Paper Madness: Organizing a Home Office

If you are lucky you already have a home office. I don’t have a separate room to designate as office space so for several years I have tried to incorporate a desk into another room. My first attempts failed for one reason or another. Mostly, I think, the spaces were just too small. I have finally settled on setting up a home office at one end of my sunroom. It’s a small space but larger than the others and it is in a more out of the way area. In a room that is 18′ long it’s easy for me to shave a few feet off my living space and not miss it.

If you don’t have a room to designate as a home office, you will need to find a space to establish one. As much as possible, it should be out of sight of the public areas. You will be storing financial and other sensitive information and so you at least need to keep it hidden away. All-in-one armoires take up little space and closing the doors will hide any mess. One interesting way to make a home office is to build it right into an extra closet. If you must do your paperwork at a  kitchen or dining room table, designate a nearby cabinet for your office supplies and paperwork. Or you might tuck a filing cabinet In a corner and throw a table cloth over top of it to disguise it. It will look like just another side table.

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I’ve opted to use a baker’s rack as a desk. It was already in that room holding books and houseplants. I simply repurposed it to fit my current needs. Since I use a laptop computer I don’t need a large desk surface but the baker’s rack will give me a place to lay out bills when they need to be paid. I also brought in a set of plastic drawers on casters for storing paperwork and office supplies. I added a wicker chair and a two-drawer filing cabinet. I will place my printer on top. Two final necessities are a paper shredder and the wastebasket. It’s My new office space is minimal but adequate.

 

CALMING THE PAPER MADNESS

The amount of paper passing through my house, and probably yours, is enormous. It is a never ending stack of junk mail, catalogs, bills, requests from charities, receipts, estimates, greeting cards, shopping lists, warranties, coupons, and on and on. Every piece demands that something be done with it. Pay it. File it. Read it. Fill it out. Mail it. Make a phone call about it. Cut it out. Save it. THROW IT OUT!  It’s enough to make anyone insane. With a nice, new office area set up I can’t bring myself to bury it with stacks of paper. And so I begin the job of sorting…

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THE SORTING PILES

I spent a Saturday going through every piece of paper I could find. I sorted it on my sunroom floor into several piles that my mind had labeled. There was the “pay it” pile, the “file it” pile, the “shred it” pile, the “save it” (for taxes) pile, the “trash it” pile and, my most dreaded pile of all, the “suck it up and deal with it” pile.

  • Pay it
  • File it
  • Shred it
  • Save it for taxes
  • Trash it
  • Suck it up and deal with it

Once papers were sorted into piles, each pile had to be dealt with. My favorite, the “trash it” pile, required nothing more than a garbage bag and a trip outside to the trash can. The “save it” pile was also an easy one, at least for now, since all I had to do was move those items into the basket holding my receipts and papers that I save throughout the year for next tax season. “Pay it” was a task done in front of the TV. “Shred it” consisted of all of the personal information that can’t go into the trash. Financial information or things with an account number, birth date, etc. It was time consuming and noisy but it is always rewarding since it gives me a bag of shredded paper to use as mulch underneath pine bark in the garden. I admit that “file it” is one of my least favorite tasks and requires me to find space in my already overstuffed filing cabinet.. (Cleaning out my filing cabinet is another days project).  But it’s the “suck it up and deal with it” pile that I really hate. One by one, I completed each task that accompanied each piece of paper in the “suck it up” pile. I got on-line and on the phone to make appointments; I filled out forms; I clipped coupons and stashed them away in my purse; and so on

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Now, finally with a paper-free desk, I need to establish a routine. I’ve been in the habit of paying bills and looking at incoming mail only once each month. By then, there is a stack climbing towards the heavens. And so, for no particular reason I choose Thursday to be my “paper day.” Dealing with incoming mail and paperwork once a week instead of once a month should enable me to keep better control of it. I schedule it on my calendar for the next few weeks until I get into the habit.

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MORE SORTING, UPDATING, AND ORGANIZING

Each of the following areas need an organizational redo every so often to get rid of the obsolete and keep necessary materials neat and tidy. Each one is likely to take several hours to several days which is why I scheduled a whole month on my calendar for getting the home office in order. Your own list may look somewhat different from mine. In any case, deal with each area one by one.

  • clean and organize filing cabinets
  • organize home office book shelves/cabinets
  • sort through desk drawers
  • sort any additional stacks/boxes of paper
  • create/update a list of computer passwords and store safely
  • back up all computer files
  • organize and update financial records
  • organize tax receipts
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THE OFFICE SUPPLIES

Gather up and sort all of the office supplies you find in your desk and around the house. Sharpen pencils, test pens. Throw out or donate obsolete items or extras. Find a storage place for everything. I hold pens in a vintage tea canister keeping them within easy reach. Items used less often go into a drawer.

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