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 was that they were my lists, and they did­n’t remind the oth­er fam­i­ly mem­bers of what they need to do. 

What worked for our fam­i­ly was 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 moved on to some new ver­sion of the sys­tem, but the old one worked best for me so I stuck with it. 

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. I added 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.) 

I had index cards back in the mid-80s or so when I first used the sys­tem. In the late ’90s, I entered recur­ring appoint­ments in a spe­cial cal­en­dar file in Out­look to remind me that it was time to water the plants, change the air fil­ter, or vac­u­um the car­pets. That kept me on task, but we also had our kids par­tic­i­pate in house­hold tasks on a rotat­ing basis, and the kids did­n’t like lists, whether print­ed from Out­look or hand­writ­ten. So we went back to actu­al index cards, as sug­gest­ed in the orig­i­nal S.H.E. books. 

We used col­or-cod­ed cards to denote how often a task need­ed 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 lat­er I had a doc­u­ment with 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” did­n’t work with our kids. We all took turns doing that task, so I added the details to help every­body remem­ber all the lit­tle things that go into went into mak­ing the kitchen accept­ably clean.

We used a token sys­tem of awards for tasks done by the kids, so the token val­ue for each task was 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 the dish­wash­er and run it.
Scrub out any pots.
Wipe out the 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 the laun­dry room.
Put all recy­clables in the recy­cling bin. 

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

If the kids com­plet­ed a task, they turned the card in to me or Sam and col­lect­ed their tokens. The adult re-filed the cards (under the next day’s divider if it was dai­ly, next week if it was week­ly, etc.). Each day I print­ed out a dai­ly details list from the fam­i­ly cal­en­dar and sort­ed the next day’s cards. The kids each had a spe­cial place for their cards, I had a place for mine, and there was anoth­er place for things I want­ed to get done but that weren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly assigned to any­one. The kids looked there if they want­ed to earn extra tokens. 

There were oth­er things that we want­ed the kids to remem­ber and I hat­ed (still do!) nag­ging. The kids each had dai­ly rou­tine cards, as well. For instance, when Genevieve was nine years old, her morn­ing card remind­ed 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 remind­ed her to show­er, comb her hair, brush her teeth, and lay out her clothes for the next day. When she had the card, it was easy for her to remem­ber to do all those things. With­out the card, she almost always for­got at least two of them. 

The longer we used the sys­tem, the more cards we made up. I noticed one day that the base­boards were dirty in the kitchen, so I cre­at­ed a card to remind me to scrub them month­ly. It was­n’t easy to remem­ber to clean all the ceil­ing fan blades, but I made a week­ly card for it. There was a dai­ly card to remind us to wash out and refill the bird­bath (so no mos­qui­tos could breed in it) and check and refill the bird feed­ers. We did­n’t remem­ber to do those things oth­er­wise. After we estab­lished the reminders we got lots more wildlife around the house and it was a joy to watch all the birds and ani­mals. We even had 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. There are sev­er­al oth­er sites that pub­lish lists of tasks on their cards, but I haven’t found any oth­ers that go into detail as to exact­ly what each task entails. 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 web­site, mail­ing lists, Usenet, newslet­ters, etc. I’ve also pro­vid­ed a blank Word doc­u­ment as a tem­plate to help you make up your own cards. 

At least one of those cards instructs the read­er to ref­er­ence the “big note­book.” That’s where we kept our detailed def­i­n­i­tions of what was entailed in clean­ing each room. Despite requests to do so, I haven’t pub­lished those because they were so spe­cif­ic to our home.

11 thoughts on “Our Card System

  1. Not quite sure how to orga­nize my sys­tem.. Would like it to be like yours. Could you send example?>

  2. I used the SHE card sys­tems in the 90’s when my guys were .2, 2, and 4…life was good. My faulty mem­o­ry and desire to do any­thing but clean was cor­ralled into a func­tion­ing home. Guys are still here…going to university…we live less than a block from u…I want the house orga­nized again…I want not to have to ask…I strong­ly dis­like asking…I want them to just KNOW to pick up there things or unload the dishwasher. 

    Your site is clever. I was googling SHE look­ing for the old sys­tem that worked for us before.

  3. Hi I am a com­plete­ly unor­ga­nized per­son try­ing to orga­nize a house of 6- I like your card sys­tem my kids ages range from 2–6 and my 14 yr old cousin we have just aquired legal guardian­ship of. Would you mind send­ing me a copy of your direc­tions on bath­room clean­ing so i can make sure I did­nt leave any­thing out I love your detailed cards!!!

        1. Hel­lo, Kar­ma. I don’t think I have the detailed direc­tions that I kept in a note­book when our kids were lit­tle. That’s not the way my life works these days — I’m a grand­moth­er, with a part­ner who knows how to clean 🙂 I’d sug­gest sit­ting down and writ­ing out your own, or look­ing at some of the many books that have been writ­ten on the top­ic and using their guid­ance. Good luck!

  4. I have tried a few times to acess the cards and it is giv­ing me a run­time error. Is there any­way you can send them to me. Thanks.

  5. Thank you for shar­ing your cards and how SHE is work­ing for you. I am anoth­er per­son who did the old sys­tem back in the ear­ly 90s before I had kids. The one thing my hus­band and I always argued about was house­work. The first few times I tried to get my hus­band to par­tic­i­pate in the sys­tem, he shrugged it off as if it was a phase I was going through so I quit. Now, after 23 years of mar­riage and with a house­ful of teens, my hus­band has not only admit­ted to me that I was the most orga­nized when I was “in the box” but also asked me today if I would start using the box again to get things under con­trol! I held onto my box for years, but now that he wants me to use it I can’t find it. I have blind­ers when it comes to see­ing things that need to be done. That’s why I like to start with some­one else’s list and then add or sub­tract for my sit­u­a­tion. Thanks again for help­ing me get started!

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