One idea for corralling paper clutter is a “paper command center.” Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? After I first saw the phrase, I decided to research it. Apparently most who talk about it mean a set of files on the work surface where you handle household paperwork. Maybe five or six files—one for each family member, one labeled “to file,” one for bills, one for medical and whatever else the person using the command center finds useful.

This means you have two sets of files: This small one near where you work, and another one, probably with the same labels, somewhere else.

This makes no sense to me. I would never have more than two pieces of paper, if that, in each file folder in this command center.

Here’s why. When I get the mail, I throw out the junk, start a pile for filing, and either handle right away what’s come in or put it in my inbox for later. I infrequently have more than two or three pieces of paper in my inbox. Before leaving my desk, I file the  daily mail that needs filing and check the inbox and handle anything there, and I’m done. This rarely, rarely takes me more than about twenty minutes (usually a lot less) after dinner.

Okay, I admit, I don’t get bills in the mail. Ours are all paid automatically, except for one credit card, and that’s because I pay it off every month, so using automatic bill pay wouldn’t work. But if I had bills, they would either be paid right away, or put in the in-box and paid once a week or twice a month, or monthly. I might make a file folder for them to put in my inbox, but I wouldn’t have a file folder for anything else in there.

I have a small envelop-sized filer for receipts—they’re filed by month.

When I come home from the doctor’s office, shopping, or whatever and have some paperwork in my purse, I simply file it away during my evening stint at the desk.

I don’t have children’s stuff from school to contend with anymore, but if I did, I’d go through what they bring home each day, either file it, put it on the fridge (art work), or handle any forms that need filling out and stick them right back in the backpack. Or make a note on a calendar or planner if it’s about an upcoming event. This could also wait for after dinner and shouldn’t add more than five or ten minutes to the whole enterprise.

Before you have two of anything, ask yourself, will it save me time? In this case, in my opinion, it won’t.


Money, of course. The more, the better, in most cases. But other paper? That comes in the mail, that comes in the door with your purchases, that comes to your front porch as newspapers and flyers?  In most cases, less is better.

Here are some quick thoughts:

PAPER: Get rid of as much as you can, as fast as you can. Go through the mail as soon as possible, discarding everything  you don’t need to keep, and filing away the rest, or handle it however it needs to be handled (write a check, make a phone call, etc.) If a newspaper is more than a week old, you might glance at the headlines, then recycle it. Magazines? Give them a month, two at the most. Have a small folder for receipts so you can always find the one you’re looking for to make a return or a complaint about a purchase. I like the folders that have monthly date separators. Save them by month, and if you need one, you may remember the month you bought the article and can just go through those to find it.

CLOTHING: Figure out how many of each type you need: Tops, bottoms, dresses, suits, underwear, shoes, hose/socks, hats, handbags. Get rid of everything you no longer wear or use, or haven’t worn in one year, unless it’s a special occasion item you may wear again, but limit yourself to only a very few of those. Now shop—fill in the blanks. You’ve decided you want twenty tops and bottoms and kept twenty tops but have only fourteen skirts or slacks to go with them? Even it up to your ideal count. Once at your ideal count for all items, if you buy something new, throw out or give away the equivalent item that is either the oldest, least used, or shabby. Your closet will thank you. Your sleepy self will thank you in the mornings when you’re getting dressed, especially if you arrange your closet by item.

KNICKKNACKS: Tired of washing, dusting, or otherwise cleaning them? No, you don’t have to throw away anything you truly love. What you do is put some things out, sparsely—no more than three items on a table, for example, and if it’s a small table, one item will do. Put the rest away in a special storage box or cabinet. Every so often, exchange the items for something in your storage area.

PANTRY ITEMS: First arrange them all by type (canned goods, baking supplies, etc.). Line them up so you can see what you have. As with the clothing, determine how much of each item you always want to have on hand. Stick with that number. It’s easiest to just pick a number for every canned item—for example, four of one kind of soup, four tomato sauce, four tomato paste, four canned mixed fruit, four canned tuna. You get the idea. At a glance, you can tell what’s getting low when you make out your shopping list. Do the same type of organization in your refrigerator. If you have room, even store those things that need to be there after opened. This way, again, you can see at a glance that you have an extra and don’t need to get more instead of checking the pantry. The exception is, of course, great sales items. You might put them in a special area, using up what you already have first, then checking that area and restocking your regular shelves before buying more. But if you do this, you have to remember what you have stashed away somewhere else. Or you can keep a list of those items right in the pantry or on the inside of the door.

I think you get the idea. Look at each area of your home and decide how you can arrange it so it’s more organized and it will stay that way with little effort.