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Last updated 19 April, 2022

9 Steps to a Clutter-Free Workspace

Clean and clutter-free home office space with iMac

Your environment is a reflection of your inner world. When things are chaotic, messy and piling up in your physical space, it creates a negative feedback loop with your mental state.

No matter how urgent your next project may be, you may find that taking just a few moments to organise and clean your workspace makes it easier to complete your tasks. Decluttering may seem like an overwhelming job, but consider the extra energy it takes to work in a cluttered space:

  • How much time have you already lost because you couldn’t find your keys, a flash drive, or an important piece of paperwork?

  • How tiring or embarrassing is it to make excuses for your mess whenever someone stops by your workspace? 

  • Does your mess create distractions? Do you often feel like you’re forgetting something?

  • If you needed someone to locate something in your workplace for you, could you easily describe where they could find it? 

  • Does the physical state of your workspace overwhelm you and drain you of energy?

A clutter-free workspace is all the more important if you are working from home. Upholding clear boundaries between work life and home life becomes difficult when dishes, children’s toys, or household bills take up space in your environment. Even if your “office” is a tiny desk in the corner of your living room, it can still be optimised to help you stay calm and productive. 

The problem with clutter

Cluttered spaces are linked with an increase in fatigue and depression, and negative emotions like irritability, anxiety and confusion. Studies have found that clutter overwhelms the visual cortex, redirecting focus to objects not associated with the task at hand. Simply put, a cluttered environment will steal your focus. 

Becoming more productive and happier during your workday can be as simple as tidying up. If you’re not sure where to begin, these nine steps will help you to get a clean, serene workspace in no time:

1. Have a process

What your process is doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you have one. If you know how you will first approach your clutter, and what your second and third steps will be, it is easy to stay on track. Here are some ways you might structure your decluttering process:

  • From left to right, or top to bottom

  • By zone — Shelf, desk, chair, table, floor

  • By object type — Personal items, paperwork, office supplies, digital files

  • By biggest reward — Tackle the areas that bother you the most first

Decide which process you will use before you begin and stick to it! Write down a checklist with the specific steps in your process, and work through it in order.

2. Set a timer

Start small to keep the process manageable. Set a timer for 25 minutes and get to work on your first organising or cleaning task. If you can’t dedicate several hours or a full day to decluttering, putting in even 25 minutes today is better than procrastinating. Keep going until your timer goes off, reward yourself with a five-minute break, then keep working in short time chunks until you accomplish your task.  

3. Do one task at a time

Have you ever intended to clean your living room, but after putting a dirty coffee cup into the dishwasher, you notice the kitchen floor needs cleaning? If you get sidetracked from your initial task, it can be easy to start several projects in a day and finish none of them. When cleaning your workspace, stay focused by putting anything that will require your attention later in a special area or write down what needs to be done. If you have trouble sticking to one task, refer back to your checklist. Only move on to the next task when you have completed the task above it. 

4. Get messy to get clean

Sometimes the best way to make sense of your mess is to dissect it. Take everything out of the drawer you are cleaning, clear off of your shelves, or spread all of your papers out on the floor. It may look worse temporarily than cramming it all into an office hiding spot, but it allows you to step back and make sense of things. Once your mess is all laid out before you, you can more easily sort things by what you would like to keep or get rid of, or group things together by type. 

5. Purge 

Save the most visible areas of your workspace (like your desktop) for those items you use daily. Get rid of anything you don’t need by sorting items into categories such as the following:

  • Extra supplies (paper, staples, folders, business cards) that can be tucked away and accessed as needed 

  • Seasonal items that can be stored away until needed again next year

  • Things to repair

  • Things to donate

  • Things to throw out

  • Excess decor, knick-knacks, or personal items that can be moved elsewhere

  • Paperwork that can go digital. Scan documents and save them digitally, or swap out your paper planner for online calendars. 

Limit the items in your workspace to those things that serve a purpose. If you haven’t used something in the past three months, consider getting rid of it. Less stuff means less clutter!

6. Maximise your space

Use office furniture and storage systems that work best for your needs:

  • Incorporate furniture that is multi-purposed or which provides extra storage space

  • In a small work area, use vertical storage solutions or circular shelving units to maximise space 

  • Use shelf dividers, drawer organizers or storage containers to make the most of larger spaces

7. Give everything a home

It should be obvious where to find the items you need in your workspace. This will save you time, stress, and make it easy for others to locate important items if needed.

  • Avoid loose items in drawers, piles on tables, or binders randomly squeezed into shelves. Instead, use drawer organizers, storage containers and filing systems to give every paper clip and receipt an obvious place to live. 

  • Use labels so that everyone who needs access to your items can easily find them and put them away. 

  • Opt for clear storage containers so you can quickly find what you need at a glance.

  • Tame unsightly cables and cords (and know which devices they pair with) by using cable boxes, clips and labels. 

8. Create a catch-all space

Have a basket or storage cube where all of your miscellaneous items can go. Unlike your clutter piles of the past, this is a space that you will clean out completely once a week. Be diligent about creating a regular weekly appointment to clean out this space, or set a timer daily and organise as much of it as you can. 

 

9. Involve others

Not sure which part of your mess needs the most attention? Struggling to let go of a broken stapler because you’ve become oddly sentimental about it? It might be time to get an outside perspective to help move things along. 

Bring in your most straightforward friend or family member to walk through these decluttering steps with you. If you’d prefer some expert advice, book a session with a coach who can guide you through how to make your workspace work for you. Remember: a clear and peaceful workspace means a clear and peaceful mind. 

Book a session with a Hello Coach now to get your clutter under control! 

Today’s action steps:

  • Decide which decluttering process you will use, then write down the small steps involved as a checklist.  

  • Set a date for an initial “big clean.” 

  • Write a short list of daily and weekly decluttering and cleaning chores. For example:

Daily

  • Put books back on the shelf

  • Put all office supplies away

  • Scan documents that I do not need a hard copy of

  • Wipe down desktop

Weekly

  • Spend 20 minutes sorting through my “catch-all” basket

  • Clean computer keyboard

  • Book an appointment with a coach if I’m struggling to stay organised

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