12 Quick Easy Tips to Declutter Your Home Office
Since 2020 more of us have been working from home than ever before, and it seems as though that will continue for many of us. According to Global Workplace Analytics working from home in the US grew 173% between 2005 and 2018, to about 5 million people 3.6% of the total US workforce. That’s not even including the self-employed; and that’s before 2020.
By the autumn of 2020, about 42% of the US workforce was working from home, a statistic found by researchers at Stanford. Canada was even more remote-based, with a PwC study showing that 73% of Canadian workers were working remotely.
This has meant that there are many more of us dealing with a new sort of space at home, one that most of us simply didn’t need before: the Home Office.
Most homes don’t have a room that was sitting empty that could be filled with a desk, filing cabinets, and places for things like printers and work computers. Home offices have had to be squished into compromise-locations like guest bedrooms, basement corners, even kitchens and living rooms. Not ideal!
Which gets us to the concern of this article: home office clutter. Since these “home offices” now add clutter in already-clutter-prone rooms, they need special care to keep them decluttered. Special decluttering strategies are required for these shared spaces.
As we always do, we encourage you to think, as you read through these tips, about what exactly you’re trying to accomplish. Part of that will be knowing what, exactly, you mean by ‘clutter’ and ‘declutter’. Clutter is anything in a space that does not belong in the context of that space. Take a look at our How to Define Declutter for a discussion of this and related definitions.
We’re going to offer 12 quick and easy tips that you can use to keep your new home office decluttered. Our tips will work under the assumption that the space is shared, that you don’t have a dedicated room for your home office. (Though there’s no reason that these won’t be useful for dedicated rooms too!)
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1. Keep Work and Home Items Separate
One of the main sources of clutter from home offices, especially ones that have invaded rooms that used to be dedicated to other things, is from trying to store work and home items in newly convenient places that don’t have proper storage. For small items, it might be best to get duplicates so that they don’t have to be moved around.
For example: you might have scissors, a stapler, or tape for home-use that’s normally neatly paced in a drawer in some other room, which is instead now sitting on a table or shelf near your new work area. Even if you have a drawer for them in the desk, they’ll frequently be shuffled back and forth between locations and will inevitably simply be left out on some convenient surface…they’ll become clutter.
What we suggest you do is to keep a strict separation between your work stuff and your home stuff. What that allows you to do is to have dedicated, convenient storage locations for each item. The less an item has to travel to another area of the house, the less chance it has of becoming clutter.
2. Have Appropriate Home Office Storage
As we have discussed in other articles, having appropriate storage is an unavoidable solution for decluttering your home. Clutter storage can come in many forms, though it obviously depends on the sort of item you need to store. We’re going to point you to several of our other articles in which we suggest some storage options. As they aren’t dedicated to home offices specifically, what we suggest you do is to simply use them as inspiration. Try to think of ways that you could improve your storage situation in the vicinity of your home office using the suggested items or ones like them.
If you are on a limited budget then we suggest you take a look at our 10 Very Affordable Solutions to Declutter Your Stuff. Not everything there is relevant to a home office, but several are. And the idea there is to keep things inexpensive, so no need to worry about breaking the budget!
If you are limited on space in your home then look through our 10 Affordable Solutions to Declutter Using Wasted Space. Again, not everything is relevant to a home office, but the suggestions there might give you ideas for how to make better use of the spaces around your home office setup.
And finally, if you’re needing any shelving for books, and want to avoid another boxy shelf in your room, take a look at 10 Affordable and Creative Solutions to Declutter Your Books. This last list will likely be the least useful of the three we’re suggesting since home offices should probably value practicality over aesthetics, but it never hurts to look!
A fun little office supply tip: kitchen utensil trays make great storage for pens, pencils, and various clips and pins!
Having appropriate storage is a big, necessary step towards keeping your home office space decluttered. We’d love to be more specific with storage solutions, but with the variety of improvised locations for home offices, we don’t know whether to suggest things for bedrooms, kitchens, dens, or basements! We also know that this isn’t obviously a quick solution, but it is both easy and important!
3. Keep Office Items In Their Place In the Office
With tip 1 you have dedicated items for your home office; with tip 2 you have dedicated storage. This tip is to make sure that you have dedicated storage places for each item, and that you always put each item in its dedicated place.
Because many home offices are sharing space it’s even more important that everything always gets put away in a particular place. This is a good idea with everything in your home, of course, but particularly important for a space dedicated to focus and work. Having to stop working to look for things isn’t conducive to productivity.
