How to Simplify Your Office

If there's one thing I've always dreaded sorting through, even before my simple living journey began, it was paper. It piles up insanely fast and, before you know it, there are months of receipts, bills, mail, and who knows what else to sort through.

Beyond the entryway, the place clutter tends to accumulate the most is the room we're tackling today — the office.

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Now, I recognize that not all of you have a dedicated home office space, but today's advice applies to any space that functions like an office might — that place in your home where the computer or laptop sits, the paper clutter gets organized (or doesn't get organized), or where a major hobby like crafting happens. Particularly if you run a business or have a tactile hobby like painting or scrapbooking, it's easy for the stuff to pile up incredibly fast.

In addition to previously running a small business that required me to keep inventory, paper samples, and art supplies on hand, I've always had my hand in a bunch of different projects. I'm also one of those people who cannot focus if my work space is a mess, so keeping my office or office-like space organized and free of clutter has always been high on my priority list and this is how I do it.

WRANGLE THE PAPER

First things first, paper clutter can easily become your worst enemy when you're trying to keep your office organized. Even in our digital age, you can still wind up with all sorts of paper coming into your office and there are certain documents you should always keep in hard copy.

Whenever I do a major overhaul of my office or a regular clean up, the paper is the first place I start because it's usually the biggest culprit in making my office a hot mess. But how do you practically wrangle the paper?

1. Designate a Landing Strip

Before you start actually sorting through all the paper that's accumulated in your office space, start by designating a place it will all come in from here on out — a permanent inbox or landing strip.

I have a letter tray where all paper — receipts, mail, miscellaneous documents, etc. — gets placed. This way, when I'm looking for a document, there are only two possible places it can be — the letter tray or the place it winds up once I've handled it. And it means that when my monthly duty day happens, I can grab my letter tray and know that all of the paper I need to deal with is right there.

2. Handle Time Sensitive Items Immediately

Before paper gets placed into the letter tray, I quickly look it over to see if it's time sensitive. If so, unless I'm legitimately about to run out the door, I handle it immediately.

The reason being is, inevitably, if I don't handle a time sensitive piece immediately, I will almost always wind up missing the deadline for taking care of it. And that's one of the biggest stresses about paper clutter — when you don't have an organization system in place, things get lost and suddenly it's five months later and you find a document you needed months ago buried under a pile of miscellaneous receipts.

3. Develop a Processing System

Once you've designated a landing strip or inbox for all your papers, you need to come up with some sort of processing system. I say processing rather than organization because not all types of paper clutter need to be organized. In fact, the fact majority of it doesn't need to be organized, it just needs to be processed.

As you sort through the paper clutter currently in your office space, think through the stuff you really need to keep on hand in physical form, what could be scanned and stored digitally, and what can be trashed or shredded. From there, come up with a system for organizing the stuff you'll keep in physical form, the stuff you'll keep in digital form, and immediately trash or shred the stuff you don't need.

My system is pretty simple — I have a couple of filing containers, hanging file folders for different overarching categories, and tabbed file folders for subcategories. For example, in the "insurance" category folder, I keep documentation for my health, rental, and auto insurance, all filed in their own subcategory file folders. My digital filing system mirrors my physical filing system — with main folders, subfolders, and individual documents.

As I go through and process, anything that needs to be shredded, trashed, or recycled, gets placed in a specific pile, and once I've finished processing the rest of my paper, I handle each of those piles accordingly. I do this every month as part of a monthly duty day, and it helps immensely in keeping everything under control.

REDUCE THE SUPPLIES + PROJECTS

Beyond paper and electronics, the other thing that shows up the most in office spaces is supplies necessary for running a small business or practicing a certain hobby.

I spent a year and a half running a print design business, so my office was filled with even more paper than the average person. I had paper and envelope samples, loose paper, and notebooks, on top of pencils, pens, paint brushes, and more. Let me tell you, it is easy for all of that stuff to add up super fast and before you know it, you're drowning in paints or paper or whatever it is that you use for your business or hobby.

While it may seem impossible to reduce the supplies, it can be done. The key is to stick with the things you love the most and get rid of the rest. So if you have a favorite type of craft or painting or focus for your business, choose to focus on those things and forget the rest. This obviously requires you to make some hard choices about what's really important, but that's what this whole simplification thing is about.

With this area in particular, it's really easy to fall into the trap of "I might use it some day," but please don't do that to yourself! Particularly if your supplies is for a hobby rather than a business, keeping all those extra or half-finished projects around in the name of "some day" can put subconscious pressure and stress on you because you've "failed" to actually complete the projects.

If there's a hobby or a type of supplies for your business that you think you might need but aren't sure about, employ the same strategy as the "maybe" box from your closet simplifying. Box up the items you think you might need, put them in another room, and pick a date. Write it on the calendar so you don't forget and when it arrives, if you haven't used anything in the box, toss or donate it.

Similarly, with unfinished projects, give yourself a deadline. You can literally give the project a  to do date and put it on the calendar, or you can put a due date that you have to finish it by or it gets tossed. Having the deadline in place will either motivate you to get it done or really emphasize the fact that you don't care about the project enough to complete it, allowing you to get rid of it guilt free.

REMEMBER THE DIGITAL SPACES

When we think about clutter, the physical stuff is often what comes to mind first, but it's worth noting that digital clutter can be even worse than something like paper clutter, especially in an office. I recently spent two consecutive evenings organizing and decluttering my digital spaces because they'd gotten so unruly. I literally had an external hard drive with papers on it from high school!

There are different strategies for decluttering and organizing digital spaces from your actual hard drives to inboxes and social media profiles, and we'll touch on some of these in more detail in future Simplify Series posts, but with so much of our work happening online these days, keeping your digital spaces decluttered is often one the biggest keys to simplifying.

In the grand scheme of a full office declutter, start with an initial sweep of your inbox(es), social media profiles, and hard drives, just to get things a little more organized. Then, at a later date when you have a bit more time on your hands, really dig in deep and go through your digital spaces one by one and be ruthless in clearing out the unnecessary clutter from all of those spaces.

Information overload can happen incredibly quickly, so reducing the number of subscriptions you receive or people you follow on social media can go a long way in managing stress. It's also important to remember that just because you feel like or actually do have an infinite amount of storage space, that doesn't mean you need or should keep everything. Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it isn't impact your stress level.

Don't be afraid to hit that delete button or drag that file to the trash!

And there you have it! By wrangling paper, reducing your supplies (and resulting projects), and clearing out the digital spaces even a little bit, it'll go a long way in making your office simple and streamlined. We'll be back next week with another room where it's easy for little gadgets to pile up quickly — the kitchen!