Creating a minimalist workspace — from Zen Habits

We are delighted to have Leo Babauta of Zen Habits as a guest columnist today. Please give him a warm welcome and check out his awe-inspiring website afterward. We thank Leo for being a part of our month of sharing.

How minimalist is your workspace? An uncluttered workspace is a thing of beauty.

I write a lot about minimalism on Zen Habits, including guides to creating a minimalist home, minimalist housework, and beating clutter entropy.

On Unclutterer, my favorite feature is the Workspace of the Week, with its cool setups.

Today, I thought I’d share my pretty minimalist workspace, and share some thoughts on how to go about creating one of your own.

What’s a minimalist workspace?
That question will have different answers for each person. There can be no single definition. The ultimate minimalist workspace, I think, would be to have no desk or papers or computer or anything of the kind — just yourself. You’d think, and talk, and maybe sit on the floor.

Of course, that won’t work for most of us, so it’s more useful to look at our minimum requirements, and focus on creating a workspace that addresses these essentials and nothing more.

So the first step is for you to consider your requirements for working, and what’s essential to your workflow. If possible, streamline and simplify that workflow and those requirements. Then, once you’ve got that down to a minimum, see what the minimum setup would be for those essentials and your workflow. Eliminate everything unnecessary.

What are your requirements?
It’s interesting to note that what you think your requirements are might not be the minimum. They might just be what you’re used to doing.

Taking myself as an example: I used to work with tons of paper, files, sticky notes, and all the usual office tools (pens, pencils, notebooks, pads, stapler, hole puncher, whiteout, calendar, personal organizer, etc.). But then I realized that it’s possible to work without paper, and I’ve eliminated the need for all that stuff. In fact, as I’ve eliminated paper, I’ve eliminated the need for drawers.

Now, you might not have that luxury, and I’m not saying you need to go that extreme. Your needs may be different than mine — but the point is to see if it’s possible to change the way you work, so that you still get the essentials done, without all the same requirements. It’s worth some thought at least — and if you make changes, as I did, you might find that changing things in small increments is better. I didn’t do away with paper altogether. I did it in steps, eliminating different needs for paper one at a time.

My Minimalist Setup

Basically, I have an iMac and a table. No need for papers, files, drawers, other tools.

I work from home these days, and I do everything online. I do have a phone (elsewhere in my house, so it doesn’t disturb me) and a cell phone (also elsewhere), but I don’t have a PDA, an iPod, a printer (though my wife has ordered one for her needs), a scanner, a fax machine, or anything like that. I don’t print anything and I don’t use fax (an outdated technology).

On my computer, I mostly just use Firefox, as I do nearly everything online. I also use text programs for writing (TextEdit, WriteRoom mostly) and a couple other utilities such as CyberDuck for uploading files, Quicksilver for everything, and GIMP for photo editing.

All my organizing needs are taken care of on the computer: Address Book, Gmail, text files for to-do lists and errands and ideas and projects, Gcal for scheduling.

Tips for Creating Your Own Minimalist Workspace
You won’t need to have my setup, but once you’ve determined your minimum needs, here are some tips for making your workspace as minimalist as possible. Not all tips will work for you, so pick and choose which ones will work best for your workflow.

  1. Have one inbox. If paper is a part of your life, keep an inbox tray on top of your desk and make sure ALL papers, including phone messages and sticky notes, go into this tray. You might have to train your co-workers if they’re not already used to this. Don’t leave papers scattered all over your desk, unless you’re actually working on them at this moment. You might also have a “working file” folder for papers you’re working on but not at this moment, but put this working file in a drawer, so that it’s out of the way. Clear out your inbox each day — nothing should go back in there after you process them. It’s not a storage bin, but an inbox. Read more on clearing your inbox.
  2. Clear your desktop. Aside from your computer, your inbox tray, your phone, and maybe a nice photo of a loved one, there should be nothing on top of your desk. No papers (again, unless you’re working on them), no notes, no stapler or pens or other junk. Clear as much of it off as humanly possible. If you want to include a couple other essentials, you should, but be sure they absolutely must be there. Keep it as clear as possible, as a clear desk is a relaxing workspace.
  3. Get rid of knick-knacks. This goes with the above item, but many people don’t even think about all the little trinkets they have on top of their desk. They’re usually unnecessary. Toss ‘em!
  4. Clear the walls. Many people have all kinds of stuff posted on their walls. It creates visual clutter. Get them off your walls. If it’s a reference guide, put it on your computer and set up a hotkey so you can call the guide up with a keystroke when needed.
  5. Clear your computer desktop. Many people also have tons of icons on their computer desktop. It’s the same principle as a real desktop — clear it of everything unnecessary, so you can have a nice simple workspace. Keeping icons on your desktop is usually inefficient. It’s hard to find them among a jumble of files. If they’re necessary to open many times a day, file them away and use a hotkey to call them up. Quicksilver for Mac or Autohotkey for Windows are my favorite programs for this.
  6. Re-examine your paper needs. I started doing this a little over a year ago, and one by one, I realized I could eliminate my different needs for paper. I stopped printing stuff out to read (duh!) and just kept it on the computer. Yeah, that’s obvious. I also stopped keeping paper copies of files I had on the computer, as they just took up more space. Also fairly obvious, perhaps. I also asked people to stop faxing me stuff, and to email it instead. That should be obvious, but I think a lot of people ignore this step. I also asked people to stop sending me paper memos, and use email instead. Stop circulating documents by paper. I stopped bills and notices coming in by paper that I could get online. I stopped catalogs and newsletters coming in by mail. I still get some mail, but for the most part I toss it. You might not be able to eliminate paper, but you can probably reduce it.
  7. Eliminate unnecessary tools. Think about each tool you have in your desk, in your work area, and even in your office. Do you need a stapler and hole puncher? Do you need all those pens? Do you really need a fax machine? Or a scanner? You might not have control over all these types of tools, but if you do, eliminate the ones you don’t really need, maybe one at a time.
  8. Simplify your filing. As mentioned above, it’s unnecessary to keep paper copies of files you have on your computer or can access online. Back stuff up online if you’re worried about losing them. Having stuff digitally makes them searchable, which is much better than filing. Just archive, and search when necessary. If you do need paper files, keep them alphabetically and file immediately, so that you don’t have a huge “to be filed” pile. Once every few months, weed out unnecessary files.
  9. Go through each drawer. One drawer at a time, take out all the contents and eliminate everything you don’t need. It’s much nicer to use drawers if you can open them and see order. Have a designated spot for each item and make sure to put those items back in that spot immediately, every time.
  10. Use a minimalisk desk. As mentioned above, I just use a table, as I don’t need drawers. While you might not want to go to that extreme, you can find desks without too many drawers or contraptions or designs. Simple as possible is best.
  11. Clear the floor. There should be nothing on your floor but your desk and chair. No files, no boxes. Keep it clear!

