When you worked in a regular office, you probably sat under fluorescent lighting in a standard grey cubicle that was sterile, bland, and utterly blah. Working from home means you can design—and maintain—your office any way that you’d like.
But lately, you’ve noticed that your space is starting to look more like a frat house than a functional home office. It holds everything: bills, mail, textbooks, computers, keys, even the cat. And if you’re not careful, your home office workspace can go from a place that helps you maximize your productivity and makes you feel serene and on top of your to-do list to a complete and total wasteland of disorganization.
11 Tips to Help Organize Your Home Office
1. Start Afresh
If the last time you actually saw the top of your desk was in 2009, it’s time for a clean sweep—literally. Take each and every piece of paper, office supply, and pen off the desk, leaving only your monitor, keyboard, and mouse.
It can be overwhelming to try to tackle the mounds of paper and clutter when they’re on your desk. By taking everything off, you’re giving your desk—and yourself—a fresh start. Sort through the stacks without returning any items to your desktop. Create three piles (scan, save, and shred) and organize the items accordingly. That way, they won’t sneak back onto your workspace.
2. Keep It Simple
Working remotely means that you can design your digs any way you’d like, but just because you can have a myriad of magazines, photos, and plants adorning your desk doesn’t mean that you should. To keep the clutter (and yes, personal items can be clutter) to a minimum, use your desktop to hold only what you truly need when you’re working or studying.
Remove all personal items from your desk and choose one that means the most to you. Find storage space for the other possessions you want to keep, and recycle, donate, or trash the rest.
3. Make Sure Your “Co-Workers” Understand Your Need for Space
A dedicated workspace can help you get into work mode, allowing you to focus and be far more productive. But sometimes, a home office isn’t a room with four walls and a door. A home office can be anywhere—a former closet, the dining room table, even a nook under the stairs!
The problem with a creative office space though, is that not all of your “co-workers” understand that sitting at the dining room table means “don’t bother me.”
Involve your family or roommates in your organizational quest for a functional home office space. Their ideas may be useful, and at the very least, it’s a good reminder to them that your work is important, even when it’s done from home.
4. Divide Workspace From Personal Space
Three-hundred square feet of apartment space isn’t uncommon for New York City. And if that’s your situation, you need to find a way to squeeze a functional home workspace somewhere in that tiny area. Having your desk right next to your bed isn’t exactly the best option if you want some semblance of work-life balance.
A curtain is an inexpensive and easy-to-implement option that can define a small workspace. When it’s time to work, pull back the curtain and start your day. And when it’s time to call it a day, pull the curtain closed so work is out of sight and out of mind.
5. Sit at a Work-Only Desk
Keeping an orderly desk is challenging even when you work in an office and everything on your desk is related to your job. But when your home office desk starts to absorb things like utility bills and children’s permission slips, things really get chaotic.
Keep your personal paperwork on a different desk or even in a different room. If that’s not an option, maintain a separate filing and storage system in your home office for personal and work items.
6. Set up a System
Even the most organized person can get swallowed up by their workload—and a home office will suffer for it. So invest in organizational tools to keep everything in its place and keep your productivity level high.
Think about what you do and how you do it. Do you need hard copies of paperwork? Invest in some filing cabinets, a large trash can, and a shredder. Or, can you skip the hard copies in favor of virtual copies? Consider moving your filing system to the cloud to make your home office paperless.
7. Create a “Pending” Bin
Let’s say you’re waiting to hear back from your boss before you sign off on a project, and the folder is subsequently sitting on your scanner. When projects and papers accumulate on your desk because you’re awaiting a response, it can create unnecessary clutter. Instead, have a bin next to your desk where pending items can have a (temporary) home until you can complete them. That way, your desk stays clear—and so does your mind.
8. Think Vertical
Storage is, of course, important in any office. No matter how much paperwork you shift to the cloud, there’s always going to be some paperwork lying around. And, of course, you need pens, stamps, and other physical items to make your home office functional.
The problem, though, is that many home offices are small, making organizing and storing your office supplies difficult. Instead of thinking side-to-side, try thinking up. Taking your storage vertical is a great way to maximize space in a small office and opens up more real estate for unique storage needs.
Use the walls to create organizational space for your more creative work. Opt for unconventional and highly functional storage solutions like hanging clipboards, which allow you to quickly change what’s featured on the wall. Cork boards are a great way to make room for pinning papers without taking up much desk space. Or hang baskets and mount shelves to score some extra storage space.
9. Don’t Break the Bank
Furnishing and organizing a home office doesn’t have to be expensive. Think creatively about what you put in your office and look for items that can do double or triple duty.
For example, hanging shelves on the walls gives you endless storage options. You can put books on them or throw on some baskets to create an alternative filing cabinet. You can also use them as extended desk spaces to store pens, staplers, or anything else you need in your office.
Organizing your office also doesn’t mean you have to buy all new gear. Look around your house for items you can repurpose. Old jars make great pen and pencil cups. Are there empty boxes that haven’t been tossed yet? They may not be the prettiest, but they can double as storage bins for the time being.
10. Keep It Clean
Sure, you may work at home where the only other living creature who sees your digs is your dog, Jake. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep your space neat and organized. After all, you may be required to do a Skype or Zoom meeting as a part of your remote job, and you don’t want coworkers to spy stacks of papers and coffee cups scattered throughout your space.
11. Clear the Cables
If you take a peek underneath your desk, you’re sure to find a cluster of twisted cables and wires. Just as you would update the software on your computer, update your home office by investing in wireless devices—such as your keyboard, mouse, and printer—to cut down on the cables. Keep the remaining cables together with cable ties or clips so they are all neatly tied and won’t twist into tangles.
A Place for Everything
Having a home office that is clean and clutter-free is the first step in creating a better workflow. It can help you focus and stay on top of your workload, or help you keep track of the job applications you’re sending and the hiring managers you’re speaking with!
Once your space is clear, not only will it be easier to maintain, but you’ll be motivated to keep it neat and tidy, too.
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