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How to get everybody into the act

By Marilyn Gardner / January 23, 1984



If housecleaning is a solo performance - yours - and you'd like to turn it into a duet, a trio, or even a quartet, sighing and complaining probably won't change the workload. A logical, organized plan will. Consider the following steps:

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* Explain to family members that you're an equal opportunity employer, and that you refuse to discriminate on the basis of their age or sex.

* Discuss your household situation honestly and calmly - at least, fairly calmly. Determine what needs to be done daily, weekly, monthly. Are there areas in the house that require special attention? Certain times of the day or week when tasks need to be done more efficiently?

* If thorough cleaning is impossible each week, set priorities and decide what must be done. Everyone has a different dirt threshold - a point beyond which dirt or disorder becomes intolerable.

* Decide how work can be divided. Is there a logical person to do certain tasks, based on preference, ability, or time?

* After agreeing on this division, make lists of each person's particular duties. This clarifies what needs to be done, serves as a reminder to do it, and eliminates ''I forgot'' as an excuse. (There's also satisfaction in crossing completed items off a list.) Eventually, of course, the goal is to get family members to take initiative themselves rather than merely responding to your requests.

* Be sure family members know how to do various tasks, and be willing to teach. Just because you can polish furniture or wax floors with your eyes closed , don't assume novices share your skills - yet.

* Consider setting aside a specific time - an hour on Saturday morning, perhaps - when everyone pitches in. A ''we're all in this together'' approach can encourage cooperation.

* Be flexible and willing to experiment. If one method of sharing chores doesn't work, try another.

* Don't criticize if tasks aren't done exactly to your standards. Keep comments constructive and instructive. Cooperation, rather than perfection, is your first goal.

* Remember that humor helps. Nagging is certainly counterproductive.

* Be patient and gently persistent. Long-established roles and patterns may take time to change, but a more egalitarian approach is possible. The results will be better for everyone. That's your position, and stick to it.