Saturday, August 31, 2013

My Love Affair with 3x5 Cards

Writers sometimes experience a conundrum when they face a blank computer screen, or when they pull out a fresh, white piece of writing paper. On the one hand, the blank canvas presents delicious possibilities; but the flip side is that the yawning expanse, waiting to be filled, is a bit overwhelming. Where to start?

The lowly 3x5 index card can be the anecdote to the dilemma. Its small size narrows the field and helps a writer mentally scale down the possibilities to a manageable size. Speaking of size, the cards are aesthetically pleasing because they are proportioned according to the famous "golden mean," the mathematical ratio that the human eye finds beautiful.

For me, writing on a 3x5 card is also a tactile pleasure. Good quality cards have a creamy finish and it is a pleasure when the nib of a fountain pen glides silkily along its surface.

The cards are great for journaling, whether you adhere to the one-line-a-day school of thought or are a little more prolific. They can be dated and boxed for posterity at the end of the year.

Serious writers find index cards convenient for sequencing. If you are writing a story or novel, the elements of the plot can go on the 3x5 cards and you can play with arranging and rearranging them until it fits together the way you like. Similarly, college students writing a research paper can place their research data on the cards and then order the bits of information logically before writing the first draft.

I have found that a 3x5 card is also a great reading companion. It can serve as a bookmark, a place to jot down a quick quote that I want to remember, and a straight edge for underlining. The best of the quotes will find their way into my stash of pink 3x5 cards, and I pull one out every day for viewing. Today's quote is, "The broken become masters at mending." It's a great way to recycle worthy words and keep uplifting thoughts in view.

Believe it or not, index cards can be a great tool for uncluttering the mind. Does your mind ever get full to the bursting point? Right now I have some of these random and disjointed thoughts rolling around in my head: I need to get a birthday card in the mail for my friend, it's time to make my next dental appointment, I've got to get a quote on new shades for the living room, need to write down the name of that book I want to read before I forget it, etc. Carrying around this alphabet soup in the mind drains my creativity and also detracts from my ability to stay focused on what is most important. Unloading these thoughts on a 3x5 card is very freeing. I put only one thought on a card and later I can take action, starting with the highest priority item.

In my purse I keep a few 3x5 cards, held together with a binder clip in true Hipster PDA fashion. They are always handy for making a  grocery list, jotting an address, or taking notes at a meeting. Unlike a notepad, you can toss them when you get home or file them if they contain info you want to keep permanently.

During my 16 year homeschooling season (which is still on-going), I've used tons of index cards. Every morning I wrote a card for each student containing  daily chore and assignment list. When the kids were young, I'd use colored cards and attach fun stickers. They carried them around all day and checked off their assignments as they finished them, before presenting them to me at the end of the day. We also found them useful for making quick flashcards, memory games, and word banks. I'd definitely place 3x5 cards near the top of my list for homeschool essentials!

There is a rather elaborate home management system that centers around the use of 3x5 cards, popularized in the 1980s by the book Sidetracked Home Executives.  It is really a variation of the timeless tickler-file system, but with some color coding and twists especially relevant to home managers. One great advantage of this system over the more techno-savvy apps available today is that only ONE card with one action point lies in your view. You aren't tempted to run off on a bunny trail, surfing the net instead of focusing on the thing that needs to be done.

Finally, I have to mention the vintage recipe box in my cupboard that is crammed full of  recipes handwritten on 3x5 cards. Although there are some definite advantages to keeping recipes on a computer file, I could never part with the recipes penned lovingly by Grandma Jordan, my Mother-in-law, my Mom, and far flung friends. Some are splotched with food stains, some are dog earred, others proudly proclaim "from the kitchen of . . .," and a few have roosters stamped in the corner. Back in the day they were convenient to slip in the purse to be shared at church and today they remind me of wonderful shared meals, holiday feasts, church suppers, and Sunday potlucks.

Yes, I have a history with 3x5 cards. How about you? Do you find them useful or outdated?