112 Comments for “Creating a minimalist workspace — from Zen Habits”

  1. posted by My Desk's A Mess! on

    As I sit here reading this at my completely messy desk, I am realizing how much junk I have around me and how many things I don’t need… hopefully I can follow some of these tips and get to a place where I can be a before/after picture on Workspace of the Week!

  2. posted by Bethany on

    No external hard drive to back up files? I hope you’re using some sort of back up solution!

    At a glance, my desk looks very similar to yours but not so extreme. It’s just an iMac, keyboard (on the keyboard tray), mouse, external hard drive, lamp, and a picture frame. However, I use one of those Ikea cord managers underneath, where I keep my power strip, USB hub, and eyeTV. I keep all my my cables out of sight but within reach with a Kwik Klip.

  3. posted by anon on

    Fax is definitely an outdated technology, but a lot of organizations simply aren’t setup to handle scanning documents (when they need to send you something that’s not already electronic). For this, an electronic fax service is excellent – faxes are delivered to you as PDFs in your e-mail and you can send faxes by e-mail or through a web interface.

    Scanners however, are worthwhile for those of us who need to use paper on occasion. They allow things like meeting notes (if they were taken on paper) to be filed away electronically.

  4. posted by Rachel on

    That works if you were once a paper pusher, but do you have an ideas for those of us who use a million tools all the time?

    In a typical piece of work I use a number of (hand) files, a saw, a couple of blades, a hot plate with 2 separate containers of various chemicals, tweezers, a torch, a soldering block, a hammer and vice, and generally a bunch of other hand tools. My desk is 99.9% paperless (I do need to send out and keep track of invoices the old way for now) but it is still always a cluttered disaster with a clear workspace in the centre!

  5. posted by Shay on

    Normally, I love the declutterer and minimalist suggestions, but this one goes too far for me. If I worked from home, I might like it. But if I had to spend my 8-10 hours a day staring at a blank gray desk in a blank gray cubicle with blank gray walls, I’d cry myself to sleep!

  6. posted by Elena on

    While I agree with some of the decluttering tips, this desk is way depressing. I need to be able to glance over at a picture of my ridiculously gorgeous nephew or have one piece of kitsch that makes me smile.

  7. posted by pamela on

    Minimal as you define it, is an unattainable goal in my studio. As an artist, I have a gazillion tools, reference books, a large portfolio, etc. I work on several projects in any given week, and sometimes they simply cannot be put away as there is wet paint. I also work in several different media, requiring a large stock of differnt materials. Some of my work is done on the computer, so I need a scanner, and a large photo quality printer so that I can control my colors without owing my soul to the neighborhood print shop. Both of those perch atop my “small” flat file cabinet, necessary for storing several sizes and qualities of printer paper, as well as works in progress. I work at home, in one small bedroom. If I couldn’t store stuff on my walls, I’d be in trouble. I can just walk around in here without barking my shins, most of the time. I’d love to see some practical tips for my situation.

  8. posted by supersocco on

    I am thoroughly cleaning as I read this article.

  9. posted by Michele on

    That desk is incredible! I want mine to be just like it. I don’t think I ever realized how minimalist my taste is until I saw that.

  10. posted by jeremy on

    Yeah that looks cool and a lot of the tips are great ones. But I cant see not having drawers! I cant imagine not having pencils (grocery lists?) or a highlighter or a Sharpie. Just to be clear, Grandma’s still like handwritten thank you notes and letters from time to time, theyre weird that way.

    I’ve eliminated a lot from my home office, but I’m starting to think I’ve gotten it down to the bare essentials.

  11. posted by Jesse on

    Leo –

    Although I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to be as minimal as you, I’m trying very hard to minimalize. As per going paperless – I also don’t think I’ll ever be able to completely go paperless, but I’m trying to reduce my use here as well (not only is it good from an aesthetic / design / ease of organization standpoint – but its good for the environment also!)

