Corral Incoming Paper:
Establishing a Household Hub for a Work-at-Home Mom
The “household hub” is a place in every home which is a lightning rod for activity. It’s the counter or desk space in your kitchen (or nearby) that receives the convergence of your personal and professional life.
On this surface and in these drawers:
- Incoming actionable paper lands
- Kid papers-to-return hang out
- Bills to pay stack up
- Items for spouses to discuss languish
- Receipts mount
- Papers-to-be-filed land and wait
The household hub is probably the most important space in the home precisely because it is the business center of our lives.
I recently restored order to a household hub for a work-at-home mom (our Communications Assistant, Kara) struggling to keep up with the demands of kid paper, personal paper, and professional paper. It was the perfect storm of paper.
She had tried to contain the clutter by stashing receipts in a wire basket.
The remainder of paper was just layered on the surface of the desk. Her day planner just lived among the layers.
A colorful portfolio stowed all her work projects together, but she had to dig through it daily to find what she needed.
It’s not that this working mom had a huge backlog. She is good at getting rid of paper.
She just didn’t have any FLOW established to capture and queue incoming paper for action. Plus, completed paperwork was getting stuck on and under her desk.
We all need distinctive, customized organizing solutions to help us manage the confluence of the various hats we wear!
To really understand a paper problem (and how to fix it), you have to first understand the person.
So we began with an interview. We discussed the kind of paper that comes in the door from her kids’ backpacks, what needs to be done with it, and how fast it needs to be returned. We talked through her roles in the household, which include bill paying and budgeting, filing, and household management. (Like most moms, she’s the Chief Operating Officer of the home!) I also learned that she does most things online, is good at getting rid of paper, though her ancient shredder wasn’t keeping up (evidenced by a box full of paper-to-shred on the floor.)
The remaining paper that hit her desk was there because it genuinely needed action, but had no mechanism to move it along.
To get this stagnant paper moving, I tapped Staples’ Zigzag collection. When I first saw the collection, I thought of Kara. Its chevron design and lightweight metal construction is gorgeous and hip; just like her.
I implemented the modular All-in-One Desk Organizer from this line as her Personal & Professional Paper Center. In all my years as a professional organizer, I have found many of these combination products too confining – but the modular nature of this piece afforded all the customizability I needed.
I used the trays for her Personal Paper Center. The hot actionable paper we had sorted fell into three types that reflected Kara’s home management roles: To Do, To Pay, and To File, so each of the three slide-out trays were allocated accordingly. I love how the lightweight trays come out completely, and have a stopper at the back. I then used colorful binder clips to label the action required. A channel atop the first tray (intended for office supplies) made a perfect outgoing mail slot that would get front-and-center attention, so we labeled it and put the mail that had languished on the desk for months into it! To serve her bill-paying role, I added the optional organizer onto one side to contain her checkbooks and a selection of pens.
The incline sorter perched atop the trays became her Professional Paper Center. While at Staples, I snagged some snazzy files into which I filed her work reference paper. Subdividing her reference material by type makes a useful repository for ideas.
But we weren’t done with paper yet! We still needed a solution for her three boys’ school-related paperwork, for items to discuss with her husband, and for receipts/budget management. She needed a Family Paper Center for these purposes, so I drafted three Zigzag Letter Trays for this distinct system. I used bright binder clip labels (also from Staples) to denote the action related to each tray.
Sort paper into well-labeled open trays that require ACTION. When the “stuff you need to do” is staring you in the face and you can SEE it, you’ll DO it!
And don’t be afraid to mix an all-in-one system with a separate set of trays; distinctive systems are actually helpful to delineate functions in your mind. Avoid the trap of a forced number of trays – customize your product solutions around the types of actionable items you organically discover in the sorting process.
Once the FLOW of paper was established, I had to round out the cycle with a “final destination”….a shredder that actually worked. (Before, completed paper just mounted in a box under the desk).
Staples’ Cross Cut Shredder 15 sheet model fits neatly under her desk, rolls in and out on casters, and is a heavy hitter, tackling thick pages of material at a time. The FIRST thing her boys did after we plugged it in was to take on Shredding Duty!!
This Household Hub paper makeover empowered this work-at-home mom to get back to business instead of spending her time shuffling. Kara commented, “I love it, my husband loves it, and so do my kids! And I went through the Hub stuff, the kids’ outgoing paperwork, made two calls, paid the bills and took the mail out today (finally). It’s crazy how good it felt! Thank you so much!”
A Household Hub is one of the highest payoff organizing projects you can tackle because it will contribute to your quality of personal and professional life every day. Here’s to reclaiming your work!
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