Chores

Install Chores ↗

A clean and organized house is a shared resource. We all consume that resource as a part of our day-to-day, and we all play a part in ensuring that resource is renewed. We all make messes, and we all help clean them up.

Chores is an organizational tool, used to help structure individual contributions to the preservation of house-as-a-resource. Chores is designed with two goals in mind: first, to ensure an even distribution of domestic labor; second, to give people as much freedom and flexibility as possible in how they meet their obligations.

Warning

It is tempting to shy away from structure, and rely on spontaneous generosity. But spontaneous generosity never lasts, and a few people, usually women, end up doing most of the work.

Alternatives, like physical chore wheels or schedules, have their own drawbacks. Cameras and cleaners have their place, but are expensive and can create a weird vibe.

The core concept of Chores is, unsurprisingly, chores. Every house creates a list of chores that they need done. The key idea is that chores aren’t done on a schedule, but rather “whenever necessary”, as determined by the residents. Chores are worth points, and the amount of points a chore is worth goes up the longer the chore goes undone.

Everyone in the house needs to earn a certain number of points, about 100 per month. Over the course of the month, all the chores (collectively) gain about 100 points per person. Everyone does the chores they think are worth their time, and the result is a continuous process of domestic renewal.

Note

Here is the key dynamic: everyone would rather do a chore for more points, but if they wait too long, they’ll get scooped. So everyone independently make choices about what to do, and when, and how, based on the ever-changing situation on the ground.

Doing chores bit-by-bit over several weeks? Have fun.
Waiting until the last day? Good luck.
Doing 2 hard chores for 50 points a pop? Why not.
Doing 20 easy chores for 5 points each? Go nuts.

It all works. There is no right or wrong way to participate.

Quickstart

  1. Set an app events channel

  2. Make a list of 3-5 starter chores/descriptions

  3. Enter the chores using Edit Chores List, and upvote them in the app channel

  4. Wait 1-3 days for the chores to accumulate points

  5. Encourage people to check current chore values and to Claim a Chore which is well-valued

  6. Encourage people to Set Priorities if they feel that a chore is being over/under valued

Core Concepts

Chores

The core concept of Chores is, unsurprisingly, chores. A chore is any pre-defined task which people usually won’t do on their own. An ideal chore takes at between 5-30 minutes to do, is largely self-contained, and can be done more-or-less at any time.

Points

Everyone owes 100 points per month. When someone does a chore, they earn points. The amount of points a chore is worth is not fixed, but grows over time. When someone claims a chore, the chore’s value goes back to zero.

Note

A key idea is that people can’t “vote” to give points. Rather, points accumulate slowly and automatically over time. This keeps points roughly correlated to how messy something is, without having meetings about it.

Priorities

Chores can be assigned different priorities, since not all chores are created equal. The higher a chore’s priority, the faster it will gain points over time. Priorities are zero-sum: for something to gain priority, something else must lose priority. High-priority chores are usually more intense (bathrooms), or need to be done more often (dishes), or both. Low-priority chores are usually simpler and less critical (sweeping, tidying up common space).

Breaks

If you go out of town, you can take a break from chores. Taking a break means you’ll owe less points that month.

Gifts

If someone does something helpful that isn’t a “chore”, but you still want to recognize it, you can gift them some of the points you’ve earned. Gifting points also makes it possible to “split” chores.

Basic Functionality

Chores app home

The Chores home page is the chores dashboard. On the home page, folks can see their current and owed points for the month, as well as how many people are around that day (i.e. not exempt and not on break). The app home is also the entryway into the basic functionality, described below:

Claim a chore

When someone does a chore, they “claim” the points that chore is worth at that moment. The claim is then posted publicly, and others can verify that the claim was made honestly. A minimum of two upvotes are needed for the large claims (10+ points), equivalent to having someone “sign off” on the chore. It is not expected that the entire house will verify every chore. Rather, the person claiming the chore should ensure that at least one other person has verified their work.

After a chore is claimed, that chore’s value returns to 0, and begins accumulating points again.

In the unlikely scenario that someone lies about doing a chore (or does an extremely poor job), the rest of the residents may downvote the claim. A failed claim returns the points to the chore, allowing someone else to do the job properly.

Take a break

The point of Chores is to help folks clean up their own messes, with more points (roughly) meaning more mess. When someone is out of town, they aren’t making a mess, and so they shouldn’t owe as many points. Anyone who goes out of town for at least 3 days can take a break, and they’ll owe less points for that month (also, points will accumulate more slowly on the days that they’re gone).

Gift your points

Not every useful piece of work around the house can be expressed as a recurring chore. Things happen randomly, and spontaneously, and it’s valuable to be able to recognize those things. As mentioned above, the total amount of points per month is fixed, but there’s no reason folks can’t give away points that they themselves have earned.

After someone has claimed a chore and gotten points, they can gift those points to someone else in recognition of a useful contribution that they’ve made. It’s their choice who to gift and why and how much, since they’re the one who earned those points in the first place.

Edit chores list

Before anyone can claim a chore, the chore needs to be defined. Chores can be added, edited, or deleted.

Chore edits start as proposals and go to the house for a vote. If the vote passes, the chore is created and begins accumulating points.

