January 11 is National Clean Off Your Desk Day, so what better time to tackle that messy work desk?

Do you really need that stack of old papers, vacation knick-knacks, phone chargers and abundance of pens and pencils cluttering your desk? Probably not, so here are some tips from organizing experts to help you conquer the cubicle chaos.


Put papers in folders

Start at the top of your desk, gather papers into a pile and go through sheet by sheet making decisions of where each should go, suggested Monica Friel, president and founder of Chicago-based Chaos to Order.

If your files are already overflowing, get a file box and create temporary files so “like papers” can be placed together.

“Keep file folders and 3-by-3 posted notes handy so if you have a project – everything related to the project — can go into that file,” Friel said. “Don’t get stuck thinking, ‘I don’t have a file for it,’ or hung up on color coding the labels and have piles all over your desk.”

The shredder is your friend

When sorting through your papers, have a garbage bin, recycling bin and shredder so papers don’t get put into another pile. “Let’s deal with everything now,” Friel said.


Keep it relevant

Clear off anything that’s no longer current or relevant to make room for your current work, said Lisa Zaslow, a professional organizer in New York City and founder of Gotham Organizers.

“In this fast-paced world we live in, things get old really quickly so the report that was on your desk two weeks ago is now old news,” Zaslow says.

Corral projects together

Zaslow suggests using a vertical file stand so current projects are handy, but it holds them up vertically so it takes up little space.

Wire mesh baskets are another option. “These baskets nest inside each other so you can actually create a mini-tower and they take up very little surface space,” said Andrew Mellen, author and professional organizer in New York City.

“When you’re working you can “un-nest” them and spread them out side by side. When you’re done, stack them up inside each other and put them on the floor or credenza,” Mellen said.

Limit office supplies

Office supplies used daily should go on the desk; others can be stashed in a drawer or supply cabinet.

“Take a look at how many pens, pencils, rolls of tape and letter openers you have lying around your desk. How many do you need and can they be put into a nice organized place?” Friel asked.

The same is true for electronics, phone chargers and chords, which can be stored in an electronics tub or closet as opposed to scattered across your desktop.


Easy on the personal knick-knacks

“If you have a lot of framed photos or other items on your desk, be mindful of when your decorations are crowding out your work surface and be a little more judicious about what’s going to stay,” Mellen said. “So keep a photo or sentimental object that’s particularly meaningful.”

Don’t chase the rainbow

Keep the sticky notes to a minimum.

“One or two is great; they’re colorful and remind you to call Bob at 2:30,” Zaslow said. “But when it becomes a whole sunshine halo around your monitor, they tend to become a distraction.”

Sticky notes should be used for important short-term reminders.


Start a routine

“Once you’ve done an initial clean sweep, maintenance is really not that big of a deal,” Zaslow said. “Ideally, go through your stuff at the end of every day, but once a week – Friday afternoon or Monday morning — seems to work well for people. That way it just becomes a habit.”

Liz Wolf