How To Organize A Messy Office {And Keep It Tidy}

It doesn’t seem to matter whether your home office is a single desk or an entire room… the mess sure can build up quickly! It can be tough to stay focused and productive in an environment that’s so chaotic. Believe me, I’ve been there! Today we’re going to talk about some great tips for how to organize a messy office.

From my favorite decluttering tips to finding the right organizing solutions, I’ll walk you through what it takes to get your home office space in order and keep it that way.

Text how to organize your messy home office on white background over faded image of clutter-free desk.

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The Importance Of Organizing A Home Office Space That Works For You

A home office that’s cluttered and poorly organized is a disaster in more ways than one. Supplies and paperwork can be difficult to locate when they’re in random piles. Bills get misplaced, work takes longer to finish (or doesn’t get done at all), and life is just a little more stressful.

Now… imagine stepping into a home office space that’s well-organized instead of a wicked mess. I can tell you, organization will encourage and increase productivity and make your office area a more pleasant place to work.

I know that organizing a messy office can seem overwhelming. Right now it’s probably a hot mess. Papers are spilling off of multiple piles, there’s no room in the filing cabinet, you don’t know where to put your supplies or how to keep track of them (are you REALLY out of printer ink, or did you just put the new cartridges in a ‘safe place?’) and don’t even get me started on the disaster of mystery cords.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Let’s get your office area tidy, functional, and happy.

It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on supplies or hire a professional to organize your office. It WILL take some effort, but you can totally do this!

Try these tips and easy ways to organize your home office and take a giant step toward increasing your productivity when working from home or managing the household.

Before you begin organizing your home office, think about what kind of environment would suit you best. Plant the vision firmly in your mind and it will make the work a LOT easier.

Now, let’s get to organizing…

Planners and writing supplies on wood table.

Start Organizing Your Office By Decluttering

The first step to organizing any space is always, always, ALWAYS decluttering. Organizing a messy office is no exception.

Office Decluttering Tips

I’m a huge fan of slow decluttering. If you can’t organize your entire office space in one day, you can still get it done a little at a time. Decluttering for 10 minutes a day will start to make a difference sooner than you think!

Figuring Out What You Need And Don’t Need

Purge what you don’t need or love. I know, I know… easier said than done. But it’s absolutely true that one of the reasons our home offices get so cluttered in the first place is because we hang onto things we don’t need or don’t know where else to put them.

If you haven’t used something in a year, chances are you really don’t need it in your space. So get rid of it! Old magazines, dust-collecting knick-knacks, and expired coupons can all be tossed.

Make your decluttering decisions as quickly as possible. Donate items that are still in good condition, throw away anything that’s truly trash, and recycle whatever you can.

At the end of this process, you want as little left as possible that you actually have to organize.

Home Office Decluttering Steps

The most important thing here is to clear enough stuff so you can work, sort, and organize. A hoarder-type room gives you no physical space and no mental space for working. It’s time to reclaim your space!

But how?

1. Contain Current Paper Clutter

First, gather all of those paper piles into one space. This would be any papers from the top of your desk, on the floor around your desk, etc. Put all of them into one box or laundry basket.

I know it feels like you’re getting more disorganized by combining those piles. However, we both know you’re going to have to look at every. single. paper anyway, so it’s totally okay to consolidate your paperwork before sorting.

If you work from home, keep your most necessary papers and files on top. That way you can access them quickly if you need to work while your organizing efforts are still in progress.

2. Clear Off Your Workspace

Now that you’ve contained the papers, set that box aside and work through sorting and decluttering the rest of the stuff that’s on your desk or main work table.

When I say ‘the rest of the stuff,’ I mean everything! You need a clear space to work.

For the things that you don’t get rid of, grab an organizing tray or a small basket to corral them.

Now you have a clear workspace and you can use it to work even if you still have more organizing to do in your office.

3. Clean Out Your Drawers And File Cabinets

Following the vision in your head and the guidelines in this post, you want to clear out as much as possible from any desk drawers and filing cabinets.

If you have a file cabinet, now is the time to go through every paper inside it. Don’t think you have time? Set a timer for 10 minutes at least once a day and sort through a minimum of one file folder — do even more if you can get through them at a good clip.

Piles of papers and files from decluttering a messy office.

Work from front to back in the drawer and place a ‘bookmark’ file to keep your place in the file drawer as you declutter your files.

Don’t leave piles of sorted papers on your desk overnight. Deal with them immediately by recycling what you can or shredding anything with personal information.

One way to deal with this is to invest in a good paper shredder and get rid of anything that you don’t need.

4. Declutter Cabinets, Shelves, Closet

Toss old office supplies or anything else you don’t need/want. Place any random papers in your ‘paper holding box’ to be sorted later.

