Mom's Office Purge

I had a great time earlier this month with a young mom whose office was her Waterloo. We put several hours into it and pulled this together for her. I know that she’s not the only one struggling with this so I thought I’d knock out a quick office how-to.  

My 8 steps for Office Organizing:

1.       GET MENTALLY PREPARED.   Many folks would just as soon clean their office as be “dragged behind a truck nekked”.   But you can do this.  Mark a date or two on your calendar to tackle this project.  Gather sorting and cleaning supplies including trash bags, turn off the computer, set your phone in another room to prevent interruptions and hit “go”.

2.       POWER SORT ALL OF THE UN FILED PAPER.  Gather 5 or so boxes or baskets.   Label them (sticky notes will do): Bills, Magazines, Correspondence, Taxes, Shred, etc.  Then go through the stacks and sort each item into its proper place AS YOU TOUCH IT.  Don’t get granular here, just put like with like, don’t make judgments, don’t put things in files, just focus on LIKE WITH LIKE.   Set a timer for a reasonable time and hit “go”.  See what you can accomplish in your allotted time frame.  If necessary, reschedule additional timed work sessions for this task.  When done, shred old documents with personal information, remove trash, and set the sorted boxes aside.  That’s it for now.   We’ll get back to these later. 

3.       TACKLE THE OFFICE SUPPLIES.  We’ll apply the same concepts:  Get ALL pens in a stack, all pencils, all cords (careful here, these seem to multiply when you are not looking), all paper sorted into stacks.   Just stick with sorting LIKE WITH LIKE.  By now you probably have discovered dead pens, multiple highlighters, staplers with no staples, etc.  Toss the trash, pare down any multiples to what you could reasonably use in 1 year.  And pitch or donate the rest.  Place the keepers on your desk top in their respective batches (if you have desk drawer dividers, by all means use them, here) and move on. 

4.       HIT THE BOOKSHELVES.  Evaluate each book.  Ask yourself, would I buy this book today?  Have I read or referred to this book w/in the last year? If the answer is “no” may we suggest you donate these out of date dust catchers?  Purge the oldies, dust the shelves and books and celebrate ALL the space for new books you have just created (although we highly recommend digital books to keep clutter to a minimum).   

5.       DISPATCH NON-OFFICEY THINGS. You might discover in your purge that there are items that don’t belong here at all.  Your son’s baseball cards, your daughter’s ballet shoes, your spouse’s left-behind craft supplies.  If at all possible, don’t succumb to the temptation to leave your sorting and deliver these elsewhere. Set each person’s items in a stack (or box or basket) and keep your focus on the office purge. In a perfect world they would come remove these items as necessary.  But you may have to deliver them yourself at the end of the day. 

6.       LET THE FILING BEGIN! I don’t know about you, but I HATE filing.  There are some organizers who specialize in filing, but that is NOT me.  Therefore, I am motivated to eliminate as many pieces of paper as I can.  I encourage all my clients to print as little as possible, file digitally and make sure to have a good digital back up system.  But if you must have pieces of paper, create a filing system that meets your needs.  If you’d prefer, there are several professional ones on the market which are out of scope of this article.  Do a little Googling and decide what works best for you.  Dave Ramsey publishes a list of which items to keep and for how long. Some folks find that binders work well for important papers, I prefer all files in a drawer…but you decide what works for you. 

7.       NOW TO CORRAL THE OFFICE SUPPLIES.  If you don’t have storage containers for your office supplies, now is the time to shop.  I like to measure my desks and snap a photo of the measurement with my smart phone.  I also run a tape on top of any supplies and snap another photo.  This way, I can see about what size container they will need.  Don’t forget to measure drawer length, width and height to make sure that the dividers or containers will fit.  I prefer vertical stands/dividers for envelopes and paper for easy access.  I hate digging for that one piece of paper on the bottom of the stack.

8.       GO BUY WHAT YOU NEED TO KEEP THE SORT.  With your measurements in hand, head to Amazon, The Container Store, The Dollar Store, Target, Walmart, Office Depot any one of these places will have paper sorters, drawer dividers, bookends, file folders…you name it.  Don’t go broke here, repurpose what you can, but get your stuff stashed.  Now, maybe you can repurpose a desk lamp, grab some pictures if you need to, a vase of flowers.  Whatever makes you happy and fulfilled after all that hard work. 

Its time now to bask in your success.  After you have put all these items into their new homes and wiped the desk down. Sit and meditate on how well you’ve done. You are organized, neat and tidy.  AND you found those missing tax receipts!   

While we have focused on your home office, your business office can probably use the same love and attention.  A couple of Friday afternoons, or maybe a Saturday morning when it’s quiet should give you enough time to knock out your other office, too.  And hey, you are now a practiced pro!