Typically, my home office has served as a catch-all for things that don’t really have a place of their own. Papers I need to go through? Stick them in the office. Cardboard boxes from Amazon? Stick them in the office. Stuff I need to get out of the way when company comes? Shove it in the office, shut the door, and breathe a sigh of relief. My desk always looks like a maze – part paperwork, part broken items that need to be fixed – with a tiny hole carved out for me to work.
When I moved into my house in 2009, I immediately chose the smallest bedroom as my new home office. Unfortunately, the room wasn’t at the top of my “to remodel” list and became storage for tools, ladders, and paint cans while my dad and I gutted the house. My antique desk, in serious need of refinishing after years of soda can rings and other abuse, gathered dust in the basement. I used my a closet door and some sawhorses to set up my computer in the living room, eventually moving it to the kitchen counter to free up space. Today, 20 months after moving in, my office is back in one piece.
After going so long without a place to work, I’m determined not to let my office become the junk room. Old habits are hard to break, though, and I found myself wondering how I would prevent clutter from overtaking my space. Here are the steps I took to keep my office a place for work instead of a place for everything else:
1. Determine the real purpose of your home office.
What do you want from your home office? I want a space to work on blogging, surf the internet, pay bills, and fix my son’s broken toys (I am a Gorilla Glue master!). I read and listen to music in my office. I would also like to entertain guests sometimes since my computer monitor is nearly as big as my TV. Thinking of all the things I need an office to do tells me what I need: a computer, a desk, space to work, space to sit. Based on this, I do NOT need laundry baskets, winter coats, or any of the other stuff that used to find its way into my office. Giving the room a clear purpose helps keep it functional.
A large part of the clutter in our lives comes from things we own and don’t have time to organize. Bills, magazines, and mail in general are my least organized items, so I set out to create a system to deal with them. I bought letter trays, just like the ones I use at work, and labeled them “in,” “out,” and “file.” When I bring in the mail, it goes straight to the “in” tray. Every night before bed, I go through the tray. If something needs to be mailed, I get it ready and put it in the “out” tray. If I need to keep it for later, it goes in the “file” tray. Everything else goes in the trash. Every weekend, I go through the “file” tray and place paperwork in the hanging folders I bought. These simple steps have kept piles of paperwork off my desk for the first time in my life.
I also made a mental list of what belongs on top of my desk: monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer, lamp, pencil cup, and two photo frames. Every night, I make sure nothing extra is left on my desk. I pretend I’m at my job and will get in trouble if I don’t keep things put away. (I wouldn’t actually get in trouble for a messy desk at work, but it’s a psychological thing.) It’s amazing how easy it is to get things done when I actually have room to do them.
3. Condense “stuff” into manageable numbers.
I have a ton of books, which typically end up all over my house until they’re thrown into the
junk room office when I need to clean in a hurry. I bought two small bookshelves and decided I would only keep enough books to fill the shelves. In order to stay, each book had to pass three tests:
- Do I actually read this book?
- Is the information current?
- Will I be left scrambling for entertainment/information without it?
If I answered “No” to any of those questions, the book went straight to the donation box.
Another source of desktop mayhem? Office supplies. I LOVE office supplies, and I love having tons of them around in case I need them. But how many Post-it notes and paperclips does one person need? Not as many as I had; I know that much. I went through every desk drawer and left only one of everything – one Sharpie marker, one Post-it pad, one stapler, one 3-hole punch. The extra stuff went into a storage container in my attic. If I run out of something, I can go get more, but I don’t have to keep it all on my desk.
Shortly after I got my office put together, I realized I was spending a lot of time staring at blank walls. I’d made a plan to keep the room free of clutter, but it still felt like a storage closet. So I bought some art for the walls, put up blinds and curtains, and hung pictures. It made a huge difference in the way I view the room, and it motivates me to keep it neat.
5. Adapt your space as your needs change.
Like any other room in our homes, an office can be used for more than just work. Some people I know have a home entertainment space within their office. Other people may scrapbook or work on other crafts. If you find yourself collecting items for a hobby or home-based business, rethink the tools you’ll need to keep things organized. You may need to purchase additional storage or rearrange the room to meet your needs.
Do you have a home office? Does it ever become a place for a little bit of everything? How do you stay organized?