Warning

When defining chores, it is easy to either go too micro (e.g. “Wipe off the dinner table”) or too macro (e.g. “Deep clean the whole kitchen”). If too micro, people will resent having to officially “claim” the chore. If too macro, the chore will never get done, despite being worth a lot of points.

Don’t be afraid to experiment and add, remove, or edit chores in the first few weeks.

Note

Here is an example of a well-defined chore:

Dishes
  • Put away all clean dishes from the drying rack or washing machine

  • Put any dirty dishes in the washing machine

  • Clean any large pots or pans by hand and put in the drying rack

  • Run the washing machine if full

Set priorities

The total amount of points distributed per month is fixed, at 100 points per resident. Those points are distributed continuously over the course of the month. In a 10-person house and a 30-day month, that works out to about 33 points per day in total. That number can’t be changed, as it ensures that chores are done over the entire course of the month. (Imagine everyone getting to 100 points during the first week – the house would be a mess for the rest of the month!). However, those 33 points are divided among the chores in different ways, depending on that chore’s “priority”.

A high-priority chore gets points faster than a low-priority chore, ostensibly because it needs to be done more often. For example, the kitchen might need to be cleaned daily, while the backyard may need to be cleaned only once a week. So, the kitchen-related chores should be higher-priority than the yard chores, getting perhaps 5 points per day instead of 2. The only rule is that for one chore to gain priority, another one has to lose it – since the total amount of points is fixed, priorities are fundamentally relative.

Chore priorities are determined collectively, but independently, using a novel valuing system. Anyone in the house can, within limits, unilaterally increase the priority of one chore and decrease the priority of another. The idea is that priorities don’t need to be set in advance at a meeting, but rather are “discovered” organically as people notice chores being over- or under-valued.

Chore priorities are also interrelated: if you increase a chores priority over many chores, the effect will be bigger than if you increase a chore’s priority over only one other chore. If you prioritize a chore over an already high-priority chore, the effect will be bigger than if you prioritize the chore over a low-priority chore. This is a bit analogous to how sports rankings work – beating a top-ranked team has a bigger impact than beating a low-ranked team.

Note

There’s more happening under the hood, but it’s not important for your day-to-day. If you want to get into the nuts and bolts, go here.

Slash Commands

In addition to the home page, Chores comes with a number of “slash commands” which provide some important management functions. Most people will not need to know about these commands to use Chores.

Note

Commands marked with an asterisk (*) are admin-only

/chores-channel *

The /chores-channel command is used by workspace administrators to set the events channel for Chores, which is where app activity is posted and where housemates go to upvote chore claims and proposals. This command takes no arguments, and will set the events channel to the channel in which the command is invoked.

Warning

A channel must be set for the app to work.

/chores-exempt *

The /chores-exempt command is used to mark certain users as “exempt” from chores, i.e. to indicate that someone in the workspace is not actively present in the house and should not be considered for the purposes of issuing points and voting. In the past this has been used to exempt someone who took a four-month leave of absence, and to exempt an admin account belonging to someone not living in the house.

/chores-sync

The /chores-sync command will update the app with the current active users in the workspace, adding any new users and removing any who have been deactivated. Keeping the Chores app synchronized with the workspace is important, as the number of active users determines the total amounts of points issued as well as the minimum number of upvotes needed for proposals to pass.

Warning

Make sure to run /chores-sync whenever someone joins or leaves the workspace.

Case Studies

Dish Norms

A house finds that the Wash Dishes chore is under-valued relative to the frequency with which it needs to be done, so they increase the priority of Wash Dishes, which routes more points to the chore. This helps, but people also become more comfortable leaving dishes in the sink, thinking someone else will clean them up. At a house circle, the house discusses a norm of “mostly” cleaning dishes – not a hard rule, but an expectation that if time and space allows, people should clean dishes as they go. As a result, there are fewer dishes in the sink, and the dishes that do collect are cleaned quickly by residents who feel fairly compensated. A mix of an increase in points, plus a cultural norm, creates an optimal result.

Handling Weekly Trash

A house adds a Curb Trash chore to take the trash to the curb on Monday nights. The trash goes out, but as the chore can only be done once a week, it ends up consistently over-valued, creating conflict as residents compete for the opportunity. The house re-defines the chore as Trash Takeout, which consists of either taking the trash to the curb, or emptying the kitchen & bathroom trash bins. Now the chore can be done at any time, leading to a better flow of trash throughout the week, while avoiding an over-valuing.

Dealing With Special Situations

The basement floods during a heavy rain. Three housemates work together to help dredge the basement of water, and want recognition for their efforts. There is a chore, Backyard Tidy, which has accumulated 60 points, but in the opinion of the house, could easily be skipped. The three housemates claim Backyard Tidy and split the points amongst themselves. A temporary suspension of regular rules allows a unique circumstance to be handled smoothly.

Splitting Up Complex Chores

The house finds that a current chore, Kitchen (heavy) is prohibitively difficult. As such, it goes undone for long stretches of time, even when worth many points. The house moves to split the chore in two: redefining the initial chore as Kitchen Floor Clean, which includes a sweep and mop of the floor, and Oven & Fridge Clean, which includes a disposal of old food and a cleaning of the oven and fridge interior. The two chores are now valued and completed on their own terms, at different intervals, and overall more frequently than the larger initial chore.