You sit down at your desk, ready to start a productive day. But which Post-it note did you write your to-do list on when you packed up last night? Which cord belongs to your laptop charger so you can turn on your computer? And where’s a pen?! Not only is a cluttered workspace frustrating, it can actually limit your focus, reduce your ability to remember things and, for women, can increase the levels of stress hormones present. So, set aside an afternoon and follow these tips for how to declutter your home office – no matter whether you have a room, a nook or a spot at the dining table.

Clear the Space Completely

A GIF series demonstrating ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of a decluttered desk. The ‘before’ view shows notebooks, scattered paper and stationery covering the desk. The ‘after’ views are of the items being neatly stored in colourful document and stationery holders, alongside a desktop whiteboard, a mini plant and a lamp.

Step one: take everything off your desk. Yes, everything. That way, you have a clean slate as you assess what really needs to be within easy reach every day, and what can be stored in drawers, cupboards or boxes nearby.

“We always recommend decluttering first and then organising what is left,” says professional organiser and declutter coach Kirsty Farrugia. “So, are there things on your workspace that you no longer need? Old files, notebooks or old post-it notes? Get rid of what you can and then only add things back in if you really use it all the time.”

At the end of the whirlwind, all that’s left on the surface might be your computer and its accessories, a notebook, pens in a pen holder and a lamp. We’ll let you keep a pretty plant too – it’s good for concentration.

What to Try

SEE ALSO: Home Office Design Ideas to Inspire Productivity

Keep Drawers and Cupboards Organised

A GIF series demonstrating ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of a decluttered desk. The ‘before’ views show scattered exercise books and stationery covering the desk. The ‘after’ view shows the items being neatly stored in bamboo desktop drawers and organiser tray.

Clearing the bits and pieces off your desk and shoving it into drawers is not decluttering – it’s just moving the problem to a different place. “Only store what you need to retrieve and set limits on just how much you want to store because most of us have this uncanny knack of filling up any and all available space,” says Kirsty.

A set of drawers can slot neatly under most desks but if you’re short on space, desktop drawers are a handy spot to keep things like stationery, notebooks and glasses. And regardless of whether it is hidden or in plain sight, “if you don't use it everyday or every other day, would it make more sense to have it further away so you can get some incidental steps in your work day?”, says Kirsty. “Being really thoughtful and intentional about what you use will help you decide just how much space you need to give to things.”

What to Try

Don’t File What You Don’t Need

A GIF series demonstrating ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of a decluttered desk. The ‘before’ view is of scattered pages and exercise books covering the desk. The ‘after’ views are of the items being filed away in binders and a document box, alongside two label printers and a desktop hard drive.

Whether you have binders bulging with old bills, print-outs of presentations and pages of notes, or if your computer desktop is crammed with different folders for receipts, research and resumes, the same principle applies: don’t file what you don’t actually need. If you can’t easily find a physical or digital file, then your filing system isn’t working for you. It will be time-consuming, but go through each piece of paper or digital file one-by-one and decide if it is crucial that you keep it (remembering that you may need certain receipts for tax purposes).

“The point of organising and filing is for the purpose of retrieving items again,” says Kirsty. “If you don't need to retrieve that paperwork again, or if there’s another way of accessing that information like on a Google Drive, then let go of that paperwork then and there.” For the physical files you do keep, use a label maker to mark any folders or binders clearly to allow you to easily find what you need; for digital files, store ones you don’t need often onto hard drives with clearly named folders (no more calling anything Untitled23!).

What to Try

Put Things Away; Don’t Just Put Them Down

A GIF series demonstrating ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of a decluttered desk. The ‘before’ views are of manila folders, notebooks and stationery covering the desk. The ‘after’ views are of the items being neatly filed away using a document tray, a paper spike and vertical file organisers.

Clutter breeds clutter: you put down one invoice to pay next week and the next thing you know you have a tower of paper threatening to topple over. Kirsty’s golden rule for how to declutter your home office is “don’t put it down, put it away” – put things in their rightful place straight away and mess won’t get a chance to pile up.

“By putting something down instead of away, we somehow give permission to everything else in our homes to just be put down and it therefore often attracts other clutter,” she says. “We find that many people think tasks will take them longer than they actually do, so they procrastinate over things and that stops things getting completely done and finished, leaving many half done jobs around the house.”

If you’ve taken a folder out to reference research for your work, put it back in its letter file or cupboard as soon as you’re done rather than let it sit on your desk with half-drunk cups of tea. Paid a bill? Move it out of your document tray and spike it straight away.

Hot Tip: Start changing your habits slowly: keep to-action items in one spot and set aside 10 minutes at the end of each day to go through and finalise them.

What to Try

Keep Your Tech Tidy

A GIF series demonstrating ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of cords being decluttered on a white desk. The ‘before’ views show five tangled cables. The ‘after’ views show the cords being neatly secured to the desk using various cord holders.

If you work in a computer-based job, let’s count how many pieces of tech you probably have on your desk: a laptop, a bigger monitor, a keyboard, a mouse, a pair of headphones, your smartphone, a lamp, a printer – for starters! And for every one of those clever gadgets, there’s a charger or a cord. Get them in order by first assessing which lead belongs to which piece of tech, and label it as such. Then, group like cords together with cord clamps or cord grippers to keep them from moving around your desk.

Next time you do a tech upgrade, look for wireless devices, such as a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to reduce your cord hoard. Also make sure that you don’t keep old or obsolete tech on your desk.

What to Try

SEE ALSO: Home Office Ergonomics: A How to Guide

Create a Multi-Purpose Space

A GIF series demonstrating ‘before’ and ‘after’ views of a decluttered desk. The ‘before’ views show notebooks and stationery scattered across the desk. The ‘after’ views show the items being neatly filed using a laptop table, a stackable drawer, a document box and organiser tray.

No matter how small your space, you need to ensure it’s fit for every part of your day: if you split your time between writing emails and designing floor plans, a computer that takes up all your desk space isn’t going to work for you. Measure furniture and technology carefully when you’re creating a new setup and make sure things can be easily moved if you need more space for a particular activity at a different time of day.

If your desk is also used by other members of your family for study (or for dinner), then being able to pack everything away swiftly is key. “Have a bag/box that you store your everyday items in, like a laptop, pens or notebooks, that’s easily transportable so you can quickly and easily move around the house or pack up when the day is done,” says Kirsty.

Hot Tip: Do you feel you need a bit of chaos for great ideas to flow? Just try out clutter-free life, says Kirsty. “Give yourself the gift of white space (decluttered desk and drawers) and see what that does for your creativity and productivity.”

What to Try

SEE ALSO: 10 Smart Small Home Office Ideas

This article was originally published in 2021 and has been updated.