Taking command (without a command center)

Command centers.

Just gonna come right out and say it:  We kinda hate them.

At least, we kinda hate the ones we see all over Pinterest. I’m sure it’s probably a large helping of sour grapes on my part, but they are all just so dang cute, with their matching file folders and baskets and sweet lettering/numbering and color-coordinated containers.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  Pinterest command centers

We aren’t into cute.

Neither of us were ever the kind of parents who handed out twee little goodie bags at our kids’ birthday parties, mailed holiday greeting cards with sweetly adorable family pics, or perfectly decorated our babies’ nurseries. We’re the ones who find it challenging to get all the kids fed and to school on time with homework done and a decent lunch in their backpack. (Kinda like this parent.)

However, we do have three kids who live in two households for whom we need to provide regular meals, rides to lessons and activities (and checks to pay for said activities), and signatures on all kinds of papers.

Which means that even though we kinda hate command centers, we kinda have a need for one. Or at least for something that functions like one.

I think it was starting work on our entry that got us first talking about what we needed to make our home work better for us. I wondered if we needed to somehow put some things in our entry that might make life run a little more smoothly–a place to drop keys and bags, put mail, etc.

We ultimately decided we didn’t want to put anything like that in our entry.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  command center (entry)

Our entry is small and narrow, and we didn’t want anything in it that would make the space feel crowded.

We do have a coat closet at the top of our entry stairs, where we store coats (duh), as well as scarves, gloves, leashes, and aprons.

This (sorta) Old Life:  command center

We also have a desk at the top of the entry stairs, and we decided we wanted that to be our landing zone when we come in the house. We like it because nothing has to be out where we can see it; the fold-down lid covers us all the business going on inside of it.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  command center (entry)

As part of my mostly-failed 15-minutes-at-a-time project, I cleaned out the top of the desk and designated it for a few specific things. It’s where we put all incoming mail, stamps, calculators, blank checks, etc. It’s where I drop my phone, keys, wallet, and reading glasses. It’s not cute and pretty, but it’s working for us.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  command center (entry)

I try really hard not to throw random junk in here. That envelope needs to be taken to the post office, and I leave it here to remind me.

We use the top drawer to store office/school supplies. Again, it’s not particularly pretty–and it could really benefit from some more organization–but we finally know exactly where to look for (and put) scissors, tape, markers, pens, envelopes, and notepads.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  command center (entry)

Honestly, we were so excited at how this made some parts of life easier. We started processing mail as soon as it came into the house, and I could actually find all those office-supplyish things whenever I wanted them.

I think that’s what gave us the impetus to branch out and finally apply some organizational strategies to the issue of food.

Food is a huge headache for me. I don’t like to cook, I don’t cook well, I’m still adjusting to being gluten-free, and we have three of the pickiest eaters on the planet. (Yes, we really do.) Add to that our weekday schedule, in which we never have all the same people here on any two nights, and it’s just a big hassle.

We were constantly buying food that went bad before we could eat it, not having any food to cook (and therefore eating out), or missing key ingredients we needed to complete a meal.

I kept reading about the virtues of a weekly meal plan from two of my favorite bloggers, Sara at Go Gingham and Robin at Frugal Family Times. Sarah and Robin promised that planning weekly meals would save us time and money and make for greater happiness in our home. (And you know what? They’re right. It is doing all of those things. I’ll be writing about it soon on Sara’s blog.) UPDATE:  You can find that post here.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  pulled pork

This week’s meal plan included pulled pork sandwiches.

Weekly meal planning/shopping is great, but it meant we needed a way to keep track of groceries we need and what meals we’d planned. I wanted both things visible and easily accessible. We were attaching random pieces of paper with various lists to the front of the fridge, but neither of us really liked how that looked.

At the same time, we’ve also been making over our approach to chores with the kids. While we wrote almost a year ago about chores as a shared Sunday ritual, that’s not been working well for us this school year. The entry of my kids into high school has meant less regularity in our schedules. And, frankly, it was taking over our Sundays in a way we didn’t like.  We’ve made some adjustments that have required us to post chores. It’s more complicated now, and we need visual reminders to know who is supposed to be doing what and when.

For awhile it seemed we’d need the command center, and it seemed like the only place to put one was above the desk. But neither of us wanted to do that.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  command center

(Another doggie photo bomb, dang it.)

We like having a mirror there. It’s nice to be able to check and make sure everything is in place before we head down the stairs and out the door. And we just like how it looks more than we’d like how a bulletin board or some such thing with menus and chore lists and grocery lists (even if we could figure out how to make it cute and color-coordinated).

To us, this space is part of our entry, and we want our entry to be visually calm and uncluttered. We want a sense of landing and re-entry into home life before we dive into all the things that need to be done here.

We were stumped for a bit, but we finally came up with a solution:  We’d use a narrow strip of space on the side of the refrigerator. It’s not visible from the table or the entry, and it doesn’t command any visual attention.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  command center

We think this set up is great. It holds everything we need.

This (sorta) Old Life:  Command center

Why, yes: That is a Christmas tin still hanging out on the top of our fridge. :-)

Best part?

It cost us almost no time or money.

We looked at some expensive white boards and other such things, but in the end we decided to just invest in some magnetic clips. They came in a package of 3 for $3.49 from Office Depot. (We bought 3.) We also bought some small notepads, which we use for our grocery list, planned meals, and weekly chores until we better knew what we’d need to put up and how it would all work for us.

Just this week, I broke down and bought two small chalkboard panels. They were $3 a piece from Learning Palace. (I can’t find them online, so no link.) I also splurged on some smudgeless chalk markers. They were $15 and a total extravagance, but I really wanted them. (And again, can’t find them in Learning Palace’s online catalog, so the link takes you to Staples. I was able to find a pack with a different assortment that included a white marker.)

I took about an hour on Monday to put the chalkboards together.

This (sorta) Old Life:  command center

This (sorta) Old Life:  command center

And now we have this:

This (sorta) Old Life:  Command center

This (sorta) Old Life:  Command center

The parts of the board that won’t change I did in marker. Other parts might, and I used regular chalk for those.

We pretty much love our solutions to the command center need for a couple of reasons:

1. Other than the marker indulgence, I didn’t get sucked in to buying a bunch of new organizational stuff I don’t really need just because it looks cool. (Because I can totally do that. Have done it. Don’t want to do it again.)

2. We found a way to try it out before we committed to anything. We wanted to know what we really needed (and would continue to use) before creating our systems.

3. In not dedicating a wall of our kitchen/entry to a command center, we think we’ve dodged the bullet of the home decor equivalent of the mini-van. :-)

While we link up all the time to the William Morris Project, we think this week’s post is especially fitting–so you can find us hanging out with some other folks who are trying to have nothing in their homes that isn’t useful or beautiful.

How about you?

Got any great tips for organizing your life? Have we completely offended those of you who do have cute and creative command centers? (Hope not!) Want to just say hi? You know I love talking with you here. Please feel free to drop us a comment.

This (sorta) Old LIfe:  command center