    I had a question though. Since so much (if not all) of your life is on your computer now – what system(s) do you use to organize your documents electronically? You mentioned that you back-up your files online – which service do you use? In wanting to create a more digital organization system I am most concerned about data loss and file organizing / being able to find the date I have stored efficiently. Do you have any tips in this regard?

  12. posted by kat on

    This is way too extreme… and snobbish. I work from home, too, and if I had that desk I’d spend more time figuring out where to hide my coffee mug or pencil than getting any real work done.

  13. posted by Sue on

    “Get rid of knick-knacks. This goes with the above item, but many people don’t even think about all the little trinkets they have on top of their desk. They’re usually unnecessary. Toss ‘em!”

    I know we are learning an extreme here, but the photo of my family is necessary and not to be tossed, and the small potted ivy is mentally refreshing for me. There are personality types that need that streamlined and sparse workspace, but I need some visual beauty in sight to be content.

  14. posted by Jarick on

    I don’t think the author’s advocating eliminating everything off the desk, just eliminating what you don’t need.

    My desk at home is a mess, and I’ve dreamed of having just a table with a computer. Of course, my office has a huge desk with tons of drawers and cabinets built into the room, so it’s already cramped, and that just creates more clutter.

    But I like the concept, so maybe I’ll move the crap down to the drawers instead of on the counter.

  15. posted by Scott on

    Not a good post. But then again, this is just another one of Leo’s unnecessary, duplicative and unhelpful list compilations. Basically, these kind of posts are the reason I stopped reading Zen Habits. It’s so fabricated.. I feel like I’m reading msn.com, not a site that gives you real insights.

    With all due respect to Leo and his popular website, I was disappointed after I finished reading this kind of a post on unclutterer.com.

  16. posted by Jack on

    Seconding Shay… while I can definitely see the value in filing my folders away properly and straightening my inbox, no way in heck am I giving up the pictures or the knick-knack or two. I had to work at a totally bare cubicle in my last job and I wanted to kill myself.

  17. posted by Leo on

    Hi guys … thanks for sharing your perspective.

    In my defense, I’d like to point out that in the article I wasn’t advocating that anyone follow my setup. My workspace works only for me. Yours will obviously be different.

    The key idea to take away is that you should determine what’s essential. If a couple photos of loved ones are essential, then keep them. If you have 20 photos and only 5 are essential … get rid of the other 15.

    I’m not saying you should have a bare cubicle. I happen to enjoy a spartan space, but not everyone does. The minimalist workspace, as I said in the article, will be different for every person.

    Thanks to Unclutter for allowing me to write this guest post!

  18. posted by simon mackay on

    one problem.. Although what you said is awesome and I agree and try to practice! my problem is other people…

    I think Im developing OCD or Anger issues.. Cause I develope myself and my area but in my office no matter who i compain 2! an empty space is a dumping ground for others! any advise? please email me or reply here!

    -Si

  19. posted by Elkcip on

    What a beautiful sight! My work like doesn’t allow for freedom from paper, but I have to admit that I am far more able to think when I can enforce simplicity on some of the four work areas in my office. Just one space, completely cleared, keeps me from feeling like the constant barrage of memos, tasks, and documents are taking over. Can’t breathe with all that stuff!!

  20. posted by joebo on

    OK, but your job is writing a blog, right? Not a job for most people, even technically oriented ones.

  21. posted by Egaas on

    Surprised you haven’t gone with the wireless keyboard and mouse.

  22. posted by Kyle G. on

    I reduced the clutter in my office as a New Year’s resolution and I couldn’t be more happier with the set-up!

    I basically eliminated everything but a picture of my daughters, my wedding picture, and a picture of my dog (all displayed in simple frames). I also have a small plant, my one inbox and my laptop. Co-workers always make a comment about how organized and clean my office is whenever they drop in. The funny thing is I never really clean and my organization is at the point where I simply deal with things as they come to my inbox and then get rid of them either through filing or trash.

    Ultimately the clutter-free space has helped me FOCUS on my one task at a time without any distractions and messiness that allows the mind to wander.

  23. posted by Marelisa on

    Sorry Leo, I agree with the posts that say that your desk looks really depressing. I’m in the process of uncluttering right now but my aim is to get rid of anything that’s broken or that I don’t use, and to find a place for everything else. (I love the posts on this blog that show photographs where people have a decent amount of stuff but it’s all perfectly but away in boxes with labels on them.) Plus, I can’t live without paper. Whenever I see a report online that I like I immediately print it out. To each his own . . .

  24. posted by Dee on

    @simon – as a writer with a lot of back and forth paperwork from other people I have developed several ways of controlling office paper clutter. Don’t know what type of work your in but maybe this would help?

    To name a few I have: a in clearly labeled file system mounted on the outside of my office entrance to control people’s desire to just dump a file or latest draft on my desk. If you have the space – a bookcase on the outside of your cubicle with an dedicated storage system for people to go to is also helpful (since I have other things on the bookcase people don’t want to mess up my stuff so they go straight for the IN – OUT – PROCESSED bins and/or back records that I keep in three ring binders. I also asked my IT guy to dedicate a “read only” server space for all of my released documents which is where I store final copies of things. .. this has significantly cut down on distractions from others requesting documents from me as well as provided a much needed central storage space for my released. publications.

