Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Trouble Spot Tuesday: Command Central

It’s a curse and a blessing to have a desk space in the kitchen. It was a big selling feature for me when we bought our house this fall. I would have an easily accessible place for the files I access daily (bills, etc), my laptop, cook books, calendar, etc. I call this area Command Central.
The downfall is that this area becomes the repository for ALL the junk in the house. And being the pit/pile people that we are, papers, crafts, bills, broken toys, meat containers (don’t ask), camera, cell phones, cords etc all get piled up so high you can’t find a damn thing without the whole mess falling on the floor. Usually I have to shove a pile of junk out of the way on each side of my computer so I can put my coffee down on one side and actually USE the mouse on the other. And I lose things. Important things.

And, it’s not like I can close a door on this area and pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s in the middle of my kitchen, which is the middle of my house. Fully exposed for ALL to see.
So in the past, I’ve just shoved things in drawers, bins, contains, cupboards and considered it out of sight; out of mind. Until I really need something and tear the whole thing apart to find a phone number written on a sticky note that is “somewhere’. Yeah, um, it wasn’t really working.
So with Christmas and guests coming, it was time to get this mess not only cleaned up, but actually organized in a way that that made sense, and more to the point, in a way that I could maintain.

I was reluctant to start this job because I knew it was going to take a long time. I started at 8 on Saturday night and didn’t finish until 11:30. Yes, it took THAT long.

The Problems:
Too many junk drawers with too much junk
Files and papers all over the place and not organized with no set “place” for them
Piles/groups of “things” without a specified home
Too much clutter on the desk
Too lazy to put things away properly

The Process:
I was not allowed to buy anything for this project. I had to use what I had.

First, things first, I sat down and made a list of all the things that needed to be in Command Central. Anything else had to find a home elsewhere. Then I made “zones” – homes for everything. I looked at my space and decided what I needed to be most accessible and then sorted out all the stuff into groups.

I had:

Stationary (cards, envelopes, etc)
Cookbooks/cooking magazines
Computer disks/books
School binders/information
Printer paper
Bills/receipts/budget info
Actual “junk” that needed to be kept
Office supplies (pens, markers, scissors, tape, stapler, paper clips etc)
A pile of broken toys and things that needed to be fixed
Note books and “Lists”

Once I sorted everything out, I decided that everything needed a “home”; a place where it belonged and needed to live when not in use. Another goal was to have as little on the desk as possible. I’m learning that clutter breeds clutter. The more you have the more it “grows” –making little “clutter babies” when you’re not looking.
I had some kitchen drawer organizers that I wasn’t using and after hacking at a few with an exacto-knife and hammer (yes, I still have all my fingers) I was able to cut them to the right size to fit in the drawers.

I designated one drawer as an “office supply” drawer. I used a tiered kitchen drawer organizer with a sliding top level to hold tacks, extra pens, scissors, tape, paper clips etc. That’s ALL that’s in there. I had a bunch of small Tupperware containers half filled with mixed up screws, tacks, paperclips, screw heads and the like. I took the time to clean them out, threw a bunch of junk out, and sorted it, again, into groups. These are all neatly separated into compartments so I can see what I have and everything has a place where it belongs.

Another drawer became the stationary/cords drawer. I used a small standing file holder to hold my envelopes. I used one drawer from the small drawer unit that was on my desk to hold any note cards I had. A small basket was perfect to hold the cords and chargers for the camera, cell phones, etc. I also had room to tuck in the phone book. I had extra phone books; too many, in fact. I recycled a few duplicates and put the extras upstairs in the office. I don’t use them often, so they could be considered “archive” material.

The long, skinny drawer became the “junk” type drawer. I was able to use a drawer spice organizer that didn’t work in another drawer for this. I had to hack a big chunk of this off (because it was cheap and poorly designed and there was a lot of wasted space) to get it to fit. At one end of the drawer, I used this organizer. It has 4 “compartments”. 1 was for stamps, another for small tools (multi-head screwdriver, allen key, pliers), another for small electronics (usb keys etc) and the last was for just for small junky things – which we all have but must be contained and limited. I have extra outlet covers here and some shelf supports for the cupboards etc. I used a small Tupperware container for sticky notes. The girls had taken almost all of them apart, but I didn’t want to throw them out, so they were no longer a nice neat cube, nor were they as easy to store. The other end of the drawer was for my disks and computer manual etc.

