Note: This is a previously written article that has been updated and revamped for today. The advice in it is still timely. Hope you enjoy!
“For the most part, we, who could choose simplicity, choose complication.” ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, in Gift From the Sea
One of the most difficult aspects of working at home can be keeping an organized office. Clutter starts in one corner and quickly takes over my entire desk. After speaking with other authors, I’ve found that this is a common problem. Can’t find the file where you saved your bio? Know you bought stamps but they’ve escaped into the papers in your drawer? Here are some steps to help you bust out the clutter from every nook and cranny in your work space:
If you keep meaning to get organized but just can’t find the motivation to put in the effort involved, spend some time deciding what your goals for your writing career are. You can certainly have several goals. My goals are to work full-time as a writer and increase name recognition. Once you’ve decided on your goals for your writing, you can then start asking how items in your office help with that goal. The dusty crochet hook in the corner of my closet doesn’t advance my writing goals one bit unless I’m planning to write an article about dusty crochet hooks (not likely). Anything that doesn’t advance your goal(s) needs to leave the office.
If you can’t bear the thought of throwing it away, take advice from Best-Selling author Fern Michaels. “Do what I do! Throw it all in a box, put a lid on it and promise yourself you will never look at it again. Then stuff it somewhere it can’t be seen by you or anyone else. Believe it or not, my desk is bare except for the computer. The desk measures 96 inches long and 29 inches wide. I like a clean desk.”
I don’t know about you, but every time I throw out the clutter, it creeps right back in. It’s a deadly disease that this writer can’t quite shake. And I always have this nagging suspicion that anything I throw out I’ll need the very next day because of some twisted plot of the universe to drive me insane. I’m much more productive in an uncluttered office. And, I’m not the only one!
“I am an organized person, and when my work space is unorganized, I have a hard time being creative. Also, if I have things in my office (file cabinets) organized, I don’t spend a lot of time hunting for something I need because I know where it is,” said Margaret Daley, aka Shauna Michaels.
Here are some ideas for organizing your writing space:
- Buy Filing Cabinets
This can be one of the best investments you make for your office space. Even though we do a lot of our work on electronic media now, writers still tend to generate a lot of paperwork. Query letters, acceptances, rejections, samples of promotions other authors are running all crowd into my office on a weekly basis. Yes, less than in years past, but still paperwork.
“Label everything!” said Margaret Perry, who specializes in promoting authors and owns SliceofPromo. “I may forget where I put it but if it’s labeled and filed away I have a much easier time finding it again.”
- Buy Bookcases
Got books? Most writers have books coming out of their ears. Research books. Favorite novels. Market guides. Bookcases lay flat against the wall, take up little space, and can help your office look instantly more organized. Don’t just use bookcases for books. You can put awards, bins with supplies, and paper on the shelves.
“My secret to keeping things in order–book cases. For manuscripts, I have a bookcase where I keep submissions on different shelves, sorted out into piles according to priority. For other things, I keep folders on my desk for the same reason. I find that if I can put stuff out of sight, I can deal with one thing at a time, rather than deal with everything and get nothing accomplished,” offered Brenda Chin, editor at Harlequin.
- Deal With Snailmail & Email ASAP
If you put off answering mail, it can quickly get away from you. Try to file mail away (or throw it away) as soon as possible after it enters your office. Answer email as quickly as possible for the same reason.
Fern Michaels had some humorous comments for how to deal with mail that overwhelms you. “I try my best to stay on top of it often getting up at four in the morning to do a lot of it. When it gets away from me, I toss it in the air and the first dozen get answered until I have to do it again. I kid you not. Right now on snail mail, I’m a month behind. Emails just five days behind.”
- Don’t Overbuy Supplies
I love my local office supply store. I love paper and pens and notebooks and pretty stationary. I also love a good deal and if anything is on sale, I’ll buy it in quantity. This isn’t a good idea when it starts to invade your writing space. Try not to buy more supplies than you’ll use in a two or three month period. If you’re tight on writing space, you may want to only buy a month in advance. There are some great online services now for buying and printing postage as you need it, such as stamps.com.
- Keep A Few Things You Love
Keeping your favorite items around you can sometimes motivate you to write or niggle loose a new story idea. Often, the feeling of warmth a favorite childhood teddy bear creates can help a writer keep writing late into the night. Get rid of the clutter but don’t get rid of things that speak to your heart and soul. Of course if last month’s phone bill speaks to your soul because it has the phone call you made to your new agent, then ignore this advice and just follow the prioritize rule.
Use Feng Shui Principles
In Feng Shui, “less is more” is the principle that helps many people get rid of clutter. Although she warns that the elements of Feng Shui are very complicated and writers should do more research, Sally Painter had a few words of advice to offer on basic Feng Shui design.
“A large part of Feng Shui is common sense such as no clutter in desk drawers, no clutter in closets or file cabinets, and well, basically no clutter. The phrase, less is more rings true. If you think of the very air we breathe as being alive with participles of energy on a very atomic level, then you can begin to see it as a living organism that needs the surrounding space to be as open as possible so it can move freely. This is a very basic mental approach to understanding Feng Shui, but can assist you as you experiment.”
If It Stresses You, It Must Go
If clutter creates stress in your life, then make it a priority to eradicate it from every corner of your office.
Brenda Chin comments, “I find my stress level runs parallel to the state of my desk. The messier it is, the more messed up I get. So, it’s in my best interest to keep things under control.”
There are a few authors who say the clutter doesn’t bother them. Bob Gossard offers a unique perspective. “Everyone works in different manners … some are meticulous to a fault, and others just revel in clutter. So everyone must find their own medium when they write!”
Whether you revel in your clutter or your blood pressure insists the extra paper and supplies must go, try to make your office a place where you can work effectively. Happy Clutter Busting!
Lori Soard is the author of Picking Up Cowboys, which is now available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.