    HTHs – Dee

  25. posted by LivSimpl on

    I agree that Leo’s workspace is a little bare for my taste. I feel that a few non-essentials on a desk help give a workspace some personality. For example, I certainly don’t need my Dwight Schrute bobblehead doll, but it would be one of the last things I’d give up. :)

    The key is to realize at what point your workplace becomes a distraction and strive to keep it two steps below from that point.

    http://www.LivSimpl.com

  26. posted by Joshua Parker on

    I have to agree with Shay on this one. Only one Inbox on the desk? I would think you would need three for processing. Once you clear out the inbox, some things should go into an outbox if it is mail, or a to-do box if it is work or task related. But that is just my two cents. Others might disagree.

  27. posted by hyped on

    I like the idea! Check my table after the unclutterization process:
    http://hypedesire.blogtvbrasil....._table.jpg

  28. posted by Leo on

    @joebo: You’re correct … which is why I say in the article that everyone’s setup will be different, and most people won’t be as extreme as me.

    @Egaas: I’m actually planning to go with a wireless keyboard and mouse, but I decided that it’s not at the top of my spending priority list right now. Maybe in a few months. :)

    @Joshua Parker: Well, I meant only one actual “inbox”. If you need an outbox (which is different than an inbox), I’d get a stack of 2 trays. I wouldn’t have a tray for “working” files … that encourages having a stack of stuff that’s unsorted … but if that works for your workflow, that’s fine.

  29. posted by Joshua Parker on

    Ah, I understand. Thanks for the clarification Leo.

  30. posted by Tim on

    I can’t believe your mouse and keyboard have cords Leo!

  31. posted by Leo on

    @Tim … give me time! I don’t have the money for wireless mouse and keyboards yet. :)

  32. posted by Marcus on

    Great article. Your work is an inspiration!

  33. posted by Genia on

    Leo,

    I’m a great fan of Zen Habits, and loved this guest post at another favourite blog of mine. I adore the fact that even though many people leave pretty negative comments, you can stay calm and just repeat that this setup isn’t for everyone. It certainly is not, but this works for me, too. And I’m happy that I have a colleague here in our office with views similar to mine – our desks are very close to being bare (yeah, and we’re full-time translators employed by an agency).
    Yes, your posts _are_ an inspiration.

  34. posted by Dream Mom on

    Oh how I would love to aspire to that-no paper files-I’d be in heaven!

    I am satisfied to keep a clean desk with nothing on it other than my pc, keyboard, mouse and flowers. It takes work to get those tasks done so I don’t have anything on my desk. I do agree with you though-how many pens does a person need? I have a beautiful desk and love opening the drawers, all of which are lined to see the contents. I have labeled the top of each drawer and it looks beautiful when you open it. The center drawer has my name so it feels special.

    I try not to print very much however I do print off my Basic Weekly Plan (my to do list for the week) and that is my bible. Other than that, I just try to keep things simple. My son has a ton of medical issues so I do keep those eobs, scanning would take too long and not worth it and although they are on-line, the plan changes from year to year so you don’t have access after the year is complete and sometimes you need to access them.

    Good post as usual Leo.

  35. posted by angeewhoa on

    hi love this how to! how about if need a lot of reference material. i am an artist and i have a lot of books open sometimes. and i have a bad habit of having books right next to me on my desk but sometimes i dont really look through em all, but i also have this thought in my head that i am gonna look through it. thus, leave me with just leaving the books right next to me.

  36. posted by Eric Boehnisch-Volkmann on

    Great post, Leo. While I agree with some others that it would look a bit too spartan for me, technically my workspace is not that much different. My only tool I use daily is a MacBook (no, I have no backup drive but use JungleDisk instead), and as I am a father of three, I prefer working at the dining table which is kind of center of our life here. Yes, sometimes it’s a bit noisy but the fun I get from being with those I love compensates for the little minus on the productivity side.

    One question though: How to you cope with the paper that still comes in, letters, leaflets, magazine articles? No scanner? I use a ScanSnap located in my office: a room for all the stuff that I cannot get rid of due to various reasons: paper files for the German and US tax authorities, the scanner, a printer for printing when I can’t avoid it, as well as a second Mac as a back-up in case the MacBook fails eventually.

  37. posted by bosco banana on

    I’d think again about going wireless. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse and they devour battery power which means that you’re forever buying new batteries or recharging. You’ll just replace the wires another kind of clutter!

  38. posted by Klaus on

    Well thought out article! As many before have mentioned, the large majority of people will not be able to depart from paper as completely as in your case, Leo. For example the authorities in Germany still love paper, and lots of it. And you need to keep some of it as well.

    As an addition to the above solution I find that having a separate table for computer related work helps a lot. Of course this works only if you have enough space. I have my iMac with all related bits and pieces on one table and do my paperwork on another. Since I prefer to do my thinking with pieces of paper this allows me to have minimalist environments in both cases. And yes, my paper desk is mostly completely empty!

  39. posted by Thom on

    «I stopped printing stuff out to read (duh!) and just kept it on the computer. Yeah, that’s obvious.»

    First, the photograph of Leo’s desk looks very desirable. I love the minimalist, uncluttered look. And most of the recommendations seemed sound and commonsensical.

    But the quoted comment above – which is the kind of thing you see a lot – has some drawbacks and I do wish people promoting this approach would include some qualifications. I suspect it’s a recommendation that’s most helpful for those who unthinkingly print off every email, or who print every online article that looks vaguely interesting to read later (and quite possible never do!)

    The reality is that not only do you sometimes *need* to print things that you intend to read, but it’s actually *good* for you. For example, if I find an article of real substance that I want to read (as opposed to skim) I will print it: (a) because I find I read better (more skilfully?) from paper than from the screen; (b) it allows me to rest my eyes from the screen; and (c) it allows for a healthy shift of posture or perhaps even location.

