People talk about the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Well, my straw was a piece of paper. Not just any piece of paper, but one that had crucial details pencilled on it.
It was close to midnight, I had a deadline looming and, as a writer, handing in a story on time is key to my livelihood. I needed that piece of paper. I turned over every notepad, newspaper, magazine and book in my home-based office. But that paper was like the Osama bin Laden of documents: It had crawled into a cave never to be seen again.
As I scurried around my apartment, I became keenly aware of all the started-but-still-incomplete DIY projects, the piles of magazines in every room and the closets so jammed with clothes and shoes I couldn’t tell what lurked inside.
But it was my office that was in the greatest chaos. I worked there, sure, but this space had also become home to everything that didn’t have a home: fitness equipment, old stereos that had been superseded by something better and louder. Like many people, though, it was the piles of paper that really bogged me down.
Only a couple of weeks before, a friend had given me a book called Does This Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? In this 2008 book, author Peter Walsh suggests that if you are surrounded by clutter, your life is actually out of control. And when your life is out of control, you don’t look after yourself, and that usually leads to excess weight. I wondered if, by getting rid of my excess stuff, I could also get rid of the junk in my trunk.
Only two things were blocking my path to a more streamlined existence: One was knowing where to start, and the other was having the hours to do it. So I called in a professional organizer. (Find someone in your area at organizersincanada.com). She was supportive, assuring me that she’s helped clients in worse shape. She suggested we concentrate on one area at a time; since I spend the majority of my time in my office (and it’s where I make my living), we agreed it was the right place to begin.
‘Finish this sentence for me,’ she said. ‘When I look at my office, I feel” It took me less than a nanosecond: ‘Overwhelmed.’
‘And when I’m in my favourite place, I feel” Images of golden sand and lapping water filled my head: ‘Relaxed.’
Here are her suggestions that helped me get to my home office ‘happy place.’
Put paper in its place
To rid my desk of its piles, she advised me to invest in labelled magazine holders to store my paperwork vertically. (This sounded ridiculously simple, but it was one of the most efficient tips I gleaned from the process.) For every article I’m writing now I have a magazine holder to keep press releases, notes and anything else related to my research. This system also works for bills, mail or correspondence from a child’s school. She encouraged me to clean out my holders weekly while I watch TV.
Put the stuff you use all the time in an easy-to-reach spot
Well, duh, you say. But have another look at everything you use regularly. In the built-in cupboards in my office, the shelves that I can see and reach from my chair are now dedicated to binders for filing, reference books I use all the time’a dictionary and thesaurus’and my magazine holders. Up on higher shelves are any magazines I want to keep for future use, as well as reference books that I don’t use often. On the top, out-of-easy-reach shelf, in carefully labelled boxes, are tax records from the past seven years.
Make a weekly date with bills
Get an in-tray, and date things as you put them in, then clean it out once a week. (Take 15 minutes each Tuesday, say.) Whatever is taken out of the in-tray that day can never go back in’it gets filed, dealt with or thrown away.
Utilize the ‘in 8 minutes’ plan
Here’s how it’s done. I check the time and give myself an eight-minute ‘Power Burst’: working quickly deleting emails, filing or paying bills. I do this when I’ve hit writer’s block, or once every couple of days.
Divide and conquer
Divide big drawers into smaller compartments using shoeboxes or zip-lock bags, or buy dividers from an organizing or office supply store, then put like with like’pens with pens, envelopes with envelopes, and so on.
Since getting expert help, I’ve gotten rid of three recycling bins full of magazines and textbooks (from the master’s degrees I finished three years ago) and now I have reams of space in my cupboards and drawers.
I’m pretty sure my butt hasn’t gotten any smaller since the clutter got cleared, but it certainly hasn’t gotten any bigger, and I feel much more relaxed and ready to work when I enter my office for the day. And since getting all the sensible advice, there have been no more tears over missing bits of paper, either. Now that’s progress.
This article was originally titled "Sick of Your Messy Home Office?" in the October 2009 issue of Best Health. Subscribe today to get the full Best Health experience’and never miss an issue!’and make sure to check out what’s new in the latest issue of Best Health.