7 Quick Home Office Fixes

Quick home office fixes working from home

You know that deer-in-the-headlights look that some people get when they’re scared? I’ve seen people get the same look when they think about making changes to their home office and when they visit an IKEA store for the first time.

Changing the way your home office looks and functions can be challenging. While you can’t change everything about your home office in one day, there are a few simple things you can do now to make your home office more productive.

1. Start with four boxes and a trash bag.

Label the boxes: Keep, Donate, Recycle, and Other Room. Then start with your desk. Give yourself a time limit and bribe invite a friend over to help you declutter. As you move through the room, don’t be surprised at how many times you say, “I was looking for that” and realize you’ve bought the same supplies several times throughout the year. When you’ve filled the boxes (and more importantly a trash bag, or two) it will be easier to organize what’s left. Don’t forget to shred sensitive information like your credit card bills and anything with account numbers or your social security number on it.

2. Take anything off your desk you don’t use weekly.

If you have personal items that are taking up valuable space, like photos, oversized desk organizers and your collection of snow globes, move them to a nearby shelf or bookcase. If you don’t have enough storage space add floating shelves near your desk. Installing shelves is an easy fix that you can do in less than a day. It’s especially easier when you hire someone else to do it.

3. Move extra furniture out.

Take a close look at your thighs. Check for bruises on either side from bumping into furniture that’s crammed into your home office, or what I like to call “the old furniture dumping ground.” Maybe you inherited an old chair your mom didn’t want or a cabinet your neighbor left you when she moved or an ugly lamp that you didn’t have the heart to tell your friend that when you said it was “interesting” you didn’t mean beautiful. Either donate the furniture and accessories or store them somewhere else other than in your home office.

4. Move things around.

Move your desk to a different wall or to the other side of the room. If your home office is in a guest room, get rid of your desk completely and convert the closet into a small office or use a computer cabinet so you can literally close your home office door at the end of the day. If guests never visit, take over the entire space for a home office. Separating two bookcases and putting your desk in between them will give you room on either side of the bookcases to hang a bulletin board or pictures. What you do in your home office doesn’t have to be interesting, but where you work should be more inviting than your old corporate office.

5. Contain it all.

Gather loose supplies. And by loose, I mean the stuff rolling around in your drawers that you know you don’t need to keep, but can’t stand to toss, and then put them in clear containers. If you’re a Lookout — someone who fears that the minute they put something away it disappears forever, use baskets and decorative containers to store similar items together.

6. Store items where you’ll use them.

Just as your dishes should be stored near your dishwasher (they are, right?) store the items you use often near where you’ll use them. You shouldn’t have to continually leave your desk to get more paper or ink when you could store your supplies near your printer/scanner/copier. If you want to make sure you take breaks often and move around throughout the day, store everything in your basement, garage or at your neighbor’s home.

7. Create a more inspiring place to work.

Replace old photos on the wall with a large bulletin board or colorful artwork. If you’re feeling Pinteresty or Martha Stewart-like, paint your home office an inspiring color that matches artwork, a rug or is just a color that makes you happy. Save money by enlarging photos from your last trip and framing them. Each time you look at the photos you’ll remember your trip and hopefully smile (assuming you had a good time).

Making changes to your home office doesn’t have to take a lot of time or be as painful as it used to be to work in a corporate office. And you can accomplish more in one day than you think you can. The best part is that any changes you do make will get you that much closer to a productive and comfortable home office where you’ll actually have a better chance of finding what you need, when you need it.

What Does Your Desk Say About You?

Home office desk

Take a close look at your desk. Would you describe it as sloppy with papers piled like a game of Jenga? Or is it streamlined with containers organized like the warehouse in an Ikea store?

When I was a professional organizer I worked with clients who hadn’t seen the tops of their desks (and in some cases their floors) for years. When one guy finally dug his way to the bottom of the piles, which was the top of his desk, he remembered how beautiful his desk was and why he had spent a small fortune on it.

When you work from home, the only people who are probably judging your desk are you, your friends and your family so does it matter whether or not it’s a mess? If clients visit your home office, you share a desk with your spouse, or the producers of Hoarders just sent you an email about being featured on their show, a cluttered desk could be an issue.

Consider whether one of these three desk descriptions fits you.

