5 Tips to Maintaining Your Home Office

Once you’ve set up the office of your dreams. How do you maintain it? Here are 5 suggestions for maintain order in any home office:

1. Consider the method

I believe the maintenance step of organizing can fall into two methods:

  • Routines – You create them based on your natural tendencies & out of necessity and then you just do it. For instance, checking your email, filing papers, sorting through mail, making phone calls and shipping out items all need to be done, so when will you do them? Daily, weekly, or will you delegate some duties?
  • The full barrel method – This is when you use a container to pile things like orders, filing, bills, etc. and you do them once the bin is full.

Nothing wrong with either method but I strongly suggest you don’t leave everything to the full barrel method. That is the point of overwhelming piles and that is when we professional organizers usually get the call for help.


2. Don’t let the kids touch

If your home office is going to be used by your children because there is only one computer in the house, make sure your work and important papers are filed away and maybe even locked away when you are finished working.  This is a great motivator for keeping your desk top clear!  When the children use the computer or materials there, make sure they only have access to what they are allowed to use.

3. Set a schedule for working your home-based business

If you’re lucky enough to have your own office with a door, then it’s easier to be disciplined about your starting and ending time.  When you finish for the day, have everything you need to do tomorrow in your “To Do” bin and written in your daily planner, then close the door.  If you don’t set up boundaries and routines when working at home, it is too easy to let your work time spill into family time.  If you work while the children are home, communicate with them about when you are working and what’s expected of them. You may want them to play by themselves, watch a movie or you may have a babysitter there that can attend to their needs instead of you.  Make sure when you finish working and switch back to your mommy job, you give them your full attention.

4. Set time in your daily or weekly schedule for managing the necessities:

  • When it comes to the day-to-day management of a family, it’s best to do it every day so it doesn’t pile up on you.
  • Paying bills is a top priority so it’s worth the effort to schedule it and write it in your planner or set up an automatic bill payer. You can write it down as soon as you receive a bill, such as “Send Visa bill” on the 10th if it’s due on the 17th.  You can set a specific day of the week when you pay them.  Do this weekly, bi-monthly or monthly if you coordinate the due dates with your utilities and credit cards.
  • Phone calls can take up a lot of a mother’s time in any given week.  Instead of just calling someone when you think of it, make a list on a daily or weekly basis of who you need to call.  Then you can be efficient about your time, call when the house is quiet like when the kids go off to school or when the baby is taking a nap.  You’d be amazed how many calls you can make in a half hour when you have focused time.   Even if you’re just leaving messages, you can get your calls out there and only answer the ones your are expecting back throughout the day.  If you’re in the middle of doing something else, use the caller id or answering machine to screen your calls.  Only answer if you have the time to talk.
  • Filing is something you can do in about 5 minutes per day.  If you don’t receive a lot of papers to file you may be able to wait and do it once a week.  This is one instance where the “full barrel” method can apply.
  • Reading may be another function that can take place in your office area.  These would be periodicals for your business, information from school or kids’ activities.  Again, make room in your schedule to read your incoming papers every day and it’ll only take 5-10 minutes.  If you let it pile up, not only does it take longer but you’re less likely to want to tackle that pile.
  • When you have special projects you’re working on, these should be considered when you are using your daily planner.  Try to work on one project per day if possible.  Create an action file for each project and pull that file out when you’re working on it, then put it away when you’re finished for the day.

5. Clear out your office each year

  • Pull out your tax related info, total up expenses and income for both personal and business tax forms.
  • Empty your “Charitable Contributions” folder with all those receipts and total them up too.
  • If you’re someone who likes to have an idea of where the money went this year, take credit card statements and your checkbook log and categorize your expenses in a simple spreadsheet.
  • If you use Quick Books® or similar software pull an end-of-the-year report for your budget totals.
  • For any reference files you have, take a look through each one and toss what is outdated or unnecessary.
  • Clear out your children’s school files at the end of the school year.
  • If you have a business that requires you to keep inventory, tally up the cost of that inventory for your taxes.  In some cases you may want to have an end-of-the-year sale to clear the shelf.

The secret to maintaining an organized office is to keep all your office materials in while keeping toys, food, and extraneous stuff out!  Do this on a daily or weekly basis so it doesn’t pile up and you’ve got a functional home business – even if that business is simply managing your home and family.

If you like my tips, please share on Facebook or Twitter!

Setting Up Your Home Office

Whether you are setting up a home office to run your household or you have a home-based business, there are certain steps you can take to make sure it is set up for maximum efficiency. And if you have a home office now that is “not working” (as I hear from so many of my clients), don’t be afraid to start from scratch: de-clutter and re-organize it.