    And any job that requires proofreading for print publication is going to require printing. I know there’s software that allows the annotation of pdfs, but less face it: it’s quicker and usually more precise to annotate a proof by hand, and no matter how wonderful your software is there are things you will spot in a printed copy that will more often than not escape the eye on screen. I don’t know the physical/psychological/technical reasons why that is the case, but it is.

  40. posted by Jonathan Mead on

    I’m not that crazy about the desk. I think these are all great tips and we could all use a little more minimalism. However, I think there’s a line between minimalist and being too plain. You need some kind of style at least. =)

  41. posted by Lori on

    I wanna know: What does he do when the power goes out?

  42. posted by Joe on

    I agree with Jonathan … the picture is genuinely sparse and bland versus minimalist. Minimalist would be no computer and a single sheet of white paper and a #2 pencil sharpened not used.

    Let’s not over think our requirements; we can all simplify and reduce clutter. I have very little on my desk and I agree with that as “stuff” distracts. Other than an LCD display, mouse and keyboard (on a rollout drawer), my only clutter is a small marble pyramid to add some variety and color. My new Galant file cabinet from Ikea (minimal in stature, but maximal in function) is perfect and hides a somewhat imperfect file system.

    Best of all, as I work from a home office, I enjoy a pleasant view of our marina and a few meandering ducks (a minimal number of ducks of course).

  43. posted by Daniel Tenner on

    Uncluttered-ness is not for all. I, for one, would find it impossible focus at that desk. I would get bored to tears and wander out of the room – and that’s not going to help me get stuff done!

    Clutter gives me focus, enhanced creativity and sustains my interest for longer periods of time. I understand that other people need quiet to work – I need noise.

    See this article by the excellent Rands in Repose for a very eloquent description of my condition:

    http://www.randsinrepose.com/a...../nadd.html

    Daniel

  44. posted by josh on

    spartan desk, spartan mind.

  45. posted by metroknow - AlmostFit.com on

    As usual I really appreciated this advice – similar to many of the comments from folks here, I am sitting at my incredibly cluttered desk now pondering how little of it I actually need.

    That said, a question: As a writer, I often put things on walls, on my computer’s desktop (I use Samurize), and essentially “in front of my face” for inspiration, to stimulate creativity, remind of things I want to write about, etc. — or at least so I think. If you’ve ever seen Ray Bradbury’s office space, you’ll know what I mean. Any thoughts on whether I’m deceiving myself by thinking that these visual things provide inspiration? I know you’ve written about inspiration a lot on ZenHabits (I’ve read them – all excellent), but the photo really looked appealing, so it got me to question whether I actually need/use those visual cues, or if they’re just distractions.

    Thoughts?

  46. posted by Talii on

    “Clear the walls. Many people have all kinds of stuff posted on their walls. It creates visual clutter. Get them off your walls. If it’s a reference guide, put it on your computer and set up a hotkey so you can call the guide up with a keystroke when needed.”

    Although, many people I know (mostly artists, decorators, and an architect) have gorgeous corkboard walls that are inspiring simply to look at. However, it does depend on your occupation. I’m redoing my room (yes, uncluttering) and am going to put up sheets of corkboard across one side, probably with “windows” cut out and painted on chalkboard to be put on there. I can’t wait!

  47. posted by Leah on

    I really enjoy reading Leo’s Zen Habits. For me it’s about taking what I need from the articles. I do find them inspiring although don’t always want to do the same. For example, I love to be very organised but I also love to have things around me that inspire me. I’m one of ‘corkboard’ set – lots of little things pinned to it that have positive momories. I love pictures and a few ornaments but I’m by no means excessive. I’ve become a lot more ruthless as I’ve got older. I keep those things that are either functional or have special meaning. Spartan is definately not my style but I think the underlying practice of organisation gives us space mentally and phsyically to do the things we really want to do.

  48. posted by Vanessa on

    Why can’t my husband’s desk look like your’s?

  49. posted by Marc on

    Tax papers and receipts are huge problem for me. Rather than store the physical forms, I’ve started using a digital camera to archive them.

    Most standard digital cameras are capable of printing very good quality black and white versions. (Tip: photograph/”photocopy” your papers in daylight under shade for nice even lighting.)

    As for longevity of the files, I’m just keeping my fingers crossed! I store these “photocopies” on an external hard drive that’s solely used for archiving, so it doesn’t get much usage.

  50. posted by Brian on

    No matter how much I throw out, no matter how much I streamline my computer usage, the less difference I see it truly makes. There is no “better”. If you understand that the stuff around you is just a bunch of meaningless items, it shouldn’t matter how much of it you have or how it’s arranged on your desk.

    The motivation for de-cluttering is the very true sentiment that one should not be attached to stuff; catch yourself when you find yourself thinking “if I only owned an XYZ, I’d be happier/more productive/whatever.” But the flip-side is also true: catch yourself thinking “if I could just minimize enough, my life would be easier and more simple.”

  51. posted by Paul Pick-Aluas on

    I think your article has some great advice (even though some of it is easier said than done). However, I think you severely misinterpreted the concept of minimalism. Minimalism is about balance and simplicity. You take it too literally. I agree with the people suggesting a photo frame or a plant, or some other small item of great importance to them. Minimalism is about being clutter-free, both organizationally and aesthetically, and NOT about having the fewest possible objects to function. Moreover, in keeping with your view of minimalism, you should have a wireless mouse and keyboard and your table/desk should be simpler (wooden tables are inherently more ornate). Overall, I think you provide great advice in an unbearably cluttered world.