Desk #1 – Topsy-turvy and turbulent.

The top of your desk is piled high with magazines leaning like a four-layer wedding cake that’s been in the sun too long, unopened mail that has been sitting on your desk since the last two times the post office raised the price of stamps, and your office supplies are so old, you have boxes of ink cartridges for a printer you no longer own. That’s not all. You’ve trained your family, and by trained, I mean nagged, everyone under your roof to leave anything they want you to see on your chair. If it’s piled on your desk, there’s no chance in hell you’ll ever see it, at least not for a few months.

Your desk screams:

Congratulations! You’re more creative than the top pinner on Pinterest, but you seem a bit scattered like a squirrel at an international nut convention.

Desk makeover:

The goal isn’t to be a perfectionist or a neat freak like my neighbor who organizes her son’s Lego pieces by type and color into individual containers. Instead, create some order. Use desktop file holders for the files you’re working on now, store any old files you probably won’t refer to again in a file cabinet, or scan and store the files. Use stacking bins on the floor to hold materials for certain projects, and hang bulletin boards and wall pockets to help you get and stay organized. And then, the kicker, take a few minutes at the end of each week to clear out your home office and get ready for the next week.

Desk #2 – Slick and sparse

Your laptop, Smartphone and only a few supplies in containers (lined up by color and size) are on your desk while everything else is tucked away on shelves or in drawers. Years ago I worked with a guy whose desk was completely clear. Even his phone was in the bottom drawer of his desk. That’s taking organizing to a whole new (scary) level.

Your desk screams:

Only the bare essentials, thank you. Nothing on the walls, nothing on your desk and absolutely nothing on the floor. You’re working in the home office version of a cubicle.

Desk makeover:

Less is more, but you can always add more without creating a cluttered mess in your home office. Hang pictures of your family, pet, or friends on the wall and invest in interesting artwork. Add a colorful rug, especially if you have hardwood floors and if people on the other end of the phone ask if you’re calling from a cave. A plant wouldn’t hurt either…just remember to water it.

Desk #3 – Stacked and stodgy

You know where everything is because it’s stacked neatly in piles throughout your home office. You know what’s in each pile because you’ve sorted through them dozens of times looking for lost papers. Your broken printer is still in your office because you’re not sure whether to donate it, fix it or throw it out the window.

Your desk screams:

You have trouble making decisions, especially when it has to do with papers, anything that needs to be fixed, and what to order for dinner (judging by the piles of take-out menus on your desk). Magazines you want to read are stacked in one corner like a mini Leaning Tower of Pisa, while in another corner you’ve kept papers you’ve needed to file since you stopped using a fax machine.

Desk makeover:

Add a bookcase near your desk to hold magazines stored in magazine holders or get rid of magazines altogether and subscribe to the online versions. Keep extra supplies in your bookcase stored in colorful baskets or containers, or use a nearby closet for supplies. Make decisions about paper by filing them in physical files or scanning and creating electronic files. Use a To-Do list to enter any action you need to take with each piece of paper and then keep the paper in a desktop file on your desk or near your desk. Better yet, get rid of the piece of paper. The more paper you can recycle, the better.

A few simple tweaks can turn your desk from frumpy to functional or from stark to stylish. And some of you may find papers, checks, photos or other things you thought you’d never see again…like the top of your desk.


Chips, Chat and Home Office Changes

home office organize change

Last weekend I figured out why some of my friends invite me to their homes more often than they used to. Yes, I bring over appetizers, desserts or whatever dish they want me to bring. It’s not that. I’m not a very good cook.

They invite me over because they know I can’t stand to see a disorganized home office that could be arranged better. Here’s a perfect example:

A friend I’ve known for years invited me to her new home for dinner. I took the obligatory tour that ended with her home office.

It was a mess.

I couldn’t stand it, so I asked her if I could make a few changes, She couldn’t say yes fast enough. The entire change took less than an hour.

1. We took the chipped and stained wooden board off her lateral file cabinet and then moved the cabinet near her desk. Then we moved a bookcase to where the file cabinet was and put her TV on top of it.

2. The deathtrap of cords running from the front of her office to her desk had to go, so we moved her surge protector to the wall near her desk and unplugged the Ethernet cable (she has wireless Internet throughout her house).

