A zone that everyone passes through is the most effective: a corner in the kitchen, a nook in a hallway, or a centrally located home office. Shelves are key; if you don’t have built-ins, just use an armoire or a bookcase.
Make Some Rules
To keep this area from becoming an unloading zone, determine what belongs here and what doesn’t. Suggested yeses: bills, sports schedules, medical records, school papers with short-term relevance. Nos: backpacks, 3-D art projects, magazines, newspapers.
Take Care of the Nos
If there’s no plan for the junkifiers, your precious command center is toast. Find other homes for all the bulky, random items that threaten your bliss.
2 of 6Jonny Valiant
Honey, I Shrunk the Filing Cabinet
Ditch the Metal Drawers
As Coach Cordelli points out, most home filing cabinets are stuffed with documents that people no longer need. Have trouble purging? Get a gizmo called NeatReceipts ($200, neat.com) and scan anything you’re touchy about tossing.
Color-Code Your Life
In a portable acrylic file box, set up folders for different categories or family members. Label them in the way that makes the most sense to you: perhaps bills, work, play, keepsakes. For kids, school, sports, social. This is your go-to for floating papers—and the first place to look for that misplaced permission slip. To buy: Acrylic desktop file (shown), $25, containerstore.com.
Befriend the Shredder
A slim, shelf-size model makes it easy to part with sensitive items you don’t need anymore. To buy: Black & Decker six-sheet crosscut shredder (shown), $50, amazon.com.
3 of 6Jonny Valiant
Let Contents Be Your Guide
Think Outside the Box
We all love the look of neat, uniform boxes, but the truth is, they work best for long-term storage. Binders are a better choice for those ever evolving collections of paper, like decorating ideas or recipes, and they can hide in a magazine holder. To buy: Linen magazine box, $39, rh.com.
Analyze and Customize
What’s cluttering up your paper life? Maybe your preschooler produces 10 drawings a day. Perhaps your teen gets a torrent of college mail. Stash excess papers in a deep, open bin on an easily accessible shelf.
Stash High and Low
Stow critical items, like passports, birth certificates, and deeds, in a box marked personal documents and keep it on a high shelf. (You might want to use a metal firebox.) File office-supply staples, like computer paper, folders, and envelopes, within easy reach in slotted container with pullout trays. To buy: Kvissle letter tray, $20, ikea.com.
4 of 6Jonny Valiant
Wall of Duty
Decorate to Motivate
What works for you—flowers, a thoughtful quotation, pictures of faraway destinations? Accessorizing your command center is essential. If it’s not pleasant, you’ll avoid it, and chaos will ensue.
Think Grid, Not Collage
The “bulletin board” part of your brain might be programmed to layer and fill, but a neat display will keep your mind calm. Hang items straight, with space around them. Edit regularly. Pretty invitations are worth saving, but after the party is over, transfer them to your keepsakes folder. Toss expired schedules or school notices ASAP. To buy: Linen-covered bulletin board (similar to style shown), $79, potterybarn.com.
5 of 6Jonny Valiant
Gadgets That Empower
Take Charge of Charging
New rule: Instead of putting devices to bed in bedrooms (where they can disturb slumber), the kids need to dock their electronics in a communal caddy. A well-designed model can hold a laptop and three phones and keep their charging cords under wraps. With such a small footprint (10 by 5 inches), it leaves room for a second caddy if needed. To buy: Bamboo Multi-Charging Station, $35, greatusefulstuff.com.
Make Cords Disappear
Not to make it all about looks, but an uncluttered command center is an inviting, high-functioning space. Hide lengths of cord (from the lamp or a laptop, say) on the floor in a cable box that plugs into the wall. To buy: Orange small cable box, $30, poppin.com.
Ride the Wireless Wave
Another way to tame cords is to remove them completely. A wireless keyboard, mouse, and printer (which lets you stream info even from your iPhone) is like a Xanax for your work zone.
6 of 6Jonny Valiant
Improve In-Box Etiquette
Allow only the most current items to take up precious space in your in-box. And ensure that anything that hits that spot has a destiny—folder, box, binder, shredder—or back to the kids to return to school. To buy: White in-box, $24 for two, poppin.com.
Set Up Desk Dates
The hard truth is that it takes time to deal with paperwork. Want an in-box that’s delightfully uncluttered? Set aside an hour a week to sort and file, either in four 15-minute chunks or one 60-minute sitdown. Add it to your calendar.