Build a home command center that works! This post includes organization strategies for keeping up with family papers, including school work and receipts – also shows how to digitally organize documents.
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I am a big believer in having a home command center. Without it, our house would be swamped in paper of all kinds – school work, receipts, mail – you name it! By having one central location for all things paper in the house, you're making sure nothing goes unnoticed or lost. Everyone in our family knows how to use the command center and what does/doesn't go in the bins. I can't imagine organizing paper in our home without it.
Of course, it isn't always neat and tidy. I have a monthly task built into Journey to Clean to organize the command center – it falls under kitchen week (since that's typically where command centers are kept and one of the busiest areas of the home). Once a month, I go through the papers, filing them where they are supposed to go (even if that place is the trash can).
What's a Home Command Center?
Your home command center is just a landing place for any kind of important documentation in the home. Instead of having piles of old mail and schoolwork all over the house, we keep anything that could be important in one central location. It's also a place where we can keep frequently used office supplies, like pens/pencils, glue, stamps, and our address stamp. Some people also like to hang a calendar/meal planner above this – it's a great idea, it just not as necessary for our family right now.
The bin I use is three-tiered (you can find it here) – for our home, it works best to file all school papers at the bottom, other important paper in the second tray, and office supplies at the top. Of course, your mileage may vary – I suggest saving all papers for a month and organizing into like types at the end of the month to see what the most saved items are in your home.
And, of course, it needs to be cleaned out in regular intervals! That's why this is a monthly feature of Journey to Clean. As I mention in the book, it's ok to skip most any given task if you just don't get around to it in any single month…this isn't one of those tasks. I always make this one a priority to get finished during kitchen week, because if it's not done, it can easily get out of control before the next month rolls around.
How to Organize a Home Command Center
I choose to take on the trays one at a time – once I have the bottom one out of the way, then I can move on to the next batch of papers.
Step 1: School Papers
First is always school papers. They're easy to organize and file away quickly, so it feels like you have a big win in just a few short minutes!
Each child gets a stack. As I go, I try to throw away papers I know that I'll never save.
I also make a stack of anything I might want to scan into Evernote (more on that in a minute). You can see my Evernote pile, my throw away pile, and my shred pile here – anything that has personal info goes in the shred pile, anything that doesn't goes in the throw away pile.
Then, I give each child's school papers a stamp to remember the date. I've had this simple date stamp for years and it's still going strong!
Don't worry about getting specific – just the month and year is plenty. And I don't worry too much about dates being a little off. If something that was done in April gets stamped with March, it's not the end of the world. 🙂
Once stamped, those school papers get sent to their filing boxes to be sorted at the end of the school year. I go into much more detail about how I manage school papers annually in this post.
Step 2: Other Papers
With the bottom bin out of the way, I can move on to dealing with the papers that can sometimes be a little more time consuming. These are receipts we need to keep, important documents, mail that needs to be dealt with, etc. – if it's a paper that needs to be saved in our home, it goes in this bin.
That leads to an important note – if it doesn't need to be saved, it doesn't go in here! Junk mail, unimportant receipts, read magazines, etc. go right in the trash in our home. It takes way too much time to file through absolutely everything that comes in throughout the month, so if you see that it's not important as you receive it, either put it in the trash or shred pile.
From here, start piling again. 🙂 I typically have a scan pile, a shred pile, a pile for things that Noah or I need to deal with ASAP, and a pile of sentimental items (like cards, pictures, or notes).
Scan Pile – We try to use a paperless system in our home as much as possible, so if it's anything of importance that's going to be needed in the future, I make a pile to scan into Evernote. I go into a lot of detail about how we follow this system in this older post – but, in summary, Evernote is just a digital filing cabinet that lets me organize our documents without actually having to save them.
With the Evernote app, I'm able to easily scan any important documents in with the camera on my phone. The app captures each document and saves as a pdf, making your database easily searchable for anything you might need in the future. The best part – you always have your important documents with you! I can't tell you how many times this has saved me.
Here's a little peek into my Evernote desktop after I scan everything in. I simply title each note with an appropriate name (usually “date – family member – explanation”)and file away into its folder. For example, for this scan, I'd label it “4/21 – Leslie – Walgreens” and file into FSA Receipts. Super easy.
Shred Pile – After scanning, those documents join other important (but not needed) documents in the shred pile. I have a small shredder that's worth its weight in gold – anything with important information is shredded around here. I highly recommend having your own shredder in your home, rather than relying on taking it to work or a shred event. This makes sure it's actually done periodically, rather than piled in a corner to create more clutter.
Sentimental Pile – any cards, pictures, notes, or anything that might be a great memory one day goes into this pile and is sorted into these boxes. They're just simple plastic shoe boxes…each one in the family has one, and we have one for the whole family as well.
The piles for Noah and for me go to their owners for immediate attention – this would be things like bills to deal with, mail that needs a response, or random receipts the other might need for one reason or another. I really try to keep this pile going all month so things don't get overlooked until it's too late – but anything that needs to be added can be.
And with that, the home command center is fresh and clean – ready for more paper! 🙂 I honestly thought about taking the few papers that were in here out for the picture – they had been added since I started tidying up – but I thought a more realistic view of our “clean” command center would be with a few papers. There is always something – it's a constantly changing and used area of the house. And that's how it should be!