Handling Mail: A Simple Command Center

In the age of supermoms and over-scheduled families, having a way to keep track of all everyone needs and does is crucial. Nothing screams stress and chaos like looking for keys on the way out the door or having some vague sense that some bill is due, but you don't know where the bill is, or needing a piece of paper no one can find. Many people have moved to digital calendaring and bill-pay, but the reality of life is that we're paper collectors. The Command Center is the solution to this problem.

I've been searching Pinterest for command center ideas and there are a lot of them. However pretty they might be, the reality is a command center should serve the end users in the most direct ways possible. A command center:

  1. should be a central location for the central pieces of daily life--like keys, mail, school papers, phone chargers, etc. What pieces are part of daily life are different for each family.

  2. needs to be simple enough to be accessible for every member of the family. If a system is so complicated only parents can use it, it's ineffective. Kids, parents and house visitors should be able to use it with little instruction.

Like all other organizational projects, it's necessary to keep the end user in mind.  Mr. Smarty Pantalons has a much more refined sense of order than I do, and he'll break every task he approaches into as many sequences as possible. If I have to read directions for any task, it doesn't get done. So, the question for us is how to balance our user-personalities to handle incoming mail and paperwork, and what system will work for our son, who is phenomenally disorderly.

Before we implemented aspects of a command center, all of the mail and school papers went into a pile on the dining table. It overwhelmed Mr. Smarty Pantalons, who pays the bills and files important stuffs, and I never knew if I had mail to deal with because it was lost in the stack until d-day--the day bills were due and paid. Our previous system for outgoing mail was just as pathetic. We'd slip a letter in the door jam and anything bigger than that went on the floor in front of the door. Now, our command center has two pieces. By the garage door, we have one of these marvelous things.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Umbra Magnetter Wall-Mount Organizer"][/caption]

It's magnetic, so we also bought these steel key rings to hang our keys from it, and it's a dry erase board, so we can write notes as needed. It also has a space to put outgoing mail and paperwork so we no longer need to shove things in the door jam. Here is ours.

The second piece of our command center is for incoming mail. Benjamin enjoys the privilege of bringing in the mail, but he doesn't like to sort it or put it where it needs to go. Our solution is one bin. All incoming mail goes in one bin. When I bring in the mail, I sort out the junk mail and recycle it immediately. The recycling bin is directly below the mail bin, so it only takes a few seconds. When Benjamin brings the mail in he puts everything in the bin and then I usually sort through it a couple times a week, recycling junk and putting important stuff towards the front. Here is our unsorted incoming bin with the recycling bin below it.

Actually, we have two white mesh bins. The higher one has coupons in it. We're not huge coupon users, as it's really too stressful to keep track of all the coupons for relatively little savings, but we do keep the ones for Cost-co, Harbor Freight and Michael's. Any school newsletters or things we want to keep track of also go in the bin and Mr. Smarty Pantalons sorts and files them when he pays the bills. (He has a separate drawer on his desk where all of the receipts go; his desk is right behind the pocket door you see in the above photo.)

[caption id="attachment_491" align="aligncenter" width="620" caption="I've seen bins like these all over lately. Check Ross, Home Goods, Marshall's, etc., for collection bins. I found these white mesh ones at the thrift store. They were green and we spray painted them white."][/caption]

You likely noticed the calendar and pencil on the side of the refrigerator as well. Kevin programs most events into his phone calendar--even things like watering plants and taking the trash out have an alarm programmed. I prefer to see the months blocked out a few at a time, so the calendar on the fridge is primarily a big-picture calendar. We don't put everything on the paper calendar, just the big things, like travel and special school events and summer camp. Also, each new semester I print out my class schedule and post that to the fridge so Kevin and Benjamin know which campus I'm on at any given time. We use whatever notepads we have as a grocery list. Keeping the pencil right next to the list is key for me, as I'm less likely to write stuff down if I have to track down a pencil.

The beauty of this system is that it's simple. We've only got one kid and we don't have a lot of extra-curricular activities to coordinate, so we don't need anything elaborate. You need to decide for your own family what is necessary in the command center and what would be nice but might also be too complicated.

Another thing some folks find handy in a command center is a family binder, which contains emergency info, schedules, family contacts, etc. If you're interested in putting together one of those, check this Pinterest search.

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