Learning how to declutter your home office is one of those skills that can be a true career saver, particularly in this day and age when 43% of employed Americans spend at least some time working from home. Sure, it's fabulous when you can type up memos and conduct conference calls remotely while doing a load of laundry. But let's face it: If your home office is a jumble of papers and lost files, then you aren't going to get much work done, right?
That's why, in this latest installment of our Declutter Your Home Guide, we give you some tips (plus pics!) that'll show you how to declutter your home office and clean up your act.
1. Consider your setup
Don't just toss a few papers or move things around—tackle everything and purge or rearrange ruthlessly! If you reach for it all day long (favorite pen, highlighter, stapler, phone), then it can live on your desktop. Everything else should be placed elsewhere—in drawers, baskets, or shelves. Did you really need that hole punch to be in the middle of your desk? What is a hole punch, anyway? Enough said.
"Shelves on the walls are often overlooked in a home office, so build a few in and you'll get stuff off your desk and counters," says J.B. Sassano, president of Mr. Handyman.
The right storage can make all the difference, he adds. "A lack of good office storage will end up wasting your time because you'll be looking for things rather than being productive."
2. Dump and sort
Your best bet is to start from scratch, which means removing everything from the drawers and cabinets and putting the items in a box or spreading them on the kitchen counter, suggests Marty Basher, a home organizing expert.
"Before putting things back or filing papers in folders, decide whether it's useful and important," he says. Toss anything that's out of date or redundant. "You might also invest in a home office shredder so you can feed documents in on a weekly basis to keep the clutter from piling up."
3. File it right
Streamline your workspace as much as possible with a good filing system, suggests Jacquie Denny, co-founder of Everything but the House. Put the most important info upfront (e.g., keep medical and legal documents in easy reach in case there's an emergency).
Also, get in the habit of using file systems correctly. "Don't allow your home desk to become a dumping ground," says Julie Coraccio, organizing pro at Reawaken Your Brilliance. "Do your filing instantly—clutter represents delayed decisions—so if you commit to those decisions now, your desk will stay organized."
4. Dig out from paper
"Paper is the No. 1 item that clutters desks, arriving in the form of bills, envelopes, receipts, sticky notes, printer paper, and more," points out Maeve Richmond, an organizing pro at Maeve's Method.
It gets to your desk two ways: You either print it out or bring it in through the front door. "Be as conscious as you can about the paper you bring inside, and be accountable for what you print," Richmond says.
Control bills and junk mail by enrolling in paperless statements, and consider scanning important documents such as tax returns and business receipts. And strive to sort all the mail as you walk in the house, tossing ads, coupons, circulars, and catalogs in the paper recycling bin.
5. Purge papers and manuals you can access online
Do you really crack open your computer's user manual on a weekly basis? Even monthly? Ever? Say goodbye to these space hogs.
"Manuals are bulky and take up a ton of space," says Coraccio. If you find you need to consult one that you've removed from your home office, go to Manualsonline.com—there's a good chance you'll find it here, she adds.
6. Unknot cables
That mess under your desk can give you a headache every time you glance down.
"If your cords and cables are a nightmare, it's time to order an inexpensive organizing system for the home office," explains Basher. Or you can go the DIY route and simply tie them together with zip or twist ties.
7. Cash it in
Make some moolah by selling old electronics, including desktops, laptops, and printers, on a site like Gazelle, says money-saving expert Andrea Woroch. And if you have old ink cartridges lying around, recycle them at Staples office supply store to earn rewards.
Jennifer Kelly Geddes creates content for Chewy.com, the National Sleep Foundation, Fisher-Price and MasterCard.