Home office clutter management

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home office in the living roomIf you’re not lucky enough to have a separate room for your home office, you’ll make do on the dining table, or setting up a desk in a corner of the living room.

This poses a special challenge because any clutter you leave on your desk is also now in the common living area for all to see. If you live with others this can be, well, a problem.

A former client of mine had her desk in what would’ve been the kitchen dining nook. She needed lots of stuff out and around her when she worked, but her partner was less than thrilled to come home and make dinner in a cluttered office.

Like many creative types, my client balked at being orderly and cleaning up.

It went against her desire for inspiration and freedom and felt confining. Yet she wanted to keep harmony in the household so was open to looking at it a new way.

I came up with the idea of expanding and contracting. When she started her work day, she expanded. Stacks of paper came out and the extra leaf of her desk went up to allow her to spread out. Everything she might need was at hand for her to be productive.

At the end of her workday, she contracted the home office.

The leaf went down, making the desktop smaller. Piles went back into drawers and cabinets. The keyboard tray slid back under the desk. The taboret rolled under the desk. The home office disappeared.

The image of contraction was an effective metaphor. It didn’t have to do with tidying. It felt like an organic response to her shift in focus from work to personal time. The work area contracted so that the kitchen could expand and she and her partner could enjoy preparing food together.

If you avoid cleaning up, can you think of a metaphor that would inspire you?

In the photo above, the shelves are open and could look cluttered if anything was on them. A simple solution would be to install bamboo roll up shades. That was, all the shelves could be opened at once for easy home office productivity, instead of having a set of doors on each one. And the rolled down shade would create a streamlined look after hours.

The Pile-Free Zone

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guard your desk spaceYears ago I had a client who was plagued by what she called CHS. That stands for Convenient Horizontal Surfaces. Whenever there was one, she found herself filling it up with something and then had to work to get it free again.

Your desk is a prime candidate for attracting piles, especially when there is empty space on it. It’s a conundrum; you want to have space to work at your desk, yet that empty space inevitably calls out to have paper piled on it.

To maintain your free space, try creating a DMZ for paper. In this demilitarized zone, you make a treaty with yourself not to allow pile attacks. They may occur elsewhere, but this spot is a pile-free zone (PFZ).

It’s helpful to mark your PFZ so you know where it begins and ends and can easily honor your self-created treaty. One way to enforce the PFZ is to use a desk blotter. These come in a variety of materials and sizes. Choose one that allows you enough space to work.

If you can’t find a big enough one, make your own. You could use a rectangle of contact paper or just make a shape with colored tape (it doesn’t have to be a rectangle!). Heck, you can even paint it right onto the desk.

What matters is that you define this spot as the PFZ. Inside the borders: no piles. Outside the borders, piles are allowed. Try to keep them in an in-box if you can.

 

Which Papers Do You Need to Keep?

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Retention schedules come in many flavors. I’ve rounded up a few here. These lists are all for home record keeping, which are harder to find online than business retention schedules.File cabinet

Caveat: always consult your accountant, tax preparer or lawyer if you’re in doubt. This is one area where it’s actually better to keep something than toss it if you’re unsure.

Here’s a simple one from an accounting website. Here’s one from North Dakota State University that has good tips on why to keep records and how to do it. Extension.org offers a fairly long one complete with the reason to keep each document.

Quick Tip: Whenever you open a folder to file something, take a moment to glance through it and see if there’s anything you can get rid of. If you’re filing in reverse chronological order (newest items in the front; I recommend this method), look in the back of the folder first for potential shredder fodder.

Repurposed file cabinet courtesy of ARTS’ photostream.