Chore Lists Then and Now: A Story

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Traditional Entry by Seattle Architect Menter Architects LLC

When my grandmother was a child, there was no chore list. There were simply the chores, and everyone was expected to do them. As the youngest of four girls, she often got a pass on the outside work when she was younger. But as the older girls went off into the world and she was left at home, she realized that eventually, fate evens out the score!

When my mother was growing up as a single child, she was — in her own words — a pampered princess. She rarely had to do any chores, and so she never had the need for a chore list. She could while away her days doing whatever suited her fancy.

Then she went off to college. Suddenly, those chores she had neglected were waiting for her, and her two roommates weren’t in the pampering mood. She created a chore list to stay in their good graces and save her own sanity.

As they say, what goes around comes around. My mother didn’t have chores when she was a child, but when she decided to have children of her own, well…she might have been able to handle the brunt of work from one or two kids, but when the family grew to include nine of us (yes, nine!) she had more chores than she could possibly handle. That’s why all of us kids had a chore list from as early as we can remember.

“It started out as a small pegboard …”

It started out as a small pegboard on which we had daily to-do lists pinned. But soon that became too difficult to keep track of, because my mother had to create a new one every morning. With so many kids, who has the time for that?

Then it moved to a big chalkboard, salvaged from an old elementary school and set up in the hallway. There were out names and our chores. This worked out well for a while, but soon we began to figure out how to forge her handwriting. The result was the stealthy moving of chores from one person to the next.

She then tried magnetic chore lists, perpetual chore lists on whiteboards and even writing chores on the mirrors of our bedrooms. Though each of these offered some improvement, chore time was still frustrating for her.

A family meeting

And then one day, she called a family meeting. She put her hands on her hips and gave us that look, the one that meant we were all in trouble if a single one of us didn’t pay attention. “You are old enough to know what needs to be done around here,” she declared. “So I am no longer telling you to do it. You don’t do it, you get grounded. It’s that simple.”

We took this to mean freedom from chores! Until the next weekend, when we were doing piles of laundry, piles of dishes and cleaning our rooms to the tune of hours on end. Oh, and we were all grounded.

We started doing our chores.

Today my three children have a magnetic board in the hallway with their chores spelled out. They can only indulge in “fun” once the chores are done. They haven’t yet learned to switch up the chores on the magnetic board and try to get out of them. But I remember how I once erased a few chores from my blackboard list, or moved around a few magnetic pieces — I’m sure my kids will too.

Then I’ll call my mother and we’ll laugh about it.



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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.