Make A Clean Sweep

Scour the sink, corral the toys, wash the dog. Just don’t call it housework, it should be house play!

Gather the gang for a whole-house scrubbing that lifes spirits as it brightens your living space. “The seasons mirror the cycles of life,” says Dr. Zomber. “So spring cleaning is part of the rhythm of a household. It can be something that everyone anticipates, like a family holiday-a special time of togetherness, loving, laughing, and bonding.”

Because it’s a time of year when new flowers burst from the earth and nesting and nurturing abound, spring brings a sense of renewal and refreshment, making it the right time to take on big tasks. “We’re more ready to be inspired, have a good time, and enjoy each others’ company,” Dr. Zomber explains, “even if it’s doing jobs we’d rather not do.”

Your leadership is the secret to getting all hands on deck. At her house, Dr. Zomber radiates positive energy on cleaning day. “To make everybody feel good about their contribution, we talk about being a team. We say what we’d like to do, not what we have to do. We talk about the skills each of us has and how best to use them.”

Avoid negative terms like “chore”, “disaster zone” or assigning tasks. “If you approach any activity as a chore, the family will decide it is one,” says Dr. Zomber. Instead, focus on the good feelings and positive results ahead. “Let’s give ourselves more space to play” is more exciting than we need to clean the garage.” “Tossing out the old, bringing in the new, and deciding what to give to those less fortunate, that’s a positive thing,” Dr. Zomber reminds. “In fact, it’s positively joyful.”

Spring is a time for play, not stress, so work with an eye on what’s important (sharing time with your kids) and what’s not (organizing every last sock in the drawer). Remind everyone that the goal is to improve the house, not perfect it. And don’t worry if you don’t accomplish every last task on your list. “Deadlines are critical for some things,” Dr. Zomber notes, “but not for this. If there’s pressure to get it done, then there won’t be time for any fun.”

So give yourselves a stopping time and set a timer. When the bell rings, you can all stow your mops, toss the doggie toys under the sofa, and admire your accomplishments. Then grab a ball and glove and head outside to enjoy the fresh air together. It’s spring, after all. And that’s something to celebrate.

fun for all (ages 2 to 5)
Two-year-old Justin helps his mom clean the cupboards-by emptying a box of oatmeal on the floor. Being tidy seems downright silly to very young children when there’s more to learn by taking things apart. “Their role in the cleaning effort is to be comic relief,” laughs Dr. Zomber. By age 4, kids can help by sorting blocks, cars, and other toys into bins. Build confidence by rewarding hard work with stickers they place on a simple chart.

repeat after me (ages 6 to 8)
Heather hasn’t yet learned to whistle while she works, but housecleaning still strikes a happy chord at her house. She and her mother sing, “This is the way we dust the shelves…” as they progress from task to task, laughing and making up words. Children can understand the steps in a task at this age, says Dr. Zomber, and love to perform repetitive functions alongside parents.

practical matters (ages 9 to 12)
Louise, age 12, carefully sorts a box of drill bits on her father’s workbench, asking questions and listening as he explains the purpose each one serves. Working alongside parents lets young people practice some of the things they’ve learned in school, offers an opportunity to ask questions, and provides a chance to be treated like adults-something preteens crave.