Living with Less, Week 5: Home Office and Files

Phew, what an undertaking! I'll be honest and admit I haven't completely finished our filing system, but I'm not sure I ever will: it seems the needs of a home office will change over time as our life evolves. So, I can commit to fine tuning and flexibility. If you're new to this series and feel like to just joined mid-conversation, catch-up by checking out Living with Less, Project Update: Reader Suggestions, Questions and Comments.

Project Recap: During Living with Less, Week 2: Clothes and Coat Closets, I pared-down my clothing from three bedroom closets to just the one in our master bedroom. And in Living with Less, Week 3: Linen Closet, I realized with a little order and organization, I could conveniently store a set of cleaning supplies on the second floor, right where I needed them most. In Living with Less, Week 4: Incoming Mail and Electronic Files, I realized as I began tackling our home office, I couldn't determine which magazines and books were essential or organize files until the junk mail stopped proliferating and our digital file structure was updated. So, I renamed the week to: Establishing Order to Live with Less.

Lessons Learned: Living with Less, Week 5

  • Flexibility: The needs of your home office and filing system will change over time as your life evolves, so be flexible: take note of what works well and what might need a little fine tuning. You make the rules, so tailor them to your needs and live by them!
  • Generalize First: As I established our filing system, I realized it was easiest to generalize documents in the first pass, then become more specific with those categories as was needed. For example, if you own a home and a car, first establish a file for insurance, then during your second pass, break-up that file into two subfiles: one for home owners insurance and another for car insurance. This is especially true if you use different carriers.
  • Going Digital: Depending on the complexity of the documents you keep (whether you own a home, a business, etc.), transferring some of your documents to digital form might be helpful. I recommend establishing your physical file structure to first determine which documents might be good digital candidates. For example, I plan on digitizing our utility bills and saving them until we sell the house (which we have no plans of) mostly because I want to gauge our energy usage over time (especially as we make the house more energy efficient), but I don't want to buy a giant filing cabinet. Interested? Take a look at this Re-Nest related post: NEAT Receipts Scanner Helps You Go Paperless.
  • Contain Clutter: Unfortunately, there will be clutter-inducing items left in your home office, even once you pare back. It's the nature of the supplies and equipment. Set aside a few ball jars for those items you want handy but need to be contained: paperclips, pens, colored pencils, binder clips, etc. Hello wires! There's really not anything more annoying than a tangled mass of cell phone chargers, iWhatever headphones and USB cables, but there's nothing that seems to proliferate more in a modern home office. To take control, I identified one drawer that would house such items. I separated the cords and neatly wrapped and bound them to themselves and did my best to organize the drawer. I know it will come unraveled in the near future (once a loved family member goes looking for something), but at least there is one place they belong and I can attend to drawer every so often.
  • Memorabilia: While I'm not against keeping photos, thank you notes and birthday cards, at least for a short while, I believe they have a place and not everything needs to be displayed at once. I love the tip Martha Stewart gives in her book Homekeeping Handbook: "Unless a piece of personal correspondence holds sentimental value, you should discard it once you've answered it. If you decide it's worth keeping, move it to a bulletin board to display it for a while. File it if you've established a very orderly system for other such correspondence, and even then you should make it a regular habit to go through such files (to purge them) annually." Do just that. Your display doesn't have to be stagnant: showcase such items, but contain them on a bulletin board.

Questions? Comments? Are you following along or thinking about doing so? Let us know!

(Image: Landis Carey)