Before we start decluttering the office, we have to address one big issue: Paper.
If you don’t solve this issue now, decluttering will only provide temporary relief. It is like going on a diet and then resuming your old eating habits as soon as the weight is gone. And we all know what happens after that.
So let’s think about your paper situation for a minute.
- Mail: Do you have a system for sorting and acting upon your mail, or do you let it stack up?
- Printer: Is it always necessary to print what you’ve been printing? And to keep it around afterward?
- Magazines/Newspapers: Are you keeping stacks of them for articles you want to save or because you haven’t gotten around to reading them yet?
- Books: Do you have a lot of junky books on the shelf? You know the kind: airplane reading, vacation books, the latest thriller.
- Educational material: You went to a great seminar and brought the 3-ring binder and associated materials home intending to keep up with it. But you haven’t, and now it is taking up space.
If you don’t make it a practice to take out at least as much paper as you bring in, you will soon be drowning in paper. Maybe you already are.
A system for dealing with incoming paper products is the only way to keep your home office in balance. When your office is free of clutter, you can do your best work, whether that is paying bills, writing the great American novel, or even just relaxing while surfing the Internet.
We all get mail, and most of it junk. Hare are some suggestions for managing your mail load as well as acting upon it right away.
- Catalogs encourage you to spend money, and if you are also budgeting to reach your goal this is a bad scenario. Catalog Choice gives you the power to remove yourself from all your unwanted catalog subscriptions.
- Magazines are enjoyable, but if you are getting more than you can read it is time to cut some of them out. Let your unwanted subscriptions run out, and set up a system for recycling your magazines after 2 weeks. Cut out any articles/recipes you want to save and file them or scan them into your computer for reference.
- Bills: Start receiving and paying your bills online and save paper. Most banks offer this service for free or less than you would pay in stamps and envelopes anyway, and most companies encourage you to get electronic bills because it saves them money, too. You can set up payment dates as soon as you get your bill so it is instantly taken care of and will be paid on the due date without any further action from you.
How often do you use your printer and why? Do you print out driving directions from Google, articles you want to read, or receipts from online purchases? How about your schedule or important emails?
All of these things have their uses, but what happens when you arrive at your destination, you read the article, and you have an email confirmation of your purchase? Or your day of appointments is finished and important emails dealt with?
Having a system for recycling this paper is important, or you will always have papers in your car, on your desk, or around the house. When a paper is no longer useful to you, it should be shredded or recycled. Be ruthless, especially when you have a backup online or you can easily retrieve the information elsewhere.
Some online options for items you would otherwise print:
- Email labels/folders can be helpful in locating important emails. I use Gmail and find the search feature is excellent for my labeled emails.
- Use a system like HighRise to manage contact information and get rid of all those business cards and address books. You can even copy emails to this service and have them automatically filed in the proper online folder. I’ve been using this inexpensive service for 2 years now and love it.
- Once you arrive at your destination or otherwise finish with a piece of paper, make it a practice to fold it a certain way. Once you see a paper like that, you know it is safe to recycle. This prevents you from having to evaluate each piece of paper you find before discarding it.
Magazines and Newspapers
Do you have time to read a daily newspaper as well as mutliple magazines per week? If not, you should nip this problem in the bud rather than find a way to manage it.
- Cancel subscriptions to magazines you don’t read right away or let them run out.
- Evaluate whether a daily newspaper is right for you. Sunday delivery plus visiting the website daily during the week might be all you need.
- Many cities and neighborhoods have dedicated blogs. You can find out what’s going on in the neighborhood by subscribing to the blog.
If you are a serious scholar or collect books of a certain type, of course you make room for them in your life. But for most people, books seem to pile up and we have no intention of reading them again. Paperbacks from the beach, quick reads from the airport, or even the latest bestseller – these are all fun, quick reads that should be passed on to someone else rather than shelved at your house.
Almost every town has a used bookstore, and if you start buying books there as well you can partially subsidize your reading habit and save money. You’d be surprised at how many new titles are available at bookstores. You typically get a higher trade amount for store credit than you do for cash.
You can also set up a program to trade books with friends, or you can sign up for any of the online services that promote booksharing, like PaperbackSwap.
Following our decluttering rules, you can set up a system that for every new book that comes in, an old book has to go.
Whether you went for work or for self-improvement, you have probably taken some type of course as an adult that generated at least a 3-ring binder of information and possibly some books and CDs to go along with it. All attractively packaged, of course.
Most of us take these home stick them on the bookshelf and never look at them again. Is this the situation at your house? If so, just take out the papers and reycle them now, and use the 3-ring binder for something else or donate it to the nearest school.
If you plan to use the material, consider how it will best work for you. Perhaps you can keep one big binder and set up sections to house your most important seminar material from the last 5 years and throw the rest away. You can even stick DVDs in a plastic 3-ring holder that fits in the binder and recycle the cases.
There is no way you need every scrap of paper from every seminar you ever attended. One great system for keeping this under control is to decide on the last day of the seminar what is important and what is not and get rid of it on the spot and donate the binder back to the teacher. You’ll have an easier time getting it home, especially if you are flying.
In designing a lifestyle, you have to consciously think about how you want to live and take the appropriate steps to make it happen. If having a great space for thinking, writing, surfing, and working is part of your dream lifestyle, you have to decide how it will fit into your lifestyle. Take some time today to evaluate each of these scenarios in your own life and how you will manage them going forward.
If you don’t feel energetic and creative in your home office, it is time to make some lifestyle changes.
Betsy Talbot writes about carving the lifestyle you want out of life you already have. When she’s not writing, she’s paring down, saving up, and getting ready for a year of travel with her husband.