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It's Probably Time To Get Your Desk Sitch Under Control

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This is the time of year in which many of us are forced to come to terms with the fact that our desks are a disaster, as we sort through earnings statements and receipts and all manner of other papers as we assemble our tax return information. It's probably too late to do much to make this year's filings less painful, but maybe you'll be inspired to finally deal with your messy desk sitch. If you have a home office or an office-office or both, these are the things you need to know about getting your workspace under control.

First thing's first: Start by trashing all the, um, trash. Grab the garbage can and mercilessly toss out old Post-It notes, odd piles of napkins, and empty envelopes of bills you (should have) already paid. Recycle empty water bottles and soda cans. Open drawers and remove packets of duck sauce you know you'll never use. Toss out pens that don't work.

Once the trash is gone, you can turn your attention to organizing that which will stay and paring down office supplies. Professional organizer Ann Lightfoot, of Done & Done Home, reminds us that when it comes to an office clean-up or organizational effort, "the same rules apply as other parts of the house. Everything has to be taken out of its 'home' and sorted."

Lightfoot suggests sorting items by putting "all pens together, all pencils, all five staplers and stapler removers, plus all those partial boxes of staples with their counterparts." Assess what you have and get rid of anything that’s broken or not being used. Lightfoot tells her clients to "shop your own stationery and only choose what you actually use. This means that even if the 20 green TD Bank pens are perfectly good but you don't use them, get rid of them." She also reminds people to be sensible, "People ask what is a reasonable amount of pens. Shop your pens and keep them in your hands. Is 10 reasonable? Sure. 20? Probably, if it includes Sharpies and pencils. 30? Doubtful. 40? Are you thinking of opening your own store?"

Once you've tackled the relatively easy task of paring your pen collection down, it's time to turn your attention to your papers and files. Start by sorting by them subject matter or project, and reviewing them systematically, creating piles, organized by subject, to keep and piles that can be discarded. Recycle any papers and files that you no longer need or, if sensitive in nature, shred them.

Just like with other types of organizational projects, when it comes to getting your office under control, hold off on buying new filing and storage systems until after you've determined what needs to be filed and/or stored. That way you can get the appropriate supplies — file folders, binders, letter trays — to fit your needs. To make accessing your work as easy as possible, label all files clearly and place documents relating to current projects in a desktop file sorter or in a drawer that's closest to where you sit. Paperwork and files relating to completed projects can be stored in auxiliary drawers, filing cabinets, or shelves.

Okay, now that you've done the sorting and the purging and the agonizing over TD Bank pens, it's time to clean before you put those things away. This will actually be the easiest part of the whole affair — essentially, you want to wipe your desk surface using an all-purpose cleaner and possibly a Magic Eraser if there are stubborn stains, so that it's free of crumbs and dust and pen marks. It's also not a bad idea to treat your electronics (the computer, keyboard, telephone, etc.) to a cleaning also — those things can get incredibly dirty! Keyboards can be cleaned using canned air and rubbing alcohol; just be sure to use the canned air first, since it will send whatever is lurking in the keyboard flying everywhere, then wipe the rest of the surfaces. For screens and phone receivers, as well as cell phones and chargers, try tech wipes or rubbing alcohol applied to a soft cloth.

Now comes the hardest part of an office or desk clean-up project: Keeping it that way! If you have a chronically messy desk, one simple trick may help keep things under control. Create a recurring calendar reminder to tidy things up. Use your discretion to determine the timing — taking 15 minutes once a month may be all you need to keep your workspace tidy and in order, but you may also want to opt for a once-a-week or bi-weekly reminder. Taking a small amount of time on a regular basis to file important papers and weed out extraneous pens can make a huge difference in the overall orderliness of your workspace, so you can spend more time getting your actual work done and less time tearing your files apart looking for a receipt from 2009.