I Tried the “Core 4 Method” and It Transformed My Cluttered Home Office in Half a Day

published Mar 6, 2023
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Messy office before organizing with four core organizing method.
Credit: Catherine Toth Fox

For years, even before the pandemic forced people to turn living rooms, kitchen tables, and spare bedrooms into office spaces, I had been working from home. Wherever I’ve lived — from a 333-square-foot studio rental to the four-bedroom home I now own with my husband — I have had to create a suitable, functional space to work. Minimal distractions, lots of natural light, and, if I was lucky, a view of something green.

A few years ago, I transformed a guest room into my home office, replacing a queen-size bed with a wooden ladder bookshelf and a small desk for my laptop. We painted the walls a neutral white and updated the windows to allow in as much natural light as possible. I can even see the tops of the bamboo trees growing outside.

Credit: Catherine Toth Fox

But keeping this space tidy and clutter-free hasn’t been easy, not with an energetic 6-year-old and a kitten who uses my office as her personal playground. Stacks of paper and unread magazines grew, my son’s artwork spread across the walls, and an assortment of “things” — cowrie shells from a recent beach outing, random business cards, Post-Its, charging cords, a stress-relieving candle, hand sanitizers — started to take over the space. Something had to be done!

I’m a big believer in the concept that a messy space — like a home office — can affect mood and productivity. But decluttering this room felt overwhelming. That’s what made the Core 4 Method by professional organizer Kayleen Kelly so appealing. She breaks down the decluttering process into four simple steps — clear out, categorize, cut out, and contain — that can be applied to any room in your home, without feeling overwhelmed. That’s exactly what I needed. Here’s how it worked.

Credit: Catherine Toth Fox

Step 1: clear out. In Marie Kondo fashion, I took everything off my desk, shelves, and floor and piled them on my dining room table to sort through later. (Plus, it was easier on my back to stand at the table and sort, rather than sit on the floor.) Whatever I recognized as trash — old receipts, expired gift cards, candy wrappers — I immediately threw away. Then I wiped down the shelves and my desk.

Credit: Catherine Toth Fox

Step 2: categorize. I purchased a few plastic storage bins from a local hardware store for this purpose. I created general categories that applied to my personal stuff — I had a bin for office supplies, another for computer-related items, and another for pens. (Yes, just pens.) I spent a couple of hours sorting everything. I created stacks of magazines, books, and various papers — the biggest culprit of my clutter, hands down. I used my Brother P-Touch label maker to label bins and cords, and set up a trash bag (for more trash) and a box for donations.

Credit: Catherine Toth Fox

Step 3: cut out. I looked at everything I had accumulated and made decisions on what I wanted — and, most importantly, what I didn’t. I filled the trash bag and donation box with things I wanted to get rid of, and returned errant items to their proper places, like an apron to the kitchen and Pokémon cards to my son’s room.

Credit: Catherine Toth Fox

Step 4: contain. Now, I needed to figure out what items go together in containers, being mindful, Kelly says in her TikTok video, of not overcrowding them. The goal is to make your things organized and accessible. I put all of my computer and charging cords in one small bin, and extra office supplies in another. It was a lot easier to organize and fill bins after culling the things I didn’t need. There was just less stuff.

Credit: Catherine Toth Fox

Now, everything is ready to be given a home, as Kelly says. In all, it took me five hours to declutter and organize my home office — and that included a break to walk my dogs and another to eat leftover pizza. Now, when I work here, I feel less overwhelmed and more. I actually look forward to starting my work day, even on Mondays. Only the kitty misses the mess.