Set up zones & furniture

If your office has multiple functions, you’ll want to create zones for each function.  For instance, if you are using your office area for managing your household files and doing a home business, you need to have separate file drawers or file cabinets for each. You may even want to have two desks, one for personal and one for business.

If you have a computer and several peripherals, make sure you set them up near a grounded outlet using a surge protector.  Also make sure the computer is in a position that will not have a glare from the sun if there are windows in your office. One of the basic rules of feng shui is that a desk chair should face the door of the room. This is the “control” position. You definitely want to be in control of your business.

Consider Paper flow

One of the most common clutter problems in a home office involves paper. Think about the flow of paper in your office and set it up in an assembly line fashion.  If yours is an office for managing your home, you could set it up like this:

To Do Bin > Open space on desk > Printer > shredder/trash can > “Going Out” table

If bills are often paid late, leave those out and visible on the desk top. Even if you pay them electronically, you need some visual reminder of the amount and due date.

If you are also using your office to manage a home-based business, your set up may be more complicated.  But as Philip Crosby says, “all work is a process.” Whether you have a product based or service based business (or a little of both) document your process from customer requests, to fulfillment to payment. You could set up stations for each step in the process.  For a product based business, have order forms by the phone or computer – wherever they come in.  Then spread them out on a table for filling orders.  Keep a record of who has paid and who has not.  You could use a letter holder on the table or two bins accurately marked.  Have your packaging materials either under the table or in a closet in your office and pull them out when you’re ready to ship.  Once the packages are ready to deliver or mail, have a “Going Out” bin by the door of the office.   So your straight line process might look like this:

Take orders > Record Payment > Fill Orders > Package > Send out product

Having your business set up in this way will avoid a lot of confusion about where a certain order is, and who has paid you or not.  It also helps you see exactly what piece of the process you need to focus on at any given time.

For a service based business, you will still have customer requests. These may come in via phone or email. Most likely you will create a record of the request, defining the customer requirements. The workflow may look something like this:

Customer request>Define Requirements>Contract or invoice>Schedule work>Complete work>Check requirements>Collect payment>Follow up

Set the stages of this process up from left to right in your office so you can easily move from one to another without going in circles!

Put on the finishing touches

Once your office is set up functionally, make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing too. When you feel at ease and have a clear space to work, you will have a clear and focused mind to do your work.

  • If you like visual reminders and motivators, put up a bulletin board.  Post pictures of loved ones, pictures of prizes you are working towards, or simple notes.  Bulletin boards do have potential for clutter so make sure you keep them current. Don’t cover old notes with new ones.
  • If your office is in a corner of a larger room in your house, make sure it blends.  You wouldn’t want a metal desk in a French country living room.  Try to match the wood tones of the furniture.
  • If your file cabinets are visible in your office, also make sure they are wood.  Metal or plastic bins should be tucked away in a closet and not out in the open.
  • If you have clients come to your office, make sure you have a comfortable place for them to sit, and a clear table for them to use.
  •  Add something pretty like a vase of flowers, a beautiful picture, or a great smelling candle.

What’s your tip for a great home office?


Maybe I’m getting old, but I have no desire to face the chaos of Black Friday. There is nothing I or my family wants that badly. So I shop for most of my Christmas gifts from the comfort of my own home, right here on my computer. Shopping on-line is more efficient – you can do it anytime you want. And it saves you time and stress. I’m all for that! So the way I organize my Christmas shopping is to browse catalogs, circle what I want and then log on to the computer and start. Before I check out, I always check retailmenot.com for coupons or free shipping codes. Sometimes they are posted right on the hard copy of the catalog.

I thought I would share with you my “favorite things” which include organizing products and unique gifts that you can give this year or just buy for yourself. These are all from a amazingly priced catalog called Lakeside Collection.  It has served my family well for the last several Christmases.


Over the door jewelry valet – for your daughter or decorative friend      $14.95








Revolving Jewelry Stand – another option for jewelry, smaller but nicer display $8.95






Heirloom Recipe Binder – for the saver of recipes on your list     $7.95






21 Photo Collage Frame – for the saver of pictures who has no frames   $16.95







Three pairs of touch screen gloves – know any texters?:)                          $6.95







Easy Change Artwork Frames – fill with art from your kids for a great grandparents gift   $8.95






Color coded Dry Erase Calendar Set – This one’s for you to start the New Year off right! $8.95









Set of 4 magnetic bins for your kitchen, bathroom or file cabinet   $6.95







Decorative Bench & Mirror for your entryway – A simple way to decorate and organize $12.95-$39.95






Toy storage net – get those stuffed animals off the bed an up in a hammock       $6.95





These are my favorites, check out the site and find yours!  www.lakeside.com


Organize Your Collections

The problem

Collections take up a lot of space, collect dust, and are constantly growing.  So how do you organize a collection?  You may have a collection and not even realize it.  For instance, if you buy a refrigerator magnet every time you take a trip – you are a collector.  You may think they are practical, and they are, up to a point.  But after you’ve got more than 10 or so, they are no longer a tool, they’re a collection.

