How to De-Clutter (and Organize) Desks - Dishes

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Desk (see also Announcements, Brochures, Catalogs,

Files and Filing Cabinets, Furniture, Mail, Magazines, Notes, Papers, Pens and Pencils, Postcards)

Believe it or not, how you handle the clutter that accumulates on your desk can make or break you. Think about it.



When was the last time you walked into a CEO’s office to find that person sitting behind piles of desktop clutter? Although some people achieve success in spite of their clutter, they are the exception rather than the rule.

The fact is, desk clutter creates confusion and stress, cuts down significantly on personal productivity, and sets the scene for others to make a snap judgment about your capability to stay in control and get the job done.



This holds true whether your desk is located in a major corporation or in the kitchen. If you can’t control the clutter, chances are you can’t control the job to be done, and the people who are privy to the chaos on your desk are definitely forming opinions about your overall capabilities.

The same organizing principles apply to both the home and the office. Whether you are buying equipment and supplies for your home office, or requisitioning them for your office, you’ll want to get functional equipment that can handle all of your needs — from personalized stationery to hundreds of files that need to be organized and stored.

To organize your desk work area, first remove everything from the desk. Next, replace the items using some basic principles that will not only help you organize the desk, but help you keep it organized. As you clear the desk, you’ll find that at any given time, your desk (and desktop) provides a home to the following items:

1. Equipment

2. Mail — Incoming and Outgoing

3. Papers and Files

4. Personal Items

5. Supplies

Nearly all of those categories can be accommodated in the average desk without turning to clutter. As you organize your desk, keep these organizational ideas and principles in mind:

1. Equipment—This includes the telephone, answering ma chine, typewriter, adding machine, computer, and /or any other equipment that you use on a daily basis in your work. The equipment that stays on your desk at all times should be placed so that it’s within easy reach, and so it doesn’t clutter the work space of your desk. If you are right-handed, place the telephone and adding machine (if you use one) to the right. Typewriters and computer equipment should be on a stand or return table either to the side of your desk or behind you, so that you have a separate work space for those typing and /or computer-related projects. You should be able to reach this work area simply by swiveling your chair around to that position at the side or behind your desk.

2. Mail — All too often the incoming mail buries the outgoing mail, resulting in bills being paid late and important correspondence being lost amidst the piles of paper on the desk. To reduce these potential hazards, have a specific place for incoming mail until you get around to dealing with it. Make sure nothing else gets piled on that spot.

For outgoing mail, you might want to set up a “to go” table or spot. Put this table next to the door, and as you get mail ready to go, put it there. Then when you leave, take it with you. If there is no room or there’s already furniture by the door, carve out a “to go” spot by putting a basket next to the door either on the floor or on top of the furniture that’s already there. A bookcase can hold a “to go” section if you put a basket on a shelf next to the door, or you can put a red folder marked OUT on the shelf (you can stand it up on a Lucite or plastic letter holder) CLUTFER FROM A TO Z • 69

For people who rely on others to pick up and deliver mail to their office, training tags can be a lifesaver. Instead of an unmarked in and out box, try marking them with index cards. IN ONLY and OUT ONLY, in large letters affixed to the appropriate box, can help eliminate the confusion that arises when new people are assigned the task of your in and out pickups and deliveries. Even here, I believe moving the out box off the desk can be helpful. You might have to take a step to get to it, or reach it with a mighty stretch, but in addition to the exercise, you can benefit from a greater sense of order and less clutter on the top of your desk.

Once the mail arrives, of course, the real key to keeping control of the mail clutter is to open and sort it immediately. For more information on this bit of organizational wisdom, see Mail.

3. Papers and Files—The piles of papers and files that clutter desks are theoretically those you are working on at that particular time. The reality often is that among those papers and files are items that need to be filed, tossed, or put in an envelope and sent out. Magazines, newspapers, and trade journals can add to the mess, and before you know it, the top of the desk has vanished. Actually accomplishing any thing is just about impossible, because you’re overwhelmed from the minute you walk through the door.