3. We moved the files she uses daily out of the lateral file cabinet and moved them to the lower drawers in the rolling file cart next to her desk. Then we put extra supplies in the top drawers of the cart. The supplies she uses often are in the small drawers in her desk.

She was surprised that although we made only a few changes, they made a huge difference in the look and function of her home office. She still has some work to do including organizing the rest of her desk drawers, hanging artwork and replacing her old desk chair that is as comfortable as a concrete bench, but now she’s motivated to keep working on her office.

When I checked my e-mail this morning, I saw an invitation my friend had sent me to a housewarming party. It must have had something to do with the amazing spinach artichoke dip I brought to her last party.

Take Time To Purge Your Home Office

Clear clutter home office organizing

Photo source: Rita H Cobbs

I’d love to invest in a storage facility. You know, the ones filled with storage units that people pay $120 a month to store $25 worth of stuff.

I know it’s hard to get rid of things like old client files, equipment so out-of-date they don’t make ink cartridges for it anymore, and stationery that you probably haven’t used in ten years. Do people even order business stationery anymore?

My cousin used to have a basement loaded with file boxes she’d accumulated during the 25 years she owned her own business. A few years ago, her basement flooded after a huge rainstorm and she had to get rid of everything. She finally admitted she was relieved her basement flooded and was glad she had remembered to renew her homeowners insurance. If her basement hadn’t turned into an indoor pool (minus the cabana boy), she still would have had a basement full of boxes she didn’t need to keep and never even opened after she packed them.

You don’t have to wait for a disaster to clear out your office, garage, or attic office (leaky roofs rank near the top of the disaster list). Consider these questions to help you purge your home office.

Are you using out-of-date equipment?

Figure out what your time is worth and whether or not you can afford to waste time each day using unproductive equipment. In other words, stop being cheap, step up to the plate and buy a new computer. If your desktop is close to dying, consider whether you should invest in a laptop instead. You’ll be able to take the laptop with you when you travel, work from a coffee shop, or stay in bed and work on those extra cold days.

Are you struggling with outdated software?

If a computer program is too complicated or has more features than you need, like my oven that I’ll never figure out, buy a different program. Your friends, colleagues or even your neighbor may use a certain program that works perfectly for him or her. That doesn’t mean the same program will work for you. Before you invest in new software, try it out first, like a car, a television, and a potential spouse. Most companies offer a trial period. Keep in mind that technology is supposed to help you save time, not make you waste time.

Are you fighting the urge to keep magazines and catalogs?

If you know that you’ll never read something, get rid of it faster than an unwanted house guest. If you ever need an article from a past issue, it’s usually available online. Keep your e-mail newsletters under control by deciding before you sign up for one whether you’ll have time to read it. Once or twice a year, look through your list of e-mail newsletters and unsubscribe from more than half of them.

Are you facing your fear of purging?

Some people are afraid that the minute they give or throw something away, they’ll need it again. It’s like a frustrating game of hide and seek where no one wins. You put something away and when you need it, you can’t find it until the next time you play hide and seek when you’re looking for something completely different. Consider this: if you own something but you can’t find it, it’s of no use to you.

Are you ready to start today?

De-clutter your home office by peeling away each layer like an onion. Start with files and supplies you haven’t used in a year. Then move on to equipment, books and anything else in your home office that you could store in your garage, basement or attic. You could also donate the items you don’t use.

Your home office probably looks a little different now from when you first started working from home. When you take the time to clear out your office you’ll save time by working in an uncluttered space, money by not buying duplicate supplies, and your sanity by no longer saying, “I know I bought that. I just don’t know where I put it.”

Need More Home Office Space? Look Up

bookcaseWhen you work from home, it’s not the size of the space that matters…it’s how you use that space. The last three home offices I designed were small, but functional. Instead of focusing on the lack of floor space, we made the most of the vertical space.

Whether you’re setting up a home office for the first time or redesigning your current office space, think vertically and put your walls and corners to work.

Start with shelves.

Add shelves above or next to your desk to gain more storage space and to reduce desktop clutter. You can use open shelves or a hutch that sits on your desk. A tall, four-shelf bookcase — ideally with adjustable shelves – can hold dozens of books and reference materials. If you have a hutch, you’ll need to place your desk against a wall. The only exception is when you want to divide a larger room and use it for two different purposes.

