Spring Cleaning Room By Room: The Home Office

Spring is well and truly here, and that means spring cleaning time. All this week we’ll be offering room-by-room guides to busting clutter and getting your house in shape for the summer (and beyond). First up: the home office.

Picture by Sean MacEntee

If you’re lucky enough to have a place big enough to boast a separate home office, you’ll know it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because you have a separate work area, but it’s a curse because it can be all too easy to dump stuff in there, shut the door and let the clutter pile up. Breaking that habit should ultimately mean you don’t need a full-scale spring cleaning frenzy; if you keep the home office orderly as you use it, you’ll save time and feel less stressed.

Fortunately, we’ve already covered the fundamentals of home office clean-up many times before, so this topic is mostly a matter of reminding you of all that useful advice. For additional inspiration, you might also want to check out our featured workspaces for some design ideas.

The psychology and practice of decluttering

Here at Lifehacker HQ, we’re fervent supporters of the idea that you can’t conquer clutter simply by sorting through it once. You need to understand the reasons why clutter accumulates in the first place. Those aren’t the same for everybody; some people derive a sense of security from accumulating possessions, and others simply have a very poor sense of time management. But whatever the reason, identifying it and trying to overcome it is ultimately more important than the specifics of how you perform one particular cleanup. It will also influence the way you organise your possessions: an approach that doesn’t take account of the way you usually behave won’t last long. I always want to dump my keys as soon as I walk in the door, so having a permanent container where I can drop them makes more sense than demanding I have a completely uncluttered hallway.

We’re also great believers in having a methodical approach to the actual act of getting rid of clutter. In this context, the best approach to take is the SPACE method proposed by professional organiser extraordinaire Julie Morgenstern. Each of the letters in that acronym stands for a key stage in the process:

  • Sort: Working out what you have and sorting it into meaningful groups.
  • Purge: Getting rid of the junk you don’t need.
  • Assign: Setting a place to store the stuff you need to keep.
  • Containerise: Acquiring suitable shelves, boxes or whatever to store the assigned items.
  • Equalise: Setting aside regular time to maintain the system you’ve designed.

We’ve offered an in-depth overview of SPACE and a discussion of Morgenstern’s book Organising From The Inside Out for all the details.

The detailed guides

Along with the SPACE-related posts we’ve already referred to, here are our longer guides to dealing with home office clutter

Extra tips

  • Don’t keep paperwork longer than you need to: set a clear policy for how long you’ll hang onto bills and other ephemera (assuming you haven’t gone down the scanner route). Not sure how long you need to keep records for tax purposes? We’ve got that covered.
  • Don’t make the mistake when sorting of putting items into a miscellaneous pile. If you don’t sort them now, when will you?
  • Remember: you don’t have to satisfy anyone’s organisational needs other than your own. Just because it’s possible to digitise everything doesn’t mean you have to digitise everything. If paper works better for you, keep using it: find the balance that works for you.

If you don’t succeed straight away in conquering your home office clutter, you could take heart from Clive James’ argument that having clutter around makes you more tolerant. That’s true enough, but we’ll still argue to the death that getting rid of the clutter makes you more productive. So why not start now?

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