As technology has evolved so rapidly in the past 10 years, so has the notion of a home office. We increasingly carry around work and personal files on a handheld device or laptop. But despite this convenience, it still helps to feel grounded with a designated spot in your home to work, keep your important personal papers and store office supplies.
Your base of operation doesn’t have to be an entire office. In fact, a big space doesn’t always result in better organization; if you end up keeping too much, it can make finding what you need more difficult. Your work space could be a desk in the corner, or even a designated counter. No matter the size, what’s most important is to make the best use of your space by assigning a place for everything. Here are some tips:
Files and paper
At the beginning of the year (now!), go through and purge last year’s utility bills, bank statements and school papers so that you have room for this year’s records. Put papers that you need to keep from the previous year, but don’t need to access, in a labeled filing box and store them. Use desktop file boxes or wall-mounted file pockets for bills. Magnetic strips and bulletin boards are great for pending papers or items that need action.
Each family member should have his or her own letter-size box for this year’s keepsakes. At the end of the year, go through the box to decide what to keep and what to toss. Older keepsakes, such as the birthday cards you received two years ago or the artwork your 10-year-old created when he was in kindergarten are okay to keep, just not in your everyday work space. Box them up neatly, label them and put them in the attic or basement.
If your work space is in the middle of your living room, filing carts with casters can be moved easily when entertaining.
A work space also requires a place to store supplies. A small box on your desk can hold a stapler, paper clips, tape and sticky notes. Overflow items can be kept in a portable tote in a closet if space is at a premium. But don’t buy paper clips for the next 10 years. Even if it’s cheaper to buy in bulk or you love a certain kind of pen, don’t buy 20 boxes. A couple of reams or a box of paper is sufficient, and a half-dozen ink cartridges for your printer will suffice. If you need something else in a pinch, you can order it online or run to a store. Don’t stock up “just in case.”
Take time to determine how to keep your cords organized and accessible. When you add a power strip to accommodate more gadgets, label your cords and arrange them in a way that you can easily access them. There are many different products to help consolidate and hide unsightly cords. If you go to the trouble and expense to buy one, use it. People often buy bundlers and labels but then have a hard time gathering the motivation to get down on the floor and do the actual untangling. When it’s time to recycle one of your electronic devices, also remember to recycle the cord.
The most important piece of the puzzle: You
Even a totally organized home office space will not stay organized magically. Daily maintenance is required. Sort your mail every day. Throw away junk mail immediately and pay bills as they arrive. Designate a spot for papers that need to be filed and another spot for papers that need action. File every other week and go through your action pile weekly. Don’t keep things you don’t need. If you’re contemplating whether you should keep something, the answer is probably no.
Most important, start now. If you resolve simply to clear out old paperwork and make new file folders before the end of January, you’ll be well on your way to an organized 2014.
Anzia is a freelance writer and owner of Neatnik. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.