Home offices are great — until they transform from a concentration-supporting workspace into a drop-zone for all those extra files, boxes, games and more that don’t quite fit in the living room or other rooms of the home. Small-space home offices tucked into a larger room may not have the same problem, but it never hurts to take an honest look at any potential clutter culprits and toss them out before they overwhelm what should be an organized home office.
Some records and files should be kept for years, or indefinitely; others can be tossed once the year is up. Items like these have their own rules to determine when (or if) they should be disposed of, but for the most part, anything that’s not needed should be tossed. See the list below for common home office items that should be thrown away. While sifting through them, keep an eye out for anything else that hasn’t been used in a while and won’t be used any time soon. Chances are, it can join the other things in the get-rid-of pile.
1. Years-old files
Some files, like tax records or warranties, should be kept. Others, like bank statements, loan documents and car titles, should be held securely until they’re no longer relevant. Titles should be passed along when the car is sold, bank statements should be shredded once the next one arrives, and so on.
2. The cardboard box holding essential records
Essential records that should never, ever be thrown away — think birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage licenses and similar documents — merit better storage than an easily damaged box. Something as hard-core as a home safe isn’t necessary, but consider a fireproof, waterproof, lockable steel file box instead.
3. Cardboard boxes in general
While we’re at it, get rid of any cardboard boxes, period. They’re an eyesore and a distraction, and there are safer, more permanent storage methods for records, files and other documents or keepsakes. Cardboard boxes holding unpacked items from the last move or used for seasonal storage should be tucked somewhere out-of-sight, such as in a closet or an attic.
4. Defunct technology
Technology changes quickly, and old tech is a major enemy in the fight against clutter. Bite the bullet and toss keyboards, monitors and desktop computers that aren’t used or that don’t even work anymore. These items take up a lot of space, and they’re not going to be functional again. Include old floppy disks and even CDs, especially if current computers don’t have a disk drive, in this clear-out. If disks have important information on them, there are services that can transfer it to a flash drive or portable hard drive that can plug into current computers.
5. Office snacks
Keeping a stash of chocolates, chips, cookies or other office-ready snack in a desk drawer or on a nearby shelf sounds like a great idea, until it becomes obvious that resisting something that’s within arm’s reach is nearly impossible. Move these treats to the kitchen. Getting up to get something when you’re actually hungry will be a great break from work, and it will prevent snacking when you’re not hungry. Avoiding food stashes outside the kitchen will also reduce the chances of an unfortunate ant invasion. The same goes for any dirty dishes or mugs left on the desk.
6. Unsteady furniture
A wobbly chair or surface can be tolerated in certain conditions; in a home office is not one of those conditions. An unsteady desk can be distracting, especially when one is struggling to focus on the task at hand, and an uneven seat just encourages fidgeting. Find a way to fix these wobbles, or start shopping for new home office furniture.
7. Outdated reference books
If keeping up-to-date on conventions, rules, laws, definitions and other things of that sort is part of the job, any outdated reference books are all but useless. Plus, these tomes tend to take up a lot of shelf space. Replace them with the most recent versions, or purchase digital copies if space is really in short supply.
(Real Simple magazine provides smart, realistic solutions to everyday challenges. Online at www.realsimple.com.)
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