It’s the end of the year and as we wrap up our projects at work and gear toward 2017, our desks, which supported us all year long, could use some tidying. In fact, some of them could use a complete make-over.
A well-organized clutter-free office desk is like magic: the stress is gone, your focus is sharper and you feel motivated to get things done. And for those who’ve been caught in inertia from indecision or frustration over something that transpired at the workplace, giving your desk a thorough makeover can produce a clearing — both mental and physical – to see new options and act on them.
Recently, I thoroughly decluttered my office desk using the Kon Mari method made popular by Marie Kondo, the author of the best-selling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. The Kon Mari method requires you to make a decision about every single item in your space, going through things in a certain order and deciding what to keep based on what sparks joy and adds value to your life.
If you are looking for an effective framework for this project and also want to dab into Kon Mari organizing, these directions will be useful. I used my own experience and the images of my office desk at the ad agency where I work to illustrate the key points.
Work on each category in this order:
Clothes > Books > Paper > Komono (miscl.) > Sentimental
If you have no clothes at work except for your coat or jacket, congratulations! You completed step one and can move on to books. For those of us with multiple pairs of shoes under the desk as well as random things like shawls, gym clothes, gloves, etc., gather them all up and place them in a pile on your desk. Go over each item asking yourself how it supports you at work and does it spark joy. Everything that does not pass the test should either go home or be discarded. Office shoes that you decide to keep at work should go into in a drawer or be stored in a discrete box under your desk.
With exception of few professionals like editors or researchers, people nowadays have fewer books in their workspace. When I pass by the desks of my younger colleagues, I don’t spot any at all. If this is true for you, use this opportunity to examine what you do for your self-advancement today. Is there a topic you’d like to learn more about and would that warrant buying or borrowing a book? Do you listen to podcasts or follow influencers in your industry online to stay up to date? If not, challenge yourself to find a couple of high-quality inspiring sources of new information. Where there is a void, there is an opportunity.
If you do have books, gather them in one central spot, go over each title and decide what value it provides to you right now. Do you feel a sudden urge to read a certain title, so much so that you want to start like “right now”? That’s a keeper. Feel guilty about a book you bought a long time ago and never read? Maybe it’s a sign you don’t actually need to read it. Books that taught us something about ourselves, including showing us we did not need them, have fulfilled their purpose. We should let them go to free up space for new knowledge we actually seek right now. If you own popular business titles in good condition, offer them to your colleagues or take them to your local public library.
First, let’s define paper: this category includes reports, email print outs, manuals, desk calendars, contracts, notebooks, manila folders, as well as all those loose notes and post-it notes. All of it should come out and face the daylight. Place all paper in one pile and work through each piece, one at a time.
The big question to ask with this category is just how reliant you have to be on paper these days. If you are a bookkeeper or a lawyer, then yes, you should be careful with what you are discarding. But for the rest of us, paper is no longer THAT important. What you have on your desk is probably a print out of something that can be printed again or retrieved from your computer or a shared drive. What are the chances that you’ll actually comb through all this paper in front of you to find one document you need at the moment?
Ask yourself questions like “How is it helping me to do my job?”, “Can I retrieve this information digitally if needed?”, “Is it still relevant for the projects I am working on right now?” Next, imagine that your trash can is a hungry monster who feeds on paper and feed it as much paper as you can.
If you have contracts and other legal documents on your desk, guess what – they should not be there. They should be filed away in a secure file cabinet somewhere else in your office. That’s what we do at the ad agency where I work. We scan executed client contracts and save them on the shared drive while the hard copy is filed away in a metal file cabinet. Voila, no responsibility for me to store them and take up precious space on my desk.
And if you stumble upon training materials, ask yourself how many times revisited them since you took the training. If you feel a sudden urge to reread them, place it in your “reading” pile and make sure it happens in the next few days. If it does not, you do not need these training materials. Feed them to the trash can monster without any guilt.
As you go through papers and identify actionable papers, set them aside and commit to act on them in the next couple of days or weeks. This will probably prompt you to update your To Do list or start one.
