Organizing my life one 3X5 card at a time

They’re called “chore cards”.

Wait, before you stop reading from sheer boredom of the title alone, just bear with me.

For as long as I can remember my mom has used the chore card system to not only keep a tidy house, but to also keep her sanity. Mom is an incredibly organized woman. I am not. I never have been. Mom worked hard to teach me the art of organization, but I always preferred to daydream about the day I’d finally sprout fairy wings and prove the world that we really do exist. Though she may have felt discouraged then (though she never showed it), Mom’s discipline to teach me was not in vain. Even though I’m still not naturally organized, I have the desire to be. And just a couple of months ago, I finally mustered up enough courage to walk down that scary, unknown path of organization. Turns out, it actually brought some peace and a little squeaky clean to my day.

Here’s how the cards work:

wp chore card 2

Inside this lovely 3X5 index card box are cards separated by months and days of the month. Behind each month are cards (sometimes only one) for chores to do that day:

wp chore card

Each card has the chore-to-do in the middle, a description of the chore beneath it, how long it takes to do the chore (upper right hand corner) and how often to do the chore (upper left hand corner). It might seem silly to write out a description, but it really comes in handy when you have “helpers” (children, husband, woodland elves) who are willing/forced to assist you. Once you finish your chore(s) for that day, you file it according to the date in the left hand corner. For instance, when I finish with the card shown, I’d file it two weeks later since I do this particular chore twice a month.

The most tedious part of this whole process is getting your chore cards all written out. Start by making a list of all the rooms in your house. Once you have that down, make a list of chores in each room. The best way to do this to go from the top of the room to the bottom. In other words, in the living room, start with the ceiling fans and make a card for dusting the blades and another for cleaning the light fixtures. The next might be dusting furniture, another cleaning blinds, etc. Don’t stress about the details of how long it takes you to do the chore. You’ll figure that out as you go along.

One of the things I love about this system is that if I have a busy day (or week) and can’t get to some (or any) of the chores, I can just refile the cards into new days and start again when things slow down. It may mean dusty shelves for a few days, but at least I know I will get to them, and I don’t feel overwhelmed.

So my friends – those gifted with natural organizational skills, and…well…the day-dreaming-fairies, I hope this brings to you as much freedom as it’s brought me. Oh, and if you have any questions, just ask my mom.

Updated 11/4/13

Some of you have been asking for an example of my chores. Here’s a list that will hopefully be helpful for you. The list is broken down room by room because that’s the easiest way to start, but as you file them, they don’t have to stay in order by room. You’re welcome to copy it as is, or make changes to accommodate your needs. Each chore gets a card of its own.

As you can see in the list below I have the chore, which you’ll write in the center of the card, followed by how often I do the chore (and consequently where it gets filed) which you write in the top right corner, followed by how long it will take me, which you’ll write in the top right corner, and a description, which you’ll write below the chore. (Whew…that was one heck of a run-on sentence.)

Living Room

Vacuum couches – 1/month – 15 minutes – With the wand of the vacuum, clean in all the nooks and crannies of both couches.

Vacuum ottoman – 1/month – 20 minutes – Remove lids and content from ottoman, vacuum with wand and wipe exterior if needed.

Wipe couches – 2/month – 15 minutes – With a damp cloth, wipe down couches (especially the grimy spots).

Vacuum under furniture – 1/year – 1 hour – Move all furniture out of living room and vacuum floor. Move furniture back.

Kitchen

Wipe table – every day – 5 minutes – With a wet rag, wipe off table after every meal.

Clean stovetop – every day – 5 minutes – With a wet rag, wipe off stove top.

Sweep – every day – 10 minutes – Using a broom and dust pan, sweep kitchen every day (or more often if needed).

Scrub table and chairs – 1/week – 20 minutes – With a wet sponge, deep clean table and chairs (be sure to get in all the cracks).

Mop – 1/week – 15 minutes – Move all chairs and use steam mop to mop the kitchen.

Scour kitchen sink – 2/month – 15 minutes – With Comet and green scrubber, scrub kitchen sink, faucet and around the edges; shine with a paper towel.

Wash down kitchen walls – 1/month – 30 minutes – With a wet rag, wash down kitchen walls, especially next to the table and cooking area.

Clean inside fridge – 1/month – 45 minutes – Remove all items from fridge, wipe clean with kitchen spray. Clean shelves with glass cleaner. (Be sure to clean drawers and under drawers.)

