By Jiji Lee

Want a Fresh Start? Desk Organization Tips That Will Change Your Life


Clean slate. Clear mind.

There’s nothing like a clean slate.

A chance to start anew and hit refresh.  You don’t even have to overhaul your life to achieve this state. You can give yourself a fresh start each day, by simply cleaning and organizing your desk.

A clean desk allows you to be more productive and focused, removing any clutter that can distract you from work.  A clean space is also integral to your creative life.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes:

“The spaces that we make for ourselves in which to be quiet and creative MATTER. They don’t have to be big rooms. It can be just a little corner, like this room. But the space should be clean, and everything in that space should remind you of who you are. There should be nothing in that space that doesn’t bring your senses to life.”

Here are different desk organization strategies you can employ to help restart your day.

Have the right desk organization tools

Paper is a big source of clutter, and organization expert Andrew Mellen advises that if you want to keep documents at bay, have these four tools on hand: “a scanner, a shredder, a filing cabinet or a file drawer in your desk, and a label maker.”

Another essential item: a trash/recycling bin. You’ll be surprised how much paper can accumulate when you’re not tossing it right away. Instead of promising yourself that you’ll remember to toss an item after working, just do it in the moment.

Want to stop paper from piling up in the first place? Choose paperless statements whenever possible or toss out junk mail as soon you receive it.

If you’d like more ideas on the best desk accessories, we’ve also compiled a helpful list here. These will be some of your best keys to desk organization success; when you have the right tools, it is so much easier to succeed.

Throw it out

While organization guru Marie Kondo determines whether or not an object is worth keeping by asking if it sparks joy, when it comes to desk organization, ask yourself, “Is this relevant?” or, “Is this functional?”

Do you have a pile of crumpled paper or pens that have run out of ink? Time to toss them. Do you have piles of concert tickets and theater playbills from over the years? Toss them, or if they’re sentimental, try scanning those documents or taking photos of them on your iPhone. If they’re too meaningful to toss, keep them in a box and store them in a closet.

While you may not have the time to go through documents and toss them each day, try focusing on the scratch paper, crumpled paper, and even tissues – they add up!

Leave yourself 2-3 minutes at the end of the day to deal with obvious trash on your desk and scraps of paper that can go away.

If you have more time, do a little filing. If you’re in a rush, put all the papers that need to be filed in a stack on the side of your desk so that they won’t be cluttering your workspace first thing in the morning. Set aside time on your calendar every week to manage your paper.

How to file

Okay, so you’ve tossed and shredded documents that you don’t need. Now it’s time to file your important documents and make sure they’re easy to access. Mellen recommends organizing and labelling your files by category and subcategory. He says:

“For example, instead of writing CAR INSURANCE and HEALTH INSURANCE on folders, mark them INSURANCE: CAR and INSURANCE: HEALTH. That way, they all go under the letter I, and they’ll be easy to find later.”

Your system doesn’t have to be perfect, so don’t let that keep you from starting or making progress. If you realize things could be filed more efficiently later, you can make changes later. Better to get things in some kind of order now, and make edits later.

If you can, block off an hour to tackle this on a slower work day. If you simply cannot find a chunk of uninterrupted time, try working in 5-minute chunks over the course of a week or two to get everything filed.

Slow and steady wins this race.

Keep an inbox

Designate space on your desk for a tray to hold documents that you’re working on or will need to work on that week.

Mellen says, “Documents that you’re currently working on can be kept out on the desk in one shallow tray—no more than three inches tall, so it doesn’t invite mess.”

For those of you who work in an office, it might be helpful to have two trays: one inbox tray and one outbox. The inbox tray is for your active documents. The outgoing box is for documents that need signatures or review from colleagues or documents that need to be filed. It’s probably best to limit it to two trays, so that you avoid cluttering your desk with more organizational tools.

At the end of the week, review your files in each tray and determine if they need to be tossed, acted on, or filed.  This system is an easy way to keep your desk organized, as well as helping you stay on top of your tasks at work.

Keep your supplies handy

You should designate space on your desk for the supplies that you use on a daily basis.

Keep supplies that you don’t use daily but still use regularly in a desk drawer or a shelf that’s within reach. You want to find a “home” for your supplies and remember where you’ve placed them, thereby saving you time and energy from having to rifle through your things to find them.

While organization is often about productivity and saving time, it’s also about giving yourself peace of mind and knowing where things are.

It’s also easier on your body and your mind to keep things you use frequently in a convenient place. Don’t add an extra stretch or twist to tasks you need to do several times a day!

Add a personal touch to your desk organization

While a clutter-free workspace sets you up for productivity and efficiency, let’s not forget about creativity and imagination. You can add a couple of personal items to keep your desk area from looking too sanitized and stark. Perhaps a photo or a small object that can serve as a source of inspiration or reassurance as you go on with your work.

When describing her own desk and workspace, writer Amy Tan says:

“I do have my photos of my family here on my desk….So I surround myself with things that belong to people, or photos of people, who I’ve really loved… My reminder to think deeply and honestly, to feel deeply. That’s what I want to do with my fiction.”

Wipe the slate

At the end of the day, I like to put away my computer and supplies and keep them in a desk drawer. Afterwards, I wipe my desk with a pleasant smelling cleaner (I personally enjoy Mrs. Meyer’s Rosemary Multi-Surface Everyday Cleaner.) This act can give closure to your day by literally and figuratively wiping your slate clean.

Does the thought of having to organize your desk give you more grief than peace? Don’t fret. Some people think that a messy desk actually helps with creativity. If this is you, you’re in good company — Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, were also known for their messy desks.

Whether you find peace in mess or are easily distressed by it, you can try the above-mentioned strategies and see what works best for you. By doing so, you can create a space that inspires productivity and creativity, while also providing a clean slate to each day.