Chore Time Strategy: Zone Defense or Man-To-Man?

Girl washing windows

In the classic film “Hoosiers”, one of the many basketball-obsessed townspeople informs the new coach that there is only ONE way to win and only ONE way their team would play…and that was zone defense. The new coach quickly lets the excited group know he was the one making that decision. He knew that in reality, there is a time and a place for man-on-man defense and there is a time and a place for zone defense. Which one to use depended on the abilities of his team and who they were playing against.

When setting up your family’s chore list on Moneypants or any other chore program, you have to make the same sort of decision about how you want your team to take on the housework. Do you want “zone defense” where each individual is in charge of protecting and caring for a specific area of the house? Or do you want to adopt “man-on-man defense” where one team member sticks to just one specific duty that takes them throughout the entire house (the “court”)? Or are you going to use a combination?

Your decision is going to be based on your living conditions and the ages and abilities of your family members, as well as your personal preferences. Before you decide on a chore time strategy for your family, let’s consider the benefits and drawbacks of each approach.

Chore Time: Man-To-Man Defense

One specific chore
Man-To-Man defense is when one person has one specific job.

If you have one person assigned to sweeping and vacuuming the entire house, there are some distinct benefits:

  • That person will become professional at sweeping and vacuuming, and they learn their new duty quickly and well.
  • There is no problem with fighting over tools like brooms and vacuums. You only need one broom and one vacuum and there is no interference with someone else needing to use the tools.
  • Each chore can actually get done faster and more efficiently. There is no stopping and looking for different tools or figuring out what part of the job is next.

However, the drawbacks of this “man-on-man” approach are:

  • Chores are spread out through the house. If you have a 1300 square foot house, it’s no big deal. However, if you have a 5,000 square foot house, it becomes very difficult for the job inspector to get inspections done efficiently. To check one person’s job of vacuuming, the inspector will have to walk through every single room of the house and—heaven forbid—they need a second inspection. The inspector will have to walk through the entire house all over again. Why does it matter? You want to make inspections as easy as possible because without the accountability of thorough inspections, job quality quickly deteriorates.
  • Members of the family don’t seem to take as much ownership of an area. If someone throws their stuff on the ground, an alarm doesn’t go off: “Hey, you can’t leave that in my job area! You need to pick that up.” The area is multiple people’s job area, so that protectiveness simply is not going to be there.
  • You are more likely to run into the problem of one person’s chore interfering with another person’s chore. For example, if the person in charge of clearing and wiping counters and tables doesn’t do their job quickly, it can slow down the person doing the dishes. If the person in charge of putting away misplaced items doesn’t do their job quickly, it can interfere with the person in charge of sweeping and vacuuming. These issues can all be dealt with, but they may affect which strategy you choose for your family.

Chore Time: Zone Defense

A chore area
There are lots of possible ideas for "zone" defense.

The benefits of zone defense are as follows:

  • It is super easy to inspect someone’s chore if it is consolidated into just one room or area.
  • Each person’s assigned zone is their stewardship and area of responsibility. They take ownership and pride in it. In fact, just the other night, I had slept on my living room couch (not because I had a fight with my husband, LOL!), and I was awakened by my 3-year-old “Lumpy” asking me to please move my blankets out of his job area. What 3-year-old says such things?!? I could not fall back to sleep after that because Lumpy began vacuuming the rug. Even though it wasn’t job time, he knew he was in charge of that area, and he didn’t like seeing it messy.
  • If you are leaving somewhere and your kids want to go, you can easily pop your head into their zone and see if it is straightened up. If not, you can say, “Okay, I will take you with me, but first I want you to quickly straighten up your zone!” You can do that quickly and easily before any other treat or special activity.
  • I have noticed that younger children seem to do better with their job if their chore is consolidated to a smaller area. When the chore is spread over a large area, even if it doesn’t actually take more time to clean, the little children feel overwhelmed and perceive it as being a much larger job. So even if you prefer man-on-man defense for your other children, you might have better luck with zone defense with the little ones.
Map the chore areas in your home
Quick tip: draw a simple map of the house and then divide it up into zones.

Zone Defense has some notable drawbacks as well.

  • You will probably need to invest in more brooms, vacuum, spray bottles, and other cleaning supplies and you will need a place to store these. If you have a small home without much storage this might be problematic. However, if you lack cleaning supplies this issue will become a bottleneck during the 30-minute chore time, and it will lead to increased stress and possibly fights.
  • In my experience, the house does not get cleaned as fast during chore time because zone defense simply is not quite as efficient. The person cleaning has to switch gears between multiple tasks.
  • It will take a little extra time and effort teaching your kids how to do their jobs when they first start. For example, in order for my 3-year-old Lumpy to clean the living room, he had to learn where to sort and put away misplaced items, how to put pillows on the coach, how to sweep and use a dustpan, how to vacuum, and how to wipe windows and where to put garbage. If he was in charge of just vacuuming the house, I would only have to teach him vacuuming skills. So, using a zone defense is a little bit harder to implement at first if you have younger children. Typically, the inspector helps with that process and explains what is expected and how to do it.

Zone defense may not be desirable if your house is small and space is limited, if efficiency in cleaning time is a priority, or if you personally don’t have the patience to teach more complicated jobs to young children.

Family Discussion

Chore area versus specific chore
Zone Defense describes an area, whereas Man-To-Man describes a specific job.

Of course, there are more chore time strategies than just man-on-man or zone. You could adopt a combination of the two. Perhaps one person is dedicated “vacuumer”, but everyone else has a zone to clean. Or one person does the dining room zone, but everyone else has specific jobs “man-to-man” jobs like trash, dishes, counters, etc. Just like in basketball, you can combine zone with man-on-man for a lot of different situations. Just keep in mind the needs and abilities of your family. And also the size of your house and the amount of work that needs to get done.

Discuss with your family what strategy they would like to try adopting. Then when you are setting up Moneypants and making the master list of all the daily chores, you will have a better idea of how to list the jobs. You can list zones or area of the house: kitchen zone, dining room zone, bathroom zone etc., or you can list singular specialties: vacuuming, dishes, floors, windows, garbage. Both approaches work. And keep in mind you can always use a combination of the two approaches. You decide what works best for your family’s situation.

One last word of caution, though: do not have your kids share jobs during chore time. See “Group Projects Are A Fraud” for more thoughts on this.

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What about your family? What is your strategy for chore time? What method do you use to assign jobs? Are you a “zone” family or a “man-to-man” family? Leave a comment below.

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Hannah Judd

Hannah Judd

Hannah is the co-creator of Moneypants and is the mother of 13 amazing kids.

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