Our Card System

As I've said elsewhere, I'm not a naturally neat or organized person. My sister is just organized and has been since birth as far as I can tell. She gets up in the morning remembering everything that she needs to do and does it without getting sidetracked. She's an amazing person, but I'm not her. I've given up on trying to force myself to become her, but there are things that are important to me that won't get done without being neat and organized.

First I tried lists. I can do lists. I can, in fact, make absolutely amazing lists. Unfortunately, after I write them, I forget to look at them. Another problem is that they're my lists, and they don't remind the other family members of what they need to do.

What has worked for our family is a modified version of the card file system introduced in the Sidetracked Home Executive books by Pam Young and Peggy Jones. I understand Pam and Peggy have actually moved on to some new version of the system, but the old one works best for me so I'm sticking with it.

There's a site, S.H.E.'s Organized, that explores the system in-depth. If you're interested after reading my brief description, I suggest that you go there and go through their essays to get started.

Basically, though, you go through your house and make a list of absolutely everything that needs to be done to keep it as clean, neat and organized as you like, and how often those things need to be done. Some people also choose to make cards for other things, like trips to the grocery store or dry cleaner. I add a note about which family members can do various tasks, as some can only be done by an adult, some by any of the kids, some only by kids of a certain age. An estimate of the time needed is helpful for some people, and some folks like to have a list of any equipment needed for a certain task. Everything goes on an index card and you file the cards in a box with dividers for days of the week, month, etc. Each morning you take out the cards for the day, do what's on them, and re-file them whenever they should be done again (tomorrow, next week, in 6 months, etc.)

While I had index cards back in the mid-80s or so when I first used the system, I'm not much for them now. I've entered recurring appointments in a special calendar file in Outlook to remind me that it's time to water the plants, change the air filter, or vacuum the carpets. That keeps me on task, but we also have our kids participate in household tasks on a rotating basis, and the kids don't like lists, whether printed from Outlook or handwritten. So we're back to actual index cards, as suggested in the original S.H.E. books.

We use color-coded cards to denote how often a task needs to be done (white for daily, yellow for 2 or 3 times a week, blue for weekly, etc.). At first I wrote out the cards by hand, but now I have a document that has all the cards in a label template (Avery 2" x 4" shipping labels fit 3" x 5" index cards very nicely).

Simply saying "clean the kitchen" doesn't really work with our kids. We all take turns doing this task, the details are there to help everybody remember all the little things that go into getting the kitchen acceptably clean.

We use a token system of awards for tasks done by the kids, so the token value for each task is also on the card. Here's a typical card:

Task: Clean kitchen
Time: 20 minutes
Value: 4 tokens (more if especially dirty)
Frequency: Daily (After dinner or before guests arrive on gaming nights)
Put away leftover food.
Load all dishes into dishwasher and run it.
Scrub out any pots.
Wipe out microwave.
Clean all surfaces (table, counters, stove, microwave table, etc.)
Remove any smears/splashes from anything else.
Sweep floor. Mop if necessary (extra tokens if mopping is needed)
Take any dirty towels/sponges to laundry room.
Put all recyclables in recycling bin.

I take care of most of the heavy chores during the week (dusting, vacuuming, etc.) while the kids take care of the pets, emptied the trash and help in the kitchen. We clean the house completely each Saturday morning, when everyone is home to help.

If the kids complete a task, they turn the card in to me or Sam and collect their tokens, and we re-file the cards (under the next day's divider if it's daily, next week if it's weekly, etc.). Each day I print out a daily details list from the family calendar and sort the next day's cards. The kids each have a special place for their cards, I have a place for mine, and there's another place for things I'd like to get done but that aren't necessarily assigned to anyone. The kids look there if they want to earn extra tokens.

There are other things that we want the kids to remember, and I hate nagging. The kids each have daily routine cards, as well. For instance, Genevieve is 9 years old. Her morning card reminds her to use her deodorant, get dressed, brush her hair, eat breakfast, take her vitamins, brush her teeth, and check the family calendar and her chore cards for the day. Her evening card reminds her to shower, comb her hair, brush her teeth, and lay out her clothes for the next day. When she has the card, it's easy for her to remember to do all those things. Without the card, she almost always forgets at least two of them.

The longer we use the system, the more cards we make up. I noticed the other day that the baseboards were dirty in the kitchen, so I created a card to remind me to scrub them monthly. It isn't easy to remember to clean all the ceiling fan blades, but now there's a weekly card for it. There is a daily card to remind us to wash out and refill the bird bath (so no mosquitos can breed in it) and check and refill the bird feeders. We don't remember to do that otherwise, but now we're getting lots more wildlife around the house and it's a joy to watch them. We even have a card to remind us to have our weekly family meetings, because otherwise we found ourselves getting sidetracked and not having them.

You can see our cards if you're interested. (That's an Adobe Acrobat document, so you'll need their free reader to open it). There are several other sites that publish lists of tasks on their cards, but I haven't found any that go into detail as to exactly what each task entails, as we do. Anyone is more than welcome to use that document, as long as it or its contents are not distributed or published in any other context, including another web site, mailing lists, usenet, newsletters, etc.

At least one of those cards instructs the reader to reference the "big notebook." That's where we keep our detailed definitions of what is entailed in cleaning each room. While those definitions are very specific to our home, I've added them to the document.


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This file last modified 05/26/18