Keep your office clutter-free

My boss used to say “A tidy office is a happy office!” This was well before Marie Kondo glamorised decluttering, and in those days he got on my nerves with his regular tiding. Today, I follow his advise and keep my surfaces clear.

For a simple reason: I work more efficiently this way.

Most freelance home offices, even minimalist ones, struggle to keep the paperwork under control. The invoice for the milkman here, a telephone doodle there and on the floor the remnants of a medical journal which by accident got shredded by the dog. This can quickly turn into a nightmare and hinder our daily workflow.

Don’t blame the postman for bringing new stuff, do something against the pile-up.

de-clutter desk
My desk – minimalism

The tidy office

Keeping control of the clutter can be difficult even if you follow a regular clean-up. To help you stay on top of the clutter and avoid it building up, you need a system.

Clever Filing

First of all, make an “in tray” for all the paperwork that enters the office and an “out tray” for … (you get the drift).
Adopting a filing system with separate labelled folders for each area of my work and separate ones for the household has helped me a great deal to keep order. If I am unsure of throwing away a piece of paper, I take a photo of it and save it on Evernote (or any other cloud based archiving system). This method appeases my hoarding instinct while at the same time lowering the threshold of chucking things out.


Every day I go through the paperwork that’s come in that day. I choose a time when I can deal with what’s there, whether these are work-related letters or private material. Once I’ve actioned anything necessary, I file the paperwork straightaway.

The desk

Is your desk covered with stacks of paper, Post-Its and piles of office supplies? Start from fresh – Remove everything from your desk except for your screen, keyboard and mouse. Give it all a good clean. Now sit down in front of your Computer and relax – browse a few websites. How do you feel? Is there something missing that prevents you from feeling comfortable? Your phone perhaps? Or pen and paper for instant notes? In that case, put back what is indispensable for your workflow. Go through the paperwork that you removed from the desk, archive, file and throw away as necessary and find new homes for the office supplies.

All physical things have a proper home. Make sure that the piles of paper are sifted through and put in their proper place. That way clutter never gets a chance to build up, the surfaces stay clear and you can find everything in an instant.

Clean up e-clutter

In our time, physical clutter is a minor nuisance when comparing it with all the data that accumulates on our computers. Living clutter-free in the digital department will give you the same benefits as a tidy and organised office. It can ease your workflow, give you motivation and most of all save you time.

Cleaning up your computer systematically will help you keep on top.

1. Free up your desktop

Let’s start with the desktop screen. Does it distract your attention from important things? As a minimalist, I try to keep my desktop as clean as possible. Tip: Create shortcuts or folders that get you to places you go often. Perhaps it makes sense to have folders for the various aspects of your freelancing. Or maybe you want one for each current assignment. The essential idea is to keep the amount of desktop clutter to a minimum. Anything above 10 icons tends to give you a sense of chaos you start your PC.

2. Email management

Let’s have a look at your email client. Whatever client you use, Mac or PC, it is the top spot for gathering up e-clutter. Tip: Go through all the regular mail like newsletters you get on a weekly (or monthly). How often do you read them? How many give you valuable or interesting information? Do you see, where I am coming from? Delete all the ones you are not going to read and unsubscribe from the ones you don’t want. Most email clients have the option to set up specific folders and let you create rules to deliver mail straight into them. Do this for all your clients or projects. This will help you to find them quickly. Make sure your spam filter is good working order.

3. Use Software to do a deep-clean

Use a specialist and reputable software to scan the deeper parts of your computer. Review the scan results and clear out the files that are not needed. Remove duplicate or temporary files. There are more than you think. Consequently, you will speed up your computer and free some memory.

4. Set up a rule to schedule back-ups

I found that an automated daily back up of my current projects onto a cloud-based memory gives me peace of mind. It also allows me to delete recent stuff without the worry to lose the data forever.
With my Mac, I have created a rule whereby this backup will happen every day at lunchtime (when my computer is on) without me having to lift a finger.

A systematic approach in keeping the office tidy will get you long term benefits. Rather than doing a one-off spring clean, get used to a new routine and you will notice how this can boost your motivation – and save you time.

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