Desktop Clutter Driving You Mad?

If the government’s recent document debacle has taught us anything, properly handling and storing critical paperwork is essential! 

If we are honest, some of us might feel a modicum of sympathy for these politicians, especially when we consider what our own document handling looks like:  stacked in-boxes, file drawers stuffed with old receipts and invoices, and piles and piles of who-knows-what on the floor. 

If this isn’t you, congratulations!  You value keeping things simple with a minimalistic approach to life.   But most of us need some help to experience the benefits of minimalism like:

  • A pleasant, welcoming office environment
  • Being less overwhelmed and stressed
  • Improved work efficiency and therefore more free time
  • A smaller environmental footprint

If you feel overwhelmed each time you enter your office, these tips are for you!

1 – Make space.  Your office is your home away from home.  Therefore, shouldn’t it be a warm, welcoming, and attractive place to enter first thing in the morning?  Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen when stacks of files, piles of paper, and half-empty binders are littering the space. 

So first, take a day, perhaps a Saturday when the office is quiet, to attack the mess.  Bring a dust mask if you have asthma or allergies.  Your goal today is only to eliminate unnecessary paper clutter.  But first, this is important:  let your supervisor know about your plans, so you don’t discard critical documents!  Businesses and regulations require some records to be retained for a certain length of time, archived in a specific location, or securely destroyed, so be sure to get permission before you begin.

To begin decluttering, look through each stack of paper and shred useless copies, old reports, and completed project documents.  Then, digitally scan anything you need to archive and store it immediately in the proper file on your computer (see #2).  If you must keep a paper copy, file it at once.  Be sure to recycle shredded paper, and remember that scanning or digitizing, rather than printing, is better for the environment! 

Binders are a paper hoarder’s idea of being organized, but much of that information is either old or obsolete.  Combine reports separated by tabs, then remove binders you no longer need.  Label spines for easy access.  Again, checking with your boss before tossing company confidential, financial, or project work is always a good idea. 

Finally, remove any piles stacked on the floor, reduce your in/out tray to only one holding this month’s tasks, and clear your desk of other clutter.  If you have time, go through desk drawers, discard old pens and pencils, and restore paper clips to the office supply cabinet.  Save going through old file cabinet paperwork for another day.  Then think how great you’ll feel walking in on Monday to your newly refreshed and decluttered office!

2 – Are you a digital hoarder?  Lucky for us, it’s relatively easy to search a computer for a file, but why waste time waiting for search results?  With some digital discipline, you can declutter your technology and reap the benefits of :

  • Less stress trying to find stored files
  • Fewer stored emails and text messages
  • Enhanced cyber security

First, you’ll want to delete unnecessary emails and texts.  Really, there aren’t many emails or texts that “you’ll need in the future,” a fear that causes many of us to store information in the first place.  Unless your company has a policy not to remove emails from specific clients or accounts, most company data is backed up and stored and can be retrieved when necessary.  For saved emails, create folders and subfolders for easy retrieval.  Delete irrelevant texts as soon as you’ve read them.

Next, create a streamlined computer file structure.  If you don’t already have one, begin by making an organized folder and subfolder structure.  You’ll then move files and subfolders into their new, streamlined home. 

For example, your pyramid folder structure should grow off these three areas if you manage Marketing, Sales, and Service.  Under “Marketing,” you might create a subfolder called 2023 Marketing to differentiate from previous years.  Subfolders under 2023 Marketing might include Marketing Strategy, Advertising, or Press Releases.  You’ll store all new files within these folders, making subfolders as necessary.  For example, save files related to March Ads in a 2023 Marketing/Advertising/March Ads subfolder.  Saving a folder or file with a date makes it easier to see the most recent ones first.

After you’ve created your new file structure, move older folders into their new home, e.g., 2022 Marketing.  Digitally archive unnecessary files onto a removable hard drive or check with IT to ensure your company has backed up data for easy retrieval. 

Finally, avoid downloading files to your Desktop.  Your computer desktop should be as uncluttered as your desk, with only shortcut icons to help you navigate.  One executive complained to IT about not being able to find files.  It turned out that their desktop was crammed with downloads!  The solution is easy; make a habit of immediately filing downloads into an appropriate folder for storage. 

Creating a clutter-free mentality at work is a lifetime habit.  It takes time.  But the benefits of reduced anxiety and increased mental clarity are well worth it.  Reinforce your progress by enjoying your cleaner and more spacious workspace.  Celebrate with a beautiful desk lamp or picture on a wall once occupied by an overflowing filing cabinet.  Appreciate how much time you’ll save not searching for documents and enjoy feeling less overwhelmed by clutter and disorganization because of your new minimalist mindset!  

Always check with your IT department or supervisor before discarding or archiving documents.  In addition, federal, state, county, and city offices may have regulations for document retention or secure data disposal.  For more resources, see:

A Beginner’s Guide to Document Archiving.  Motley Fool.  May 18, 2022.

Smithsonian Data Management.  Best Practices Storage, Archiving, and Preservation Preparation