Clean microwave – 1/week – 10 minutes – with a sponge and kitchen spray, clean inside and outside of microwave.

Clean outside of fridge – 1/week – 10 minutes – With a sponge, wipe down outside (front, sides, top) of fridge.

Appliances – With a sponge (and kitchen spray if needed), clean all appliances in kitchen (coffee maker, espresso machine, toaster, outside of oven, outside of dishwasher).

Clean/organize cupboards – 1/year – 2 hours – Remove all items from kitchen cupboards, wipe with sponge, organize as the items go back in.

Deep clean oven – 4/year – 1.5 hours – With sponge and oven cleaner, deep clean inside of oven

Clean stove burners – 4/year – over night/30 minutes – Place burners and disks in Ziploc bags with ammonia. Zip bag and let soak overnight. The next day, *open windows for ventilation*, take out burners and wipe clean; dry and replace.

Bedrooms

Flip Mattresses – 2/year – 10 minutes – Flip mattresses in fall, spin mattresses in spring.

Thrift Store Clothes/Toys/household items – 2/year – 4 hours – Go through each room in every cupboard, closet and drawer and donate unused items to thrift stores.

Bathrooms

Wash linens – 1/week – wash towels, washcloths, hand towels and rugs

Clean bathrooms – 1/week – 1 hour – Working from the top to bottom, clean mirrors with glass cleaner, scrub sinks, toilets, bath/shower, then sweep and mop.

Laundry Room

Clean washer and dryer – 1/week – 5 minutes – With a wet rag, wipe washer and dryer down on the outside (and inside if needed).

Organize pantry and cupboards – 1/year – 2 hours – Remove all items, wipe down closet/shelves with a sponge, organize items as you put them back in.

Sweep/mop laundry room – 1/month – 15 minutes – Sweep and mop laundry room 🙂

Wipe cupboards – 4/year – 5 minutes – With a wet rag, wipe down all cupboards in laundry room.

Every Room

Dusting – 1/week – 45 minutes – Use an old sock, rag or paper towel with dusting spray. Dust all furniture in living room and bedrooms.

Baseboards – 4/year – 45 minutes – With a rag and dusting spray, clean all baseboards in house.

Vacuum – 1/week – 45 minutes – Vacuum all floors in living room, hall, guest room, kids’ room and master bedroom.

Door frames/knobs – 2/month – 40 minutes – With a wet rag, clean all door frames/knobs in the house.

Clean Blinds – 2/year – 1 hour – Using the brush attachment on the vacuum hose, slide along closed blinds, front and back.

Fan Blades – 2/year – 1 hour – With a rag and dusting spray, wipe top, bottom and sides of fan blades in each room.

Light fixtures – 1/year – 2 hours – Place all light fixtures (from every room) in dishwasher; wash, dry, replace.

Windows/Screens – 2/year – 2 hours – Take all screens off and spay outside with hose. Clean windows with glass cleaner and a paper towel. Replace screens.

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It seems like a long list, but once you get it filed into your box, it feels incredibly underwhelming.

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Sinking Down Deep

I have a friend. We’ll call her “Amy”. We tease her about having the spiritual gift of “clean”. We are always amazed, perplexed, and just a liiiiiiiiiiiiitle envious at her ability to run her home. I have never seen it messy. Ever. I’ve even snuck over there one mid-morning to try and sabotage her. When she answered the door, I hoped that I’d find something (anything) out of place.

Nothing.

And you know what she was doing? Vacuuming. For crying out loud.

Some people just have it together. Amy is one of them, and I really admire her for it. (Also, I might add she has an incredible sense of humor and takes all of our harassment towards her with utter grace.) My house is almost constantly messy. There are toys scattered, laundry in piles, dishes still not put away. And even though I may have finished my chores for that day, if someone happens to pop in to say hi, my house will still look messy. (Even though I’ve deep-cleaned all of the appliances and scoured the kitchen sink.) Whenever this happens, my knee-jerk reaction is always to apologize and say something like, “It doesn’t normally look like this.” The truth is, it normally does, and when it really comes down to it, I wasn’t being sincere in my apology. When my mouth said, “sorry”, my heart was saying “this is so embarrassing and my pride has been squished.”

So this is what I’d leave you with: these cards are not meant to impress people as much as they are to help you stay organized. Like being honest about the mess in our hearts, it’s okay to be honest about the mess in our homes. After all, we need Jesus in every area of our lives – heart and home.