There are essentially only four things to be done with the paper and files on the top of your desk. Set up these four baskets:

  • TO DO
  • TO PAY
  • TO FILE
  • TO READ

Then, of course, there’s the trash basket.

Since your TO DO and your TO PAY baskets will be on top of your desk, use the wire ones that can be stacked. You can see into them, so you always know how much work is there, and there’s plenty of room to reach in and grab the papers. Fancy smoke-colored plastic boxes that, when stacked, are impossible to work with easily, are paper traps. You can’t really see what’s in there, and the boxes tend to topple over, or serve as a towering dumping ground for everything you’d rather not deal with.

For your TO READ items, get a sturdy, large, wicker basket with a handle. This can be kept anywhere — on the floor next to the desk or by the credenza. At home, it’s portable—you can carry it with you from room to room as needed.

For your TO FILE category, get a very roomy wicker or wire basket and put it under your desk. Simply toss papers and files that need to be filed into this basket, and you’ll eliminate a good portion of the paper clutter that you keep moving around on the top of your desk.

For people who have ongoing projects with lots of paper work accumulating, another option is the PROJECT or ON GOING desktop filing system. Purchase either a graduated step file holder or a desktop hanging file holder and put it on your desk to hold vital ongoing activities or projects; or you can set these same files up in your desk file drawer.

When the project is completed, or for some reason ceases to be ongoing, simply remove the file from the desk drawer or desktop holder and return it to the permanent files. Examples of ONGOING folders might be:

  • To Be Copied
  • Errands to Do
  • Calls to Make
  • Take Home/Office
  • Future Meetings (Agenda Items and Backup)
  • Future Travel (Tickets, Itinerary, etc.)
  • Examples of PROJECT FILES might be:
    • Annual Report
    • Johnson Court Case
    • Remodeling
    • XYZ Account

A graduated-step file system of ongoing items (placed either on your desktop or on a credenza next to the desk), along with immediate project files in the desk drawer, can keep everything categorized and at your fingertips. This, along with the TO DO, TO PAY, TO FILE, and TO REM) baskets, should virtually eliminate all of the paper and file clutter from the top of your desk.

4. Personal Items—Personal items that accumulate on and in desks include photographs of children and pets, paper- weights, aspirin, jewelry, cash, executive toys, keys, awards, teabags, joke statues and plaques, ink-covered plastic forks, antacid tablets, nail polish, and plants. Set aside a small area in one of the drawers for personal items such as aspirin, change, and so forth, and limit yourself to that area only for those belongings. A photo or two and a plant can be accept able on top of, or near the desk, but beyond that you are courting clutter. Unless you’ve got table and desktop space to spare, personal items are best kept to a minimum.

5. Supplies—Supplies that lurk around a desk run the gamut from stationery and envelopes to paper clips and pens (many of which don’t work). Also mingled in the mess are rubber bands, stamps, ink pads, business cards, and typing and computer supplies. Round up all of the supplies and get rid of everything that’s outdated or doesn’t work. Old address stickers, stamps, and stationery that you don’t want or use should be tossed. Get a container of some kind and put a supply of working pens and pencils in it. Place this on top of the desk. Toss any pens or pencils that don’t work or are broken. Get a container for paper clips as well. Some containers have a magnetic top, so that clips come out singly and won’t spill all over the place. A spare box of clips in the desk drawer is fine, but if you’ve got twenty-four boxes that you bought on sale, they should go in a storage cabinet with other office supplies. Keep the basics at hand—scissors, stapler, staple remover, tape, and , if YOU use it, hole puncher. Everything else should be pared down to just what you use on a daily basis. Typing, computer, and other paper supplies should be kept at hand, but a gross of any one item in your desk is not necessary. One box of anything if it’s small (such as clips or rubber bands), and about a fourth of a box of anything if it’s large (such as stationery or envelopes) is more than enough to keep in and around your desk.

