by Susan McCarthy
Everyday practice: When you see that clutter builds up in the same spot time and again, take a moment to question why that is and create a system to resolve that issue.
A command center is like a gatekeeping secretary that sorts things before they get into a manager’s office. Depending on your or your family’s needs, a command center could be as simple as an inbox (with a print calendar and dry erase board or corkboard) … or each member of your family could have a color-coded mail slot in addition to the basics.
Keep your system simple. You can always adapt it later to changing needs. If you have a system that works for you – the family posts scheduled events and appointments on a shared Google calendar, it isn’t necessary to change your current situation.
A command center isn't meant to be your home office, but a gateway that prevents everything from flooding into your office space.
Create an Inbox
You want a basket or tray where you can place all paper coming into your house – mail, notes from your child or grandchild’s school, receipts – really, any paper that you, or any member of your family, are carrying into your home.
If you have kids, train them to put anything that you need to deal with into this box. This means – notes from the teacher, permission slips, graded papers, anything that you need to see.
You’ll also want to train, er, request that your spouse or partner put incoming papers that you need to deal with into this location.
Your home inbox isn’t intended for storage, it’s meant to be a central location for papers that need to be acknowledged and may require an additional task (respond to an invitation, pay a bill, read a magazine, sign paperwork and return, confirm that a receipt has been recorded by your bank, file a paper for potential future reference).
Place Your Inbox in a Convenient Location
Likely, this inbox will not sit on your desk. Instead, it should be someplace convenient to where you enter your home most of the time. It doesn’t have to be right next to the door. Where do you normally drop the mail or your keys or purse after entering your house? That’s likely a good spot for your inbox.
The benefit to not keeping your inbox on your desk – your desk will stop being treated like a dumping ground.
Establish a Routine for Processing Papers
You’ll want to figure out how often you need to go through your inbox – once a day, once a week, every other week? The more frequent the habit, the easier it may be to keep because, well, it becomes a habit and you don’t have to think about whether it needs to be done today or tomorrow.
Your inbox routine involves acting on everything that has been gathered here. You pay a bill or put it in a folder so it can be paid on time. You toss anything you don’t have to hold onto – let’s say you’ve recorded an event into your calendar, you could then recycle the print flyer. The current issue of a magazine gets popped onto your coffee table as you remove the old issue.
You can bring the contents of the inbox to your desk and handle each task. Although handling your inbox daily may seem to involve more work, once you get into the routine, it will go quickly.
Develop a Command Center that Works for You
Keep it simple, whether you are organizing for you and your spouse or for you and your kids. You may find that you only need an inbox. You may want a dry erase board or chalkboard posted on the wall to include important reminders for the day. A corkboard could be the place to tack up flyers and invitations if you do best with a visual reminder (that you don’t get when you tuck something into a file box or enter it onto a digital calendar).
Other things you may want in your command center:
Maintain Your Command Center
Whether you toss incoming paper into a decorative box or basket, or you create a command center, your goal should be to make this the spot where paper entering the house gets put until you take the time to act on or file these documents.
This area acts as a gatekeeper that controls paper, so you don’t end up with some paper left on your kitchen counter, some dropped on your desk, and other paper carried into your bedroom. Even a simple inbox can help you reduce and funnel papers to the appropriate place in your home.
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Susan, chief (and only) organized squirrel at A Less Cluttered Life, pursues learning, practicing, and sharing information about the everyday habits that can lead to living a better life.