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The Organized Home Office

Vicki Norris
Restoring Order

CBN.comI hope you are gaining inspiration and motivation to tackle your organizing challenges through this column. Thanks to all of you who have engaged with my advice and who have posted questions and comments on the message board. Organizing is one of the hottest consumer topics today because we all have at least one space or area of our life that needs more order. Some only need a touch-up and others need an overhaul!

At my professional organizing company, the most requested household space is the home office, also known as the “den” or the “study.” The home office is the most complex room in the home because our personal and professional lives often converge in one space. Whether you are paying household bills, bringing work home, or running a company from the spare room, you need an effective home office.

To keep things interesting, this room often multi-tasks as a guest space or craft room. In addition, kids like to gather here to use the computer and do homework. In the wake of all this traffic, paper and junk piles up, nomadic items get left behind, drawers and file cabinets become tightly packed with who-knows-what, and not a single surface is in sight.

Pretty soon we don’t know where to begin. We often just shut the door on the mess that lurks within. To complicate matters, modern homes are business centers as we shop from home, have groceries and dry cleaning delivered, and ship packages from our front door step. All the world is coming to us, but we are embarrassed to let them in!

In my new book, Restoring Order™ to Your Home, I’ve dedicated the longest chapter to the home office because it’s such an important space. I could write many columns of advice focusing on the home office (and perhaps I will if you like), but I’d like to start by offering you some ideas to plan your space and get started.

One or Two Spaces?

Properly planning your home office will prepare you to successfully execute the activities central to your professional and personal lives.

Few people have the luxury of having both a personal office and a dedicated business office within the home. Combining them into one space can cause blurred boundaries, clutter, and confusion. On the other hand, the organic inseparability of our personal and business lives may make it difficult to “turn on” and “turn off” roles and track information if we set up two offices.

The following considerations will help you assess whether to set up one office that caters to both personal and professional needs or two offices with distinct purposes:

Two Offices: Personal and Professional

If you decide you want separate spaces for personal and business use, determine which activities will take place in each environment. For example, the small desk space that may adjoin the kitchen could be outfitted with laptop, file drawers, calendar, paper processing, and supplies to create a household hub. Within this hub, home activities -- like paying bills, making appointments, coordinating schedules, and sorting mail --could be executed. The spare room or “office” could then be dedicated to professional activities.

The downside to having two offices may include:

  • Losing track of information
  • Not having clearly established duties
  • Duplicating supplies and equipment.

However, two separate spaces can make sense when one spouse works from home, and one spouse runs the home. To achieve two successful office spaces, the activities taking place in each space need to be clearly defined, so each party can fulfill individual roles in his or her own space. If you are a single person who wants to set up both personal and professional offices, you will want to designate the tasks that will take place in each space and set aside dedicated time to work in each location in order to preserve the effectiveness of both spaces.

One Dual-Purpose Office

If your home does not afford two likely office locations (like most of my clients), or if you opt to conjoin your personal and business lives in one space, anticipate more activity and tasks taking place in that environment.

To successfully balance your work and home life in one room, start by assessing the activities performed and space needed.

1. List all the personal tasks that will take place in the office (like capturing mail, paying household bills, and coordinating the family schedule). Determine how much space and equipment (like a paper sorter and laptop) might be needed to perform these activities.
2. Evaluate your professional job description. What tasks do you perform on a daily basis? Are your tasks primarily executed electronically? Do you need surface space to assemble packets or place peripherals? Will prolific reference material require bookshelves? Do you need slots for forms or drawers for supplies?

The downside of combining the personal and professional space may include:

  • A more crowded work space
  • The stress associated with prolific tasks
  • The temptation to neglect necessary work for personal projects

Make Room for the Essentials

Whatever you decide, you’ll need to make enough room for you to function properly. If you have two spaces, be very clear on the types of items and papers you allow in each unique space. If you only have one space, you may have to get creative by maximizing space (like optimizing vertical space with wall storage or the closet with a built-in system).

Organize your office before you think about décor and accessories or you’ll end up with more clutter on your hands. A lot of people opt for the shortcut and go straight to products (selecting cool bins and containers and knick knacks) to solve their organizing challenges. These folks end up disappointed and buried in plastic. Put first things first and dedicate enough space for:

1. Supply Storage (cabinets, shelves, drawers)
2. Equipment (computer, printer, fax, scanner, etc.)
3. Work Surface (space to spread out and work)
4. Paper Systems (processing incoming paper, storing projects, filing). Unless permanent paper is stored elsewhere, most well-designed home filing systems will merit 4 small drawers or one lateral cabinet and most professionals need twice that amount of file space.

As I’ve shared with you, home offices are complex spaces and much more could be said about them, but hopefully this primer has sparked some ideas for you. Perhaps you’ve gained the initiative to divide an overcrowded space into two offices or join up two sprawling spaces into one. Maybe you’ve been inspired to sit down and map out your personal and professional job descriptions; you’ll gain perspective and self-awareness from this valuable process. Perhaps you’ve pinpointed some problem areas within your existing home office that you plan to tackle. Whatever you’ve gained, go and apply it! The savvy organizer ACTIVATES their ideas, even if they end up changing course later. Organizing isn’t about getting it “perfect;” it’s about enhancing your quality of life.

Here’s to reclaiming your office and your life!
~Vicki Norris

Some parts adapted from Restoring Order™ to Your Home a room-by-room household organizing guide copyright © 2007 by Vicki Norris (available in bookstores and at Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.

About the Author: Vicki Norris is an expert organizer, business owner, speaker, television personality, and author who inspires people to live out their priorities. Norris is a regular on HGTV’s nationally syndicated Mission: Organization, and is a recurrent source and contributor to national lifestyle publications including Quick & Simple magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Real Simple magazine. Norris’ premiere book Restoring Order™ : Organizing Strategies to Reclaim Your Life™ (copyright 2006) is also published by Harvest House Publishers.

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