Many of you long-time readers know that one of the very first things I do when I get into a new house is setup some sort of family command center. I do this partly to give us a place for ALL the paperwork that typically comes hand-in-hand with moving (e.g., utility setups, moving paperwork, held mail, new community/school/medical forms, etc). But even after we’re settled in, I find that a command center (aka drop zone | mudroom | central station) area is essential for keeping track of the essentials of daily life. I’ve now setup 5 different command centers across our 7 different homes. Along the way, I’ve learned what elements are essential to making a truly functional family hub and which ones aren’t. So whether you’re just moving in, gearing up for a busy school year ahead, or simply need a more ordered way to deal with daily “stuff,” here is how to create a family command center that actually works!
1. DETERMINE THE PURPOSE
The very first step in creating a truly functional family command center is deciding its purpose. You might think that all command centers do the same thing; but really, it varies from home to home and family to family. Here are some thoughts to consider:
- What do you need this space to be? What do you need this space not to be? (E.g., drop zone vs. storage vs. paper management vs. all of the above)
- What kinds of things are constantly piling up around the house? What things are needing a dedicated home? What things are you always rummaging around for?
- What do you need your command center to hold and/or store? (E.g., shoes, mail, paperwork, pet care, etc).
2. DECIDE WHERE TO PUT IT
Once you determine what kind of space you are building, the next step is to figure out where to put it. Sometimes a home has a very obvious location for a command center, such as a built-in nook/desk or separate room. Other times though, you may have to create the ideal spot. Look around your house for closets, empty expanses of wall, un-used built-ins, awkward nooks or bump outs, landings at the tops of stairs, or unused sections of counter space. As you think about potential spaces, keep this in mind: the amount of space available must be considered in conjunction with where that space is located. There is no point in creating a drop zone near the back entrance you never use. Likewise, you shouldn’t squeeze in a command center near your front entrance if there isn’t an inch of free space to spare. Where you choose to put your family command center must be the best possible balance of where you need it and where there is space for it.
3. HOW TO CREATE A FAMILY COMMAND CENTER
Now that you have a good sense for what you need and where it will go, it’s time for the fun part: actually pulling it together!
If you have a dedicated desk, mudroom, or built-in, you can likely skip ahead to adding in functional storage. However, if you’re dealing with an open expanse of wall (like I usually am), you may need to bring in foundation pieces to help the space look and function like a command center. There are no set rules on what you need to use, and your decision may be heavily influenced by where in the house your command center is. In more utilitarian spaces (e.g., laundry rooms, back entryways), you might add straight-from-a-box items such as cubbies, storage benches, and organizers. In spaces that need to function and flow with the rest of the house, you might consider using a “real” piece of furniture such as a desk, armoire, console table, or bookcase. If there is no space to add furniture, don’t despair. Think about what can be added directly to the wall to visually create a zone. In several of our family command centers, I’ve used a single shelf (or a shelf with cubbies) to create a drop zone where there was none!
Resist the urge to add any and all storage you think you might need or that matches the pretty pictures you find in magazines, catalogs and Pinterest. Instead, look back at where we started: purpose. Think about the items you want and/or need to store and find functional storage items to meet those needs. If you need to store coats and bags, you likely need hooks. If you need a place for shoes, cubbies or baskets may be in order. If you want to catch mail, some sort of wall pouches or files should be brought in. Here are some other things to consider (but only add them if you need and will use them!):
- Baskets – They can be found in any size and shape you need and are best for shoes, hats, gloves/scarves, lotions and sprays, pet supplies, reusable grocery bags, etc
- Paper File Systems – From desktop to wall mounted, a single catch-all to a multi-pocket system, they are best used for mail, coupons, receipts, school papers, schedules, etc.
- Hooks – They can be decorative or peel-and-stick, one for every family member or a row for anyone to use. They are ideal for coats, hats and bags of any kind.
- Memo Boards – They can be dry-erase, cork, or magnetic, and can be blank, have a calendar, or labeled sections for each family member. They are best for jotting down reminders and pinning up things that are needed soon or can’t be lost.
- Other fun things: charging station, trays, key hooks, clocks, and mini drawers.
4. MAKE IT SPECIAL
This step is completely optional, but it shouldn’t surprise you that it’s one of my favorites. Not only can adding decorative touches be fun, but I personally believe organizational systems (especially if you are trying to build new habits) are more like to be used and loved when they are visually pleasing. That said…whatever level of “pretty” you need to add is 100% a personal choice. For some, a few decorative baskets and a pretty plant are enough. For others, adding a variety of things such as wall coverings, labels, and artwork help the command center feel more like an intentional part of the home. Take some time to add a few personal and decorative touches that can include some or all of the following:
- Wall coverings: Wallpaper, peel-and-stick wallpaper, contact paper, wrapping paper, fabric, decals or paint can liven up a boring corner or help set off an area that isn’t otherwise distinct or separate.
- Artwork: Photographs, favorite phrases, monograms, family names, or artwork help even the smallest of nooks feel more personal.
- Coordinated color scheme: Sticking to a pre-determined color palette (no matter how neutral or colorful you prefer) can help the space feel intentional rather than a cluttered mess of paper and shoes.
- Baskets and labels: Pretty organization supplies may help you use them more!
- Plants: Real or faux…a little green is always a good idea!
(This one was done as a special project for Coupons.com. Sorry I don’t have a link for you!)
MY FAMILY COMMAND CENTER ESSENTIALS
All of the photos in this post are family command centers that we have setup across our various homes. It is these spaces that, over time, have taught me what works and what doesn’t…what our family needs and what we don’t. It is certainly a process; and I’ve gotten it wrong as much as I’ve gotten it right. As such…don’t be discouraged if you implement a system that doesn’t work or doesn’t get used the way you thought. Just (regularly) troubleshoot and experiment until you find the right combination for your space and your family.
That said, if you look across my photos, you may notice there are some consistent elements from one to the next. These are the elements we use and rely on, so I am sure to implement them every single time. Here are my “Family Command Center Essentials”:
- Baskets – We mostly use them to catch hats, sunscreen/bug sprays, and small electronics (like our running watches, chargers, and earphones)
- Hooks – We are a “hang it up” family, so I install hooks wherever I can to catch jackets, bags, towels and hats.
- Paperwork Files – While the exact product we use seems to change each time, I ALWAYS have something to catch and hold the mail.
- Memo Boards – Not only are these super useful, but I like that they help create a focal point no matter where your command center is or what other products you’re using.
- Pops of Pretty – On the spectrum of a few pretty details to an entirely color-coordinated display, you guys can probably figure out where I land 😉 I love creating that “quintessential” command center space with a focal wall, art, baskets, labels and more.
There is one family command center I didn’t include today…the one in our current home! You’ve actually already seen it…our foyer. Even though this time around our family command center doesn’t have that look that I typically love, its form and function is just the same as our previous homes! Back here on Friday, I’ll give you the “organizational tour” of our foyer makeover, and show you how I added in all the same functionality of our usual command centers, but in a much “sneakier” way! See you then!