By Debbie Williams
An informal survey was recently conducted among work-at-home parents, and the results were startling - desktops were covered with a mountain of paperwork, all right, but not the productive type. A sampling of the counterproductive culprits included: tools, articles of clothing, electronics, keys, aromatherapy products, bills, books, household cleaners, magazines and newspapers, CD's, purses & wallets, receipts, shoes, personal grooming items, medicine, baby items, money, camera equipment, dirty dishes, food, kid's papers, and toys. Although many of these such as receipts, books, and stress reducers actually belong in your workspace, there is simply not enough real estate on your desk to contain all this clutter and your computer, too!
Let's take a quick survey of our own, shall we? Look around your own work area, whether you're sitting at your desk or at the kitchen table, and do a mental survey of your own. Do you see clutter that desperately needs a new home? Can you even see your desk under that pile of papers? Or have the ants carried off your to-do-list, only to replace it with a hostage note written on the back of a candy wrapper?
I chose to keep the names and faces of these survey participants confidential, in order to protect the organizationally challenged, but the list of found items are real. These are actual items listed by many of my colleagues and fellow entrepreneurs who are bombarded with clutter each and every day.
So what's the solution? Here are some formulas to add to your book of home office tricks, and with a little effort and creativity, I'm sure you can create new ones of your own.
Don't be a Litterbug - At the risk of stating the obvious, it's time to clear the litter off your desk and keep it in the trashcan where it belongs. I realize that most of the trash on your desk found its way there with a little help from your friends, ones under three feet tall perhaps? So if your children pass through your office as they are snacking and grazing, remind them where you keep the trashcan and keep it up until they get in the habit of using it. It actually takes less time to say it now than to toss it later.
Invest in a super-sized trashcan, like those used in corporate offices. Office supply stores sell them in beige or gray, which is not too complimentary to your office décor, but is easier on the eyes than the messy alternative.
So now that you've cleared the trash from your desk, what do you do with the rest of the things that don't belong? Depending on your organizational style and the amount of time you want to dedicate to this quest, you have a couple of choices: consolidate or divide and conquer.
We Gather Together - Purchase a large plastic or wicker basket to contain the unwanted items in your office, adding to them during the course of your workday. At the end of each day (or once a week if you're really lucky), carry your Clutter Container around the house, offloading items to their final and proper destination. Just walk around the house, room to room, and put things away where they belong, and before you know it the basket will be empty (but not for long!). Put away wallets on your dresser or valet, grooming items in your bathroom, toys and baby items in the children's rooms, cleaners in the laundry room, and coffee mugs in the kitchen. In a pinch, put the "don't knows" into the junk drawer, but commit to cleaning this catch-all once a week.
Just Looking for a Home - Another option to the "one basket fits all" method is to create a home for things up front. If you don't allow a miscellaneous file in your cabinets, you probably don't want a miscellaneous container for clutter either. Art supplies dumped on your desk go into the desk drawer, receipts are instantly filed in your "to be filed" folder or stashed in the current tax folder. Use plastic stacking bins, such as those used in pantries and elsewhere in your home, for collecting books to review, magazines to scan, newspapers to clip, product literature to read, samples to be reviewed, and so forth. If most of the chaos on your desk is paper, consider a vertical file or accordion file with pockets to stuff full of bills, receipts, and memos. Filing as you go clears your desk and your mind, making for quick thinking and creative flow.
In a perfect world, there would be a place for everything with everything in its place, but homes and offices are not perfect, are they? Rather than getting upset with the natural order (make that disorder) of things, rewrite the office rules and make a concerted effort to teach coworkers and housemates how to help you keep the clutter down to a roar. Show them your in-box, point them to the trash can, and don't be afraid to ask them for help. You'd be amazed at how quickly the chaos is calmed after the storm of a revamped organizing system. If it doesn't work after about three weeks, then by all means change it to suit your needs. After all, change is good, and you can indeed make order out of chaos.
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