I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but I’m a Messy Desk Guy. I’ve had a messy desk my whole life, and as I sit here today, my desk is—well, frightening. It’s so full that I can’t can’t open the drawers, which explains why the desk is covered with enough junk that I can’t even use it, and why most days I end up working in the dining room.
It’s time to fix this problem.
This post owes a debt of gratitude to Marie Kondo, the original gangster of tidying up. Her “Konmari Method” goes into great detail on how to best declutter papers, and she was my first stop on this journey to a cleaner desk. Further shout-outs also go to The Turquoise Home, Kristen Cain Style and White Cottage Home and Living for their decluttering inspiration.
How did I get here?
I’m disappointed in myself. After living most of my adult life in crappy apartments, I finally have an office to call my own. I now have a big desk with a filing cabinet drawer, for god’s sake. But as my man Puff Daddy used to say, Mo’ Storage, Mo’ Stuff, and now I’m stuck in a pile of a mess.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried to tidy this all up before. When I’ve tried, though, the tidiness only lasts a few days. And that’s because my organization system is inherently flawed. I almost never need my physical files, and the sheer volume of paper causes some serious problems in my workflow.
But it’s important to remember that like most, tidying papers is always the last item on to-do lists.
Needless to say, I’m excited to tackle it today!
How to declutter papers at home
I followed the KonMari Method as closely as possible here with a few tweaks. While she’s fairly strict, Marie Kondo does allow for alterations to her process based on unique cases. I run two small businesses out of my home, and as a result, have to rely more heavily on scanning documents into an electronic filing system instead of just throwing everything away. Here’s how I did it:
- Put all the papers in the room into one large pile: This step felt awkward as I’d always assumed that papers held some sort of sacred importance in adulthood. I honestly felt afraid that if I took my papers out of their designated folders and drawers that my life would implode, and if I threw them away that I’d get into some kind of trouble or something. Not true.
- Separate cards, photos and sentimental pieces to be sorted later: The KonMarie method has a special process for sentimental items, so it’s best to set these things aside instead of getting caught up in old memories while you’re cleaning out your desk. (Otherwise you’ll get distracted and the chances of actually finishing the job will be greatly diminished.) I used a large shoebox to move this stuff out of the way for the time being.
- Create a minimal filing system for the papers you need to keep: I use three folders labeled “Needs Attention,” “Save Temporarily,” and “Save Forever.” Marie Kondo recommends not focussing too much time on categorizing the papers you need to keep, and this three-folder method is easy to understand when sorting and easy to use going forward as a means to stay decluttered for good. In practice, papers typically move from the “Needs Attention” folder to the trash when completed. Similarly, “Save Temporarily”papers get scanned and then trashed when possible, or graduated to the “Saved Forever” folder (in rare cases).
- Start the process of deciding what to keep: Notice that I didn’t say deciding what to discard. Marie Kondo recommends an extremely strict criteria for keeping papers. If done correctly, nearly all papers should be discarded. Most of the papers I had shoved in my desk were duplicates of things that could be found online such as receipts, warranties, manuals and statements. Upon closer inspection, nearly all of it could be discarded with only a few rare papers that needed to be placed into the three folders.
- Scan, shred and/or recycle: I found that I was keeping a large number of personal papers for fear of throwing them away and having my identity stolen. So I bought a simple shredder from Amazon to help me get rid of all that stuff. UPS, FedEx and some local banks also offer shredding services if you’d prefer not to shred at home or have another device around. (I get that.) I then recycled my shredded documents along with other discarded paper so I could feel great about myself. As I mentioned above, I likely have more than your average number of “Save Temporarily” and “Save Forever” papers due to my job, so I created an electronic filing system for scanned business papers. I use the Apple Notes app because it’s an easy scanner that works seamlessly with iCloud and populates copies of the documents on my iPhone, iPad and Mac. It even scans the words on the scanned documents for easy searching. And having digital copies of these documents helped me get rid of even more paper. Note: Simply scanning all your papers is not exactly tidying up. It could actually just result in digital chaos. I tried to follow a similar strict decluttering strategy for the documents I scanned as well.
- Stay decluttered for good: The beauty of this system is that it leads to permanent decluttering. All the papers in our house either get trashed immediately or filed into the “Needs Attention”, “Save Temporarily” or “Save Forever” folder system. And now that each paper has a place, no paper clutters the home anymore. We do this will all snail mail, all paperwork from the girls’ schools, and all manuals/warranties.
Marie Kondo says that the rule of thumb for tidying up papers is to “discard everything.” While I didn’t quite go that far, I can happily say that I’ve tidied up my mess. My desk drawers are now empty, and my effort has extended throughout the rest of the house. As papers come into the house, they are instantly discarded, categorized and then discarded, or digitized and then discarded, resulting in no more piles of paper. I’ve been more successful with paper decluttering than any of the other Marie Kondo projects I’ve undertaken, and my success with tidying up paper has reinvigorated my need to tidy up the rest of my stuff at home.
Best of luck, and as always…