  52. posted by Kim on

    I have actually done a lot of these tips and I must say that your mind is clearer and it is so much easier to focus when your desk isn’t cluttered. I am less stressed and more cheerful, too.

    I think the key is to take from this post what you can and do what works for you. I have some other things on my desk, but I have gotten rid of a lot of unnecessary things, too.

  53. posted by Dennis on

    @Thom: Physically/physiologically, sustained reading from a screen is uncomfortable because the resolution of screens is far too low. Windows and MacOS both include anti-aliasing for screen fonts, which can help by increasing their apparent resolution, but this is mitigated by the blurring of the characters. See here:
    http://www.joelonsoftware.com/.....06/12.html

    @Leo: I’m not there yet, but am working on it! :-)

  54. posted by ron on

    your desk looks like all the boring accountants’ and humorless managers’ desks at my work. you need to read this article and the book it mentions.

    “Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts. It’s a movement that confirms what you have known, deep down, all along: really neat people are not avatars of the good life; they are humorless and inflexible prigs, and have way too much time on their hands.”

  55. posted by Arjan 't Hart on

    If I were to pick a desk for my workspace, it would not be the one shown above… pfff… It’s pretty dull if you ask me. You have a nice design Mac (hopefully with MS Windows installed ;-) ), but no nice modern desk…

    Minimalistic it is, but that is not the way I would be satisfied with.

    Regards, Arjan

  56. posted by Patricia on

    Yes, completely uncluttered, but totally uninspiring.

  57. posted by emma leigh on

    i read this article yesterday and immediately decided my desk at work needed some cleaning. it was so overwhelming to me! now i have the bare minimum on my desk. in my drawer are all my extras, the staplers and the tape despensers.

    now, the one at home? not so sure! as an aspiring graphic artist, i could do with more organization, but having less that one computer at my desk makes me itchy. i think i’ll definitely start moving things i don’t need readily into storage areas from my desktop. thanks!

  58. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @ron — Organized people have “way too much time on their hands” … SWEET! That’s the exact reason TO BE organized. Free time to do the things you truly want to do!!

  59. posted by James on

    If you want the most minimalist workspace ever, then better get rid of the table too. Just use a laptop on your lap. Nothing beats this minimalism.

  60. posted by stephen on

    that setup looks ideal but it is staged. where are the power cords?

  61. posted by Shankar Ganesh on

    I’m a minimalist, and I’ve eliminated all icons on my computer desktop. I have nothing but a wallpaper and a taskbar.

    I use something called Launchy to start all my programs and documents – I’d like to suggest it to your readers as well (Launchy – http://www.launchy.net for Windows users)

    I’ve tried Mac OS like Docks for Windows, but nothing beats Launchy. It’s actually a program launcher, as the name implies, and I just press a shortcut and then type the name of the program and it starts instantly – quite like your QuickSilver I guess.

    For a clutter-free desktop, eliminate all the icons and replace them all with Launchy ;)

    You guys might also find this post interesting:
    http://blog.shankarganesh.com/.....een-space/
    It talks about how you can make the most out of your screen space.

  62. posted by Shankar Ganesh on

    BTW, An awesome blog this is. Adding it to my reading list on Google Reader.

    Keep the great stuff coming :)

  63. posted by Carl on

    You call THAT minimalist? Let’s get rid of that computer background image and get a cordless keyboard and mouse! And paint that desk white. The woodgrain might distract you. There. Your very own padded cell.

  64. posted by JPMartin on

    I wouldn’t call that minimalism. Just plain silly that all he can do is have a Mac (though its a cool product!) and nothing else, not even a pen or pencil nearby. Staged? Probably. Being minimalistic doesn’t mean stripping yourself of clothes just because you don’t need them – its about about being functional and keeping things simple but no less simple. Get Real Leo!

  65. posted by skyearth on

    What do people do about all those bits of paper they need to keep for the IRS, or for the mortgage company?

  66. posted by Luke on

    Wow! I minimalised my desk the other day after reading this and I can’t believe how much better it is!

    I bought a nifty green inbox and now all I have on my desk is that, my iMac (early white G5), speakers (the console is under desk) and a small stack of post-its with a stationery cup on top.

    If I had my own way, I get some better smaller speakers. But they’re hand-me-downs so I don’t have much choice.

  67. posted by Anna on

    Great idea, yet I see few things that can not be absent even in minimalist workspace. Here – good lighting and cell phone charger.

  68. posted by Nina on

    I’m going to agree with those who said this is WAY too extreme. In fact, it’s borderline obsessive. Yes I believe that its necessary to organize, but this has gone WAY too far. Aesthetically, the author’s desk looks empty and cold — could this be a reflection of the person himself?

    And not having any paper around? That works if you’re a “professional blogger,” but that will never work for those of us with real jobs.

  69. posted by Christian on

    Lol, lots of harsh opinions being thrown around. I guess most people don’t take kindly to that sort of stark minimalism. But if that concept is so scary or whatever, then you have to wonder why these people visit a site called unclutterer in the first place.

