From junk mail to school papers, we have all had that pile of paperwork that seems to be continually shuffled in the house. Did you know that the average person receives ten times as much junk mail as relevant mail each week? That’s nearly 600 pieces of junk mail per person each year! Additionally, the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) reports that 90% of documents handled each day are merely shuffled. How many times have you found a misplaced bill in that pile and incurred late fees because of it?
At Fresh Start Organizing, we recommend creating a family command center to improve the flow of papers in your home so that you can purposefully handle each piece of paper instead of piling them up or moving them around. A family command center should be a place to store important information and manage household communications and activities. As every person and family will be different, a family command center is not a one-size-fits-all solution. The following recommendations will give you a starting point and can be adjusted to fit the needs of your home. Start small and simple. Start with your specific needs and then explore Pinterest-worthy designs if you choose.
As your family command center should be readily accessible to everyone in your home, we recommend setting up your center in a location near where family members enter and leave the home or where you spend a lot of time. Because of this, kitchens often work well for a family command center. Counter tops, tables, or cupboards are all excellent options. You may also want to consider what is kept in your command center; does your computer need to be nearby? If so, could there be a better place for your command center? Additionally, some find it helpful to have general supplies around the command center. These supplies include, but are not limited to, markers, pens, pencils, paper clips, stapler, staple remover, and paper trays.
When papers enter the home, they can be sorted into categories: trash/recycle, shred, give to another family member (this is where paper trays may be helpful), or file box. We also recommend using a file box system for your active files that require action or need to be referenced routinely. Separating out these two categories will keep reference papers such as upcoming events, schedules, household projects, and papers that need to be filed separate from papers that require your attention (such as bills to pay or honey-do lists) will help significantly. Additionally, creating a reference binder for those papers you need access to frequently, such as grocery or errand lists, coupons, school lunch menus, restaurant menus, information about organizations you belong to or are interested in, and information about places you would like to visit may be helpful to keep your command center neat and organized.
Your family command center should also include a family calendar. Write your schedules on the calendar. Note: routine schedules should not be included but rather exceptions to that routine. For example, in you work a consistent schedule, only changes to the schedule (extra days off or overtime) should be put on the calender. The calender should be reviewed daily and may be used as reminders for yourself and your family. Here are a list of possible important things to add to your family calendar: medical appointments, practice and game times, vacations, and work or school activities outside of the normal day. Bulletin boards, chalkboards, dry erase boards, and sticky notes may be included near the calendar for notes and requests such as picking up milk on the way home.
At times, there may be items that need to be returned or to be mailed. We recommend creating a launch pad area for these items. A launch pad is an area in your home such as a basket, box, stool, or table that may or may not be near your family command center, but should be in a high traffic area. Items that may be in your launch pad may be library returns, purchased items that need to be returned, items to be donated or given to others, and items to be taken out to the garage.
It is also important to know how long to keep your papers. While there is no exact definition on how long to keep important paperwork, these are some guidelines we suggest:
ATM receipts – until monthly statement
Bank statements – 1 year
Bank deposit slips – 3 years
Cancelled checks (most) – 1 year
Credit Card receipts – until verified against monthly statement
Credit Card Statements - one year Deeds, Mortgages, Bills of Sale - six years past agreement Insurance Records, Reports, Claims - life of policy Pay Stubs - until verified on your W-2 statement Tax Returns and supporting documents - six to ten years Utility Bills - one year unless tax-related then six years
While it is up to you what should be shredded, these are generally accepted recommendations:
Credit card offers for new accounts Checks that come with credit card statements Returned checks Paycheck stubs Credit card statements Utility bills Receipts from ATM and debit card transactions Receipts from credit/debit card purchases
We hope you have found this helpful. At Fresh Start Organizing, our goal is for everyone to live life free of stress from clutter.