Onto the cupboards! The cookbooks largely went untouched as they were already together in one spot and I used some magazine boxes I already had to hold the magazines. I also used this area to store some other household books I have – a cleaning book, a health reference book and I set up a magazine box to hold any articles/papers/paint chips etc for decorating ideas. I LABELLED these boxes so that I can see immediately what’s in them.

The big double door cupboard, was a bit of an issue for me to get sorted out. I already had a small, portable hanging file box, and that worked well, when I actually PUT the papers in it. So, I sorted through the paper, got the files in the order I wanted and we were good. A magazine box holds my receipts and budget book. I was able to get the first shelf, which holds my “need on a daily basis” stuff sorted out in a way that I had room to put my small printer in there. I HATED looking at it on my desk and it took up too much room. From the shelf, I’m able to just drop the cables down and plug it in to use it. I have a spot on the other shelves for printer paper and extra note books. Another magazine box on the top shelf is designated for appliance, furnace manuals etc. And the top shelf also holds the binders for Mouse’s school.

On the desk, there is very little. The phone, my laptop, a cup for pens and one magazine box to hold things that must be dealt with immediately. I put a little sticky note on the front with a short “to do” list. As things are finished, they are taken out of this box and marked off the list. I have a note book in here that that has running lists – groceries, to buy lists, that sort of thing. I also have my calendar on the desk as I usually refer to it several times a day.

At the end of this, I got the glue out and actually fixed a bunch of the broken stuff. I glued the head back on Joseph from our Nativity scene, repaired the broken doll house furniture and ahem, tossed a few things that were not worth fixing.

The Result:

The result is that I have a really workable space that doesn’t look like a bomb went off on it. We had company tonight and despite having done this project a few days ago, needed to do almost nothing in order to make it company-presentable.

Yesterday a bill came in and I paid it right away, then, put the bill in the appropriate folder. I also needed my check book and was able to find it immediately without scrambling through a tangle of junk. AND, I put it away immediately where it belonged, instead of sitting it on the desk to be dealt with later. I didn’t feel annoyed because I couldn’t get to the files, or overwhelmed because I didn’t know where to put things and I didn’t feel like being “lazy” was an excuse.

I also have space to spare. I have one completely empty drawer and room on my shelves.

A big part of this process was really thinking this through – I had to decide what I really needed in this area, how I access it, how to set it up so that everything has a home, and then I needed to think about how I can retrain my brain to actually PUT things back. I know, to many people, all of this seems really basic and you’re wondering why I’m so stupid. While I certainly have my less than stellar intellectual moments, this kind of “logical flow” work isn’t second nature to me. I have to THINK about it. I have to live in the trenches for a while before I can figure out the smoothest way for things to run. When I’m slapping things together in a half-assed way because it “works” for now and because I’m feeling too pressured by the rest of my life to follow through, and feeling overwhelmed by the thought of dealing with the whole thing, it often bites me in the behind. It becomes too complicated, too messy and impossible to maintain. And then it’s a big job to sort it all out.

While these systems that I’m setting up ARE working, it’s not just because they exist. They’re working because I’m training myself to use them. Its’ work and I do still have to think about it before I do it and continually remind the rest of the family to follow through as well. I’m hoping that as everyone sees how much more smoothly things are running, it’ll become second nature to just do it this way. While no one else might get a thing out of trouble spot Tuesdays, I’m feeling like I can take one task at a time, focus on it and get it done. It feels really good to start having things simplified and WORKING!

Highly Embarrassing Before Shots.

The Desk Area: Believe it or not, this got worse before it got better. Way, way worse.

More annoying little junk collectors that hide the things you can never find again. Yes, those are folded up stockings on there.

The double door cupboard, in all it's glory. Oy.

This was the result a few days later after I tried to find Mouse's bird watching chart for school, 2 minutes before we had to be out the door. I literally tore the desk apart trying to find it. It was buried in a bunch of bills and junk paper.

The Happily Ever After: (insert choir singing here...)

The "Junk" drawer:

The Cords/Stationary Drawer:

The Office Supply Drawer:

The Cupboard:

1 comment:

becprints said...

My lord you inspire me.
One of these days I'll help you feel less embarrassed about posting your 'before' shots by posting some of mine.