Create a System For Your Home Office
By Sophia Noll
This month we will focus on your home office. An organized office in your home is something that everyone strives for but it can feel like an untamed animal at times. We are inundated with information these days and the piles of paper keep growing. Paper has been touted as one of the top three clutter causers and various paper trails account for one-third of the “stuff” problem in our lives. Fortunately the paper clutter is easier to get rid of than other items in our homes.
I will briefly go over creating a basic filing system, organizing your papers, and desk drawers. Here’s what you will need: Milk crate or filing cabinet, trash can, recycle bin, shredder, file folders, trays to hold papers, hanging and interior file folders, label maker, drawer organizer, and maybe some Velcro ties for the tangled web of electrical cords.
Let’s look at the “In” box. I have found that it is helpful to have one general tray, bin, or box that all the incoming paper initially goes into. I assign an action to every piece of paper in my “In” box. As I sort through it, either once a day or once a week, I then place it into separate files that have been labeled and placed in a file holder on my desk. Some of the titles could be: “Today” (means take care of immediately), To “Pay,”” To File,” “To Contact,” “To Read,” “Coupons,” “Errands,” etc. Try to limit these files to no more than ten categories. As you sort through your “In” box, you will have a file for each item. If you come across a receipt for an item that needs to be returned, it would be placed in the “Errand” file. A bank statement will go into the “To File” file and so on until everything has been assigned an action. It’s a good idea to have a shredder by your desk for those items that can’t be recycled or just thrown away.
Now, your “In” box is empty and it’s time to fi le those papers you placed in your “Action” files. I recommend you do this at least once a week but preferably once a day either in the morning or before you go to bed. There are many ways to set up an effective filing system. Each person I have worked with likes it a little differently. You need to decide what will motivate you to file these papers. For example: is it color; left, right or center tabs; etc. I personally like to use color files, which is aesthetically more pleasing and motivating for me. I also like my tabs to run down the left side of the cabinet or crate. Remember there are many ways to set up a filing system and this is just one example.
Starting in the front of the filing cabinet or milk crate, let’s use green folders in which there is a folder labeled for each month where you will place bills, receipts, credit card statements, bank statements, etc. It helps to use some kind of marker to indicate which month you are in so it is easier for your eyes to go to it immediately. (Policies, medical records, permanent records and tax documents do not go into these monthly fi les.) So I take my “To File” folder and pull out this month’s bank statement and place it in the appropriate month’s fi le. Now that was easy!!
“Policies and Recurring” documents that you get throughout the year can go into the next group of colored files. Let’s choose blue for these. Once again, from your “To File” file, you pull out your new car insurance policy, pull out the old one and place the new one in its place.
Let’s pick orange for our “Permanent” records. Medical records, birth certificate, education information, receipts for house maintenance, car titles, warranty manuals, or pet records are just a few examples. These will be items that stay in the file cabinet for referencing. Take the new microwave warranty manual out of the “To File” folder that’s on your desk and place it into the “Warranty Manuals” file folder. See! You’re getting the hang of it now!
It’s tax time so let’s set up the files for those tax items that we need to have on hand in order to file our taxes. This will help eliminate the stress that sometimes goes with that task. I’m feeling yellow for these files but again you can use any color you want. Some examples of the files would be charitable donations, medical deductions, tax documents like 1099’s and W2’s (from banks and mortgage companies) and any other items that fall under your needs for filing taxes. If you own your own business, you can have files for advertising, travel, supplies, etc. The more you break it down the easier and less stressful it will be when tax time comes. From here you will be able to easily hand the folders over to your accountant or manually put the information into a computer filing program.
Now, Let’s quickly look at the desk drawers. Having items in the drawer takes more clutter off of your desk—less is better!! I love drawer dividers that stack and slide which make items easy to see and to retrieve. For your larger items and extras (computer paper, envelopes, printer ink, etc) you can use a bookshelf or supply shelf that mounts on the wall so it doesn’t encroach on your desk space.
One more thing … those unsightly electrical cords! Velcro ties are great for bundling up the cords, which eliminates all of the excess that gets tangled up. There are other great organizing items available for tidying up your cords and devices as well. Labeling the cords is a good idea so you know what you are reaching for should you need to unplug one of them.
Filing systems can be quite elaborate depending on your lifestyle and needs, and many of you will need more categories, but this will get you started on setting up your own system. You may be saying, “Well that’s all well and good, but what do I do with all of the piles of paper that have entombed my desk and my office floor?!!!!” I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away! There is no quick fix for this; it just takes time. It starts with taking one stack at a time and going through the system I laid out at the beginning. It helps to do it in small bites but eventually it will all get filed. Set an hour or two aside each day and be faithful to that time.
Hiring an Organizer like me makes the job go much quicker and doesn’t seem so arduous. It really does help to have someone by your side guiding, shredding, recycling and yes, laughing with you. Soothing music and a cup of tea or coffee while you work through those mounds helps too. Oh! And don’t forget chocolate!!! I hear some of you saying, “The heck with tea and coffee … how about a shot of whiskey?!” I say, “Whatever works, go for it!”
Sophia (In Its Place) has been organizing people’s lives for the past ten years from Maine to Asheville. She specializes in Organization, Personal Assistant, Household Management, Staging Homes, Senior Downsizing, and Concierge Services. Sophia offers free consultations and can be contacted at 828-333-3045. Give Yourself the Gift of Organizing!!! Gift Certificates Available.