You can buy a stationery rack to hold paper and envelopes. Generally there are enough compartments to also accommodate forms that you use with regularity, and these metal holders sit easily on a desk corner or credenza for easy access whenever you need stationery or forms.

Another solution is to keep forms and paper supplies in the desk file drawer in hanging file folders. You can put these files in back of your project files in the drawer, or, if you have no project files, you can use the drawer just for these paper supplies.

Inside smaller desk drawers, you might put divider trays to help keep the small, miscellaneous supplies in some kind of order. The next time you are on the phone with some long-winded bore, open one of those drawers. In the ten minutes that you have to spend listening to Mr. or Mrs. Boring, you can tidy up an entire supply drawer.

Once your desk is organized, you’ll want to keep it that way. Resist the temptation to fall back into old habits by automatically spreading papers and files all over the desk. Only put in front of you what you are working on at that time. Put everything else in its proper basket or ongoing or project file. Every day, before you leave your desk, spend ten to fifteen minutes putting everything away. Then put the most important piece of work in the center of your desk. When you come back to your desk the next day, you won’t be greeted with mountains of clutter, and your most import ant work will be right in front of you.

Dishes (see also Heirlooms, Kitchen Utensils, Pots and Pans, Salt and Pepper Sets, Vases)

Many people have enough dishes lurking behind cabinet and hutch doors to outfit an army. There are the everyday dishes, the good dishes, the souvenir dishes, and the promotional dishes (such as the mug you got from the gas station when you filled up three times last week). Before you tackle organizing all of your dishes and glassware, stop and count noses in your family. If there are four people who normally eat meals at you house, two complete sets of dishes for twelve, thirty-six assorted glasses, and who knows how many mugs, are definitely more than you need. Select one set of dishes to use every day and weed out the souvenir and promotional glasses and cups (give them away) so that the dishes you use on a daily basis are accessible.

Good dishes should be reevaluated. Do you ever use them? Are you keeping them because you got them for your wedding (to your first husband) twenty-two years ago? Or, do you use them on major holidays only? If you never use them, don’t wait for your death, after which they will be bequeathed to someone or left for everyone to fight over — so the winner can store them. Take the good dishes out of the cabinet now, and give them to the relative of your choice. These days, many young couples don’t have lovely china, and chances are such a couple would be delighted to use your dishes for their holiday festivities. If you do use them yourself on holidays, you can store them on higher shelves, since you don’t need to get to them on a regular basis. You can double the space of any one high shelf by adding another shelf (look for an add-a-shelf at your local variety or closet store) or by placing a plate rack on the shelf. Cups can be hung on hooks to save space, but if you want to spare yourself the chore of washing all of the good dishes before you use them, your best bet is to store them in quilted or plastic dish caddies inside the cupboard or hutch.

If you do use your good dishes frequently and have them stored in a buffet or sideboard in the dining room, chances are you are making the best use of that space. But if you don’t use them (as in, almost never), you might want to reevaluate all that cabinet space. A buffet or sideboard can also accommodate cassette tapes, photographs, and craft or office supplies, among other things.

However you store your good dishes, I can’t think of any reason to have more than one set of good dishes and one set of everyday dishes. If you serve more than twelve on the holidays — and find yourself using more than one set of dishes — chances are that they won’t match. So if they’re not going to match anyway, why not use everyday dishes at the children’s places? I suppose every perfect mother, wife, and hostess, along with Miss Manners, would have my head for saying that, but I just can’t see allocating extra storage space (that often doesn’t exist in the first place) just so two or more sets of good dishes can be stored, only to be used once or twice each year. You have to live with your own hostess duties, so you’ll have to decide this one for yourself.

And, oh yes, about those dirty dishes. Wash ‘em and put ‘em away. Yes, every day.

DIS-OR-DER: The situation characterized by disarrangement; hence, inattention or neglect of orderliness. Or, that mess you’ve got all over the place.

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