• Designer Corner

Tidy Up Your Desk…and Your Mind!

Let’s talk clutter. Is it just me, or does a clutter-free workspace just feel better to you, too? In the spirit of starting 2020 on the right foot, let’s focus on fresh beginnings and how to get rid of the “stuff” we may be holding on to. Recently, Marie Kondo has made tidying up and organizing homes cool and trendy, so let’s hop on board. I design corporate spaces for a living, so let’s get into how we can apply Marie’s method to clear the clutter and create a more efficient workspace.

When we clear out the physical mess, the mental side seems to naturally follow. A sense of calm, clarity and productivity remains. Researchers have looked closely at the effects of clutter and they’ve found that eliminating it at work improves focus, increases productivity, and makes it easier for the brain to process information. With the open floorplan design currently making up 70% of all offices[1], we have a lot of overexposure to personal items such as messy (I mean “beautiful”) artwork, Star Wars trinkets, rainbows of sticky notes, and so much more.

Open-concept designs make up 70% of all U.S. offices. COURTESY OF HAWORTH

Thoughtful tips to make your space (mostly!) clutter-free and more efficient.

Reframe the question. Instead of asking yourself, what do you want to discard, instead ask yourself, what do you want to keep. This allows you to narrow in on what’s essential. Start with the basics. You’ll likely want to keep your desk, chair, technology, and some storage. When you start in these extremes, it makes getting rid of some paper feel a lot less severe.

Make it personal in a less-cluttered way. Part of the challenge with decluttering is striving to maintain a balance between personalization and minimalism. In an open-office floorplan, the presence of cat calendars, feather boas, and Homer Simpson figures looming atop the furniture tends not to spark clarity or productivity. Some “personal touches” may simply be distractions. If there is a planned finish scheme or unique layout intent incorporated into your office design, they may be entirely diminished. Goodbye, cool grey and warm wood tones that were thought out by a designer for months, and hello, Rainbow Bright and Patriots’ paraphernalia! Don’t get me wrong. I know that giving employees the power of choice and encouraging them to be themselves leads to happiness and increased productivity, but let’s find a better way to express personality in your workspace. For example, instead of collaging your workstation in snapshots of your kids or dog, choose one special photo, convert it to black and white, and place it as your desktop background. I’ve done this and love it. It has more visibility and allows my coworkers to admire my hot husband.

  • Pick one personal item you love and put it in a spot with high visibility to you – not to others. We’re all different people, and one person’s love is another’s hate. Instead of proudly displaying your Pez collection on your desk surface, clear some room for work, then put your collection in your top drawer instead. Every time you open the drawer, you’ll smile.
  • Be choosy. Aim to keep no more than three personal, non-essential work items at your desk and see how it makes you feel. Surround yourself with fewer items and they won’t get lost in the crowd. More emphasis will be placed on the items you love, bringing you more joy. Try it for one month, and you’ll likely find you have more clarity and a sense of calm and productivity. If not, then bring back some items. Minimalism doesn’t have to be cold. The point is to feel better while you work and to be more productive.
What NOT to do. When there is too much stuff in sight, people have a more difficult time being productive.

Use technology. Paper is the number one culprit when it comes to a disorganized office. By clearing out the paper and going digital, you’re both clearing out the room on your desk and in your brain – not to mention contributing in a way to save the world. Taking advantage of technology also simplifies things when working from multiple locations. It may be obvious but taking the time to start and commit to this system is what holds many of us back. Sometimes it’s hard to train your brain to do something differently, or to simply learn how to better use technology, but if you take that time upfront, it will yield significantly greater efficiency. I’m talking scanning, electronic folders, apps whatever it takes. I realize there are some documents that this cannot be applied to (for example, certain signed/legal/financial docs) but for everything else, try to convert to an electronic filing system. I use my camera to snap pics of many docs, then organize them on my phone. There are also many scanning apps you can use to help you stay on top of the paper mess. Go ahead. Try taking the leap.

Closed storage is your friend. Hide. Hide. It’s the name of the game. If you can’t throw something away, please hide it. The ugly things you need to keep can be hidden from sight! As someone responsible for designing the spaces where people work, I choose closed storage as much as possible. If you have control over your storage, choose something with doors to hide the clutter. If you have open storage, use closed bins or magazine boxes. Just remember that everything you decide to keep must have a home. A place for everything will make you more likely to put it all away. Inevitably you’ll have something ugly. Just put the ugly things away.

A thing of beauty! Pretty and practical.

What Joy? Let’s be real. I don’t know exactly what Marie Kondo will discuss in her upcoming book, Joy at Work, but in my experience, for most people, navigating any document titled “report” along with many other tasks associated with your job, may not immediately spark joy. My point is, that in work – and life – there will always be things you’ll need to surround yourself with to perform your job that just may not make you happy. That’s real. That’s life and it’s okay. Here’s one simple way to cheer yourself up from this reality – it works for me. Take an inventory of your old, ugly pens and then head to the Container Store. Treat yourself to a pack of new, pretty pens and refill that pencil cup, baby! If you’re like me, you’ll be overcome with simple joy in no time!

If you’re struggling and wondering why you’re doing all of this, remember the end goal – clear the clutter and feel better. Research has found that clearing away clutter at work and at home has measurable benefits. Since a cluttered work environment takes a toll on your brain, mental well-being, and your overall health[2], I promise you, it’s all well worth the effort. Good luck!

Keep it tidy!

[1] Forbes.com: Is This The Future Of Open Office Space?

[2] Prevagen.com: More Mess Means More Stress: How Clutter Affects Your Brain



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