"Tips to Tame the Office Clutter Monster"
Karen M. Silins, CECC, CRW, CEIP, CTAC, CCA

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The following article is property of A+ Career & Résumé, L.L.C., unauthorized use or reproduction is strictly prohibited.

(This article appeared in the February 2002 PRWRA Online Newsletter, and the January/February 2002 issue of Resume Writers’ Digest)

I recently set about cleaning my office, which is something I have needed to do for a long time. I’m not talking about throwing away a few papers, but a total overhaul. Not only were there loose papers, but also notebooks full of papers, files, a credenza organizer, office supplies, old phone books…you get the picture. What I discovered was an incredible collection of treasures, and an incredible collection of junk. Some of what I saved absolutely amazed me; copies of old emails that were time sensitive, junk mail (why?), recipes never filed (a hobby of mine), all of my initial/old information about online and local competitors from when I initially started to pursue my business full-time, and lots of information in general printed from the Internet.

Today it seems all we have to do is point and click, and reams of paper just melt away, only to reappear elsewhere in our offices. Paperless society I don’t think so! The amount of information available on the Internet is staggering, and how to keep it straight, along with the myriad of emails and snail mail is a constant struggle. Remember, in order to be effective résumé writers and career coaches, we have to access as much information about our profession as possible, and then we need a way to organize it for discernment.

Amazingly, the rest of my house (I home-office) remains relatively clean, despite a husband, mother (whom we take care of), brother (the more the merrier), two German Shepherds (one’s a puppy), one Rottweiler (another puppy), one Yorkie, one Westie/Karin terrier mix, and four parakeets (a full house to be sure). However, the office all but explodes with paper, boxes, phone books, notebooks, books (I have an ongoing love affair with Amazon.com), and other assorted items, not to mention 2 computers, 4 printers, copier/scanner, electric typewriter (just can’t seem to let it go), CD’s, fax machine, and credit card processing machine.

Although I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers, here are a few suggestions to "tame the office clutter monster," which I have initiated since the first of the year (yes, this was actually one of my New Years resolutions).

1. File it or throw it! This is a new policy for me. If I can’t immediately find a reason to file something, it must not be that important, and needs to be discarded. This suggestion actually came up in a December E-List, and although I had originally started using this method for all new documents before the suggestion posted, it bears repeating. This rule should give us pause to think before we print, lest we waste more paper, and keep the unruly piles of refuse to a minimum. Clearly, if we do not have an appropriate file in which to store the résumé, article, email, snail mail, newsletter, Internet document, etc., we shall either make a new file, or not print (or save) the document in the first place. As obvious as this rule might seem, how many of us actually stick to it? Put your hands down organizational gurus, this question is for the rest of us who are organizationally challenged types (at least in our offices).

2. Files. What a great idea Karen, we’ll file all our loose papers, now what do we do with the overloaded files? The feeling of accomplishment from putting all your loose papers into file folders quickly dissipates when we see the bulging files that will overload our filing cabinets, take up counter and credenza space, and spill out every time we pick them up. Fortunately, if we take one additional step while doing the initial filing of papers, we can avoid much of this problem. I propose that while your files are out, and while making new files, look through the already filed documents. How many of them do you still need? Toss the outdated information, consolidate files, consider storing information on floppy disk or CD’s (CD burners of are worth every penny for this very reason) with a backup copy, and decide if you are saving the document because you think it could be useful someday, or it is useful now (someday typically never comes, and with the Internet you can always find the information again).

3. Phonebooks, Notebooks and Books, oh my! I have a very bad habit of keeping old phone books, which is not a bad idea for keeping track of your former ads and your competitors, but it takes up copious amounts of office space. If you really must keep them (and I must), then store them in a closet or in your basement or garage. Unless you have some strange obsession about looking through old phone books, you will only need them once or twice a year. Or you can do as my husband suggested, take the pages out that you refer to, file them and recycle the books.

Notebooks. The use of notebooks to store related documents in mass (that means it’s too much paper for a file folder) is a practice I picked up during my college years. I am a trained opera singer with two degrees in music, which is of course why I now write for a living (it’s a musicians joke). While at college, I amassed an unseemly amount of copied music, for didactic purposes only (the last comment was for ASCAP), not to mention music books, class notes, etc. In order to keep them straight (and since my mother was an office manager for a company that made binding equipment), I had all copies, loose music book pages and class notes bound in nice neat books and notebooks so I could keep everything in order like a good, dutiful and efficient college student. The organizational strategy worked very well, and after college (yes, in case an ASCAP member reads this, the copies have long since been destroyed), I used the same procedure as an administrative assistant/executive secretary, and now use it for my home office. There is one slight problem with the procedure though. You need to be meticulous about going through the notebooks and purging the old information, just like you do in your file folders. So if you are willing, for instance, to put all of your information on Interviewing in notebooks for easy client reference (something I highly recommend), instead of in massive amounts of file folders, you will still need to go through them every so often, and clean them out.

Books. As I mentioned earlier, I have an ongoing love affair with Amazon.com, I love books, and they sell books and then deliver them right to my front door. In my library of resume, cover letter, interview, salary negotiation, career coaching, job searching, top jobs, professional image, career aptitude, business know how, reference and motivational books, I have about 200 paperbacks and hardbacks, and this does not include my regular personal library of religious and history books. These tomes take up a great deal of precious space, and the only way to keep them from overtaking my home is to go through them on occasion and put them in boxes for storage in our basement-garage, or throw them out if they are outdated. For someone who loves books, this is a difficult chore, fraught with much soul searching (thus the reason we have so many #@%&*! books in our house and basement-garage).

4. Various office items and their storage. Along with being a book junkie, I am a computer junkie, and have the CD’s to prove to it. Even with floppy disks and CD’s compact size, they can still take up large amounts of space if you don’t store them in an orderly fashion. My best advice here is to label, label, label the CD’s you burn (and the ones that have no label on them in the first place), and find storage cubicles and CD racks for all of them. This puts all CD’s and floppy disks in one place, with easy accessibility.

If you are running out of bookcase space for current phonebooks and notebooks, buy stackable office milk crates, or as several acquaintances of mine did in college, free them from their bonds of servitude in the fast food and stop-n-shop industries, and enslave them in your office instead (this last one is not recommended for law abiding citizens).

Files. File Cabinets. Not exactly a MENSA issue. These can be purchased very inexpensively at many garage sales, or at discount office supply stores if you really want new ones.

Books. Bookcases, or if you are running out of space, revisit that whole liberated milk crate thing. Again, these can also be purchased at garage sales, or at discount office supply stores.

As an additional note, the milk crates also provide an area on the top to put things, pictures, knickknacks, or in my case, the credit card processing machine.

Office Supplies. I have stackable storage units that sit under my laser printer and can hold paper and other office supplies while serving as an adjunct to my desk, thus saving precious desk space. If this is not an option for you, try unused closet space, unused filing cabinet space, the enslaved milk crate theory, or, for small items, desk drawers.

All non-business related stuff. Throw it in your unused bedroom and shut the door. This is about cleaning your office, if you need house-cleaning tips, may I recommend Hints from Heloise. Seriously, I believe that if you endeavor to keep your office neat, that can translate into a wish to be more orderly in all areas of you life. Order begets order.

Well, that is my $0.02 worth on office organization. Perhaps I have inspired someone reading this article to tackle their office cleaning, or maybe spurred someone on to keep their New Year’s resolution. Whatever the result, may we all have a prosperous, blessed and more organized 2003.


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