Home office organization is something we don't think much about until it's too late. You need a home office, so you create one. And over time, as you work in your home office, things stack and layer around you - used coffee mugs, a stack of files you keep meaning to put somewhere, software boxes, bills, orphaned pens - until one day, when something gets in your way or disappears for the umpteenth time, you suddenly realize that getting your home office organized is long overdue.
Full home office organization is a big job. It tends to be overwhelming at first glance (and even the second and third). If you feel up to it, you can follow a 12-step plan to make your office space functional and attractive again. But if you're not quite ready for a full makeover but desperately need to be able to find things, here are five small manageable things you can do to organize your home office right now.
Pick Three Things and Throw Them Out
We'll start our home office organization with something easy just to get you in the mood and clear some space. There's probably a lot more than just three things either on your desk or scattered around your home office that can go from your workspace right to the trash or recycling bin.
Look closely. Do you really need those old magazines? That pen that doesn't work? Those used snack pudding containers? No. Get rid of them!
You don’t need to stop at just three things. If you see more obvious candidates for the trash, throw them out, too. You could even use author and celebrity organizer Marie Kondo's method of asking yourself, "does this paperweight, photo frame, gel tipped pen...spark joy?" If it doesn't spark joy, toss it.
Weed One Filing Drawer
Filing cabinets are the kings of clutter for most home offices, which is ironic because we think of them as clutter solutions. In reality, though, we stuff them with whatever we can't find a place for or whatever piece of paper we don't need to deal with anymore but don't want to throw away. So our filing cabinet becomes our own personal landfill and when it's full, we just move in another one.
Sorting through the standard-sized four-drawer filing cabinet can resemble an archeological dig with years of accumulated stuff to sift through. So let's start small. Organize your home office by choosing one drawer and weeding through it, removing anything that's no longer current or necessary. (Remember, though, that you need to keep your business records for six years.)
Documents and papers that you no longer have to keep should be shredded. You may be able to re-use old file folders.
Take it a step further by buying a cardboard file box and use it to store old files that you need to keep but don't have to have immediate access to. Store the box in a spot away from your home office.
Clear Your Bulletin or Message Board
Bulletin or message boards are a feature in many home offices. Alas, rather than keep us posted on up-to-date events and helping us to keep our lives organized, they often degenerate into cluttered time capsules.
Look at yours right now. Is there anything posted or written there that relates to something you need to do today or even this week? What do you see instead? Pictures drawn by the kids? Photos from last summer’s camping trip?
Keep the purpose of home office organization in mind. We're not just decluttering; we're creating a workspace that will help you be more productive. There's nothing wrong with having the kids' pictures and family photos displayed in your home - but your home office is not the place for them. Take them down and move them elsewhere. Then clear all the old messages off the board. You're ready to move forward.
Organize One Desk Drawer
Drawers tend to be dumping grounds anyhow but in a home office. Start small. Select one desk drawer and taking everything out of it.
Sort through the contents, throwing out whatever is no longer useful and moving whatever is misplaced back to its better location. (The recipes, for instance, are probably best located near the kitchen rather than at your desk.)
Then insert a plastic organizer tray (available at any office supplies store) and put things back into the drawer, using the different sections of the organizer tray to keep things separate and easy to find.
Clear Your Desktop for a Week
Start by getting a large cardboard box (or two). Now take everything off your office desk except for items that are absolutely necessary for your work, such as your computer and phone. Put everything you remove from your desktop into the cardboard box(es).
Put the box(es) somewhere accessible but out of the way so you're not tripping over them. Then go to work just as you normally would. As you're working in your home office, if there's something you need that's not on your desk, fish it out of the box and put it in a logical place on or around your desk. For example, if you find you're word processing from typed copy, get your desk copyholder out of the box and put it back on your desk.
By the end of a week, you'll have everything you need to work efficiently on your desk or close to hand – and nothing else. As for whatever's left in the box, it belongs somewhere else, properly filed if it's a necessary piece of paper or thrown out if it's something that's just cluttering up your workspace.
Your Home Office Organization Can Stop Here
If you want it to. That is, as promised, five small manageable things to organize your home office. Take your home office organization further if you like. Organize all your desk drawers. Master your filing system. Go through the full home office organizational makeover if you want to.
Learn how to create a document management system. But that's for later. Right now hopefully the organizing you've done is doing what it was meant to do – letting you get more done more easily when you sit down to work in your home office.