Home office a mess? Pro can sort it all out.

13 Feb 2011 8:00 AM | Anonymous
By Claudia Buck (Printed in Columbus Dispatch)

McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS Sunday February 13, 2011 6:06 AM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. undefined As home offices go, Dianna Lovelace’s work space wasn’t the messiest. But every time the Rancho Cordova, Calif., mother and pastor’s wife wanted to pay a bill, do some writing or work on a project, the clutter crowded out her ability to concentrate.

Like many of us, the energetic mom, who also runs a women’s ministry and teaches motivational workshops, could never find the time to get on top of her home-office clutter.

And in her otherwise spotless home, it showed. The desk was covered with family photos, piles of paper, bills, school notices. The wall-to-wall shelves were crammed with books, binders, old phone books, family mementoes, magazines, even a wedding bouquet.

And the floor? It was a holding station for accumulated household stuff: last year’s Christmas wreath, a bedroom comforter, the vacuum cleaner, Goodwill donations, a bag of to-be-shredded papers and 15 years’ worth of women’s conference materials.

“All I want is peace … and to be able to multitask a little easier,” said Lovelace, who admitted that she procrastinated several years before hiring Tonya Piper, a professional organizer.

That’s a typical response. “It’s overwhelming for many people. Sometimes they just need permission to get rid of their ‘stuff,’  ” said Piper, a former engineer who has been a professional organizer the past five years.

The mantra of every personal organizer: Everything in your house needs its own home, including every piece of paper you keep. And even then, we keep too much.

“People like to pile, instead of file,” said Ann Nagel, the Elk Grove, Calif., owner of Organize With Ann, who has seen clients’ homes with paper piled on windowsills, dining-room tables, bathroom floors and just about any flat surface. The most typical undefined but worst undefined place, she says, is the kitchen counter, where papers easily get wet or spilled on.

“About 95 percent of what we file, we never look at again. But it’s taking up valuable real estate in our home office,” said Nagel, who turned to professional organizing after 30 years as a legal and corporate secretary.

When tackling a home-office organization, there are two necessities: a good filing cabinet and a commitment to purge paper. And an understanding that it’s often ugliest at the start.

To begin, spread your piles on the bed or floor and sort by category: taxes, insurance, bills, owners’ manuals, etc. Put a sticky note on each pile as you go.

Once they’re sorted, create subcategories. For example, under “Insurance,” you might have separate files: “Insurance-Health,” “Insurance-Life,” “Insurance-Home.”

Ultimately, those piles should go into a permanent home inside labeled folders in a filing cabinet.

“It’s not rocket science. Everyone has the same stuff, but with their own special needs,” Nagel said.

Lovelace already had color-coded many of her women’s workshop files, but they occupied valuable space inside a desk drawer. Because they aren’t used daily or even monthly, Piper moved them to a nearby bookshelf. She turned brown accordion file folders on their sides, facing out, so Lovelace’s rainbow-hued files are easily accessible.

Another home organizing tip: Have a single place to store incoming papers. It can be a letter tray, a file folder, a basket or even a box.

“If it’s all in one spot, you stand a much better chance of dealing with it when you’re ready to take action,” Nagel said.