Paper clutter was one of those beasts that I felt like I was always battling with. It took some tweaking, but I finally have it under control. I thought I’d share what works for me/us (because if my husband didn’t also use, or at least understand, my system then it wouldn’t be nearly as effective).
I have set up a command center area in our kitchen, and it has changed the way we run our household. We have the perfect little area for this in our kitchen, but you could really do this anywhere that will be easily accessible. I like the kitchen because it’s an area we go to a lot.
We have a separate office, but it is upstairs (much harder to get to quickly, especially with young children). We do keep our important papers and files up there, but that’s not what the command center is all about.
Here’s what ours looks like from afar (with the drawer open, obviously it’s usually closed):
Sure, not the prettiest thing in the world to look at, but it’s simple and effective and it WORKS. And hey, it certainly looks better than a pile of mail spread out all over the counters, and makes more sense than asking, “Hey, honey, have you seen the electric bill?” every month.
Let’s start at the top:
We have two narrow shelves. Originally I tried to make these pretty, when I first gave our kitchen a facelift back in 2011. Then we started putting practical things on them, and now I have just accepted the fact that these shelves just aren’t meant to be pretty. They are meant to be useful. The top shelf is for our dog’s meds and supplements (can you tell she’s a pain in the ass?), and we keep our vitamins on the bottom shelf. If anyone is taking a prescription medicine, we keep that out on there as well. We are much better about taking our vitamins when we don’t have to go searching for them.
Here’s the bread & butter of the command center:
I got this idea from A Bowl Full of Lemons (scroll down to see their mail station). I bought the filing thing at Target, but you can find similar filers at any office supply store. Mine came with six files. This is how we divide things up: unsorted mail, bills, stuff for my husband, stuff for me, things that we need to deal with, and things that need to be filed.
Attached to the front of it is our family calendar. I use my own Filofax planner for person things, but this keeps track of activities and appointments that the whole family needs to be concerned with. Our kids are young, so it’s pretty straightforward. This will become more important as we get “busier,” but I like being able to easily check to see when my husband has a basketball game, or when an appointment is scheduled. I scored the calendar from Target’s dollar section back in December. You can find free printable calendars online, though. But keep an eye out at the end of the year for more of these calendars, I’ve seen them for the past few years at Target. They are smaller and really great, and I like that they have sections for things like appointments and important events (and easily tear off each month).
Finally, the drawer is our billing & mailing drawer (see first photo). It’s where I keep my Home Management Binder (HMB). We also keep things like pens, scissors, and tape in this drawer, as well as a small coupon binder.
My HMB contains an entire section for paying bills. When it’s time to pay them, the bills come out of the filing command center file, and then go into a folder inside of the binder.
A few general suggestions:
- Try not to handle your mail more than once. Sort things immediately as they come in; don’t toss it on the counter to deal with later! At the very least, put it in an “unsorted mail” file to keep it off your counters and tables (but don’t forget to handle it ASAP). When I bring in the mail, I don’t even set it down. Catalogs and other recyclables go right into the recycling bin, I shred/toss things like credit card offers, and then the rest goes into the appropriate file.
- Set aside time each week to go through the command center. File things weekly. You don’t want to completely forget about things just because they aren’t clogging up the flat spaces in your home. Mine is currently overflowing because I did some household decluttering, and it’s been a busy few weeks. It doesn’t take long for it to get out of control.
- Keep your bill paying items together. We keep stamps, a calculator, envelopes, our checkbook, etc. right inside the HMB so we can just grab it and sit down and pay them without having to grab 800 other things from around the house. We pay most bills online, but some places here still require mailing a check.
- Keep a magnetic notepad on the refrigerator. I try to keep our fridge pretty bare, but I like having the notepad there. I use it to jot down things when we run out of them, or when I think ‘oh crap we need this,’ which makes it easier when one of us is going to go shopping. If my husband is going to the store and asks if we need anything (other than the usual list) I can look at it and say, “Yeah, we’re almost out of dishwasher detergent and we need more vinegar.” We also frequently grab a blank sheet from there to make a list or write something down. It’s one of the few things that my husband doesn’t ask me, “Honey, where is the x?”
- Develop a SYSTEM for paying your bills. This varies too much for me to give real advice on, but if you have a spouse then make sure they understand the system and will use it as well. For us, it helps that we both know to put bills in the filing center when they come in the mail, and then take them out of there when we sit down to pay bills and put them in their new home inside of the HMB. We both know that the bills inside of the filing center are unpaid, and the ones inside of the HMB are paid. Whatever works for you, do it, but make sure you are BOTH doing it.
So there you have it. This is the command center of our home. It’s where we start the day with vitamins, where we visit with the mail each day, where I end my day (I take my vitamin at night). This area keeps our household running, makes things simpler, and takes a lot of the guesswork out of our home management. 🙂