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Katy England Katy England
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edge staff writer


Is this worth five minutes?

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Any parent knows what happens to a house after you have kids. It's like a bomb of shiny, brightly colored plastic and plush went off everywhere. But add in a messed up sleep schedule, added responsibility and chores, and suddenly there is a backlog of things that tired parents just don't want to do.

And really, for that first six months to a year, don't worry about it too much. This column isn't for you. You will have dishes that don't get done, and laundry that never gets folded, and that is OK. Have a long-distance hug from a sympathetic stranger.

This column is really for people who have been able to squeeze together something that resembles a full-night's sleep, with kids who take solid naps during the day and adhere (mostly) to something like a bedtime. Because if you don't have that, trying to do anything in this column is stress you don't need. Go have a beer.

When you have kids, your free time can sneak up on you. You never really know when you're going to get it or how long it's going to last. And this was, if you can believe it, actually a problem. What would happen is, after a blitz of changing, feeding, changing again, juggle a baby, upstairs, downstairs Whenever I could get a break I would plop down in front of the computer and plink away my time on funny internet sites with kittens or playing video games. Then someone would cry and I realized I hadn't done anything productive. And my husband was similar in this light.

We realized we needed to do something. But what? It wasn't like we had tons of free time. But we also knew we weren't using what we had productively and it was causing more stress not doing little things around the house. Then I came up with the reward system.

For every chore, you get five minutes of screen time that is, internet or video games (we don't watch a lot of TV, so we don't include that as screen time). Load the dishwasher: five minutes; do a load of laundry: five minutes; feed the kids you get the idea.

This project did two things: It made us evaluate how much time we were spending online or playing games, and it made us front load chores to get there. Want to play Skyrim for two hours? No problem the house is clean. This actually made us vie for chores.

Me: You emptied all the wastebaskets in the house? Bastard!

Husband: 20 minutes! In your face. Now I'm making the bed!

Me: Screw you, I'm washing the toilets! I'll always have the toilets!

And the longer we maintained the lists, the more we looked for projects to bump up our time. I'm typing this on a clean dining room table, flush from organizing the coffee table and sweeping up after the kids ate.

Ultimately, the lists added extra value to our free time. Every time I sit down, I have to think: Do I want to waste 10 minutes on Facebook, or should I save it for a nice, long session of 'Fallout: New Vegas?' They also removed the resentment from doing chores, so 'I emptied the dishwasher last time' turned into 'Did he already empty the dishwasher? No? Score! Five minutes for Team Katy.'

The cleaner the house is, the easier it is to do things. That way, the next time the kids go down for a nap, you can write that column (five minutes), fold laundry (five minutes), sweep (five minutes per room). Really, anything that makes the house nicer counts. It's about rewarding your work, not docking your pay. The rule of thumb is, if you ask yourself: Do I get five minutes for this? The answer is always yes.


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