  70. posted by JP on

    Somewhere between the disaster my desk and office has become and the showroom quality of your desk is the ideal I am sure. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  71. posted by Steve on

    Sorry, but I think that what Leo writes about is not minimalism but simplicity. I have read from his blog or should I say ‘list-server’ and he often (always) writes about the simplification of things. True minimalism when applied to our lifestyle is not just about simplification and reduction. Probably more important are the aesthetics of what remains. When I look at the picture within this blog I am thinking “where is the beauty in that”?

    Thats why people think Leo’s workspace is too extreme and why others have a few photos (of beautiful people or whatever)

    The iMac, although great, is not one of Apple’s more beautiful designs.

    Also a true minimalist would have to replace that desk.

  72. posted by billy on

    nice vibe.

  73. posted by cohnsey on

    I need to do that to my workspace. right now, i have a bunch of papers lying around and random nicknacks (spelling?)

  74. posted by Dave Doolin on

    A minimalist desk as pictured is not a “destination.” It’s a journey, a process.

  75. posted by DrJ on

    Ok, I’m waaay late to this party.

    For me, fully decluttered is too sterile, but that’s been discussed and dealt with already. Each to his own.

    No, more importantly is that I LEAGALLY cannot go paperless. Ok, it may be an effect of the country I’m in and may be different in the US. But here I have a small business and work as a freelancer. I must be able to produce all bills, receipts, contracts, etc etc in the ORIGINAL for ten years. I cannot scan in receipts and dispose of them. I cannot say an email is enough, because I need signed contracts. So as nice as it all sounds, it is illegal for me to do that.

  76. posted by joan on

    what do you do at tax time? when you have a biz you have to keep records or you are in big trouble if the irs audits you. unless someone is so wealthy they can pay and not fight it by proving their tax info is correct. and i think zen means you probably shouldn’t clutter up your bank account too much with extra money ;) just kidding!

  77. posted by Patricia Miller on

    Minimalist workspaces start with the space. I work for Anthro Corporation – we offer ergonomic modular mobile workstations. April is one of our Biggest Sales! Simple organized designs and on sale….affordable organization!

  78. posted by JB on

    That screen looks awfully big. I’m sure it is not minimal.

  79. posted by Andy on

    I think you could do away with the mouse on that desk. If you learned the keyboard shortcut keys, you wouldn’t need it. ;)

  80. posted by JefferyK on

    My workspace isn’t bare — I have desk lamps and a few illustrations I love tacked up — but I have nothing I don’t use regularly on my desk. I know where everything I need is and I can get to it quickly. As a result, I am very productive. Every quick, productive, effective person I have ever worked with has had a clear desk. Hmm.

  81. posted by MissAnonyMiss on

    I think the picture is too extreme, Minimalist to me means uncluttered and simple, but not bland, It can also have colour!

    I try to be as minimalist as possible but living in London makes me practically need more things than I would if I was living in a remote mountain.

    I have a large 1930’s side table with my Flat screen on top. (hidden inside is my PC/scanner and other necessary bits and bobs)
    The room is white with a white floor/walls and a few bright bold colourfull accesories to brighten it up.
    It is minimalist yet alive! I dont want to feel like im in a padded cell!

  82. posted by Mark M on

    The workspace looks cold and lonely to me. I like to work with a clean workspace but this just seems too overdone to me.

    If you are super-minimalist then I suppose this kind of workspace is ideal, but for the average person this isn’t practical.

  83. posted by becoming minimalist on

    i found that minimalizing my office had many benefits. the biggest one is that i have eliminated so many distractions from my workspace. it allows my mind matches my activity.

  84. posted by John Doe on

    Summary of the above comments;

    You’re a cold, boring, uninspired and SCARY person! Allow me to redefine minimalism for my personal needs, ignorant swine! By the way, a TRUE minimalist doesn’t need a computer – using your brain is the next best thing.

    and lol@ the guy who says that cluttered people are the geniuses. Why are you even here?

  85. posted by Zachary Spencer on

    At home? My workspace is my recliner. On my right I have a small table which I place my coffee on, and on my lap is my laptop.

    At work, my workspace is my desk, it’s filled with baubles. toy cars, my pen holder (and dozens of pens), snack food (gallon bag of homemade trail mix, rice cakes, pears, bananas), rubber band bracelets, headphones, a single pad of paper with a pen atop it, my USB key, my cell phone, my coffee mug, my nalgene for water, a stapler, a roll of tape, a calculator, my work phone, two model porsches, a model ZX1000 Ninja, and a white stained glass cat.

    The walls are adorned with drawings my friends drew, comics that amuse me, my standing order at the Lunch Box,our detailed fire escape plan, a phone list, our org chart, and a SCRUM reference guide.

    I can take down the Scrum reference guide now.

    Ah, much more minimalist!

  86. posted by Eileen on

    Wow, very interesting, but this is a little TOO minimalist for me!

  87. posted by Living Simply: The Ultimate Guide to Conquering Your Clutter… Leo Babauta | The Pink Elephant on

    [...] not saying everyone needs to be as minimalist as I am. Take my minimalist workspace, for example — I don’t expect anyone to reduce clutter that much, nor do I think they’d even [...]

  88. posted by 7 Ways Being Unbalanced Can Make You More Productive | Zen Habits on

    [...] Go on an information fast. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect from distractions. Create a minimalist workspace that allows you to focus on what’s [...]

  89. posted by The Power of being Unbalanced « Matt Hutchins on

    [...] Go on an information fast. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect from distractions. Create a minimalist workspace that allows you to focus on what’s [...]

