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Sunday, September 26, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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The Slob Sisters Have Gotten It Together

On the top shelf of the hall closet, behind the mismatched sheets we never use, is a dusty red index card box, filled with 178 neatly lettered cards listing 178 daily, weekly, monthly and yearly must-get-dones and chores to be conquered.

Thirteen years, three houses and five kids ago I took an inspiring class from The Sidetracked Home Executives, two Vancouver, Wash., sisters who promised to help me get my life together.

In the intervening years of clutter, chaos and kids, I got sidetracked. During those same 13 years they got it even more together.

These days Peggy Jones and Pam Young are business-suited professionals who call themselves the SLOB Sisters (for Spontaneous, Lighthearted, Optimistic and Beloved). They've published their fourth book, "Get Your Act Together, A 7-Day Get-Organized Program for the Overworked, Overbooked and Overwhelmed"; they host monthly infommercials on the QVC cable shopping station; they're coming out with a Slob Solutions cleaning kit for Christmas; and they're about to record their own country-western cleaning tape with songs like "Vacuuming up the Evidence," "Cockroach Hotel," "Bathroom Blues" and "Cleaning is a Dirty Word."

In other words, they've turned their organization into an industry.They've also developed ways to use their systems to lose weight, tend gardens and get personal lives in order.

They still tout 3-by-5 index cards, but instead of those 178 cards that took me so long to organize there are just 20. And instead of tackling your home and life in a year's gulp, their new method - honed carefully over those 13 years - is to take life by the hour, the day and the week. With dedicated time off to play.

Young and Jones hit a personal low point in June, 1977. With six young children between then, disastrously messy houses and totally disorganized lives, the sisters believed themselves beyond help.

"We were drowning," remembers Jones. "We had to get it together."

Their first step was to team up.

"You need a partner," says Young. "Even if you have to advertise to find one. You need LOTS of ongoing moral support. It could be a spouse, but you'll probably be more motivated with a good friend who also needs help."

The next step: Realize that no one changes overnight, and that you're probably no different than anyone else.

"It's like a diet," says Jones. "If the best way to lose weight forever is a half-pound a week, slowly and carefully, the best way to take control of your house and your life iabout an hour a day. Anyone can do that."

Organizing is better than dieting, she adds. "Each time you go on a diet, it gets a little harder to lose weight. But each time you organize, you've made a little more progress to finally getting your life in order."

Where to begin

So how do you get started?

Young and Jones began by decluttering their houses.

"Ninety percent of the junk filling your counters, your cupboards, your closets and everywhere else is just that: Junk!" says Jones. "When it's gone, think how easy it will be to clean up!"

But if you try to get rid of it all at once, you'll undoubtedly fail, she warns. You can try to be too clean, too organized, too together. It's like the recovering alcoholic's program. "You have to take one day at a time."

Over the 15 years Jones and Young have taught people across the country to clean up, they've found their index card systems make a major difference.

Their new book shows how to organize your cards - and thus your life - using "action" cards that get all the repetitive housework and chores done simply and regularly each week, day-by-day, month-by-month and year-by-year.

"Think of your card file as your `housekeeping command center,"' says Jones. "Together with a calendar and a weekly plan, you'll be able to schedule in your days and your life." There are "action" (work) cards, "reflection" (relaxing) cards, "reminder" and "reason for living" cards.

The book explains how, when and why to do chores such as daily kitchen clean-up and annual gutter clean-outs.

People praise the systems

Lest this sound like too much work, consider this: The Slob Sisters have taught their method to thousands and have stacks of letters from people praising their systems.

The book (a $10 HarperPerennial paperback) is filled with tales of their antics en route to "getting it together." In person, the sisters are very inspiring.

But too much inspiration can be dangerous. Following the spirit but not their advice to work with a partner, I went home, threw out my old card file, and dived into a major clean-out.

In one long day I burrowed through more than three closets and a dozen drawers and boxes of old clothes, toys and other junk, saved from our twin daughters (now almost 12) for our younger daughters (now 3 and 5.)

The Slob Sisters were right: 90 percent of the stuff I'd saved looked shabby, dated or otherwise ugly. Ten bags of junk went away.

The problem, as the sisters warned, is that after getting half-way through what became a massive undertaking, I burned out.

In the intervening week I've just stared at the many piles of clothes, toys and junk cluttering the family room and the girls' bedrooms.

Tonight - I promise - I'm going to ignore the piles and reread the book. Then I'm going to enlist my husband, neighbor or maybe my mother as a partner.

And this time, I'm determined to make the Slob Sisters System work for us.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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