As a professional organizer I see a lot of disorganized home offices. Desks covered with mail, floors hidden by piles of stuff, printers buried under papers, drawers with no room to add anything, and bookshelves crammed with stuff that is starting to fall out. The good news is that most home offices can be returned to productive, Zoom worthy, workspace in just a few hours. Here is my step-by-step guide for organizing your home office. Let’s get started!
1. Clear your space.
The first step to organizing a chaotic home office is to clear the space. Start my finding proper homes for the items that are taking up space on the floor. If the item is not used to get work done, it is time to relocate it out of your home office and put it in its proper location in your home. (Yes, that means you, giant package of Costco toilet paper and your treadmill.) If you have old printers, monitors and other outdated technology just lying around it is time to get rid of them now. (Go to https://www.recyclemyelectronics.ca/ to find a location close to you that accepts old electronics.)
2. Sort your stuff.
This is the fun part of organizing because you get to find all your stuff that has been lost! Time to clear off the desk, empty each drawer and remove every item from the bookshelves. Your goal is to sort every item into categories that you will create. Office supplies will be one category, books will be another, electronic cords will be another. Keep creating categories based on what you find. If you do not have enough room on your desk continue sorting your categories in piles on the floor. If some of your categories get too big, consider dividing them into subcategories so that the piles stay manageable. For example, your office supply category has so much stuff you decide to create separate subcategories for printer paper, lined paper, and notebooks.
Papers that require further sorting should be boxed for now to get them out of the way. If papers are already grouped by project, use large elastic bands or Zip Lock bags large enough for papers, to keep them together. A good system for categorizing papers is Current, Projects to Do, and Filing.
Keep going until you have sorted every item in your office. If you require more space, use the closest space outside your home office, such as the hallway or an adjacent bedroom. Items will only be here temporarily so do not worry about how it looks for now.
3. Purge your stuff.
Now that everything has been divided into categories it is time to purge some of your unused belongings. Look at each category separately. As you were sorting you probably came across some items and thought “I haven’t used that in years”, or “I’ve replaced that”. Your first purge should be these easy items that you no longer use. Have boxes labelled donations, recycling, and trash, ready to drop these items into.
For the next round of purging pick up each item and ask yourself the following questions:
- “Have I used this in the past year?”
- “Will I use this in the future?”
- “Could I find this information online?”
If you are not currently using something and you have not used it in the past year, chances are you are not going to miss it if you get rid of it. Only keep books that you plan to read or refer to again. For printed material ask yourself if you could find it easily online? If the answer is yes, consider recycling it. For items that still have life left in them consider donating them. It keeps them out of landfill, and somebody will want and use it. Remember one man’s junk is another man’s treasure!
When you are done making decisions, move the recycling box to the garage and the donation boxes to your car. Having the donations in your car will remind you to drop them off the next time you go out. If you have any items to sell, move them to an area of your home that will remind you to list them online. (I like to list items for sale on Facebook Marketplace while watching TV, so I tend to move any items I have for sale to the living room.)
4. Furniture placement
Now that your office is emptied out, it is time to reconsider furniture placement. Is the desk in its ideal location? A window behind you is not ideal for Zoom calls, as the light will leave your face shadowed. A window facing your screen may be uncomfortable on a sunny day. A window can also be a source of distraction. Will facing a wall help you remain focused and improve your productivity? Is your printer located far away because of the outlet? Now is the time to grab an extension cord and try reconfiguring your office furniture to suit your current needs. If your desk is too large to fit another way, consider problem solving another way: use blackout curtains during Zoom calls, or consider covering a distracting window with artwork or an attractive window cling.
5. Storage decisions
Now that you have reduced the number of items in your home office, it is time to look at everything you have decided to keep and figure out the best storage solutions. Think of storage space like real estate. The space within arm’s reach of your office chair is prime real estate. This is the space that must house the items you use every day, such as your laptop, pens, and your calendar.
Your next most valuable real estate is the area close to your desk but not within arm’s reach. This could be a bookshelf, a filing cabinet or a second desk. This space will store items that you like to have close by, but do not necessarily use every day, such as extra printer paper, reference material, and family photos.
The last storage space to consider is storage that is out the way. This could be a closet, a storage trunk, or the space under the stairs. Here you will store everything you only need to access occasionally. This could be previous year’s tax records, completed projects, and sentimental items.
Things to consider when you are storing items: Keep like with like. Storing similar items together cuts down on the amount of time you spend looking for a particular item. So, whether the item ends up in your desk drawer or it is stored in the closet, consider keeping like with like. Consider this example using household batteries: when you need a battery, it is easier to go to the junk drawer to find one rather than searching multiple storage areas of your home. The same thing goes for items in your home office. Group all your extra pens, printer paper and Post It notes together in their storage location. This will not only make them easier to find but you will be able to see the total quantity you own, cutting down unnecessary multiple purchases of items.
Most of the home offices I get called in to organize have been abandoned by their owners because stacks of paper have taken over the space. Problems with papers tend to start when there is no system for addressing incoming mail and the filing system is outdated. To ensure you do not get overwhelmed by mail create a system that temporarily houses your mail until it is dealt with. This could be as simple as a designated spot on your desk, or a multi-tiered tray labelled “Pay This Month”, “For Filing” or “Read later”. It is a good idea to keep a recycling bin under your desk to discard the outer envelopes and anything papers you do not wish to keep, and a shredder to destroy documents that contain confidential information. Next, you must decide on a system for storing important documents you must keep. Whatever system you use, whether it is a filing cabinet, a box with hanging folders, or an accordion file, review it on an annual basis to purge the papers you no longer need. If there are certain papers that you file regularly, ensure those folders are the easiest to reach by placing them in the most accessible drawer near the front. Hate to file? Do not do it every day. Let it build up and do it once a month in one easy swoop.
7. Hire a Professional Organizer
If the thought of organizing your office feels overwhelming or you simply do not have the time, consider hiring Organized by Catherine. We save you hours of time by completing the sorting process, guiding you through the purging process, and optimizing your home office workspace. Hiring Organized by Catherine is an investment in your productivity!