  90. posted by 7 Ways Being Unbalanced Can Make You More Productive | TheHappySelf.com on

    [...] Go on an information fast. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect from distractions. Create a minimalist workspace that allows you to focus on what’s [...]

  91. posted by rhonda on

    Great idea! I have made it my New Year Resolution to unclutter my life and be a minimalist. But just a word of advice I would get rid of that desk. It is depressing.

  92. posted by 7 ways being unbalanced can make your more productive « Journal of Eddie G on

    [...] Go on an information fast. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect from distractions. Create a minimalist workspace that allows you to focus on what’s [...]

  93. posted by Links der Woche - 12. April 2008 on

    [...] Traum ist nach wie vor das papierloses Büro. Es scheint zu funktionieren, Leo Babauta arbeitet bereits so. Allen anderen und mir hilft lifehack.org: “How to Go Paperless: Bury the Paper Before it [...]

  94. posted by Links der Woche - 15. März 2008 on

    [...] – und wer tut das nicht? -, der muss unbedingt seinen Gastbeitrag auf unclutter.com lesen: “Creating a minimalist workspace — from Zen Habits“. Er gibt verschiedene Tipps, seinen Arbeitsplatz zu vereinfachen und zeigt auch ein Bild von [...]

  95. posted by 7 ways being unbalanced can make your more productive « My reads on life,productivity & happiness on

    [...] Go on an information fast. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect from distractions. Create a minimalist workspace that allows you to focus on what’s [...]

  96. posted by African Boy on

    For an article about de-cluttering, your first 5 printed pages are full of clutter. Use the firefox print preview.

  97. Profile photo of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @African Boy — We don’t recommend printing web pages. Since they exist on the internet, you can access them whenever you need them. If you feel you must save them locally to your hard drive, we recommend printing them to PDF. Then, if you really must print to paper, print the PDF and you won’t have the problems with your printer not recognizing the CSS structure of the web page.

    Here are instructions for how to print to PDF:
    http://unclutterer.com/2008/04/16/printing-to-pdf/

  98. posted by kimmie on

    I find it interesting that a lot of these posts are negative about having a minimalist or uncluttered workspace. I think the fact that some need clutter or things in their workspace and some of us don’t is refreshing. I think we can acknowledge that we are all different that’s what makes the world go round. For those of us trying to trim the unnecessary from our lives these types of articles are inspiring. Its not a doctrine for everyone to follow. Keep up the good work Leo!

  99. posted by Unclutterer - No More Clutter! : All My Faves | Blog on

    [...] and the ability to enjoy a more relaxing and serene environment at home. I especially enjoyed the How minimalist is your workspace? article. I only wish I could actually implement it. I am working on it… Tags: weekly [...]

  100. posted by Simplify your workspace | Lawyerist on

    [...] Unclutterer comes a great post by Zen Habits author Leo Babauta on creating a minimalist workspace. Most of the attorneys I know life among piles of paper. While some defend their [...]

  101. posted by Taylor on

    Great post, thanks for the info

  102. posted by Organize IT Recap: GTD In World Of Warcraft? - Practical advice on personal development, productivity and GTD on

    [...] at Unclutterer, Leo of Zen Habits has written a guest post detailing how to create a minimalist workspace. He has a picture showing his current setup and while a part of me loves of the clutter free [...]

  103. posted by Linktipps: “Digitaler Frühjahrsputz” | Blogpiloten.de - das Beste aus Blogs, Videos, Musik und Web 2.0 on

    [...] “Reduce to the Max” ist da die Devise. So auch drüben beim Unclutterer. Er beschreibt hier den “Minimalist Workspace”. [via zen [...]

  104. posted by 7 Ways Being Unbalanced Can Make You More Productive | Blue56 on

    [...] fast. Do whatever you need to do to disconnect from distractions. Create a minimalist workspace that allows you to focus on what’s [...]

  105. posted by mental_floss Blog » March 14th, 2008 on

    [...] won’t be Bored By. Why look at art when you can look at …mustard? * A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Workspace. The beautiful desk you’ll see may be hiding somewhere underneath all that junk you collect. * [...]

  106. posted by Home Office Organization and Inspiration on

    [...] Unclutterer Unclutterer.com has a feature called “Workspace of the Week”, which includes inspiring images and text about real workspaces. You can find a lot of great ideas, and there’s always information about the materials and products in the pictures and how to make them yourself or find them in stores. Also check out a guest post on Unclutterer.com by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits, in which he shares tips for “Creating a Minimalist Workspace”. [...]

  107. posted by How to Save Money « alexmaystory on

    [...] couple of ornaments are okay, but remember, minimalism is [...]

  108. posted by Creating a Peaceful Home Office | Just Hope This Works on

    [...] Creating a minimalist workspace — from Zen Habits [...]

  109. posted by Minimalistisk arbetsplats « Bli effektivare – på jobbet, i skolan och hemma on

    [...] läs Leo Babuta (som driver Zenhabits) utmärkta artikel på unclutterer.com som du hittar här Titta gärna också på bilderna från ”Workspace of the week” som du hittar [...]

  110. posted by Change | Apt Design on

    [...] right now really quickly?  Maybe rearrange your desk just a little bit? Be more ergonomic, more minimalist?  Add a plant?  If you need some help try this quick ebook from [...]

  111. posted by Creating a Peaceful Home Office | PoeWar on

    [...] Creating a minimalist workspace — from Zen Habits [...]

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