Home Office Organization

This article talks about home office organization. Setting up a home office depends on your needs (whether it is just for your family or you are running a home based business) and also the space available. This could be an entire room or part of another room like a kitchen, dining room, living room etc.

A properly organized home office is essential. For one, this gives you easy access to most of your financial and other pieces of information. I have seen many people who could not return something they bought because they could not locate the receipt. Imagine how easy it will be at the end of the year to do your taxes if all the information you need (such as your car registration fee) is easily accessible? Home office organization is even more important if you spend considerable amount of time there, catching up on your work or working on your business.

Even though most of this article assumes you have a separate room for office, the majority of the tips and ideas can be used in a smaller space as well. You will also see a few specific tips for smaller offices in this article. As always, regardless of the space available, you can be well organized.

If you haven’t read my article on tips yet, I strongly suggest you read it before you begin organizing any of the rooms. That article will help you get through these tasks a whole lot easier and keep your results once you are done.

Home office organization is going to be a large task, similar to organizing your kitchen. It will take time. Have realistic goals and split tasks into small chunks, so you can complete them in a reasonable amount of time and make progress. So set time limits (1 to 2 hr maximum) for each session of work. Do what you can in that time limit. Then, wait for the next day or weekend, otherwise you will be exhausted. Also look at what you have accomplished and enjoy it. That will inspire and motivate you.

Your first home office organization task should be clearing items in open areas as explained in home organization tips (when you begin). Separate them into five categories and appropriately arrange them as explained. In this case, it is a good idea to further divide “Keep Here” items into categories such as Statements, Receipts, Manuals, Books, Magazines, Office Stationary, Pencils / Pens / Eraser / Sharpener, Paper clips, Paper punch, Stapler/staples, Printer cartridges etc. You can have as many categories as you want and also keep these categories in smaller boxes if you like (shoe boxes for example). The idea is to avoid sorting them again when you put them back. Once you read through this article, you will have an idea how you want to group your items. As you go through the rest of the office, add the things you are going to keep to the appropriate categories/boxes. While going through your paperwork, make sure you don’t throw away the important ones. Consult your tax advisor if you have questions. For example you may need some receipts for tax purposes.

All this may sound daunting, but the trick is to do this in small chunks as I said earlier. Trust me, it is worth it. After you finish home office organization and get used to an uncluttered space, you will never want to go back to the old clutter. Once you have emptied all the furniture in the office and have a “clean slate”, you can start arranging things.

If you have enough space for a separate office, you could set up a very productive and tranquil area to work. Essentials in this room are desk, chair preferably with casters, book shelf, filing cabinet(s), computer, printer, scanner/copier, phone and fax and a paper shredder. If using part of another room, consider a computer armoire or a piece of furniture with a door so that everything is neatly tucked away when not in use.

If dedicating an entire room as a home office, arrange it so that everything you need is within easy reach. Keep bookshelves, filing cabinets and other storage furniture against a wall preferably across from the entrance. This will create a spacious entrance for you or your clients. Put the chair and desk in front of it facing the door. If you need seating for clients, put chair(s) on the other side of the desk and facing you. Arrange cabinets/book shelves based on your preference (right side if you are right handed and left if you are left handed). Keep frequently used items on lower shelves that are closer to you. This makes it easier to move the chair around to grab what you need quickly without having to get out of your chair. Since in this arrangement you will be facing the door, you can always see who is coming into your office. For most people, sitting with their backs to the door in the office is awkward. If your office is carpeted, consider using chair mat(s) so that you can move your chair around with ease. Furniture arrangement is an important aspect of home office organization.

If the room has a window, keep smaller furniture in front of the window so that it is not blocked. You can keep bookshelves or other tall storage cabinets on either side of the window.

If you have clients, keeping their convenience in mind is another aspect of home office organization. Place the monitor or laptop on one end of the desk facing you and your business cards and some pens behind it on the client side. Also keep a notepad on the desk for your clients. Leave the rest of the desk area clear so that if your clients want to put their laptops or paperwork, there is enough space to do so.

