A few weeks ago I was so fed up with the mess in my home office that I hired a professional organizer. I know what you're thinking: Isn't that just paying someone to do something you could do yourself? And you're not wrong, but the operative word there is could…
Sure, it turns out I was capable of accomplishing the task on my own, but it wasn't getting accomplished. It's like how having a trainer at the gym ensures that you actually go to the gym! I can't recommend my organizer highly enough, but I can also share some of the tricks I learned that might help you get organized sans-professional.
I had gotten organized before. A few years ago, I got a file cabinet and a labelmaker and I went to town. But by this summer, my file cabinet was stuffed to the gills, so new papers weren't getting filed, they were just accumulating in terrifying piles.
My dynamo of an organizer, Perrie, came over for two 4-hour sessions (!!!). First, we purged, then we set up a new system (reinforcing my old) to guarantee that I could maintain order over the chaos. It wasn't cheap, but having an organized home office is literally priceless!
Inspired to get organized? Here are some of the things you can do to make it all better:
• Throw away unnecessary files. I was holding onto a lot of stuff I didn't need. You should keep 5-7 years' worth of tax records, same with medical invoices that you can claim tax exemption on. Bank statements and credit card statements are all stored digitally now — you can get them from your bank if you need them — so just keep the last 3 months. Pay stubs, just keep till the end of the year. I was also holding onto a lot of other unnecessary files: warranties for items I no longer had, keepsakes that had no sentimental value, etc. I was able to get rid of about 70% of my files, so not only are the remaining files totally clear and organized and necessary, but I was actually able to fit it all into one little file box, totally eliminating the need for my big file cabinet, and creating a huge amount of space in my bedroom! This Purging stage can take a really long time, especially since you should really shred any documents that could make you vulnerable to identity theft (bank statements, etc.)
• Set up an Action Area at arm's reach. On my desk, I now have a paper tray that is reserved for items that require immediate action: bills to pay, RSVPs to send, things to return, etc. The key now is that I have to stay on top of this Action pile at least once a week; it's the system's most vulnerable point for a master procrastinator like me.
• Use your desk storage only for things you use all the time. I had been using the two shallow drawers on my West Elm Parsons desk as junk drawers, and they were so packed they would hardly open. Now they hold my checkbook along with neat stacks of envelopes, stationary, stamps, paper clips, Post-It notes and little else. When I paid bills, I used to have to get up and hunt around for envelopes; now I know where everything is and it's all right in front of me! This seems totally obvious in retrospect, but it was revolutionary.
• Your desk top should only be for important everyday things. Beneath my Action paper tray, I have a second tray for a few folders I often use. For instance, one contains current-year tax-related documents that I'll want to bring to my accountant. Everything else goes in my file box, which, since the Purge, now has plenty of room for new items.
• Make use of bulletin boards. I love to keep design inspiration and sentimental mementos, but I had no place to put all that paper. So I now have a new bulletin board for things like pretty invitations and other bits of visual inspiration that would otherwise get lost on the desk top. Perrie also helped me set up a system for storing meaningful letters and birthday cards, so I know where it all is, and can easily add to it without getting disorganized again.
We'll see how long I can maintain it, but the professional kick in the pants really helped me, forcing me to sit there for a cumulative 8 hours that I never would have done on my own. It's back-to-school time, so it's time for us all to be organized — if you think you need professional help and you live in New York, I really strongly recommend The Spacialist. Otherwise, I hope these tips are helpful!
What other home office organizing tips do you have for the Apartment Therapy community? Please contribute in the comments!
Images: Anna Hoffman