The story

While working with one client in her kitchen I discovered a large number of both cook books and coffee mugs.  She lived alone so I suggested that she keep just a few mugs and only the cookbooks that she regularly used.  “Oh no!” she said, “I’m not getting rid of any cook books or mugs.  I collect them.”  So what I thought was a very practical step became an emotional subject.  People are very passionate about their collections and as an organizer I have to take that into consideration when coming up with a solution for the clutter.


My absolute:  Keep Like Things Together


The solution

There are probably as many solutions as there are types of collections.  And the solutions for how to keep your collections range from utilitarian to decorative.  So in order to give you some guidelines for setting up your collections, it will help to answer the following questions for yourself.

1. What do I collect? You may have to search your house & put like things together.

2. Who do I want to see this collection?  Keep private things tucked away, others on display.

3. Is my collection practical or ornamental? If it’s visually appealing, consider displaying it.

4. If I won’t use or display this collection, why am I keeping it?


My absolute: Keep only what you use.


5. Which room in my house is best suited to display my collection? Go by the color or theme of the items in your collection.

6. How many items are in my collection and will it grow over time? In other words, how big does the shelf or display case have to be?

7. Are there any products out there that are designed to hold my collection?  Search the internet.

8. If not, what can I create to display my collection? It’s sometimes simpler to make your own shelf to the exact dimensions you need.


Once you’ve thought about these questions, have your collection in front of you in the room where it will be displayed. Now look at the size of it and the colors in it. Whether it’s formal or casual, monochromatic or colorful, think about what case or shelving would complement it. I always suggest looking at what you have in your house first. If there is nothing there, second-hand shops are a good place to start. Then there’s always Internet shopping. If you’ve got a collection that other people might have too, chances are you’ll find some sort of display case online.  Simple display shelves that can hang on the wall are very popular now and can be found in almost any home store. Remember, if you don’t like the color of the shelf, you can always paint it!

Simple collections of seashells, ornaments, books, clocks or teapots can add a creative flair to any room in your home. Sometimes digging these items out of boxes, dusting them off and putting them on display can be an inexpensive and surprising way to redecorate. With the holidays just around the corner, concentrate on your holiday theme collections first.

What is a unique way you’ve found to display a collection? I’d love to hear about it!

Organize Your Odds & Ends

Sometimes those odds and ends can accumulate all   over the house, and we just don’t know where to put them!  In order to truly have a “place for everything” you must identify those items in your house that don’t have a permanent home. To do this, take a walk through your house and play the game of “one of these things is not like the others…” This will help you identify what’s in a room that doesn’t really belong there, like a sewing needle and thread in the kitchen, or a vacuum in the bedroom, or gifts that need to be wrapped on the office floor.  Gather those items together and think about the most logical place to keep them. Here are some examples of mini-categories you might encounter and some options for where to keep them.

Wrapping Paper/ ribbons

Most moms have wrapping paper and ribbons on hand at all times because you never know when someone will need to go to a birthday party. There are several products on the market now that are made especially for these items. There are hard plastic stand up bins or soft vinyl tote organizers that will help you contain all the wrapping items in one place. Some stores who sell these are: Rubbermaid, Lillian Vernon and Improvements Catalog.

You could also create an organizer for yourself out of a box from the liquor store. These boxes usually have dividers for bottles that work just as well for large rolls of wrapping paper. You can remove some of the dividers to make space for ribbons, scissors and tape. Either way, you need to assemble and contain your wrapping materials and find a home for them. Think about where you usually do the wrapping. Is it in the den, your bedroom or in the living room? Find a closet in or near that room that has enough space for whatever container you choose. Make the decision to keep wrapping paper there and let the whole family know where it belongs.

Extra gifts

If you have the luxury of a completely empty closet or empty shelf in your home, you can shop in advance to have gifts on hand, ready to be wrapped. One client I had devoted an entire custom closet in her office for just this purpose. Another client I had used one shelf in her linen closet for extra gifts. With this category, you really need to adapt to your living space. No extra room in the house — no extra presents. You will have to shop for gifts as needed. However, it is a good idea to look at your monthly calendar and consolidate your gift shopping for that month. If you only have a handful of presents to buy, you could probably find somewhere to stash them before the event. With little children in the house, it’s best to keep these out of sight so curious hands don’t open the gift prematurely! Like any of the big categories, have all the gifts in one place so you remember what you have! Decide where this will be: your linen closet, an empty closet, your bedroom closet or in the attic (if it’s climate controlled) and don’t tell the family! Let this one be your little secret place.