Don’t waste corners.

The L-shaped arrangement is my favorite because the two work surfaces are at a right angle. Also, the L-shape makes it easy to use the corner that normally is wasted space. A corner is the ideal place for a copier or printer because it’s out of the way, but within reach.

Make furniture do double-duty.

Several years ago, I set up my home office in a spare bedroom. I used an antique dresser to hold my all-in-one machine and reference books on top. Inside, I stored office supplies. One of my clients uses her dining room as a home office during the day and stores all of her equipment and supplies in a large sideboard. When she entertains, no one knows that along one wall is a fully functioning home office. Look at the furniture you have in your home and consider whether you can use it for storage in your home office.

Make Room for the New Year

new year organizing declutter officeThere’s something about the new year that brings out the organizer in all of us. Maybe it’s the desire to start fresh, wipe away the previous year, or start over.

I started 2013 by organizing my garage. Big deal, right?

Actually, it was. I’ve been able to fit my car in my garage (my son’s car too), but I was tired of looking at all of the shelves in my garage filled with things I knew I wasn’t ever going to use. By the time I finished, I had four trash bags full of stuff, three rugs, and a desk, all ready to donate.

How could I have kept so many things I didn’t need? The answer was as clear as my newly organized garage. Because I had extra shelves and plenty of room to store things I didn’t need to keep, I kept them.

Doesn’t it make sense that the more space you have, the more things you’ll keep? Think about it…it’s easier to stick something on a shelf in case you need it some day (something my clients always say), than to decide whether you really need to keep it.

So this new year, take a look at your closets, bookcases, cabinets, your garage, or storage space — not in one day, it’s too overwhelming — and see if you can get rid of a few things you’re no longer using.

Don’t be surprised if while your organizing you say a few times, “I was looking for that!” because I promise you will.

Which organizing project are you going to tackle this year?

Challenge Yourself To Do It Now

source: stevendepolo

The other day when I needed to work on a project but couldn’t get motivated, I remembered a speech I heard about the “Assoonas.” You know…as soon as I buy a different house, I’ll have the perfect home office. As soon as I buy a new computer, I’ll have more clients. You get the idea.

Sometimes it’s easier to put things off than to handle them right away. Get off your “buts” (I’ve attended way too many motivational seminars!) and follow these tips to help you jump-start your next project.


Use a to-do list

Whether you use a scheduling program, your Smartphone, or even a paper-based planner to record everything you need to do, find a planning system that works. A good system for keeping track of client information is one that’s functional and easy to use. The to-do list should be simple and you should be able to customize it. When you use a to-do list the right way, it can keep you on track and make projects more manageable.

Keep in mind that making a to-do list is easy, yet remembering to look at your list is the hard part. If you feel yourself getting sidetracked, go back to your list.

To read the rest of my guest post on Work Your Way, click here.


How to Increase Home Office Storage

When you start a business from home, you may have think that you have plenty of storage space in your home office. As you grow your business, don’t be surprised if your storage space shrinks quickly. After all, no matter how much storage space you have, you probably want more.

When I first moved into my latest home office, I thought that I would have plenty of room for my books, supplies, projects and anything else that belonged in my home office. A few months later I realized I was wrong. I bought two bookcases, added shelves to my closet and donated a huge box of supplies I’d never used. Now I have extra storage space and I’m able to find what I need more easily.

Before you give up on finding more storage space, try these tips.

Think vertically. [Read more…]

4 Organizing Misconceptions You Can Stop Believing Today

I credit my older sister for putting me over the organizing edge. When we were younger and shared a room, her side was a disaster, and mine was obsessively neat (although I’ve mellowed a bit).

Even though my sister is still disorganized — she’s fine with it — she knows it’s possible for anyone to get organized. But some people are stubborn and refuse to get organized because they believe a few misconceptions about organization.

I want to set the record straight.

Misconception #1—Handle paper once.

This is not only impossible, it’s unrealistic. Whenever I hear an organizing expert tell others to handle paper once, I cringe. Instead of pressuring yourself to handle paper once, get in the habit of doing something to move each piece forward. The point is to keep the paper in play until it lands in a file or in the recycle bin. It’s a waste of time to pick up the same piece of paper and put it back repeatedly. [Read more…]