Help me clean my desk
October 9, 2010 6:26 PM   Subscribe

My desk is a mess. Help?

It's taken me decades, but I've finally managed to get most aspects of my life organized. I mostly pay my bills on time. I wash my dishes and laundry and even fold it and put it away right away. I clean out my car and eat right and get exercise. But for the life of me, I cannot manage to keep my desk clean. My room in general tends to be the last to get clean (I try to prioritize common space shared with my roommate along with helping my daughter keep her room clean), and my desk in particular is a disaster. Every few months I clean it, and within days it is covered with crap: whatever I had in my pockets at the end of the day, papers, important and non, gum, pens, odds and ends, change, BART cards, etc.

Do you have any special tricks, techniques, or ideas for how i can organize this last wasteland in my life, and actually maintain a usable workspace?
posted by serazin to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
My life revolves around the Real Simple products and ideas found here: They've really helped me be a more organized desk user.

What I've found is that if you discipline yourself to setting aside 5 minutes a day to cleaning and organizing your desk space both in the morning and evening, you're much more likely to maintain the space consistently and keep yourself in organized peace. Don't use it as a storage place. Don't use it for random crap. Let it be your desk and your desk alone.
posted by patronuscharms at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2010

You need a specific, designated place to put each of those items so they don't just wind up on your desk. Get a filing cabinet and devise a system for important papers (i.e., I have one with folders for utility and credit card bills, tax receipts, pay statements, etc.), get a jar for change, keep recycling and garbage bins by your desk, and so on. If these things don't belong your desk, you need to figure out where they really belong and make it easy for yourself to put them there.
posted by orange swan at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try a set of smallish bins, like what you would stack to put nuts and bolts in, and label each one. That way you have an "area" to dump crap in. Get some plastic hanging folder boxes, and use those to sort receipts and to-keep stuff in. This helps me a lot, but even so, I still dedicate every other Sunday morning to sorting stuff.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 6:31 PM on October 9, 2010

At the end of every single day, process everything on your desk and put it away where it belongs.
posted by Theloupgarou at 6:40 PM on October 9, 2010

Perhaps you can set up reminders to your calendar or cell phone to tidy the desk on Tuesdays and Fridays.
posted by dragonplayer at 8:41 PM on October 9, 2010

You need someplace to put all that crap at the end of the day. You WILL NOT stop and take the time to put everything in assigned little places -- it's the end of the day, you're not that kind of person, that's why the stuff's on your desk in the first place.

So, something to try to keep in mind: the top of your desk is incredibly valuable real estate; don't litter, and don't store things there. Then I suggest you get a small box or basket -- one that appeals to you! -- and as you take things out of your pockets drop the really important stuff, like keys and BART card, into the box. If you routinely have important papers, you can have an inbox and drop those papers in. Don't do anything with the papers, just try to recognize the ones that will drive you crazy if you can't find them quickly when you need them.

Then have a larger box or basket on the floor and drop EVERYTHING ELSE in there. You can root through it if you need something that ended up there. You can sort through it as often or as infrequently as you want. It is a Hot Spot. You can't avoid having Hot Spots in your home. They are necessary, just like trash cans, but they need to be contained and dealt with regularly. But in the meantime, the top of your desk is CLEAN. Yay. Good job.
posted by kestralwing at 9:20 PM on October 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

I have a dedicated crate/thing for "paper I should save just in case but probably won't ever touch" (everything that's NOT something that needs action or obvious trash). It does work really, really well. Paper contained takes up a lot less space than paper sitting around on your desk.
posted by anaelith at 10:25 PM on October 9, 2010

You need a landing strip: a designated place where you dump out your pockets. It shouldn't be your desk; is there another place you can do it instead? Get a giant plate and use that as a landing pad for keys, phone, sunglasses, gum, etc. Maybe even hook up a charger right there so your phone can charge in the bowl as soon as you get home. And put a shoebox there for receipts, and a jar for change. When you empty your pockets, all the places for pocket stuff are all right there, so it's easy to keep that stuff organized.

My system is to have one drawer for pens and stuff- I just shovel all office supplies into there, no need to organize them and they're out of sight in a flash.
All receipts go in the shoebox; all change in the jar, so they don't land on the desk at all.

On my desk there's a giant clothespin for "stuff to look at soon". The benefit of the clothespin is that when it's really full it falls over, so whenever I can't stand it up any more it's time to go through it.

Have a recycling or trash bin right by the desk and open mail right there; get rid of envelopes and stuff immediately so you don't have that stuff lying around. If mail is urgent, deal with it then file the artifacts in the shoebox. If it's not urgent throw it into the clothes peg and deal with it in a few days.

Most useful of all, just make a point of clearing off your desk before you leave the office or to sleep every night. It only takes a minute if you do it every day, and it's nice to start the day with a clean desk.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 10:33 PM on October 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

For odds and ends (paperclips, safety pins, rubber bands, quarters for laundry, rubber bands, sticky page markers, spare buttons, random small screws and hardware stuff) I use spice rack jars. You can keep the rack if you want, but I use the jars on their own. I used to have a big Bucket-o-Crap where all of that was tossed into, but surprisingly, the jars have helped me keep all that stuff organized and easy to find for a couple of years now. The little metal and magnetic ones like"> this are also good, but I just used a cheapo one from TJ Maxx.
posted by raztaj at 6:31 AM on October 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ask yourself, why does this stuff end up on your desk?

* Is it simply because your desk is the nearest flat surface which is clear? In that case, the problem isn't that you dump stuff on your desk. The problem is that your other flat surfaces are already covered with Stuff. Clean those other surfaces, and keep them clean.

* Is because secretly you hate your desk, and resent its purpose, because you have come to associate it with the soul-numbing ennui of paying bills and filling out paperwork?

If so, maybe you need to re-think your home set-up. If your desk was magically kept spotless, what else could you use it for? Could it become a place to work on hobbies, a beauty station, a nice place to sit and drink coffee in the morning and check your email?

* Sometimes we mistake cause and effect. The classic example is the person who says, "I would work out more, if only I had a treadmill." They buy a treadmill and guess what? It's a great place to hang damp towels.

You may be thinking, "I would use my desk more, if it weren't covered in crap." But perhaps you cover it in crap because you barely use it.

Do you have a desk simply because you think you ought to? What else could you use that space for?

Could you get a laptop, and check your email from the kitchen table or the living room? Do you find yourself doing desk-related tasks elsewhere, because it's more convenient, or because you feel exiled when you sit all alone at your desk in your room, or because other places are closer to the stuff you need to complete those tasks?
posted by ErikaB at 7:41 AM on October 10, 2010

Here's what I do. YMMV.

*Keys and phone always go in the same spot at the corner of the desk.

*A small drawer for all money-related stuff (bills, tax documents) and also my checkbooks.

*A small drawer for oft-used supplies like scissors and stapler and envelopes.

*A big crate for infrequently-used supplies like hole-punch or blank CD's.

*The big flat drawer just under the desktop has pens in one spot, then one big spot for miscellaneous small crap (business cards, clothespins, etc.) - if I need a small random thing I look for it there, and then there is a plastic organizer with little bins for paperclips, safety pins, staples, etc.

*THIS IS THE BEST ONE - I bought a nice box made of pretty paper and another one for my partner. All papers that are sitting on the top of the desk go in the box, out of site. If I need to find them I know they are in there. When the box fills up I sort and empty it.

This is not exactly a system of perfect organization, because I know that such a system would never work for me. For the first time in my life my desk is somewhat clean.
posted by mai at 12:37 PM on October 10, 2010

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