Monday Mornings with Madison


A new calendar year often makes people think about how to simplify and improve daily life.  Over the last few weeks, we’ve discussed steps to set and achieve goals and ways to better manage time.  But what if the challenge you face is to de-clutter your life? 

Clutter is a problem that can very quickly take over an office before it is noticed. A couple papers and some junk mail left here or there, briefcases, umbrellas and coats left lying around, stacks of files and filing waiting to be returned to their place, and some books and magazines scattered about, and you’ve got clutter. Besides making it harder to think clearly, clutter also reduces staff efficiency and leaves customers and clients with a bad impression. 

It can be difficult to control clutter because it is so easy to fall into the clutter trap.  If you share space with others, clutter may be multiplied by their contributions. Fortunately, with a little effort, it is possible to crawl back out of the clutter trap and reclaim your nice and tidy office. Here are a series of simple steps to follow to help you de-clutter and tame the paper tiger.

Step 1 – Plan
Develop a plan of action to help keep you focused.

  1. Create a list of the areas you want to work on in order of priority
  2. Set a deadline for completing each project
  3. Tackle one small area at a time drawer, cabinet, shelf, etc.
  4. Set aside time each week to work on a different area
  5. Move systematically throughout your office
  6. Finish one area before beginning another
  7. Find an organizing style and pace that suits you
  8. Recruit organizing “assistants”; if you share an office, ensure space-mates are on board with your plan

Step 2 – Set Goals
As the old adage asks, how do you eat the elephant?  One bite at a time.  Determine what you want to achieve before you begin.

  1. Maximize space?
  2. Be able to find things more easily?
  3. Create an orderly environment?

         Ensure that storage decisions (see below) help to achieve the goals.

Step 3 – Sort
To begin the sorting process, ask yourself these tough questions.

  1. When was the last time you used it?
  2. When will you (realistically) need it again?
  3. For what legal, sales or operational reason would you need it again?
  4. Who might ask for it?
  5. What would you need it for?
  6. Is it easily replaceable?
  7. What’s the worst thing that would happen if you got rid of it?

To sort, set up several boxes.
Box 1 – KEEP (items you know you need and use)

  1. Sort “keeps” into different boxes for each area of the office

Box 2 – TOSS (items you know you don’t use and don’t want)

  1. Put confidential items in a pile to shred
  2. Put routine items in the trash

Box 3 – NOT SURE (don’t know if you want it or aren’t ready to let go)

  1. Tape up the “not sure” box and label with the date and contents
  2. Put in the basement or storage unit
  3. Make a note in your calendar to check back in 12 months
  4. If you haven’t needed anything in the box in that time, get rid of it unless it is needed for tax, legal or business purposes

Box 4 – RETURN / IN PROGRESS (requires some work before it can be given back to the person or place where it needs to go)

Once you’ve tossed Box 2, stored Box 3, and put the items in Box 4 in your Inbox so you can finish that work, tackle Box 1.  Touch each item only once and put it in its place.  Do not leave it for later.  If it doesn’t have a place (folder, drawer, etc.), then create one for it right now and put it there.

Step 4 – Purchase
Set up a NEED TO BUY List of storage and organization supplies such as folders, labels, tins, etc. to help develop a place for everything so that everything can go in its place.

  1. Use see-through containers whenever possible (paper clips, rubber bands, index cards, etc.)
  2. Label every container so you know what’s in it without opening
  3. Use drawer dividers, baskets, shelves to subdivide larger spaces
  4. Make use of hanging space with hooks and racks
  5. Make use of low space with under-desk boxes
  6. Choose modular components that can adjust as your needs change

Step 5 – Store

  • Create a place for everything in the office no halfway spots
  • Have a good reason for storing an item in a certain place
  • Store like items together according to purpose (ie – printer cartridges, computer disks, etc.)
  • Don’t forget accessories and related items
  • Store items nearest the point where you use them
  • Store items you use most often in more accessible spaces
  • Store items you use less in harder-to-reach areas
  • Keep climate in mind heat, moisture, etc.
  • Leave 15% of your space free for future additions
  • Plan to go through your spaces to “purge” once a year


Three rules of work:  (1) Out of clutter, find simplicity; (2) From discord, find harmony; (3) In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein

© 2010 – 2011, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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