My housemate and I were discussing chores. I hate chore rotas. I never stick to them. They make me feel guilty and I can’t keep track of if I’m doing enough work. This post is about a better way: the Timeless Choreboard. Make one yourself:

  1. Get a magnetic whiteboard like the front of your fridge.
  2. Write out all chores on pieces of card.
  3. Put the pieces of card in columns underneath people’s names or initials with fridge magnets. It looks like this:

A table with three columns headed 'Alice', 'Bob' and 'Cara, and pieces of card representing chores in those columns.

That’s it. You’re done. Each weekend, or whenever you do chores, take a card from the top of your column, your queue, do the chore, and then move it to the bottom of the next person’s column, their queue. No rota. The work cycles around. Guaranteed fairness.

My housemate and I work completely different hours and have completely different schedules. Now she can maybe do two chores when she’s off shift (which is downtime for her) and I can do two chores when I’m on shift (which is “downtime but can’t leave the house” time for me). Neither of us has to worry or even know about how the other is scheduling their time.

For the rest of this post I’ll call the column underneath a name a ‘queue’, like a queue of work for that person to do.

Personal reminders

I never remember when I last washed my towels. Now I don’t have to! I’ve added a note to a small chore (“Dust living room and mirrors.”) that says “Cara: wash towels.”. My housemates can ignore it and I’ll wash my towels each time it comes around the choreboard to me.

Trades

Let’s say Alice hates cleaning the toilet and Bob hates vacuuming. Cara doesn’t mind either of them. Alice and Bob decide to trade these chores permanently. They then

  • Take the card that says “Vacuum” and add a note saying “Alice, Alice, Cara”.
    • When Alice vacuums she puts the chore card back at the bottom of her own queue, but upside down. When she then does it again, she knows to move it straight into Cara’s queue.
    • Cara knows to move the card into Alice’s queue when she next vacuums.
  • Take the card that says “Clean the toilet” and add a note saying “Bob, Bob, Cara”.
    • When Bob cleans the toilet he puts the chore card back at the bottom of his own queue, but upside down. When he then does it again, he knows to move it straight into Cara’s queue.
    • Cara knows to move the card into Bob’s queue when she next cleans the toilet.

Two pieces of card each with one chore.  The first has a note 'Alice, Alice, Cara' in the top left.  The second has a note 'Bob, Bob, Cara' in the top left.

Note that Cara still does each of these chores 1/3 of the time. She wasn’t affected by Alice and Bob’s trade. Also, I drew a little up arrow below the first ‘Bob’ and ‘Alice’ on each card to show the card should be the right way up the first time they do these chores, and a little down arrow below the second time their name appears. On the left hand card in the photo you can see that Bob (+ up arrow) has reminded himself to buy a new toothbrush every so often.

(Check: count how many times everyone’s name appears on all of the cards. Cards without names count once for everyone and can be ignored. If everyone’s name appears the same number of times, the trades are fair.)

Weekly and monthly chores

Let’s split up

  • chores to be done weekly, and
  • chores to be done monthly.

Maybe you don’t need to do this! If you do, take your table and split each person’s queue into two. Now your choreboard looks like this:

A table headed 'Alice', 'Bob' and 'Cara, with two rows.  The top row is marked 'BIG' and the bottom row is marked 'SMALL'.  Both rows contain cards with chores on.

When you do a big chore at the start of each month you can move it to the next person’s ‘big chore’ queue. When you do a small chore at the start of each week you can move it to the next person’s ‘small chore’ queue.

Conclusion

The Timeless Choreboard is:

  • More flexible than a rota: I can do as many chores in one go as I like.
  • More robust than a rota: if I go travelling my chores don’t skip me.
  • More visible than a rota: if I slack off then everyone knows it.
  • Simpler than a rota: permanent trades are easy to manage.
  • Low tech: nothing to crash or autogenerate new entries in a schedule.

Why the heck was I ever doing a rota before?

About the author

Cara Donnelly writes fiction. You should sign up for her fiction updates using the mailing list below.