How to Tame a Cluttered Office

Filed Under: Cleaning Up Clutter

Q:

"My ADD husband always seems to be in the process of organizing his office but is never done. He works at home and has mountains of technology pieces and parts as well as books and papers. He sees this organizing as progress and I see it as a never-ending project. How could I help him actually complete the process without taking over? His office is very complex and I don't understand his work well enough to take the lead." -- PF, Washington

Holly Uverity
A:

It is important that you each realize that organizing is a process, and it truly is never 'done'. You can create a system that works for you now, but I can guarantee you that the system will have to be tweaked periodically to continue to work.

Additionally, it's critical that you talk to each other and agree on what the office should look like - your definition of organized is undoubtedly different from his. Also create 'job descriptions' - commit to each other how you will each work towards getting and keeping the office organized. "I'll file for you if you put everything that needs to be filed in one place" "I'll keep this area clear if you keep that area clear"

While you may not understand his work well enough to organize his technology pieces and parts, you can create a filing system for his books and papers. Depending on the number of books he has, one option can be to color code the books and the bookshelves.

Categorize the books by subject and assign the category a color. Buy small colored dots at any office supply store, put the dot on the spine of the book and put the same color dot on the appropriate shelf of the bookcase. It's then simply a matter of matching colors to get the books on the right shelf. For example, all the XXX books would have a blue dot and be on the blue shelf of the bookcase.

Using this system not only makes it easy to put away the books he currently owns, but it also tells him where to put the new books he buys. Be sure to create and post a legend so you know which color equals which category and you don't have to remember.

For his office papers, start with two simple categories, Action and Reference. Create an area for Reference To Be Filed: a tray, a bin, a box, the lid to a box, a basket, etc. so he can drop those papers that need to be filed into that container and you can file them for him. You will probably have to work together in the beginning to create the Referencefiles, especially if you don't understand his work. Be sure to start with broad categories as file names but stay away from Miscellaneous, Reference, etc.

Also remember to create the categories based on how the information is going to be used and not where it came from. File names like 'Emails', 'Websites' and 'Articles' are useless; they don't tell you what's in the file, they only tell you where the information came from. His Action files should be kept close to him so they are easily accessible as he's working.

If he doesn't have drawers in his desk that he can put the files into, either buy a small cabinet that he can keep close to his desk or get him a desktop sorter so he can keep his current files on his desk. If his projects don't lend themselves to files, you can look at a literature sorter, which is a series of 'cubbies', that he can comfortably and neatly store his projects in. They come in a variety of sizes and can easily be found in office supply stores and catalogs.

Holly Uverity is an organization expert who runs the Houston-based firm Office Organizers. She is the founding president of Houston Professional Organizers and is a very active member of NAPO, the National Association of Professional Organizers.

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