Let's get something out in the open: my office gets messy. When things get out of control, I have to schedule a time with myself to get it de-cluttered and back to the point where I can stand to work in it again. I don't like to repeat that process too often! Small businesses, particularly entrepreneurs who work part or all of their time at home, are especially prone to clutter sneaking in to their prime spaces. So in the spirit of "an ounce of prevention" and all that, I thought I would share with you some concepts to help keep the clutter from creeping back in so quickly after an office reorganization:
1. "Free" does not always equal "good" (same goes for that nasty word "bargain"). You go to a conference and bring home a bag of smiley-face stress balls, fridge magnets and branded notepads...that ultimately gather dust. Or you walk into the office supply store and see that packs of paper clips are "buy 5, get one free!". When are you ever going to use up 6 boxes of paper clips? Vendors are masters at using the word “free” to get you into their store or on their website, because it implies you have nothing to lose. Nothing, that is, except the space on your shelves or in your drawers when they're filled with useless samples, trinkets or extra supplies. The next time something is offered for free (or buy one get one) stop and ask yourself whether or not it is something you already have, or truly need. It's not a bargain if you never use it, so just keep on moving past those nifty sun visors, coasters and drink cozies, knowing that your office space will be the better for it.
2. Shop for supplies with a list. It's easy for a small business owner to get carried away with supplies - particularly when first setting up an office. The simple, commonsense approach of creating a list will save you time, money AND clutter. No more wandering up and down aisles without a clear agenda, and no more buying too much of something because you can’t remember whether or not you still have it in the supply cabinet. I have a special list on my Wunderlist app dedicated just to "office supplies". When I am close to running out of label maker tape, or Sharpies, or business cards, I note it on the list and schedule a trip or online order on my calendar. If you’re more of a paper-and-pen person, purchase a large stickie note tablet that goes on the wall or whiteboard, and add to it only as you notice your supply getting down to roughly a week's worth of usable items. Lists also help you to avoid the impulse buys that you may later regret (florescent white board markers?? duck-shaped memo holder??).
3. Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe. Whether it’s your snail mailbox or your email inbox, unwanted newsletters, ads and other marketing flotsam and jetsam often just get piled up and ignored. Take action by cancelling subscriptions to magazines or trade journals you never get around to reading, managing your email preferences for newsletters, and requesting that your address be taken off of marketing lists. Dun & Bradstreet maintains business-to-business mail lists, and you can contact them directly to opt your business out: call 1-800-333-0505 or send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are still receiving mail directed to former employees, check out the EcoLogical Mail Coalition for a quick, easy and free solution. For junk mail at home, you can also visit the Direct Marketing Association’s www.DMAchoice.org* for ways to opt out of unwanted mail and credit card offers. Do remember, it can take several weeks to several months to get names and addresses completely off of marketing lists (but it's totally worth the time and effort).
These tips are by no means an exhaustive list of office clutter solutions, but all are great starts to get ahead of the game. The more we can do to prevent useless items from coming into the office in the first place, the less we have to maintain or deliberate over later. What methods do you use to combat "clutter creep"?
*Note that DMAchoice.org is only for residential mail, as opposed to business-to-business marketing mail.
Sara Skillen - Certified Professional Organizer®, Certified Organizer Coach®, wife, mom, and serial list-maker. Learning to trust my intuition more every day. Shall we work together?