young to work, but I’m assuming he’ll be getting started within the next 3 or 4 years.

I loved this book for so many reasons, and I beg you to go out and find a copy and read it. Why did I love this book so much? Let me count the ways:

  • It is very well-written. Wyma’s humor, personal tone (yet not too annoyingly personal) and vivid descriptions make it an easy read.
  • It is practical, helpful and encouraging. Wyma did the dirty work. She tried it out with her kids, and since it was a year-long project, she was able to see long-term benefits. This will inspire me when it seems easier to go back to the status quo.
  • She’s likable. Here’s the truth about memoirs and parenting books (this one fits squarely into both categories): in order to work, authors have to share a lot about themselves. In the case of parenting memoirs in particular, the bragging or mean-spirited jabs at the kids often ends up irritating me (too much of either is annoying!). Wyma strikes that delicate balance where she can honestly relay the self-centered, eye-rolling nature of her teen son and the sweet helpful heart of her tween daughter in a way that helped me relate it to my own kids’ strengths and weakness. Not TMI, not overblown brags — just a real year in the life of a real family.

With fewer activities and homework demands, summer is a perfect time to have your kids start Cleaning House.

We have one copy up for grabs (U.S. shipping addresses only). Please follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter below to enter. New to Rafflecopter? Watch this 45-second video on how to enter! We’ll announce the winner in our book review and giveaway column on 7/9.

The winner of  last week’s book post — Glamorous Illusions is #33 Betty.

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Email Author    |    Website About Jennifer Donovan

Jennifer Donovan has been a part of the 5 Minutes for Mom team since 2007. She writes product reviews, covers events, and manages the 5 Minutes for Books weekly column and website. She lives in Houston and blogs at Snapshot about life with her family.

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{ 59 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Noreen June 25, 2012 at 12:34 am

My daughters first chore was to put away her clean clothes


2 Heidi June 25, 2012 at 1:04 am

Cleaning up toys.


3 jenk June 25, 2012 at 9:04 am

Cleaning up their toys in the family room.


4 Kara June 25, 2012 at 9:50 am

My kids first learn to pick up their toys. They also love helping me unload the dishwasher.


5 Beth June 25, 2012 at 9:59 am

First chore the boys had to do was pick up their toys. This summer they’ve started doing their own laundry. LOVE IT!!!


6 Helen June 25, 2012 at 10:26 am

My little one folds napkins when I wash the kitchen laundry.


7 Beth June 25, 2012 at 10:40 am

I think the first chore was picking up toys. But the first chores that were “assigned” on a regular basis were dusting with Swiffer dusters and using cleaning wipes to wipe the sink and toilet. Given the right tools, even little hands can do these chores!


8 Scarlett June 25, 2012 at 11:06 am

I taught them from the time they were very small to “help” pick up their toys! So glad I started when they were young. They don’t do it automatically, but they know exactly what to do now that that they’re older. :)


9 Jennifer Thomas June 25, 2012 at 11:08 am

My 2yo routinely helps push the clothes into the dryer after I get them out of the washer. He also “helps” unload the dishwasher and helps set the table. My older boys do a lot more. But they all have chores!


10 Angela A June 25, 2012 at 11:17 am

#1 in my opinion is to teach them about love!


11 Jules June 25, 2012 at 11:41 am

My son’s first chore was to carry his dishes to the sink after eating


12 Brittany June 25, 2012 at 12:17 pm

My children were taught to sweep and take dishes off the table first.


13 Don June 25, 2012 at 12:49 pm

All children should learn to pick up their toys.


14 Joyness Sparkles June 25, 2012 at 12:50 pm

One of the first chores my children learned to do after picking up their toys was making their bed…around age 3. It is never too early to start.


15 Jennifer Donovan June 25, 2012 at 7:03 pm

That’s awesome!


16 Fabs June 25, 2012 at 1:29 pm

I’m sure I had my kids pick up their toys when they were little. Now they are each responsible for cleaning a bathroom, unloading the dishwasher, dusting, and sweeping. I still have to remind them everyday to put their shoes and coats away, that is frustrating!


17 Jennifer Donovan June 25, 2012 at 7:02 pm

It is frustrating to remind. That’s where I get lazy and begin to just let it go.


18 thecoolmom June 25, 2012 at 1:39 pm

The first chore is generally picking up and/or dusting. I am also militant about teaching my children to do laundry while still in elementary school. Tragically, I had older kids leave for college and the military and have to teach their compatriots how to do laundry because they had never done it themselves. Good thing mine knew because the other kids’ parents sure didn’t teach them. This sounds like a great book. I have also seen that same unwillingness to try something new, even when they are adults or close to it.


19 Jennifer Donovan June 25, 2012 at 7:02 pm

Laundry is definitely on my list!! My daughter’s entering high school, and I know by her age, my sister and I could do our own.

I took a “baby step” last week and told her and my 8-year-old son to each sort their laundry so that I could start some loads. They complained (a LOT), but did it — and did it correctly.


20 June June 25, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Teaching your young ones to help and chip in is a good thing for them to learn starting at an early age.


21 Ticia June 25, 2012 at 8:41 pm

unload the dishwasher. I’m still struggling with the picking up, but I struggle with it too.


