Home Office

Photo: Dave Lauridsen

STEP 1: Group Like Materials Together
In order to help Joanna Wilson, (left, in her "before" office), a 25-year-old photographer with a serious home office clutter problem, Peter Walsh, organizing expert and author of Enough Already! Clearing Mental Clutter to Become the Best You, starts off by asking what works. Joanna likes the two, large desks, but admits it's hard to find things. "There's software. There's CDs. The desk gets cluttered fat—stuff explodes all over the house," she says. Step one? Peter asks Joanna to clear the desk and shelves, grouping like materials together: a stack of blank CDs and binders with backup CDs in one box, billing materials in another. This exercise not only helps Peter's clients figure out how much space each category requires but shows them the duplicate staplers or outdated equipment they've accumulated. As he's talking, Joanna unearths cords to electronics she no longer owns—and an overdue parking ticket.

STEP 2: The average retrieval time for a piece of paper is ten minutes; 3 percent of all papers are misfiled. One study put the cost to a corporation of recovering a lost file at $120. You can't afford that. Peter thinks the best file systems are color-coded—we recognize visual cues faster than labels. Joanna likes colored labels and clear folders. (InPlace File System by Peter Walsh, $4 to $35; OfficeMax.com.)

Photo: Dave Lauridsen

STEP 3: Utilize Wheeled Furniture
"Almost any piece of home office furniture is improved by wheels," Peter says, (here with Joanna, after the makeover). You can bring a file cabinet (like the one in the bottom left of the photo) out in the morning, then push it under the desk or into a closet at the end of the day.

STEP 4: Peter avoids rolltop desks or office armoires because he feels that anything that can be closed up encourages disorganization. The desk (shown on the left and right) he designed for his You.organized line for Office Max comes with three desktop accessories—instead of drawers—so people can file and organize papers while still keeping everything in view. (Desk, accessories, and ottoman, $200 for set; OfficeMax.com.)

Photo: Dave Lauridsen

STEP 5: Back Up Your Files
Because 70 percent of businesspeople lose computer data at a cost of about $18 billion a year, Peter recommends his clients invest in a backup system. Joanna chose an external hard drive for her computer (left) (Seagate 1TB Hard Drive, $130; OfficeMax.com); she'll schedule a regular time every week to back up her files. An off-site Internet service can do the work for you for a price. Peter opts for this labor-free choice with Carbonite.com ($55 per year).

STEP 6: Overloading anything is a bad idea. Planes crash. Ships sink. Significant others run screaming from the home office. So Peter says that when your space reaches capacity, it's the one in, one out rule: If you buy a new book, out goes an old one. When, like Joanna, you discover a trove of pens or blank CDs, you can donate them to a school (Donorschoose.org). The average teacher spends $659 of her own money on supplies and will be grateful for your castoffs.
Peter Walsh

Photo: Dave Lauridsen

STEP 7: Use Space Creatively
"Limited space requires creativity," says Peter, here, finding a way to organize Joanna's cluttered desk drawers. Look above and behind things: An area over your desk can be used for files; the back of a door might be good for storage.

STEP 8: The worst spot for a home office? Your bedroom. "That should be a haven," Peter says. "It should be peaceful, calm, and intimate. The minute you put a desk there, you risk compromising that space."

Photo: Dave Lauridsen

STEP 9: Clean for Tomorrow—Today!
Finally, a clean office! Joanna jumps for joy in her new space. Before he leaves, Peter leaves her with a few more things to remember: Take advantage of technology to save room: You might not need a fax if your printer scans, or a Rolodex if your computer has a contacts or address program.

STEP 10: Peter says you already know the single most important thing you can do to be organized: Set aside ten minutes at the end of the day to clean your desk and get ready for tomorrow. Most people don't do this because they don't see an immediate payoff. "It's like exercise," says Peter. "At first it's just a pain, but after a couple of weeks you can't believe how great you feel." In fact, Joanna is now a believer.

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