Possibly the biggest benefit to always putting things back where they’re supposed to be is that the space simply can’t get very cluttered–most things will always be stored! In a small space like a home office, it’s absolutely doable, as long as you’ve stuck with tips 1 and 2.
Keep everything in its place and you won’t need to spend time decluttering your home office at the end of each day.
4. Separate To-Do From Done
Decluttering your home office might mean that you need to keep more organized than you usually do with other spaces in your home. Keeping in mind that clutter is anything in a space that does not belong in the context of that space, if you’re keeping the items for your tasks all mixed up, then you’re creating clutter.
How this might happen will depend very strongly on both the nature of your work and how you like to do your work.
If you use a lot of paper then you might need filing cabinets to accomplish this, but a system of labeled trays on dedicated shelves might be all you need. Just make sure that your “system” isn’t just piles of unsorted papers. We find that such piles seem to often grow, rarely shrink, and tend to lower productivity substantially!
Have separate places in your home office space for things that are completed, and things that you have yet to do. This simple organization tip can really help you to avoid shuffling things around, digging for things you need, and will help to reduce clutter.
5. Get a Label Maker
It’s hard to overstate how useful it can be to have a label maker when you need to keep organized. Labeling files, drawers, shelves, anything that CAN be labeled, is also strangely satisfying and fun! If you end up picking one up, a good tip to know is that you get get the labels in different colors–color-coding doubles-down on the helpfulness of labels!
Below you can find links to Amazon listings for an inexpensive option and pricier but more versatile options.
If you want one that’s inexpensive but will do the job reliably, we recommend the DYMO LabelManager 160. As with all of the inexpensive label makers, you’ll need AA batteries handy if you use this one a lot, but it’s otherwise simple to use and will get the job done.
If you prefer something a bit easier to type on, its bigger sister the DYMO LabelManager 360D. It has a rechargeable battery so you don’t need to worry about buying piles of AA batteries.
And if you’re the techy sort, or want larger labels, then you should check out the Phomemo M110. It uses an app on your iPhone or Android to print out everything from simple labels, to bar codes, to little images (if that’s how you like to label, we get it!).
6. Make Your Walls Useful
If your home office is going to be around for a while, consider using any available wall space for storage. Whether it’s shelving, a whiteboard, a corkboard, or something else functional, it’s a lot of space that would otherwise go unused.
If you can’t fit, or afford, some shelving on the wall in that space, you really should consider a corkboard. Many people use a lot of sticky notes, and jot down a lot of reminders. Your computer monitor is not a good place for those, as they’re really distracting when you need to focus. Your desk is even worse! They use valuable real-estate on the desk and are quite clearly clutter there.
Decluttering effectively is largely about making efficient use of the spaces you have available. Making your wall space work for you is an excellent example of that.
7. Get Rid of Paper By Scanning (With Your Phone!)
Paper takes up an incredible amount of space in a home office because you can’t just leave it piled somewhere. Piled up you can’t find anything. Instead, you need furniture of some sort to handle the paper.
Getting appropriate furniture is fine if you have the space for it, but in a room doing double-duty as a home office and, say, a living room, you might not want filing cabinets!
Instead, you can start scanning all of the documents that you need to keep, especially if they’re being kept for long-term storage. (If you work for a big company, make sure you verify with them first which papers need to be kept in original form.)
You don’t need a dedicated scanner for this! There are quite a few apps for both iPhone and Android now that make scanning really easy, even for multi-page documents. They can even automatically sync scanned documents to many online storage sites like Google Drive and Dropbox.
They work by using your camera and automatically detecting the edges of the paper, so that they scan only the document itself, even if you have it sitting on a desk or the floor.
We use these phone apps all the time. A few of our top choices are:
8. Remove Things You Don't Actually Use
We intend this to be different from Tip 1, where we suggest keeping home and office items separate. We find that after some period of time there are things in our home offices that have been sitting untouched for weeks, or even months.
If you have things in your home office that you haven’t used in weeks or longer, even if they are properly office items, find a new place in your home to store them.
Since your home office space is limited, store infrequently accessed items somewhere that you infrequently access. If you have a storage area in your basement or attic, this would be a great use of that space.
While this is a bit of an extension to tip 7, if you’re storing paper documents, it might be that your company or government doesn’t need you to actually keep them after a certain period of time. We suggest that you scan anything you are going to dispose of first, though, just in case.
9. Get a Cable Management Solution
Computer cables…we hate them. We bet you do too. Happily, almost everyone feels the same way so engineers have come up with a wide variety of solutions for them! Get a cable management solution to tame the nest of cables making a mess, and taking up space, in, around, and under your desk.
