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Ask Maeve: How can my husband and I comfortably share a home office?

The following ‘Ask Maeve’ was featured as part of the Good Housekeeping Spring Cleaning Challenge. Hometalk bloggers from across the country used Maeve’s Method to tackle their most challenging trouble spots at home, with ‘before’ and ‘after’ results featured in this awesome 11 Unbelievable Spring Cleaning Transformations article.

Check out Pam’s amazing home office transformation below or on her blog, Organizing the “Desk of Disaster”. Pam, well done, your new home office looks great!

UntitledHubby and I share this large corner desk. He owns a comic book store, and I’m a blogger and have a direct sales business. We each have tons of paperwork, calendars, schedules, notes, reminders, bills, and the papers just keep piling up. Since it’s a corner desk, there’s lots of unused space behind the monitor. Pens and papers are stored in shoeboxes/coffee cups/etc with no organization. We’d like to have a place for each of us to keep our important papers. This is a shared space, so we’d like it to be comfortable for both of us (no pink storage boxes!). We’d especially like to make use of all the wasted space behind the monitor. – Pam

Hi Pam!

Yes, corner desks can be challenging. And I can see how with the current setup you and your hubby are feeling cramped and working on top of each. The good news is that you have more than enough desk space. The trick here is to figure out how to maximize it. Here are five steps that should double your office real-estate and help turn your money-maker into a real office work-horse. Keep me posted!


Pam's 'before' - a cluttered desk with no space to work

Step 1. Free Your Desk

Quick question, is the filing cabinet on the right movable? If so, see if you can move it out from under the desk completely. This will allow you to slide your computer three feet to the right. Yes, I am totally saying to move your computer from the corner, to the right. Just because it’s designed as a corner desk doesn’t mean you have to use it that way. If you can do this, I strongly recommend going for it. Doing so will instantly free up tons of prime real estate desktop space.

And if not, that’s OK too. You can keep the corner facing computer. But, I would like to see you move your printer to the floor. I do this a lot with home offices spaces. Printers hog up valuable desktop land, so we make this strategic shift to the floor. To keep the printer from getting dirty station the printer on a tiny roller rack so it’s off the floor. And, as a bonus, you can slide it in and out as needed for easier reach. Here’s a quick example, but you can search for one that suits your tastes.

Step 2: Free Your Feet

Before you relocate the printer, do yourself a favor and tackle the clutter below. People say, ‘clean home, clean head’. I say, ‘clean floor, clear pathway in life ahead’. This room is your money-maker, so let’s raise the bar on the energy of your workspace and move things up off the floor. You are both entrepreneurs so honor your office by setting a clear intention for what needs to get done. And, by giving your bodies the full physical space they need to be productive everyday.

If you do need under-desk space for storage, keep it limited to only one or two items (like a trash can or one storage tub). For example, try something functional and contained, like a plastic drawer unit that will help to hold surplus office supplies while staying ‘lite’ and not bringing heavy energy to the floor.

Step 3: Tackle The Paper Beast

It’s time to lighten the paper load. Paperwork is the hardest thing to organize in life, as it has high volume. And, each piece of paper is often asking us to do multiple things at once. But, we can tame it. The first thing to remember is that paper comes into our lives in only of two ways: we carry it in the door (mail, flyers, notebooks) or we create it (printed paper, sticky notes, to-do lists). As I often say, there is no paper fairy dumping paper onto our desks at night. So, first we must be accountable for what we bring in or generate.

To minimize inflow, start with what you can easily control. Can you do paperless billing? Stop unnecessary catalogs or mail from coming in? Scan receipts as they come in, or send them to a receipt scanner company to be digitized? These are awesome first steps to consider, if you are not doing them already. Next, look at what you create. I see sticky notes and lots of paper that looks like it was printed. See if you can start reducing your paper consumption.

Pam's 'after' - clean, clear and ready for business!

Step 4: Create Categories According To You

Next, start to sort through one cluster of papers at a time. Pick one piece up, and ask yourself, “what is this?” Your answer should tell a story. So, less This is a grocery receipt and more, This is a grocery receipt for breakfast I buy weekly for my sales team, I generate these weekly, and need to track it for tax purposes. Does that make sense? You are working to find the story that tells the purpose of each item of paper, not the what the item is technically. Work to find the story that tells the purpose for each item, not what the item technically is.

As you work, begin to make piles of like papers in your workspace in what I call ‘categories according to you’. For example, you might have a pile called, ‘sales lead ideas I collect to expand my business’, another called ‘promotion ideas for the store I want to try out’, and another called ‘invoices I have to scan and file for tax purposes’. The goal is to get specific about how these pieces of paper function in your life. Be honest, and have some fun as you sort – each piece of paper has a story to tell about why it is in your life.

Do this pile by pile until you’ve touched every piece of paper once. And don’t be afraid to toss paper you are ready to release as you work. Once cleared, make a list of your categories. This is important, as what you have determines where you place it back.

Step 5: Create His and Hers

With the desktop cleared and the paperwork sorted, I suggest you each claim a territory. Then start to put paperwork and office supplies back in systems that make sense for you. I love using what you have, so repurpose your existing paper storage containers if you can. Or, if you are ready, treat yourself to a new matching desktop organizer in the style of your choice.

You can each have your own section of the desk. Or, you can both use an area as a shared ‘paperwork’ zone. It’s OK to share space and to have individual space too. Whatever you decide, keep your communication lines open as you work. If I was wrong and you can’t slide your computer over, don’t worry, the monitor can live right where it is. In that case you might want to set up ‘his and her’ workspaces on either side of the monitor: one of you takes left, and the other takes right. However you set things back up, do you.

Good luck, and keep me posted!

Check out Pam’s amazing home office transformation on Organizing the “Desk of Disaster”

Organizing the “Desk of Disaster”

BEFORE. We each have tons of paperwork, calendars, schedules, notes, reminders, bills, and the papers just keep piling up. Since it’s a corner desk, there’s lots of unused space behind the monitor. Pens and papers are stored in shoeboxes/coffee cups/etc with no organization. What a mess!

Photo Credits:

Maeve Richmond is the founder and head coach of Maeve's Method, a home organization system based in New York City. She specializes in parents & kids, couples, small space solutions, space planning and decorative elements for the home. Contact her at [email protected] or @MaeveRichmond.

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