22 Leslie Galloway June 25, 2012 at 11:16 pm

matching up socks. hehe

Facebook Name: Leslie Galloway (


23 Cristen C. June 25, 2012 at 11:32 pm

My daughter is only 11 months old but she helps me fold, or unfold (haha) the laundry.


24 angie June 26, 2012 at 12:10 am

pick up toys


25 Janina June 26, 2012 at 12:23 am

My son first learned to pick up his toys and clear his plate aftern dinner.


26 Garrett June 26, 2012 at 10:14 am

When I was younger, we had chores that we had to do.


27 Tamora Russell June 26, 2012 at 11:29 am

This is perfect timing for me! I’ve been trying to come up with a plan for this very thing this summer.


28 Tamora Russell June 26, 2012 at 11:29 am

The first chore I teach my children was probably putting toys away.


29 Dawn June 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Really I can’t remember. But I think it was picking up toys. I have a thing for made beds. Now she refuses. Um, epic fail for this mom- for pushing that too soon? Would love a month goal …we have battles with chores.


30 Shonya June 26, 2012 at 6:30 pm

The first few things my children learn to do are picking up toys, setting silverware and napkins on the table for meals, and folding washcloths.


31 Annette June 26, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Picking up toys, clearing dishes, & making beds!


32 Bin June 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm

Perfect! We started doing chore with our 7-year old this past year and it’s been a great success. Would love this to expand our repertoire!


33 paige June 26, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Okay, helping unload the dryer… He is two but boy is he fast at getting the clothes out and in the basket.


34 Carey June 27, 2012 at 12:58 am

Picking up their own toys…


35 Shelagh P June 27, 2012 at 9:33 am

Probably the first chore I taught my children to do is to put their toys away and at 6 and 10, they still have not mastered it! LOL! This summer I am making it a point to have them empty the dishwasher and do laundry (switch loads from washer to dryer and empty dryer) at a minimum.


36 Missional Mama June 27, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Looks like an interesting read. I think it would be good inspiration too!


37 Alison S. June 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm

For some odd reason, my 3 year old started with helping put on a load of laundry. He actually gets mad if I do laundry without him. Fine with me! :)


38 Van June 27, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Helping fold the laundry and put them in a basket.


39 Becky June 27, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Thank you for this great opportunity! This sounds like a fabulous book. The first chore we taught our kids was clearing the dining room table.


40 Jenn June 27, 2012 at 3:29 pm

making their beds


41 JoannaTopazT June 27, 2012 at 4:48 pm

My daughter has to help sort laundry; I’m trying to work up to folding but am getting pushback.


42 Jessica T June 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm

helping unload the dishwasher!


43 Carole M June 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm

either clearing the table or putting laundry away


44 michelle June 27, 2012 at 8:26 pm

the girls learned how to load and unload the dishwasher
our little boy learned to empty all the small trash cans into the larger one (he was 2) and thought he was cool


45 Melissa Mc June 27, 2012 at 10:41 pm

Making their bed…I’ve given up on toys! :)


46 Lori D. June 28, 2012 at 10:15 am

They are to keep their own rooms cleaned.


47 riTa June 28, 2012 at 11:37 am

Difficult question because it has been soooooooooo long. I’m in the grandparenting phase now, and that’s who i’d love this book for.
Anyway, i asked my 41 year-old son what he remembers. He thought it was washing dishes, then added: “But I didn’t actually learn it till i was in my twenties.” Ha, he is now a trained chef who washes dishes a lot at home. His specialty and full time business is ice carving.


48 Staci A June 29, 2012 at 10:49 am

Picking up toys and rinsing dishes.


49 Joni June 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm

I think the first chore my now 4-year-old son had to do was picking up his toys every night before bed. Right now we’re working on taking his dishes to the kitchen after he eats. I sure would love to read this book and get off to a good start with him!


50 Angela E. June 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Picking up any toys that they take out.


51 Krista June 30, 2012 at 1:54 am

My oldest’s job is to take out the kitchen garbage to our compost. We pay him a quarter a week for that. Otherwise they have to clear their places, pick up their toys, and when I remember he puts away the silverware out of the dishwasher for me.


52 Barb June 30, 2012 at 9:49 am

Hmm… first chore? Putting their own dirty laundry in their laundry baskets, I guess. My kids tend to do the things I ask of them without a lot of complaining, but they rarely (if ever) do any chores on their own without being requested. I need to change that.


53 Mama Zen July 1, 2012 at 11:32 am

Putting dirty clothes in the laundry basket!


54 Jeff July 2, 2012 at 10:28 am

Our little guy helps to take out the trash every week.


55 Carolyn July 2, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Putting dishes in the sink – unbreakable ones!


56 Chuck July 3, 2012 at 11:56 am

They help with putting clean clothes away in their rooms.


57 Missy L July 6, 2012 at 7:06 pm

The first chore for all of my kids was picking up their toys


58 Chris July 8, 2012 at 10:22 am

all the kids learned to pick up their toys and put them away. Bed-making came once they were into toddler beds.


59 Jen July 8, 2012 at 11:45 am

help pick up their toys


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