What would it take to tempt you to organize and clean out your home office?
For Anne Thompson, who has lived in her Wilmette home for fifteen years, it took the perfect storm: Pending empty nest, a goal of returning to school to become a social worker, and her ongoing work running MOCHA, or Mothers of Children Having Allergies, a support group for families who have children with allergies.
“I’ve been encouraged to sit down and write and share a lot of my experiences of growing up with food allergies to help other people,” she says. But pre-makeover, Thompson felt distracted and overwhelmed by her space—a hodge-podge of medical bills, recipes, papers from her son’s rowing team at New Trier, food allergy information, college information…you name it!
She needed an organized space for books and paperwork, adequate lighting for studying and she needed to get rid of her old or irrelevant files.
To help her accomplish this, we brought in Catherine Brinks, whose company, Ducks in Order, creates inspiring and efficient spaces for homeowners using pieces they already have. “I don’t send clients out shopping,” Brinks says. “A lot of times they already have the tools, it’s just about redistributing and repurposing them throughout the home.”
Thompson and Brinks not only tackled the space and organization, they also incorporated Thompson’s daughter’s photography into the office design.
“Sometime you just need a motivator,” says Thompson. “She took what my look was and made it more personal and functional for the space that I have.”
5 Office Organizing Tips from Ducks in Order
1. Evaluate: When beginning to organize your office or home office: “Think like a pro.” First, look at your space objectively and honestly. “What is or isn’t working in your space?” If you know you have a great filing system, purge and tweak it, don’t re-invent the filing system. If something isn’t working, figure out where the system is breaking down before setting a plan in motion to change it. Sometimes, there is more information in what isn’t working, which will allow you to pinpoint problems and proceed in a different direction.
2. Shop your home first: Don’t go on a shopping spree for all your organizing bins, baskets and caddies, until you know what you will be left with. Eighty percent of the time, her clients have extra bins and containers floating around the home. Brinks recommends using what already exists, and then add the fun stuff later as budget and time allow. Also be sure to test drive the system before you buy more stuff. For example, you don’t want to buy bins without lids and later realize you wanted your belongings more concealed—now you have a bunch of topless bins!
3. Purging can be a goldmine: When purging an office or home office, it is amazing what you will find! Brinks has found checkbooks, hundreds of dollars, soon-to-be expiring checks, passports, etc.
4. Think 80/20 for the desk surface: You should have 80% of your desk free of paper, clutter and stuff. Leave room to think and enjoy the luxury of space! If you have a big project you are actively working on, use the space, but remember to clean up behind yourself between working sessions. Leave yourself extra room to create, work and feel inspired.
5. PITCH: Throw out or scan old magazines and reference material. Many offices lose precious real estate to outdated information. Given the availability of information on the Internet, you can almost always find what you need in an instant.
Meet the Expert:
Catherine Brinks, Ducks in Order
Biggest challenge: She finds people’s biggest struggles with getting and staying organized are a fear of commitment and of letting go of perfectionism. “Bringing in an outside eye to give you a fresh take on things can be really helpful.”
Best suggestion: Know your space and know yourself before purging to make things relevant and current. Put on upbeat music, keep water or snacks nearby, and have a friend come over to keep you company (and accountable!) Oh, and don’t forget to have fun!
Sources for Projects and Expenses:
Glassworks: Glass top for desk, $106.28
Calico Corners: Fabric for desk top, $65.00
IKEA: Magazine holders and lamps, $70.00
Office Max: Pewter wire pencil and letter holders, $15.00
Three-ring binders to file papers, $15.00
Accordion files, $45.00
Shipping tags, $5.00
Total Cost: $321.28