Apr 062013

Many months ago, I mentioned that I was revamping my cleaning system, and several readers have asked me about it recently. I had several reasons for doing this:

1) I wanted a reminder system for tasks that need to be done on a quarterly, semi-annual, and annual basis, because I noticed that these things were often going undone simply because we never set aside a particular time to do them.
2) I wanted a simple way to delegate chores to my husband and kids.
3) My husband and I are both easily overwhelmed by long and seemingly endless to-do lists, and I wanted a cleaning system that would break up necessary work into small tasks that I could focus on, one at a time, without getting overwhelmed.
4) I was over the Zone Cleaning method and wanted a change.

Last summer, I found a home organizing book from the early 1980’s at a garage sale, and the basic premise was that a card file cleaning system could transform a lazy slob into an organized goddess (or some such nonsense). However, to be perfectly honest and forthcoming, I must tell you that I thought this book was so cheesy, dumb, and poorly written that I had trouble completely understanding it even (I can’t remember what it was called now either – I took it to the consignment store immediately after I read it). **Update – several readers recognized this book as Sidetracked Home Executives (S.H.E.) and they’re right. This is the book, only I had the first edition of it, with the hilarious, early 80s hair and outfits.**

Even so, the basic organizational principle is a good one, so I decided to attempt my own version of it, and I greatly simplified the system because it was unnecessarily complicated. For example, I completely eliminated the numbered cards for each day of the month, as well as the A-Z dividers, among other things. However, I’ve been waiting to share this system with you because I wanted to test it first, and work out the kinks. It basically consists of a series of index cards, each with a specific task written on it. I used both white index cards, and colored index cards, and I used the Cleaning and Schedules sections of my HMG to remember everything I need to do.  It looks like this:

If you would like to make one like it, you’ll need the following:

A 3 1/2 x 5 card file
A package of white 3 1/2 x 5 index cards
A package of colored 3 1/2 x 5 index cards (4 colors)
20 dividers, or sticky flags to make your own
A list of all the chores that need to be done, and when. If you’ve made an HMG, you probably already have this. If not, feel free to use my lists under the Inside the Guide tab in the navigation bar above.

You know that I will never advocate going out and unnecessarily spending money on cutesy matchy organizational supplies, because I care more about how functional a system is than how it looks, but if you want to and can afford to do that, go right ahead. I just used stuff I already had on hand, which is why I have one set of store-bought dividers, and one set of homemade. You will need:

1 divider labeled “Daily”
7 dividers labeled with the days of the week
12 dividers labeled with the months of the year

Here’s what my system looks like. Feel free to copy it, or use it as a starting point to create your own.

Daily (white cards)
You probably won’t refer to these cards often, because these things are done so often they’re pretty much second-nature. They will be useful though in the event of illness or other circumstances where someone else will need to take over the operation of your household.

decide on supper menu and do advanced food preps
make bed and straighten master bedroom
laundry according to schedule (I have my laundry schedule written on this card)
unload/reload dishwasher as needed
straighten up
wipe down kitchen sink, counters, table, and stove
sweep kitchen floor
feed and water cat

A daily card example

Weekly tasks (also white cards) are assigned to specific days:

Monday (Kitchen)
scrub kitchen sink
clean out fridge
straighten and organize pantry and cabinets
wipe down cabinets and counters
clean microwave and other small appliances

vacuum upstairs rugs
sweep and mop all hard floors
empty all trash cans
clean out van

Wednesday (Bathrooms)
clean sinks and counters
clean toilets
clean tubs and showers
straighten cabinets
replenish supplies
clean all mirrors

strip and remake all beds
wash and put away sheets
dust and polish furniture in all upstairs rooms
clean switchplates

desk work and filing
make grocery list
run errands

Saturday (H means that my husband does this chore)
mowing in spring and summer (H)
sweep porches
vacuum downstairs
dust downstairs
tidy laundry room
supervise girls’ room cleaning
change cat litter (H)
clean basement bathroom (H)


In addition, I have the following monthly tasks on pink cards, and I just move them along from month to month as I complete them. So for example, if I get to the end of April and there’s still a pink card behind the April divider, I know that I didn’t get that task done.

An example of a monthly card

(pink cards)
vacuum baseboards
clean coffeemaker
vacuum blinds and lampshades
vacuum vents
change furnace filters
wash and sanitize garbage cans
spot clean windows
clean out cutlery drawer, and wash silverware divider

I’ve assigned quarterly, semi-annual, and annual tasks to specific months, based on when it makes the most sense to do them, and I’ve filed them accordingly.

Quarterly (Green cards)

dust ceiling fans
straighten and organize kitchen drawers
dust ceiling corners for cobwebs
put yeast in septic tank

Semi-Annual (Orange cards)
January /June
clean light fixtures
clean stove hood, light, and filter

February / July
clean oven and under sink
vacuum fridge coils

March / August
vacuum and flip mattresses.
move furniture and appliances and clean behind/underneath

April / September
clean out garage
wash mattress pads and comforters

May / October
wash windows
clean out closets

June / November
wash curtains
dust inside china cabinet

July / December
change smoke detector batteries.

For annual tasks, I just write the year on the card after the task has been done, so I have a record.

Annual (Yellow cards)
clean out files

clean siding

check and reapply caulk as needed

wash interior walls

An example of an annual card

The advantages of this system are:
1. It takes up very little room on the counter, or wherever you decide to keep it.
2. It’s orderly and contained.
3. It ensures that all necessary work is scheduled, and completed (provided you actually DO all the tasks on the cards).
4. Work is spread out evenly throughout the year.
5. You can pull out one card at a time, so you stay focused, and don’t get overwhelmed.
6. It’s easy to delegate work to others – just pull out a card and say, “Do this please.”
7. It’s inexpensive. Index cards go on sale routinely at back-to-school time for 25-50 cents a package.
8. It’s easy to add to or modify. If something isn’t working, just rip up the card and make a new one.
9. It helps you see how often you really need to do things. For example, if you repeatedly skip a quarterly chore because it just doesn’t seem necessary, you can confidently change it to a semi-annual, or even an annual chore instead. We all have different acceptable standards of cleanliness that work for us, and remember – if it’s not dirty, don’t clean it!
10. It’s fun to make. There, I said it.

I know that for some people, this kind of system may seem unnecessary or extreme, but I’m a person who really is happier in a clean home. It reduces my stress-level significantly, and I think that children thrive in an orderly environment. Also the home is, for most, the biggest asset, and regular cleaning and maintenance is important to protect your investment. I offer this system as a way to keep on top of everything you need to do, and still find time to have fun and enjoy your life.