Items that need to leave the house

This category could include mail, donations, things that are going to a friend, or items you want to return to a store.  After seeing many clients of various income levels, I have come to this conclusion: the more you shop, the more you return.  Piles of returns might start to grow in your garage, your car or your bedroom. If you are returning household things for size, make sure you measure next time. If you return things for color, maybe take a sample of what you are trying to match. If you are returning a lot of clothes, make note of the new size you or your children need. A little planning ahead can save you a lot of time on returns! If you do need to take something back, make sure you keep the receipt with it until that decision is made.

To keep the return piles out of your living space, try these options:

1. In your car – There’s nothing like going right to the finish. Put the items on your passenger seat so you see them every time you get into the car. Visual reminders are great.

2. On a table near your door –Let them stick out like a sore thumb so you’ll return them soon. You might even designate a “going out table” that is just for this purpose. If you tuck them away, you’re more likely to forget about them.  Also, write it in your planner to “do returns.” And then you can have the satisfaction of checking it off your list.

Gift certificates and gift cards

One of my pet peeves is people who never use their gift certificates! Why don’t they use them? Usually because they can’t find the certificate or they don’t make a plan to use it.  There’s a couple of ways you could remind yourself to use these.

1.  If you think of gift cards as money, put them in your wallet. When you go to that store and open your wallet to pay, you’ll see the gift card and use it.

2. Keep gift cards and certificates for on-line shopping in your top desk drawer.

3. Keep retail gift cards in an envelope in your car. If you forget to bring them in, you can at least run back to the car before you check out.

4. Keep certificates for places that need reservations in your planner.

What odds & ends are cluttering up your home? Leave a comment or question.


How my family survived a Four Day Power Outage

Well it was not fun. Everything took a lot longer to do but I know our family can survived like the pioneers of colonial times (okay not that bad). Here are some tips on how we “organized” for the impending storm, Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29, 2012, knowing that we would lose power for several days as we normally do in any kind of storm

1. Plan ahead – We bought food, but the kind that doesn’t need to go in the refrigerator. We also bought water bottles and three bags of ice to leave in the two refrigerators so they could act like a cooler for a day or two if necessary. We checked flashlights and batteries, charged our cell phones and laptops and had everyone in the family take a hot shower on the day the storm hit. Candles and matches were at the ready.

2. Connect with neighbors – Our neighbors are a life line especially in times where we are stuck indoors or at least in neighborhood.  One year I hosted an impromptu blizzard party for 9 families a week before Christmas. Following suite, one neighbor texted me minutes before the power went out and said “Bring the kids for a Hurricane party at 7 pm.” School had already been cancelled for the next two days so what else are you going to do when the lights go out? We all brought drinks, food and candles. The kids watched a movie on someone’s laptop and played cards. So the first night went fast. We hoped for the best.

The next day neighbors with whole house generators offered to let us take showers, wash our laundry and store food in their freezers. We began to appreciate how good it feels to be clean and warm!

3. Decide your priorities – For each of us it was different. My husband needed a place with power and Wi-Fi to work. I needed a hot cup of coffee and a hot shower to feel human and get my family through. The kids needed entertainment to keep them sane. So once the coffee was found on day 1 and 2, I could think clearly. My husband ventured out to work at a nearby Starbucks. By the end of day one, my boys went to friends’ houses which had power. I decided to forgo the shower and just don a hat for day one.

4. Stay on top of the utilities – Make sure you contact the utility companies if power is out. Don’t assume they know, or assume that if your neighbors power goes back on, yours will too. Who knows how these “grids” work? All I know is that our whole neighborhood could be lit up and six houses, including mine will be out.  One summer I drove up to our electrical workers in the neighborhood, offered them lemonade and a swim if they promised not to leave until my power was back on. Keep calling and getting the update on when power will be restored, so you literally have a light at the end of your tunnel!

5. Count your blessings and remain calm – Living in the dark ages is stressful. Remind yourself and your family of what you did not lose. In natural disasters I would venture to say there are usually more people worse off than you are. Make sure everyone has what they need and then just be patient for others to do their part. Re-locate if necessary; farm the kids out to friends’ houses; live simply even if for a few days. Make sure your basic needs are met and then be thankful your situation is not worse.

How did your family survive the Hurricane? Please leave a comment.