Conquering Home Office Clutter

I’ve been very fortunate over the past few years to work remotely for 6-8 weeks from our summer home in Maine. Our daughters have their summer jobs there, and the change of pace is welcome at the end of each school year. Here‘s a picture of my “summer office.”

summer office

It’s nothing fancy – but it’s all I need.

One consequence of being away from home for the better part of the summer though is the attention my home office needs when I move back in. This year, in particular, it was a real mess! So I set a goal to clean it inside and out, and from top to bottom.

Sorting and clearing the clutter off my desk and shelves, re-connecting my computer, keyboard, printer etc., was the easy part. It was the bulging four-drawer file cabinet sitting next to my desk that really needed attention. When I opened the top drawer, I suddenly had a flashback to when we cleared out all the paperwork dating back to the early 70s from my parents’ house a few years ago.

That exercise was a valuable lesson on a number of levels. I promised myself that I would never expand past one four-drawer file cabinet for my business and one four-drawer file cabinet for our family’s papers.

After having my own business for the past 8 years – my business file cabinet was full! So I set aside some time on a recent Sunday to sort and purge.

Primarily, I found I had two types of files – files related to my clients and personal business records. Sorting through my client files was fairly easy. If had not worked with a client for a while – I consolidated and reduced the files to only what I wanted to keep for reference. Typically, this fit into one or two folders per client at the most, which was a significant reduction from the up to a dozen or so folders I had for most clients.

My personal business records files were a bit more involved.

I knew that I didn’t need to keep old receipts, utility bills, bank statements, etc. dating back 20 years like my Mom did, but how long did I really need to keep these records?

After a little research, I felt confident that I knew what to toss and when:

  • ATM and bank deposit slips can be tossed as soon as you confirm the funds are posted to your account. Now with online access to most of our accounts, this can typically be reconciled within days.
  • Credit card statements and receipts for items purchased with a credit card can be tossed as soon as you reconcile your statement each month (unless you need to keep any of these records for tax purposes).
  • Utility bills, pay stubs, and bank statements can be tossed at the end of the year once your taxes are complete.
  • Previous versions of insurance policies can be tossed upon renewal.
  • Documents such as W2s, 1099s, any tax reporting statements, and proof of charitable contributions need to be kept for seven years.
  • Items I will keep indefinitely include tax returns, retirement account annual statements, proof of any major home improvements, and receipts for large purchases as proof-of-value for insurance purposes.

Evaluating the contents of my file cabinet with this in mind helped me cut down two full drawers to less then one! As I sorted through files to be tossed, I separated documents that contained sensitive personal information into a pile that I will shred, and the rest went into recycling.

When I was done, I was surprised to see I had two overflowing recycle bins to put out with the trash that week. And it feels so good to open my file drawers and actually have available space!

Ta-Da Tip of the Month

If you use your home office to run your own business or to keep track of all the family activities – or both — a few simple suggestions will help you conquer home office clutter:

  • Determine the primary purpose of your home office and let that help you determine what you need. If you run a small business from home, then it’s important to have a desk, a comfortable chair and a space where you can close the door. If you use your home office primarily to keep track of family activities – then maybe some space in the corner of your kitchen or den will do. That way everything you need will be available within a few steps.
  • Organize the items on your desk based upon how often you use them. For example, your phone, pens, notepads, and stapler should be within easy reach, while extra pens and other office supplies should be stored off your desk in a drawer or closet.
  • To reduce clutter, it’s helpful to have an ‘Inbox” for papers that need to be acted upon (sorted, filed, and recycled) and an “outbox” for papers that need to be filed or acted upon somewhere else in your house. This way, rather than riffling through paper piles on your desk when you have a few spare moments to deal with this paperwork; you know just where to find what you are looking for.
  • Ideally, keeping a recycle bin close by will motivate you and the entire family to discard paper in the green-friendliest way possible. In addition, I recommend that every home office have a shredder for safe disposal of sensitive material.

Do you have a home office? Share your tips in the comment section below. Ta-Da!

10 comments to Conquering Home Office Clutter

  • These great tips are really timely for me– thanks!

  • Glad to hear that Clare! You are most welcome. Let me know what helps the most.

  • Thanks Diana! I always forget the time frame on how long to keep stuff. Do you shred everything? I’ve got a shredder, but the idea of shredding everything keeps me from doing anything!

  • Hi Michael. You are not alone. How long to keep stuff is a very common question. I only shred things that have personal information on them such as my address, account numbers, social security number, etc. But when in doubt I shred it. It can be a time consuming process. I put my husband to work shredding when he’s sitting in front of the football game! 🙂

  • Yesterday I cleaned out a receipt file, in an effort to find the date we bought our mattress. I never found the receipt, but the purging was worth the search.

  • Hey Chris – Even though you didn’t find exactly what you were looking for, I’m glad you feel better having purged the receipts you no longer need. Sometimes there are unexpected benefits to these little projects that draw us in.

  • Beth Lacroix

    I love getting your newsletter as it always motivated me to do more around my own home…this weekend will be to tackle of of our many file cabinets in the family office – hoping to get it down so I have more space for more important documents as they come in!!!

  • Good for you Beth! Let me know how you make out. So happy you find my newsletters are motivating. 🙂 Thanks!

  • Sharon Baraiola

    Great article. As you know I’m a lot like Mom! In fact last week we were in the middle of a few home projects and I identified “paperwork” dating back to the early 80’s simply cluttering 4 file drawers. I got your tips around the same time and began sorting, shredding and discarding!! Oh my God! I was able to eliminate two file cabinets and consolidate down to two drawers! I feel so liberated!!

    Bring on the dumpster, I’m on a roll!!

  • Great start. Keep that momentum going Sharon. Just think how good you will feel!

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