How to organize a home office

In day one of the series, “Get Organized Today,” lifestyle expert Elizabeth Mayhew shares some tips on how to bring order to a cluttered home office.

1. Start small
Remember to start small — Rome wasn't built in a day, you can't lose 10 pounds overnight and you can't organize your entire office in one hour. Work stack by stack, pile by pile. The pleasure you gain from tackling each drawer, shelf or pile will give you the momentum to continue.

2. Act like an archivist
Home offices are one of the more difficult spaces to organize because we are tied to our papers ... many of us cling to paper like a security blanket. Yet the irony is that we live in a computer age when information is only a click away. Be tough on papers; if you can get the info on the internet, throw it away.

Many home offices are a dumping ground for miscellaneous items in the house. There is no question that sorting through these papers, pictures, receipts and bills can take you down memory lane and also be a source of major anxiety. When it comes to personal items, you need to think like an archivist — decide what's really important and what's not. For example, keep a meaningful, handwritten note from your grandmother, but do you really need to keep the birthday card with the pre-printed good wishes signed “Love, Grandma”?

3. Maximize space
Most of us tend to spread papers all over the desk and floor with ease, it's going up that's more challenging! Remember to use vertical wall space as well as horizontal. Invest in a shelving system that works in your space and be sure to measure before you buy! Elfa Office Shelving, $325 at containerstore.com

If your desk is so cluttered that you can't find space to do your actual work, try to get all of the computer components off of the desk. A keyboard tray that mounts under the desk and a flat-panel monitor gives you a lot of additional work space. Instead of putting the printer on your desk, try a printer stand with a large drawer for storing files or supplies. Keyboard tray, $33.99 at staples.com; printer stand, $750 at dwr.com

4. Contain and maintain
Sort papers into two piles: store (file or box) or shred (or recycle). Then divide the papers you decide to store into two groups: those you are storing long-term and those that you currently need. You might want to treat these two groups differently, i.e. papers you need to keep long-term might be stored in filing boxes or cabinets, while things you are currently working on might be kept more loosely in project boxes. Try to keep the boxes uniform, but labeled. That way you will “look” organized and be able to find what you need when you need it. Kenya print canvas storage boxes, $19-39 at westelm.com; cable organizer, $14.99 at containerstore.com; magnetic wipe board, $17.99 @ containerstore.com

5. Make it versatileFor many families, the home office is a multi-tasking space, so why not have multi-tasking products in the room? An adjustable desk chair and task lamp make the desk something both parents and children can comfortably use. Storage stools provide extra seating you can pull up to the computer and hidden storage space under the seats.

For a busy mom, try a portable file tote for current projects. It comes with handles and you can carry it straight to your car, then straight into your meeting. Techno pneumatic lift chair, $79 at containerstore.com; Pandan storage stool, $79 at containerstore.com; Audrey portable file tote, $60 at russellandhazel.com

6. Think OHIO: Only Handle It Once
Once you're organized, prevent your papers from piling up again by following this cardinal rule: Only Handle It Once. Your goal should be to open something, read it and deal with it immediately. Try your best not to procrastinate paying the bill or setting a catalog aside and say you'll order that sweater later. Chances are, you'll forget about it and the catalog will turn into clutter.

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