Tips for a Humming Home Office

Isn’t it fun to look through catalogs and magazines and daydream about the beautiful images of pristine, highly functional yet still cozy home offices?

It’s really too bad that the fantasy rarely lives up to reality. Somehow, some way, for some reason random papers accumulate, cords spread like ivy across all surfaces, and gadgets, figurines and ‘desk accessories’ sprout up in any open space. Pretty soon, despite your best intentions, you’ve got nowhere to work.

Alicia on the benefits of a humming home office

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again (and again!): according to the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), people waste an average of one hour per day looking for missing items or important papers in messy files. So, if you’ve been complaining that you just don’t have enough time, but you’ve got a home office area that’s under water, you could gain back practically eight extra hours a week if you commit to getting it organized!

Sarah on the Origins of the Office Dump

The top reasons home offices turn into dysfunctional dumping grounds are actually fairly straightforward: you either haven’t designed the space to be shared, you haven’t mastered the art of cable wrangling, or you lack a regimen for filing. By addressing these areas, you’ll be amazed at how the dump disappears and is transformed into a space where you can actually get some work done!

#1: Be Realistic About Multi-Users
Let’s face it; unless you live alone or in a mansion, it’s virtually impossible to keep others from sharing your workspace. But it is possible to make any space functional for multiple users, no matter how small the size or limited your budget. It just takes a little planning. First, create and clearly label ‘inboxes’ for each person who will use the work space. Accordion folders, manila folders, binders or stacked boxes all make excellent personalized inboxes.

Once such a system is in place, instruct each person to contain their paper clutter to their box or folder — no ‘overflows’ allowed! Second, create a schedule for each user and post it in a visible spot — this is particularly important if the family shares a computer. Time doesn’t have to be divided equally, but you should be realistic. Finally, have all users commit to leaving the work space in as good or better condition than when they sat down. A code of mutual respect is critical to maintaining the functionality of the area.

#2: Wrangle Cables & Office Accessories Effectively
Wires, cables, staplers, paper clips, figurines and cute office ‘giftlets’ (think magic 8 balls with a company logo) will multiply like rabbits and take over every inch of a desktop if you’re not vigilant. There are lots of great products out there to help you stay on top of this stuff. Use cable snakes, Velcro straps or simple twist ties to keep cables neat and tidy and, maybe even try using a cordless keyboard and mouse for your computer. There are thousands of fashionable desk caddies that will help contain accessories to a small area — they’re well worth the investment. And to keep those giftlets under control, limit each person to one personal item on the desk.

#3: Have a Simple Filing System
You can’t expect a work space to remain clutter-free if you don’t set up a companion filing system. There are options for every budget — ranging from hanging files to filing cabinets. You will need at least four categories of files: bills, bank statements, receipts for taxes, and insurance/legal documents. Customize your filing system so that it works for you — and all the users — but don’t try to get by without it!