Taming Your Office... One Piece of Paper at a Time!


I kicked off this blogging adventure a few weeks back by telling you about GO (Get Organized) month and encouraging you to break down your organizing projects into goals you can meet. How is it going so far? Do you open your kitchen drawer ten times a day and pet your utensils? Is your bedroom a thing of beauty? Do you have a closet you love? Drop me a comment and let me know what’s working--or what’s not. I’d love to hear your stories.

Now on to today’s challenge. Whether you work out of a home office or one in a building you commute to every day, you probably spend many hours of the day in this space. If your desk is piled high with files and bills and your drawers are jammed to the gills--there’s a reason we call it “stuff”--I’m guessing it’s not all that inviting. And how frustrating is it to be constantly searching for things that never seem to be in their proper place?

Paper organization is one of the behemoths of any office organizing task, so I’m going to focus on how to tackle that in a methodical fashion. Seize a two-hour window and gather up six containers--boxes, bins, buckets, whatever’s at hand--and take them into your office. Put these sticky notes on each one:

  • Recycle
  • Shred
  • File
  • Other
  • Office
  • Donate

Every piece of paper on your desk is going to go into one of the top three categories. This is a fast process, and shouldn’t require a lot of reading and deciding. You want to do it quickly and not get stuck in the details.

Once all the paper has been reassigned (about half of it should be in “Recycle” by now), tackle other items on your desk. A stray rubber ducky from the bathroom? “Other.” A stapler without a home? “Office.” (It will be given a home in this room once you organize it.) And that old glasses case you replaced four months ago? “Donate.”

If your desk has drawers, these same rules apply--take everything out, reassign it to the containers, and start with a clean slate.

To help with the letting go, repeat my mantra to yourself: Do I love it? Do I use it? Do I appreciate it? In this case, where important documents may be involved, you can also add: Do I need it? If you don’t get a solid yes to these questions, you can feel good that it has served its purpose in your life and is ready to be sent on.

Once you clean off the surfaces, including any shelves you may have, you’re ready to set up your filing system. Today I’m going to address paper filing, since I hear that’s what most people are struggling with in home offices these days, but down the road I plan to blog about digital filing and what that process looks like.

Choose file folders that are the same color to keep the drawer looking crisp. Labels should be alphabetical and affixed in the center. Label them by hand or using a label maker; all caps, of course!

Your very first file is called “Immediate”--that’s the one for time-sensitive items. Next, I recommend keeping a handful of everyday folders in the front of your filing system, with broad categories for now, like financial, medical, personal--things will be easier to find, and you can always tweak them as you move forward. Files that are lower rotation, such as tax, vet, or insurance, can be filed alphabetically after these in the file drawer or rolling file cabinet.

Now incorporate the papers from your “File” box into these files, and if it seems at a second glance that you’ve hung onto something unnecessarily, feel free to continue purging (the “Recycle” box is right there!) as you move forward.

Vital documents, like wills, identification papers, and important certificates should be in their own portable file, ready to grab in the event of an emergency. Scan and store these in the cloud for back up.

At this point, you have a system to handle your paper flow, and you can organize your drawers using containers or dividers, colorize books on shelves, and de-clutter the extras by moving them into the “Other” or “Donate” box. With the paper wrestled into submission, I’m guessing these other tasks will seem minuscule in comparison.

One good trick for a home office is to declare your kitchen paper-free and use your office as the mail station. No more sliding piles of envelopes on the cutting board! Try it for a week, and see how it goes. Make a commitment to open your mail every day, immediately toss the junk, shred the personal, and put the rest in your files. If it works after seven days, fold it into your routine.

Lastly, taking five minutes at the end of the day to clean up your work space, even if it’s putting papers into a pile, stacking books, and tucking pens away gives you a feeling of calm when you return in the morning. What a fabulous way to set your coffee cup down and begin your day.

Happy Organizing!