In the world of real estate, the phrase “Location, Location, Location” is widely used, meaning that the most important aspect of house hunting is finding one in the right spot. This is a helpful slogan to bear in mind when organizing any space, but especially when it comes to organizing the desk. Why? Because of all the places in the home, the desk (or whatever surface we are using as a desk) tends to attract the most clutter. Organizing the desk and its surrounding area is well worth the effort because a clear workspace is critical to productivity. Additionally, since many people have a desk in a public area like the kitchen, having an orderly desk makes the room look and feel under control.
The first step in organizing the desk is to disentangle the variety of items that have accumulated. This often includes paperwork, tools, food, laundry, toys, broken items, cords, sports gear, electronics, keys, and trash. Be sure to remove everything from both the desk surface and associated drawers and cabinets. As you examine the contents, you are likely to see that some items belong in the desk area, but many go somewhere else. For now, set aside anything you know shouldn’t live in the desk. You can walk around later and put things back in their rightful locations.
Now it is time to think back to our real estate expression. When setting up an organized desk area, we want to make sure that things are situated in the right spot. Therefore, the next step is to define four spaces:
1. “Prime real estate”
This is the space that is most accessible. When it comes to the desk, this is anywhere you can reach from your desk chair (without standing up). This zone will include your desk surface, desk drawers, and any cabinets that you can access while seated.
2. “Secondary access” zone
Secondary zones are still fairly convenient, but you will need to stand up and potential take a few steps in order to reach them. This zone might include a credenza across the room, a nearby file cabinet, overhead shelving, etc.
3. “Supply” location
This is a space where you can keep extras supplies. In an office building, this is often called the “stockroom.” In a home, this may be a closet, an armoire, a trunk, an extra dresser, or something similar. These spaces should have enough structure to keep items from becoming jumbled. Paper sorters, clear bins, small plastic drawers, turntables, and shelf risers are all products that can help keep overflow materials in order.
4. “Storage” location
Not everything that is desk-related needs to be accessed on a regular basis, such as old tax returns or other paperwork that is being kept “just in case.” When planning a space for these items it is important to identify a location that is safe and secure. This might be a file cabinet in the attic, plastic file box in the basement (be sure it is dry!), or a couple of banker boxes on a high shelf in a spare room closet.
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Once you have established these four areas, the next step is to place your desk-related items back in the appropriate zone. Here are some guidelines to help you decide what should go where.
In “Prime Real Estate”…
… put the items you use each day. For instance, 2 pens of each color, 1 highlighter, 1 pair of scissors, 1 pad of sticky notes, a pair of scissors, a stapler, one roll of tape, and a couple of binder clips in a top drawer with an insert or a surface organizer with multiple compartments. Active paper files also belong in this zone, ideally in an attached file drawer or a file box under/next to the desk. Action folders (e.g. for things like “Bills to Pay” or “Follow Up”) can sit in a desktop sorter. In general, whatever you regularly touch is a candidate to go in this zone.
In “Secondary Access”…
… place the items that you use only intermittently. For instance, the printer may go on a shelf in the closet, your device chargers can sit on a credenza behind the desk, reminders can be hung on a bulletin board on the wall, and so forth.
… put the “extras” of all the items you regularly use, such as the large box of pencils, the stash of glue sticks, the pack of printer cartridges, the multi-pack of tape, the large bag of rubber bands, etc. If your supplies came in shrink-wrap, remove this outer packaging once the product has been opened and drop the individual items into easy-access bins. To help family members keep the space in order, label containers and shelves.
… set up a container system that meets your needs. If you have paperwork, get a file cabinet or file boxes. If you have three-ring binders, install shelving. If you keep samples of fabrics, get bins with lids. Remember to always clearly label containers, as you are likely to forget what is inside over time. Also, consider adding freestanding shelves in large storage spaces as they facilitate use of vertical space without having to stack boxes.
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What clutter culprits tend to land on your desk? Do you utilize zones such as these?