These solutions are very affordable, and very much worth the purchase. After you set them up and sit down to a desk that doesn’t look like it’s being attacked by climbing vines, you will be very glad you got them!
If you don’t mind fairly permanently attaching something to your desk, check out these OHill Cable Clips. It’s a very inexpensive pack with a wide variety of options, so it’ll accommodate whatever cable situation you find yourself in.
Whether you can affix something to your desk or not, having simple velcro/reusable cable ties like these (which come in a ton of fun colors) goes a very long way to reducing wire-clutter. We couldn’t possibly count the number of ties like these that we use, and they are a simple and wonderful solution.
And finally, if you are having to run cables along the wall or floor, a cable concealer like this one can improve the situation considerably.
10. Repurpose Furniture For Your Office
If you have furniture elsewhere in your house that typically goes unused, it might be usefully used in your home office to help declutter.
For example, if you have a spare bedroom with any furniture that has drawers, such as a bedside table or small dresser, it could be a useful extra surface and storage space beside, or even under, your desk.
This tip is sort of an extension of tip 2, but we intend it to be different. Rather than thinking about what new storage you need to purchase to meet your home office needs, here we want to suggest that you think about what you already have. In particular, what you have that might conveniently expand the space you have in your small desk area.
11. Consider a Closet Organizer
When you’re in a “real” office you will almost always have plenty of storage for all of your office items. A cabinet that has paper and pens, another that has printer ink and toner, another where invoices are stored, another where…you get the idea.
If you get a closet organizer solution, you can commandeer part of a closet, in an organized way, and have almost as much versatility in storage for your home office as you do at your work office.
It will be smaller in scale, of course, but that will likely be exactly what you need. Even better: if/when you no longer need office space at home, you’ll have an extremely useful new storage area for your home life!
Our 10 Affordable Closet Organizer Solutions to Declutter Your Bedroom is focused mainly on clothing, but we suggest checking it out for some inspiration on what might work for you with home office items.
12. Don't Store Anything Unnecessary ON Your Desk
Think of your desktop as a special place. Your desktop should be clean and clear of all clutter at all times.
Remember that clutter is only what should not be in a space, so we don’t mean that you shouldn’t use your desk! On the contrary, there are two reasons why we think this tip is important, and why we’re closing out this list with it.
- If you’re using the top of your desk to store things that you aren’t using at that moment, you are likely wasting space that you could be using for other things.
- As we discuss in 4 Ways Clutter Can Negatively Impact Your Life (According to Science), the presence of clutter in your environment can have a significant negative impact on your productivity. Keeping your desktop clear of clutter will avoid that by at least presenting the illusion of a clutter-free environment.
Bonus Tip: Get a Good Chair (Seriously)
If you are currently working on a normal chair from home, something from a kitchen table, a stool, or worse yet a couch: you need to get a real office chair as soon as possible.
A study from the Upjohn Institute, along with various research institutions, studied the consequences on productivity of simply adding an ergonomic office chair. They found an almost 18% increase in productivity.
But your physical health should also be a concern. The Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety has found that not having a good, ergonomic chair can lead to back pain, muscle tenderness, and aches in a variety of places. (I personally, your author, did several months of doctors visits and long scans for terrible neck pain, only to discover that working on a couch every day was the problem. Never again!)
If you absolutely need the best of the best for things like this, the Herman Miller Aeron is often considered the absolute top of the line. It’s considered so well designed that it’s part of the permanent exhibit at the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York! (Be prepared for sticker shock!)
A popular choice that’s about an eighth the price of the Aeron, and is a great value considering typical office chair prices, is the NOUHAUS Ergo3D. A great feature of this chair that’s important for a home office is that it comes with wheels that should be fine on hardwood or laminate floors–no need to worry about scratching them up.
A “budget” chair, not in the same league as the two above but absolutely better than a kitchen table chair, recliner, or couch, is the NEO Office Chair. If you’ve been experiencing back or neck pain then it might be better to look at the NOUHAUS or one like it, but this will still be a real improvement.
This is merely a bonus tip, and not in the real list, because it isn’t a tip to declutter your home office. But it’s so important that we absolutely had to include it!
We’ve suggested 12 quick and easy (for the most part) tips to declutter your home office. We really hope that with working from home becoming a permanent reality for many of us, you’re able to take control of your space and keep yourself content and productive.
p.s. We also hope that you look into office chairs if you haven’t already…they really make a difference!
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