Reminder — again, because it’s so important — the less stuff you have, the less work organizing and maintaining will be later! Purge the stuff!

Get Your Home Office Organized

Now that you’ve cleared the clutter, it’s time to get your home office organized so you can be productive.

Focus on Organization Techniques That Work For You

We’re all just a little different when it comes to organizing.  Maybe you’re a labeler and a list maker or you might prefer to organize by color.

Perhaps you need everything stored away in boxes with labels. Or, like me, tucked into clear (or sheer) containers because I need to know at a glance what I actually have.

Confession: Nothing drives me crazy more than having to open up bins or boxes to see exactly what’s ACTUALLY in there. LOL

Check out ClutterBug’s four organizing types to get some ideas for how you can approach organizing your office space.

There’s no wrong way to organize as long as it works for you and helps you get things done.

Home Office Organizing Steps

This is a bit of a broad view of organizing AFTER you’ve decluttered. Organizing clutter in your office space is a complete waste of your time – so you absolutely MUST declutter an area before you can organize it.

1. Build A Functional Paperwork Flow System & Storage Solution

Keeping your office from getting messy again means you need to stay on top of all the papers. I have plenty of recommendations for ways to control the flow of papers through your home.

Now you can go through that box of papers you contained when you first began this office organizing process. Do as much as you can each day, sorting into piles on your [clean!] desk and dealing with each pile at the end of your sorting session.

Now that your filing cabinet has been purged, you can also set up new file folders if necessary.

No filing cabinet? Here are some ideas for how to organize papers without a filing cabinet. I also like using 3-ring binders for organizing.

You could even consider going paperless by scanning all of your important documents and storing them electronically. 

I know it sounds like a pain, but it really can be a huge time and space-saver. My friends Donnie & Abby can show you exactly how to do it with Paperless Made Simple.

2. Set Up A ‘Pantry’ For Office Supplies

You could set this up in any way that works for you.

Some ideas for ‘office pantry’ storage are:

Use whatever works to hold your supplies like paper, notebooks, pens, envelopes, ink cartridges, binders, etc.

3. Create A Functional Desk Area

My home office workspace is a very basic setup of a 24″x48″ folding table and an extra folding side table to hold my ‘desk stuff.’

I keep a small woven basket on my main table to corral all of the loose items. There is also enough space for my laptop, my must-have vertical mouse and mouse pad, and my ONE stack of current working papers.

The side table holds a box of tissues, journals and notebooks, and my very favorite organizing supply — a woven basket for file folders and pens, etc. This basket could seriously change your life if your papers are currently a hot mess.

I also always have either a floor lamp or a small LED lamp right next to my desk for good task lighting. It makes a big difference when I’m working early in the morning and the rest of the house is dark and quiet. I love turning on a small but bright light, sitting down with my favorite mug of coffee, and digging into work for the day.

Tidy space showing successful results from organizing a messy office.

4. Use Storage Solutions That Work For You

Once you’ve decluttered your space, it’s time to create a system to keep it that way.

Invest in some organizational tools like labels and storage bins, and come up with a plan for where everything will go.

But listen, don’t get carried away buying a bunch of ‘organization’ products if you don’t know how you’re going to use them. Figure out what you need and how you will use it first!

A little bit of planning now will save you time, money, and frustration down the road.

Maintain Your Organized Home Office

The only way your new system is going to work is if you actually use it. So take some time each day to put everything back in its place. 

Get into the habit of hanging up your jacket when you walk in the door, putting away any loose papers, and tidying your desk at the end of the day. A little bit of effort each day will go a long way!

Determine Which Tools Will Help You Be More Productive

This includes everything from software apps to physical timers, shelving units, or desk accessories and good lighting to help you focus.

Maybe you need to set a reminder on your phone or your computer to spend 10 minutes tidying up every day?

Would a wall-mounted personal command center help? Probably yes if you’re a visual person. Maybe not if you prefer digital organizing.

Put Things Away Where They Should Be

File or scan paperwork weekly. Purge files annually. Not sure how long to keep your stuff? Here’s how long to hold onto tax records and other documents.

Create a new habit of NOT dropping stuff in your office space just because you don’t know where else to put it.

USE those clever office clutter solutions you recently bought to keep your office tidy.

Need ideas for other spaces in your home? Check out my collection of over 175 quick organizing tips to get inspired.

Concluding Thoughts On Organizing A Messy Office

A messy home office can be incredibly frustrating — but it doesn’t have to be permanent!

By decluttering your space and creating a system for staying organized, you can transform your home office into a calm oasis where you can actually get some work done.

Organizing your office space doesn’t require a lot of money, it just requires some creativity and organization skills (which I promise you’ll get better at with practice). Having a clean, organized home office is essential to being able to focus, create, and reach your goals.

Trust me, it’ll be worth all of the effort!

You’ve got this!

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