We all have bills, junk mail, magazines, kids’ schoolwork, and other paperwork that comes through the door every day. We also have homeowner’s manuals, receipts, and other important documents we need to keep. What do you do with it all? If you don’t have a system in place, the steady stream of “paperwork” will totally overwhelm you.
That was the case for my client, Angie. Perpetual piles had overtaken this mudroom desk area. Every day, more mail and things were added to the endless piles. Bills were never opened, checks were not cashed, magazines were left unread. My task: to tackle the daunting mess and create a well-organized, efficient home command center.
Angie is fortunate in that she has a big mudroom that was well designed for family life and can be closed off from the rest of the house. There are lockers to hold each person’s gear, a closet for storage of extra coats and such, and even a shower to wash the dog. This desk area was designed to be a drop zone, where mail could be sorted, kids could work on homework, papers could be filed, etc. As you can see, it was a drop zone indeed — for everything. Check out the before and after!
When I work with an organizing client, my goal is for them to work alongside me. That way, I have input on how she and her family live, what is important and what to toss, and ultimately buy-in for the system I’m creating.
Before, you don’t even see the laptop because it’s buried beneath piles of mail and other “souvenirs.” The cabinets are overflowing with paperwork, and there’s no way to find anything. After, there’s actually room to sit and sort, and everything has a place.
If you don’t have a dedicated desk area like this, you can create a command center in any corner of your home. It could be a spot in the kitchen, mudroom, eating area, etc. It should be a place that the whole family sees frequently and to which you have easy access. (If yours is in the kitchen, I wrote about clearing the kitchen pile here.)
Here are the most important things to remember when organizing a home command center.
- Analyze how you work. (I consulted with Angie prior to organizing to get a feel for how her family lives and her dream goal for this space.)
- Find/purchase the right organizing materials. I spent a few hours shopping various stores for the items we needed. For this project alone, I went to seven stores, including Office Depot and the Container Store.
- Create an easy-to-use system for mail.
- Don’t be afraid to get rid of things! For Angie’s project, we purged a lot! Angie called all of the places she has bills for and requested each one send her email statements rather than paper statements. She set up an extra email account just for those statements, so they’ll all be in one place.
- Live with the new system and tweak if necessary.
To turn this into a perfect command center, my most important goal was to create a painless mail system. My rules for mail are quite simple. All items have three options: action, file or recycle. For Angie’s command center, I created an easily-accessible mail station utilizing the back wall of the desk area. I didn’t want her to physically have more than one step she needed to do with a piece of paper (for example, open a cabinet door, then take a lid off a container, then place the paper in that container). That would become cumbersome and would not work over time.
The first stop is the letter bin on the counter. This is where all the mail for the day gets placed. The goal for this “spot” is have it empty every night. When the mail comes through the door, go through it immediately or sometime before you go to bed. Recycle all junk mail and shred all documents that have personal information on it. (There is a garbage for recycling and a shredder under the desk.)
On the back wall of the desk area, I hung two double wall files and found some fun file folders in the color scheme I chose. I added adhesive metal label holders to the wall files, which are labeled: action, to file, reference and magazines.
Action: This for all the papers that need to be signed, such as permission slips, team information, picture order forms, checks that need to be cashed. I also labeled individual file folders for each person in the family.
To file: These are papers that need to be filed at some point: medical info, stocks. Angie also has some built-in mails slots over the desk. Bills that aren’t paid online go in one, gift cards and certificates in another, and an envelope for box tops in a third.
Magazines: These are current magazine that come in the mail and either get read or recycled.
Reference: Papers or numbers that you need to look at once in awhile: security system info, phone numbers, field trip info, etc.
Angie’s husband is a fanatic about coupons, especially gas coupons. To hold those, I bought a magnetic pocket that I placed on the front of the wall file underneath reference. When he wants more coupons, he can pull them out and stick them in their vehicles.
In the cabinets, I put two letter trays stacked together, which will house the two kids’ keepsakes from the current school year: art projects, certificates, class pictures, and anything she wants to keep. The shelf above the letter trays is for those school keepsakes that are larger than letter size, such as art projects. At the end of the school year, or in the middle of it, Angie can then group the items together and put in each of their respective kids’ keepsake boxes in the basement. I have one box for each child and store their collectibles by respective grade.
I also grouped together extra school supplies one one shelf: notebooks go in horizontal magazine file; glue sticks, extra pencils in container, markers in open bin.
The top shelf fits documents that are larger than file size, such as the title to the house.
The other cabinet holds more documentation and binders. The first shelf is a label maker (important to have within reach!), a bin with miscellaneous electronics and cords. The middle shelf has a couple of magazine files that hold mailing supplies. All of the appliance manuals are put individually in page protectors and housed in a big binder. The top shelf has manuals and documentation with important papers.
The desk has five drawers. Three of the top drawers hold office supplies (post-its, pens and pencils, rulers, paperclips) and tools. The office supply drawer was pretty well organized, so I tackled the tool drawers. I purchased some drawer organizers that help separate and provide a home for all the items. (I can’t recommend enough how easy it is to organize with the right materials.)
The desk also features a file drawer, where most of the important papers are kept. We organized the drawer into several categories: medical, monthly bank statements, home and vehicle, life insurance and investments.
To finish it off, I didn’t want any binders to clutter the open shelving, so I opted for decorative pieces. I chose a couple of colored frames for photos, a metal J and a distressed wooden sign that I found perfectly matched my color scheme. In the before photo, Angie already had a pre-cut cork material on the back of the wall, so she cut that down further to fit in between the hanging files and covered it with this fun multi-colored chevron fabric.
She also had some awesome chore charts already framed for her kids (these ones are found here), but because they were stuck in the back of the desk hidden behind all the piles, they weren’t being used. She resprayed the frames white, and we installed them on the side wall for easy access, along with a monthly calendar and a clock.
What a difference this organized home command center makes! Now it’s the perfect filter room for this busy family!
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