An all-in-one printer with scanner, copier and fax will not only save space but also reduce clutter. These all-in-one printers are also available without the fax option if you don’t need or want it. A wireless printer will allow you to keep the printer where you want or wherever you have space (top of the filing cabinet for example) since you are not limited by the length of the cable. Also these cables won’t get in the way when you are trying to move around in your chair. And less cables mean less clutter.

If keeping the printer on the shelf, make sure there is enough space to open the top cover for scanning. Otherwise, installing a pull out tray on the shelf will help.

If your desk has storage on the side(s) like drawers, shelves or a hutch with cubbies, store small office supplies like pens, pencils, rulers, paper clips, paper punch, post-it etc. by grouping like items together in the drawers. You could use a divided tray like a kitchen silverware tray or small plastic bins for this purpose. Another option is to use cigar boxes instead of plastic bins. You may be able to get empty cigar boxes from cigar shops. They make interesting storage bins. Store paper and larger supplies like folders, binders etc. on the built in shelves of your table or cubbies on the hutch that are deeper or taller.

Or you can install floating shelves on the walls to store these essentials. In that case, use cigar boxes or other decorative storage boxes for these and label them.

Sort books by themes like educational, self-help etc. and assign shelves for each category on the bookshelf. Depending on the number of books, one shelf could contain more than one category. If this is the case, divide each category with a decorative accessory or a divider tab depending on the space available.

Keep magazines in magazine files. Recycle magazines after a year and reuse the magazine file. If you want to keep something specific from the magazines like a recipe, a picture of a room design etc. just keep those pages. If this is something you save from every issue or often, assign a binder for these pages. Use divider tabs to separate each category. This way you can find what you need easily without taking up valuable space. Another idea is to scan the pages you need and have them on your computer. Saves space!

3 ring binders are very useful in home office organization. Use them to keep appliance and electronics manuals. Assign a shelf in your bookshelf for the binders. You can categorize the manuals by room (living room, kitchen, home theatre, utility room, laundry room etc.). This way it is easy to find operating instructions about the TV when you want to connect a new device to it. You can arrange the manuals for each room in alphabetical order. Use sheet protectors to store the manuals so that you don’t have to punch holes in them. If you purchased extended warranties for any item, keep that information and the receipt along with the manual. This way if you have any questions regarding a particular product, you can quickly find out whom to call. Similarly, if you need information about the maintenance schedule or spare parts for your furnace, air conditioner, air exchanger etc. all you need to do is to take the appliance binder, go to the utility section and voilà there it is. This could be done in less than a minute instead of wasting time looking for the manual. You can also save money on repairs if you do the necessary maintenance.

Having a manual will be of great help to the buyer when you sell a used item. And if you are selling your house, the buyer will appreciate the manuals for all appliances.

Similarly keeping the assembly instructions for furniture will help if you want to reassemble it after taking it apart for moving.

A 3 ring binder is also a great tool to keep all the monthly statements in order. Divide these into categories using divider tabs like home, pay stub, Investments/401k, bank statements, credit cards, electric, water, phone, internet, satellite/cable, health, car, air miles, charity etc. For example, I file statements of mortgage, home insurance, property tax assessment, lawn care etc. under the home tab; documents related to car payment, insurance, repair etc. under the car tab; health insurance, medical bills etc. under the health tab. This will help you a lot when you have a dispute with health insurance payments, credit card charges etc. since you have all the information easily available. Many credit card companies, banks, utilities etc. usually keep only the latest 3 months of information. Use one binder for every year. A 3 or 4 inch binder should be enough for one year’s worth of statements and documents. Write the year on the side for easy identification. You will need a 3-hole paper punch as well. You can contact your tax professional for advice on how long to keep these records. Assign a shelf in your bookshelf for these binders. If using an armoire where there is not much storage space keep only the current year’s binder in it.