Go easy on filing the papers you decided to keep. Don’t create a complex indexation. The simpler your filing system is, the easier it is to maintain it and find what you need. If you are left with just a small pile of important papers you’d like to keep, consider organizing them in a binder with clear sleeves. It is so much easier to look for the information that way when you need it. Simple does it.
And please, do not use “I need a shredder” as your excuse for not getting rid of paper NOW. Use your two hands to tear the pages apart and I assure you, the corporate secrets will be safe with you.
Marie Kondo defines” komono” as miscellaneous items that clutter our space and that can not be categorized as clothes, books, paper, or sentimental items. In the context of our office desks, komono is the cultural layer of stuff that accumulates over time — office supplies, mugs, picture frames, first aid kits, product samples, snacks (hopefully dry), toothbrush, and all kinds of chuchkies we get at meetings and presentations. Komono easily accumulates office dust and causes the biggest distraction when you try to focus and be productive.
Gather up all your komono items and lay them on your desk. Pick each item and ask yourself how it adds value during the hours you spend at your office desk. If you stumble upon something that you feel attached to, it probably belongs to the Sentimental category. Set it aside for now and focus on just stuff. Get rid of as much as you can in this department. Keep a vision of a clean clutter-free desk in your mind.
All komono you decide to keep should be organized into smaller trays or containers. But don’t rush to spend money on new office supplies and organizers. Look around for suitable containers you might already have or bring few simple boxes from home. When you are done decluttering and your komono is contained with what you have, you can upgrade to something nicer.
Going through items that evoke emotion is the last step in the Kon Mari decluttering process. Hopefully, by now you are on a roll and parting with things comes easier. Sentimental items at work could be greeting cards, framed photos on your desk, a gift you’ve got from a co-worker or a sign your team made just for you to celebrate a special occasion. For me, two sentimental items on my desk were an old calculator, which served me my entire career in digital marketing and a Persian carpet mouse pad from the MET store — my very own magic carpet.
Take each item into your hands and feel the intuitive response in your heart. Does looking at this object or using it make you feel good? Is it still relevant for where you are in life right now? Remember that the purpose of a message or a gift is fulfilled when it’s received. You can thank the items that fulfilled their purpose in your life and part with them with a grateful heart. Here is one of my favorite quotes from Marie Kondo’s book:
Part of desk decluttering is also actual cleaning. Office desks accumulate a lot of dust that creates stagnant energy and pollutes the air we breath. Take some time to wipe clean the surface of you desk and the insides of all drawers before returning back the items you chose to keep. If wires snake around your desk, make a note to order some wire organizers from Amazon and tame them at a later time. You can also use large binder clips for that. And here’s a wild idea: invest in a wireless keyboard even if your company does not compensate you for this type of office expense ($40-$60). A disconnected keyboard is like a magic carpet on the loose, ready to take you in a new direction.
Having a plant on your desk lifts up the spirit and helps you breath better. Buy a pretty succulent — they need to be watered just once a month, so they are really hard to kill. Stay away from anything spiky though – its sharp energy is not good for the work environment where you seek collaboration and teamwork.
Finally, take a step back and see if your desk could use some creative personal touch. If you never personalized it, it’s an opportunity to do so now. What can you bring from home to make your office desk more alive, more you? Is it time to update the picture frame with a more current photo? A fun mouse pad? An architectural bookend? A nicer inbox? Get creative, think about adding meaningful touches that make the entire work space lit up with joy.
What about digital clutter?
This topic deserves a separate post but don’t be surprised if you feel compelled to tackle your digital clutter right after you tidy up your office desk. A great first step is to review the files and folders saved on your desktop and delete or file away as many of them as possible. They are often quick temporary saves anyway. Change the desktop background to some fun inspiring image – after all, it’s the first thing you see when you come in the morning and turn your computer on. As such, your desktop is part of the physical environment and is the cross point between the physical and digital worlds.
In the end, when all is done, it’s like a whole new world.
Share your questions and your office desk decluttering stories via comments.