Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Home Centers You Can’t Live Without

Do you dump the mail on the closest horizontal surface when you walk in your home? Is your coat draped over the closest chair to the door? Do school papers migrate from the backpack to a stack on the kitchen counter? Many of the homes I visit are troubled by the same challenging transitions. Transitions can create chaos unless you have systems in place to handle them.

The “launch pad” is the answer to “where to put it?” when you walk in the door. The launch pad should have a place to catch your keys, mail, coat, and purse when you first walk through the door. Add a shredder plus a recycle can and you have a very functional spot to catch everything including the dreaded junk mail. Now you will be able to shred and recycle that junk mail immediately. The launch pad elements are so simple that finding attractive pieces will be easy.

Use a table or a short shelving unit with proportions that fit the entry space. Use the tabletop to hold a basket or a tray for the mail. A smaller tray can catch keys or attach key hooks above the table. Tuck the trash and recycle cans under the table, and you will be able to remove the junk mail from the incoming mail before it even hits the mail basket.

If you do not have a coat closet, a coat tree or a coat rack is a necessity. Actually, I’ve set up coat racks in houses with coat closets. Hooks are much easier to use than hangers so people are more inclined to use them. It’s a simple solution for children and hurried adults who hate hanging coats. Use the coat closet to hang the coats that aren’t worn on a daily basis to avoid overcrowding the coat rack.

The “communication center” is the answer to how to broadcast schedules, phone messages and important snippets of information to everyone in the family. A message center, a calendar and a family satellite file are the bones of the family communication center. Set up your communication center in a place where family members frequent and everyone can see it. The kitchen is great location because usually every member of the family is there several times a day. But a mudroom or a family room may provide the best spot for your family.

Blackboards and whiteboards are great message centers. Unlike notepads the boards don’t get lost! Make sure the board has a ledge or clip to hold your writing instrument so it’s there when you need it. I also enjoy how these boards bring out the artist in family members who like embellish them with doodles or witty observations.

It’s a testament to our complicated lives that there are so many calendar choices. If you have younger family members you will probably need some sort of physical calendar in your communication center. In order to learn about time management, children need to have the tools to do so in an accessible manner. Seeing a calendar and discussing plans and schedules help children learn how to manage time. Post your weekly menu plan on the calendar and you might just spare yourself from hearing “what’s for dinner?” over and over again.

The busy adults and teens in the family may be better served by a web-based calendar that everyone can easily access and update from any location. A web-based calendar can save a lot of phone calls of the “what are we doing on such and such a date” variety. Look for a web-based calendar that interfaces with other scheduling software, such as Outlook, so individual calendars can be merged into a composite. I like Cozi (www.cozi.com) because there are all sorts of other handy features in addition to its calendar. Google calendar is another choice. Both of these web-based calendars are password protected for security, and you can print your calendar if you need a hardcopy.

The family satellite file collects the stacks of paper that come from the children’s schools, clubs, and sport teams. Minimally a parent inbox is needed. All papers go into the parent’s inbox so the parent can review them daily (yep, daily), and take the necessary action. Some of those papers contain information that will likely be referred to in the near future by both the parent and the child – like a sports team schedule. In this case it may be useful to set up a satellite file system that is part of the communication center and is accessible to the children. The system keeps the papers handy, models organization and keeps the household’s main reference file safe from little hands. Set up a file for each child. As soon as the need for the paper is over, recycle the paper. The physical container for the satellite file should be relatively small and easy to access such as a vertical sorter, a narrow desktop file box or a set of desktop drawers that sit on a counter.

The home centers discussed here are designed to structure transition points and minimize chaos. Remember, “transition” is the operative word when it comes to these home centers. The papers and items are only meant to rest there for a short period of time so that you can transition to other things.
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