Index Card Organization System

posted in: homemaker 1

You know I’m a fan of index cards. They are light without being flimsy. They are the perfect size. I always have a stack in multiple places in the house and we use them for school, for brain dumps, and, yes, for getting organized. Index cards are a cheap and handy thing to have on hand as you learn how to organize your life.

An index card organization system predates blogs and word processors. It’s a thing, and it works because it uses a simple principle.

Back in our first year or two of marriage, a good friend and I talked at least weekly about all things homemaking. We were figuring out our new role, and we wanted to do well in it.

So, of course, we read the books.

One of the books was straight off my mom’s shelf: Sidetracked Home Executives.

I could relate to these ladies. They had ideas, they had things they wanted to do, and both the housework and the state of the house (because the work wasn’t being done) was getting in their way.

They came up with a creative solution to break up the housework into manageable chunks and make sure they did it regularly without expecting themselves to recognize that it needed to be done or deciding each day what needed to be done.

Yes, that’s right. They came up with a housework routine. Now, that alone is not creative or unusual, although there are points at which they seem to think it’s revolutionary.

When you suffer from decision fatigue and a tendency toward procrastination or distract ability, however, a routine certainly can be revolutionary.

What was creative in their approach was how they tracked their routine. It was an index card organization system.

Before personal computers, before iPads or even PDAs, there were index cards and these sisters put them to good use.

If you homeschool, you’ve probably come across memory work organization systems that have you write your verses or dates or definitions on index cards and then sort them in an index card box between different tabs: daily, weekly, monthly, etc.

Pam Young and Peggy Jones were organizing their chores with index cards before homeschoolers were doing it with their memory work.

In a day with apps and pretty planners galore, is an index card organization system out of date or still useful? Could this book so clearly from the ’80s still be relevant?

If you want to accomplish your housework regularly without having the excuse to check your phone, you might consider their index card organization system.

However, whether you use index cards, a list, an app, or any other implementation, you certainly can and should use the principle behind this method: Loop scheduling.

The index card organization system developed and popularized by Sidetracked Home Executives is, at heart, a loop schedule for housework, just like Sarah Mackenzie’s housework routine – only Sarah uses a plain list instead of a box of index cards.

Indeed, index cards can be rather fiddly. They can easily get mixed up, lost, or ruined. However, there are also advantages to running a loop schedule housework routine on index cards:

1) You can decorate the cards.
2) You can take notes on the cards.
3) You can easily reassign the cards.
4) You can easily delegate the cards.

The index cards are not really the point, though, nor what makes the system work.

What makes an index card organization system work is that it relies on three strategies:

1) It eliminates decision fatigue.
2) It holds the information you need and makes it easy to find and grab.
3) It keeps track of what’s next for you.

You can accomplish the same outcome with an app like Home Routines or even ToDoist, you can get the same benefits by keeping the same information in checklist form, and you can simply add your recurring chores onto your weekly dashboard.

But what won’t give you this same peace of mind and effectiveness is simply printing someone else’s master cleaning list. We are tempted to shortcut the decision making process not by writing down and figuring out (through trial and error) what will work for us, but by finding someone who will tell us what to do.

Even this index card organization system will do that if you buy the book. They’ll tell you which chores to write on cards and what frequency to arrange them in.

We search for the “ready to go” plan not because we want to avoid decision fatigue, but because we think that our past inconsistency and failure disqualifies us from making our own workable plan.

If this other lady – whether in a book, real life, or on the internet – has a plan that works for her, then I know it works, right? If it works, I don’t have to take responsibility. I can just adopt her plan and get her results – right? I haven’t removed decision fatigue at that point; I have removed personal engagement with the problem.

Unfortunately, too often we don’t want to go through the process of getting organized, changing both our mindset and our methods, we just want a quick fix solution.

Most likely, someone else’s plan will not work for you in a cut-and-paste sort of a way. It might be a great shortcut to developing your own workable system – even one with index cards – but you will have to mix with brains and practice before it actually works for you.

Ready to make a housekeeping routine, a housework loop schedule, or even an index card organization system that works for you?

Start with this short, handy guide to go through the process of discovering the minimum viable routine you need to keep your house out of chaos and survival mode.

Free Guide: Create a Personalized Housekeeping Routine

  1. Judy
    | Reply

    Many years ago like maybe 30ish or so as a young mother, I used the Sidetracked Home Executive cards. I am not sure I really customized them to my situation. Scary thing is that once I start decluttering I may find those cards! LOL. If any of your courses are based on their principles then that must be why I am attracted to your courses. They seem familiar.

Join the discussion!