Sushi’s Adulting Sticker Chart

I have a lifestyle that gives me a lot of flexibility, a lot of interests, and only 24 hours in a day to pursue them. After working, reading, writing, and just about anything else, I don’t have much time for things like making sure my house isn’t a pigsty.

Since I live alone and no one else will clean my house for me, this is a problem. The house doesn’t clean itself and will only become clean if I put in the effort. I’m not a neat freak, but I do like some sense of order. And since the last few months in particular have seen me do less and less housework, I knew I needed to do something to motivate myself a little more.

There are already lots of ways to track one’s progress. One of my friends uses Beeminder, where you pay to continue tracking your progress if you get off track. (Okay, the first slip-up is free, but after that you pay up. The amount increases if you get off track more often.) I know a few folks who use HabitRPG, which turns your to-do lists into a game. (You get a character and everything.) And someone else alerted me to Epic Win, a habit-building game app for iOS. There are probably more out there.

All of these techniques are good–if their incentives/punishments motivate you. I used HabitRPG when it was brand new, and my main problem was actually logging into the site and marking my progress. That’s a lot of work for me. My ideal method, I eventually figured out, needed to stay in my line of vision all the time.

After a long discussion about my procrastination, motivation, and love of stickers, Sushi’s Adulting Sticker Chart was born.

Instead of giving myself a sticker for doing a major thing, I broke down the chores I tend to put off into small parts, then assigned points to them. The more effort and time the task takes, and the longer I tend to put that thing off, the more points it gets. The chart hangs next to my desk so it stares at me during the day.

Here’s what my list looks like:
* Wipe down and organize a surface (1)
* Clean the sink (1)
* Empty the sink (1)
* Unload the dishwasher (1)
* Sweep a floor (2)
* Vacuum a room (3)
* Take out trash (1)
* Take out recycling (1)
* Clean toilet (1)
* Clean bathtub (3)
* Wash one load of clothes (1)
* Dry one load of clothes (2)
* Fold one load of clothes (2)
* Check mail (1)
* Dispose of old papers/junk mail (2)
* Get groceries (3)
* Return all dirty clothes to laundry basket (1)
* Clean out a food-containing area (1)
* Clean/organize a pile of stuff (2)
* Make bed after washing sheets (2)
* Floss (1)

There’s also a separate list with things that need to be done less regularly, or items that I normally don’t have as much trouble doing, or items that I do have trouble doing but have been putting off for a long time. Think of this as a one-off to-do list. (In case you’re wondering, this post is two points since I haven’t updated in awhile.)

Next I added up all the points on my regular to-do list, divided by seven days in a week, and rounded down. This number is how many points I need to earn a sticker that day. My number happens to be four, which isn’t too difficult.

Sushi's Adulting Sticker Chart
The Sticker Calendar. Click for full size.

Every day I add up what I’ve done, and if those things give me four or more points total, that day gets a sticker. I started this on Thursday and have two stickers so far. Even two days in, the stickers have motivated me to earn my sticker for the day. If I’m one point short, surely I can do one small thing to earn the sticker.

The stickers themselves are great, but the real purpose of the sticker chart is to stop treating cleaning as an all-day thing. That might still happen sometimes, especially on laundry day when I have time. But training myself to do a little bit every day, even if those things feel really small, will go further than cleaning all the things once every few weeks.

Once I start doing smaller things regularly, the marathon cleaning days won’t be as exhausting, the house will be more organized, and I’ll have more time to do enjoyable things. And that’s the best thing of all.