by Jeff Zbar
I received this query recently: “What should people do with that cluttered, paper-filled home office?” My advice… Ditch the paper. Go digital. Scan documents. Receive all bills (corporate and personal) via email. THEN, clean up digital clutter by creating ‘folders’ in Outlook or gmail or any other email program. Digital clutter is as bad as the paper kind.
- Set aside a day every month or three to cull your paper detritus. Clean out old files and folders (the paper kind). Ask yourself, “Can I find this online?” If so, ditch it. My motto: “The more I can piss off the garbage man by having one or more cans filled with stuff removed from my office, the better I’ve done my job” (I tip them generously during the holidays, so I don’t feel too badly).
- Don’t just ditch. Shred. Any document that has personally identifying information – name, address, credit card number, Social Security, Driver License, etc – gets shredded. My Fellowes PS-77Cs shredder is a fixture in my home office. As a work-at-home dad, I’ll make a pile and let my kids do it. They seem to get some vicarious thrill running things through the shredder.
- Create an Organizing System. It’s not enough to put papers in folders in a file cabinet. Create a system for filing. Even filed papers can become clutter. I subdivide larger topics into more manageable ones (e.g., “House” folders include separate ones for Insurance, Repairs / Renovations [large renovations or projects get their own folders], Home Taxes, etc.). This goes for digital / email folders, too.
- Create a system for MyDocuments. See Create a System above. My larger clients may have sub-folders beneath a master folder to better organize or handle projects. Some are for specific projects, another is for general correspondence. Divide and Conquer.
- The standard philosophy always applies: Touch Mail Once. Before mail enters the house, I’ve culled the junk (if it’s a credit card app, I shred it first). I also registered with the FTC-backed Do Not Send list for credit cards, and the Do Not Call Registry. Calls can be as cluttering on the mind as paper can be in the house. Once mail’s in the house, I put it where it belongs – in the respective family member’s room, or in the to-be-paid pile. I also pay bills electronically almost immediately upon arrival, and then shred the bill. Some people keep bills, but they’re all available online – if you’ve set up online service with the particular vendor or utility.
- Touch Mail Once (the caveat): Don’t just toss mail onto your spouse’s desk – unless you prefer to tempt fate. Instead, discuss where your spouse would like the mail placed – on a desk, in a stack, on YOUR desk if it’s a bill and you’d normally handle it anyway.