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)
Details:
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!

Leave a Reply to Kimmie Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Begin typing your search term above and press enter to search. Press ESC to cancel.

Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: