Revive Your Messie Office

Recently, I received a request about organizing a messy office.  The inquiry (which I have edited to eliminate any personal references) and my response might motivate you, too, to revive your home or business office to become a place of usefulness and order.

I have had you on my mind as my office continues to pile up with mounds of paper and projects.  Do you have any suggestions for office tidying?  I would love to be able to make some drastic changes over the next couple of weeks to start the new year off right!  I have way too much paper!  How do I know what to toss and what to keep?  Any ideas on how to organize?   Thanks for all you do to help us keep things in order……

It appears to me that you will have a couple of days “alone time” to do a “quick fix.”  If this is so, you will need to buy/find one dozen xerox boxes (also called banker’s boxes and usually available at Costco or office supply stores).  You will also need 100+ manila file folders.  It is useful to have a half dozen large, black bags for discarding obsolete paperwork/magazines and newspapers.  (During the purging process, be more ruthless than generous.  If you don’t absolutely need it, toss it.)

Gather Tools

We are going to label the banker’s boxes with the general categories of paperwork in your office.  For example you might use;  Can Discard December 2011 (these papers will eventually be thrown out), Save until January 2013 (and then discard if unneeded), Store Permanently, Don’t Know, and etc.

One of your garbage bags will be for items that can be immediately discarded (these papers will be thrown out at the end of your purging sessions).

Start at your office door and work around the room counter-clockwise, starting at the top shelf/drawer/cupboard and working down and then across to the left.

Go To Work

Work for thirty minutes by a timer, then take a five-minute walk/bathroom break.  Go back to work for another thirty minutes.  Bring a lunch and eat it during one of these breaks, taking 15 or so minutes.  Then go back to work.  Keeping at the task will help with your flow, confidence, and progress.  Quit for the day when other priorities press upon you, but plan to come back tomorrow.  An organized office is a vital part of functioning at a high level, both at home and work.

Pick up a piece/stack of papers, decide if and then where to store them.  Prepare a new, labeled folder, if necessary.  Put papers in this folder in the proper box.  You must be decisive, even if you are going to change your mind as you continue to work.


If you have bookcases, their contents should be attractive to the eye, be useful for your current office needs, and complement the complete organized look you are trying to achieve.

Financial Paperwork

I would save most personal financial/tax/business papers for ten years if I didn’t own a business and thus don’t need them for quantifying my actions.  This is an easier timing to remember than the required seven years.  For example, if it is personal financial paperwork, isn’t useful for deductions, and is older than 2000, you can throw this financial paperwork out.

All “I own my own” business paperwork is best saved forever.  If you are working for a company and thus with company paperwork, you need to find out their policy for saving certain kinds of paperwork and act accordingly.


Your desk is meant to be an “A” space.  This means that most items put there are used on a daily basis.  It is not meant to be a storage area.  Move items that are “guests” to other areas of the office and keep what you use most often closer at hand.

It will take you about three days of hard, dedicated work to clean up your office.  That is a half day per each wall of the office (= 2 days) and one day for your desk and center of the room).  As you fill one box, add the #1, begin a box #2 under that same category, and continue to work.

By the end of three days, you will have several bags of papers that need to be shredded or discarded, several boxes that need to be deep-stored at the company (or your storage area if you are self-employed), and several boxes of personal items that can then be stored.

Your goal is to have your office look professional.  This means it is neat, lean on clutter, and easy to work in.  Good luck.  A revived office means a better new year!

Photos from  Used with permission.

Consider learning more about organization from the House of Order Handbook.


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