So maybe you’re not going back to school this fall. But the waning summer days have you reminiscing about new school supplies — unsullied notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, and pristine Crayola boxes. So why not harness that energy and take a look at (and organize) your desk? Whether it’s a work-at-home office or just where you pay bills and send email, it could probably use a re-boot.
“Everything just feels better when your desk is clean,” says Melissa Warner, interior designer and partner at Massucco Warner Miller Interior Design. “Every fall, I want to mentally get organized, get inspired, and get a fresh start.”
Here are some tips that’ll help you to start fresh this fall, too:
Reduce, reduce, reduce.
Only what you use on a daily basis should be on the desk top,” says Linda Rothschild, a professional organizer and founder of Cross It Off Your List. She likes to start by taking everything off the table. “Feel what it’s like to sit behind a desk that’s clear,” she says. For Warner, desk musts include a container with pens and pencils and a “beautiful little vintage dish” with paper clips. “I think paper clips are pretty — especially the gold ones — and they’re a hassle to fish out of a drawer,” she says.
Check your drawers.
That’s where the things you don’t use frequently and regularly should be stashed, out of sight. Warner’s clutter solution: expandable drawer organizers. “Each item has its own compartment so it doesn’t feel overwhelming,” she says. “They fit any drawer, and make you feel so much more put-together.”
Deal with the paper.
You may have heard of the paperless office or the touch-it-once rule. “Those are practically impossible,” says Rothschild. “Things get stuck on your desk because you don’t know what to do with it or where to put it.” So make a place for papers. Have a step file for things you’re actively working on, and a “to-do” box or in-box, she says. “That’s where you put things where you’re waiting on a call or have to fill out a form or mail you haven’t opened. It’s a catch-all.” Warner likes a pair of not-huge stacked in and out boxes. “If they’re too big, it’s easy to have them overflow and not get to the things on the bottom,” she says.
When it comes to filing, Rothschild says, “It depends on what you do and what your needs are.” Your most-used papers should be filed within reach of your desk, in a file drawer or rolling file. Put long-term stuff in a file box with a label in a nearby closet or on a shelf. Take the time to create a good system and you’ll save time in the long run, according to Rothschild.
Set out photos of loved ones, if that motivates you — but don’t go overboard. “Watch how many photos and inspirational things you have. That becomes clutter. After a while you don’t see it and it becomes distracting,” says Rothschild. She likes one family photo on a desk… “but five, six, ten—then it’s taking up valuable space.” Warner prefers to put her family photos on a quatrefoil-shaped bulletin board, along with mementos and inspirational photos. “There’s no rule about what you can have out, as long as it all looks tidy,” she says. She likes adding interest with a cool shape or frame and picks up “really interesting, cute” pushpins on Etsy. “I want a bulletin board that don’t feel dysfunctional or stagnant,” she says. “It’s constantly evolving.”
To-do reminders are fine for a bulletin board, but again, don’t cross the line into clutter. “If it’s more than a couple of Post-its, it’s no longer a reminder,” Rothschild says. A true clutter-buster, she prefers to make her stickies and lists electronic, so she can move them from one device to another and easily delete completed tasks.
“We forget about the vertical space,” says Rothschild, who recommends using above-desk shelves for binders, boxes, or files. Warner, who doesn’t like the look of file cabinets, puts everything in binders, “really chic-looking ones in all different colors,” she says. “You can color-code them by category. This creates something good-looking and really functional. I use plastic sleeves inside so I can flip easily and find what I need.” She keeps these stacked neatly on bookshelves or in cubbies. Shelves are a good place for magazine files and books related to your work.
Now that you’ve tidied things up, how do you keep them that way? “Notice what’s getting stuck on your desk,” says Rothschild. “For instance, if you find a lot of mail that’s not opened, you know you have to deal with it better. It takes two minutes to look at mail everyday; if you leave it on your desk, it becomes a project.” She likes a “midday sort,” where you get up, stretch, and then do a quick check of everything that’s piled up so far that day, putting things in their place. “The more you stay on top of it,” she says, “the less it becomes clutter.”
(Photo by Melanie Acevedo/trunkarchive.com)