Organizing the Office

(A friend asked for my advice on tackling the office. Here’s my reply)

You’re right that its a big project, all the more so because it’s not a room anyone writes about when they are talking about organization. (I think everyone its dismayed!) So here is what I’ve done, feel free to use what makes sense and ignore the rest.

Zero point: I started organizing my office years ago. It hasn’t been an all-at-once task, ever. Mostly because I never wanted to spend too much time on it. Also, it was a huge task and I knew it would take more than one go-around. So keep that in mind, and make it part of your planning, too. point: I have access to a scanner at work, so deciding to go electronic with my paperwork was an easy call.

First: survey the landscape. What’s your main issue? Mine was paper. I had papers saved from my teen years, I was a real information junkie in a kind of weird way. The centerpiece was a 4-drawer filing cabinet, nearly full.

My secondary issue was that my office is also where I do art, so its not just a functional space, but a creative one. At the time I had a small desk, just big enough for a PC (with a big old-timey monitor) with a hutch to hold some supplies. You know the type, you’ve seen them at Staples. (Cheap, more than anything.) So I also had to organize my art supplies in some way that was useful.

Second: steel your heart, and invest in a big box of garbage bags. 🙂  This is usually the hardest part, the throwing away. But J. told me something which made a lot of sense: when you are sorting, don’t think of it as what you you are getting rid of. Start from the presumption that it is all going — what is it you need to save?

This was incredibly useful for me with the papers, but also with the art supplies.

There is very little, when all is said is done, that needs to be kept in paper. Everything I want is scanned and, generally, shredded. I’m eventually going to have a paperless home. Or nearly so (the will, marriage license, etc. need to kept as hard copy). Important papers are all kept in a single folder, easily grabbed in case of fire.

When I go through the mail, I literally stand over the recycling bin. If it isn’t a bill to be paid or a catalog I want to look at, I through it away immediately. This helps manage the influx of paper before it hits my office. (And once I pay a bill, I shred it. Most services can provide a copy if I request it. No need for me to keep a copy. Oh, and I try to make all of my bills except the credit cards paperless.)

So, what took the longest for me was clearing out the paper. I’d take a folder at a time and just go through it: save it? let it go? scan it for posterity? That was my decision making for months. (Then I’d scan it at work and upload it to a Dropbox so I could sort it into electronic folders at home.)

Once the paper was dealt with, I went into major disposal mode. Out went the file cabinet, then everything that didn’t serve a specific purpose. File folders, extra pens, things, and stuff; I was ruthless.  If it had any value, it went to, otherwise it went into a garbage bag and then . . .out! This included my art supplies, some of which were more than a decade old,and untouched. (I can be bad about falling in ‘love’ with a craft, and then never following up.)

When we travel, all the memorabilia goes into a book-sized archival box, and then onto our bookshelves. Other memories go into a big plastic tub which lives in the garage. If it fills, I get a new one. I’m pretty severe about what gets saved.

That included my desk — it wasn’t what I really wanted for either work or creativity. So I got something more appropriate (IKEA, actually). I also got a lovely couch, a floor lamp, and consolidated my art supplies and sewing things into a hall closet.

The closet lost it’s pre-installed wire shelving and instead got a couple more bookshelves, and I got more room for my things (there are two (sometimes three) shelves for gifts, a couple related to my writing, one for photo equipment, a shelf for things related to my being in the HoA, etc.).

So now I have space on my desk to spread out when I need to. A few office supplies are kept there (the things I use most, like a rule and pens); the rest are in a simple organizer on a shelf in the closet, along with paper for the printer and things like that.

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