Home Office ideas and Storage in Small Spaces

There is a famous quote by Laurence Peter, (often wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein and his infamously cluttered desk): “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Maybe Einstein could get work done amidst piles of clutter, but the rest of us may not have Einstein’s abilities.

How cluttered is your home office? Working from home can be hard enough with all the distractions of family, the media and household chores. (Or maybe the sounds of 24/7 Cable TV helps keep you focused, and you prefer working in pajamas whether or not it is laundry day.)

While scientists have discovered that a clean desk encourages conventional thinking, promotes healthy choices and increases generosity, they probably weren’t working around screaming children running around the room. On the plus side, these studies have shown that a messy desk can increase creative thinking. (So can breaking up toddler fights while on a conference call.)

The best environment for a home office is one where you can isolate yourself from the rest of the house by shutting a door between you and all the distractions. If you are not lucky enough to have enough room in your house for this, you are most likely trying to make the best of a small or shared space.

Currently there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of books on the market, each offering the perfect solution for organization and/or time management. The sheer volume of “helpful” material can be overwhelming! Here are some quick and simple ideas for your home office, no matter what current state it may be in.

First, consider your desk. If you have a laptop precariously balanced on an old card table, it may be time to invest in a more efficient and comfortable desk.

There are many options for small-space desks with room for efficient storage. Add a shelf under the desk and even one or more on top to lend even more room to organize. If your horizontal space is limited, think vertical! For an inexpensive and creative solution, visit your local thrift shops for a table the size of your space, remove the legs and use small file cabinets or stylish bookcases instead. Instant storage space!

Be sure to use a chair that adjusts not only the height, but also the angle of tilt at the seat and back for good ergonomics. Many expensive chairs are available at your local thrift stores at very reasonable prices, and they don’t mind if you test drive before you buy. Be sure the chair doesn’t sink after you set the height, or dump you out backwards when you sit down! Yep don’t ask. Also don’t forget to measure the chair’s arm height to make sure it slides under your desk.

If you are working with a desktop computer, move the CPU under the desk. Think about placing your monitor on top of a small riser to lift the monitor up a few inches and provide space underneath for day to day items or even your keyboard when not in use. Take this one step further by attaching a sliding keyboard drawer under the desk to leave more open space on top.

If you need to have your printer/scanner within easy reach for frequent scanning, use another riser below it to allow for additional storage like blank paper and ink cartridges for quick refills.

Under the desk, put a small wastebasket (or two if you recycle) and a shredder within reach. Use small bins to take up less space and make sure to empty your trash, recycling and shredder regularly into larger bins elsewhere in the house so it doesn’t pile up!

On your desk (or a low shelf you can reach without standing) have a stack of at least 2-3 letter trays. Use side or top-loading orientation to best fit the space you have available. Use your label maker to identify one tray as your in-box and another for items to be filed.

If you don’t have a label maker, put down whatever you are doing and go get one! In seconds you can quickly and neatly label any drawer, shelf or storage item.

No more asking yourself, “Where do I keep that?” and no more household members wondering where to put something away (assuming they ever put anything away).

You may find many other uses for this indispensable organizational tool inside of kitchen cabinets, linen closet shelves, pantry shelves, book shelves, children’s toys, children, etc.

As soon as mail is received, recycle advertisements and other junk mail and set aside items to be processed in your new convenient in-box. When items are completed, (temporarily) store them in the “to be filed” tray. Be sure to set aside time to file these items at least once a week.

When discarding, be sure to shred any paperwork with personally identifying information such as account numbers, credit offers or medical information. You don’t have to deal with every single piece of mail immediately, but at least you’ll know where they are when you are ready for them.

Some stack-able letter trays come with an organizer on top for office supplies and/or vertical files, which can be used to keep certain often-used or urgent files and supplies such as clips, pens, highlighters, scissors and more within easy reach.

How much time in your life have you spent looking for something you just had in your hand a minute ago? (Umm, what is the cat chewing on?)

Pro tip use colored file folders for different types of tasks and store them in the vertical slots so you can find them quickly.

Use an inexpensive plastic hanging file folder box under the desk for quick and easy filing of completed items. Keep frequently used files such as monthly bills nearby, and use separate boxes or a file cabinet elsewhere for more long-term storage of items such as tax returns. Develop the habit of discarding paperwork on a regular basis to keep files uncluttered.

If you have the space for a separate small supply organizer, fill it with small items you use all the time, such as your favorite pens and a thumb drive. Keep this organizer near your dominant hand so that when you need one of these items, they are literally at your fingertips. At the very least, keep a few writing tools in a cup—storing them vertically takes up less space and keeps them from being buried under papers or rolling off the desk.

Keep multiple pens and pencils available, because it is inevitable that you forget about the pencil tucked behind your ear(s), or you lay down a pen and it sprouts legs and runs away while you’re not looking.

To keep phone messages and notes organized, keep a separate notepad (like a composition book) nearby. You can also write notes on a self-adhesive notepad, and stick the note in the composition book (not your monitor) for safekeeping. If it helps, use this book also as a “to do” list so all your notes and tasks are in one place. When one book is full, record the dates on the front and store the books in a file for future reference.

If your desk doesn’t have any drawers, a small plastic drawer organizer is an inexpensive and compact storage option. Keep the organizer out of easy reach so that it will not be taking up valuable desk space, but close enough to replenish your desktop supplies when needed. Don’t forget to use that label maker so you know what is in each drawer!

Most of these options are not expensive and easily available. You can find many organizing solutions easily at your local thrift or dollar stores at very reasonable prices. If you enjoy creating your own solutions, there are many ideas online to help you customize your home office space. By having a comfortable space, and everything you need available and easily accessible, you can have your clutter and keep a clean desk too!

When it comes to organizing, here’s a famous proverb to live by: “A place for everything and everything in its place.”

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