Alternately, store books, magazines, binders etc. in a built-in or stand alone bookshelf in the family room or living room. If you have a computer armoire, but you use a laptop, you could use the space for the computer tower for binders.

Now that you know where to keep everything, when you get the mail everyday, you can go through it quickly, make the payments, keep what you need and discard junk mail right away. Always shred paperwork with sensitive information like extended warranty offers for your vehicle with its VIN number, credit card offers etc. Try to do this daily. Do not procrastinate. It is easy to do when the amount of paperwork to manage is small. If you can’t do it daily at least do it on a weekly basis. This way you won’t have a bunch of mail and paper lying around creating clutter. If you are managing mail on a weekly basis, keep two bins – one each for incoming and outgoing mail.

Here are a couple of tips you may find useful during home office organization:

  1. When making online payments write the conformation number and date paid on the statement. This way you have this information together with the statement in your binder for future reference if needed.
  2. Write the user name and the password hint for online accounts on the appropriate statements preferably the first one of the year.

You can also use separate small binders for each child to organize their school related extra-curricular activities etc. You can also use manila folders for this and store in the file cabinet or use a magazine file.

If you have a filing cabinet, keep your yearly tax returns in it. If you do not use professional tax services (who provide you with a folder after filing the return), keep all the necessary papers for the year in a manila folder or an envelope and write the year before putting it in the file cabinet. Otherwise you can keep it in a magazine file on the bookshelf. Depending on the size of the envelope or manila folder, you should be able to keep more than one in a magazine file. Again, your tax professional will be able to tell you how long to keep your tax returns. If you are ready to get rid of old returns, make sure you shred them.

Next topic in home office organization - the receipts. Keeping receipts will help you in several ways. You may need to return something, do your finances at the end of the month, find out how much you paid for something, use in tax returns etc. To store receipts, use an old magazine. Staple each day’s receipt(s) on to the pages of the magazine. You should be able to staple up to 4 day’s worth of receipts on a single page by stacking each day’s receipts. Using only one side of the page works better. This will make it easier to find the receipt at a later date. You have all your receipts neatly organized and it takes only the space of a magazine instead of filling up drawers or leaving them all over the place creating clutter. Use a different magazine for a new year even if there are pages left in the magazine for the past year. Keep current year’s magazine along with that year’s binder on the bookshelf or armoire or the 3-tier table mentioned below later.

If you have a built-in office nook in your kitchen with an upper cabinet with shelves and/or cubbies, store some supplies like pens, pencils, paper clips etc. in the cubbies. You could also designate cubbies for incoming and outgoing mails. Keep binders and receipt magazines for current year and previous year on the shelves.

If your home office is on a different level of the house, you can keep the binder and the receipt magazine for the current year and also may be for the last year in the kitchen. This will make it easier to keep up with filing as soon as you get the mail. You can get a 3-tired end table and stack the binders and receipt magazine on the bottom shelf; cookbooks, phone book or laptop on the middle tier and landline phone, a note pad and pens on the top tier. If you don’t have a land phone, use the top shelf for a printer or as a charging station for your cell phones and other portable electronics. Keep the paper punch along with the binder and use a pencil cup to store pens, a letter opener and a stapler. You can also use part of a kitchen drawer closest to the end table to store the paper punch and stapler. This 3-tiered table could be your office space if you don’t have room in your house for a dedicated home office or a computer armoire.

Store books, magazines, binders etc. in a built-in or stand alone bookshelf in the family room or living room.

Invest in a fire safe. Keep all your important documents in this (You could keep the fire safe in the office, in your master bedroom or in any room of your choice). It does not cost much, but is extremely useful. Passport, birth certificate, HUD etc. are examples of documents that can go in the fire safe.

Once you are done with home office organization, you will be amazed at the transformation. You will also see your productivity increase. Make sure you do the weekly maintenance.

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