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How to organize your desk


The most popular room we are asked to organize (by far) is the home office.

With so many digital advancements and shortcuts, it seems to me there would be less paper in our lives. Right? Wrong. Paper still comes to us from every angle and even organized people have times when their paper builds up. Life happens and our desks are totally neglected and in desperate need of love. Click To Tweet

Are you with me?

Is your desk a scary vortex?

Let’s fix that action. Here is a quick run-down of how to organize your desk. I’ll give you some pointers about what to do with all of that crap!

The photos here are from a home office I worked on this week which belonged to a very organized, neat guy named Ben. Your desk will likely take longer than his did to clear off. (Ahem) Still, the same principles apply to all desktops.

The obvious problem all of us have is paper: random papers floating around or even piles of papers on the desk. The only way to fix this problem may seem counterintuitive. But believe me, it’s true. You must begin by weeding out the places where you store your paperwork.

STEP 1: Cull your files and in-box(es) of old, irrelevant papers

Yes, this step is going to take a while. To speed up your process, here’s a list of complete files you can recycle easily, without much decision making.


  • expired insurance policies
  • old utility bills
  • old investment reports
  • filed tax receipts older than 3 yrs (keep the returns)
  • records from cars and pets you no longer own


  • dead projects
  • contracts from companies you will no longer work with
  • old utility bills
  • outdated client files
  • et cetera. You know what you don’t need in your main files, what’s obsolete or finished

There will be lots of stuff you can toss from your filing drawers because like most people, you probably only use 20% of the files in your filing cabinet right now. You can expect to throw out up to 80% of your files if you are objective about what you really need to keep.
Ben spent about 30 minutes thinning his main files using these broad categories.

Helpful resources

  1. Our great, follow-along video I hate filing: Simplify your household files in 25 minutes will walk you through a more detailed culling of your files.
  2. This list from Suze Orman tells you specifically which papers to keep and which to recycle or shred.
  3. If you are self-employed use this list from the IRS to determine which papers to keep or toss.

If you want to do a more thorough job cleaning out your files, most filing cabinets take over an hour per drawer! Be prepared for this to take awhile.

STEP 2: Clearly label the files you’ve kept

I’m sure you have a system for labeling your files in the drawer. Great. Do that. If you do not, let me offer these suggestions:

  • Simpler file labeling
  • Don’t color code. Easier upkeep.
  • Use broad categories/fewer tabs
  • Use general titles for hanging folder tabs and write more specific titles on your interior folders
  • Keep tabs all on one side for easier searching

There are so many ways to label files. Different brain types and personality types will prefer systems I don’t like. Share what works for you in the comments. Your system may be just the thing someone else needs to try!

STEP 3: Find a place for every paper and every item on your desktop.

Many of the items ON your desk belong IN your desk drawers. This follow-along video, The secret to keeping your desk clean, can help you make room in your desk drawer for things that are cluttering up your desktop. Watch it!
One great way to organize your desk is to remove everything on it. Put away the items that belong in a drawer or cabinet, and put back only what you truly use each day.
Store things on your desk in a way they make sense to you: near where you’ll use them, according to frequency of use, and like with like. Containerize things you are keeping on the desk if you like things to look more tidy.

Keep on your desktop only things you use daily. Click To Tweet

In Ben’s case we used some bowls and containers from the kitchen for paper clips and wrote a shopping list of things to buy to use permanently. For most of you, you’ll have everything you need already. Do not shop (!!) until you are finished organizing.
Here is a photo of what we ended with. It doesn’t look hugely different, but it is much more conducive to working and everything is easy to find.

Where do I put the current paperwork?

organized desktopCreate a file or 2 at the front of your file drawer for current projects. Label the hanging folder something general like “working on this” or “this week” and “tomorrow”. Then place the papers for that project (including the manilla folders if you use those) in the folder. Once that project is done, use the file for the next project.
If you like to have things more visible– you feel like you will FORGET about the project if it’s in your drawer– I like these vertical desktop filers because they have a small footprint.

Having a home for everything you use is the secret to keeping your desk tidy.

Here are links to 3 work-along videos which will help you AS YOU ARE working on the steps I’ve talked about. These videos are from our Clutter Challenge. Read more about that challenge here. 

Work-along videos to watch

Here’s a follow up post I wrote about what to do after your desktop is organized.
Thank you as always for reading, watching, and subscribing to our newsletter!
Happy Desk Organizing!


home office, organize your desk, professional organizer

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