How a home office should function

Reader Amanda recently contacted us with the following question:

Could you write on the idea of how a home office should function?

It seems like an innocuous question at first. Obviously a home office should be used for, um, home office, uh, stuff …

But, it turns out, it’s not such a simple question. Identifying all of the reasons why a person might have a home office and then all of the possibilities for how that home office should function are quite extensive tasks. The specific requirements a single, graduate student, working on his dissertation might have are far different than those of an active family with four children where both parents work outside the home.

It is possible, however, to write about over-arching ideals that should be present in a home office. Here are the big picture goals I believe all home offices can strive to achieve:

  1. Welcoming. Strive to create the most comfortable, productive, inspiring, and organized environment that you can for your work space. You want this area to make boring tasks like filing home owners association documents as pleasant as possible. If your stress level rises when you walk past this space, you’re not going to use it.
  2. Flexible. The demands that you put on this space can change from year-to-year, or even day-to-day. You want your space to be able to adapt to your needs. This means that you need to have room on a shelf and in a drawer to grow–at all times. If your space is completely full, then it becomes a museum or library instead of a functional office. You want your files to be able to accept new entries and your desk to be ready to handle your next big idea.
  3. Consistent. The more consistent your office systems are, the more likely you will be to maintain them. Save files on your computer and in your filing cabinet using names and categorizations that makes retrieval quick and possible. Keep the learning curve low and let it reflect the way you think and work. Additionally, be consistent about putting objects away when you’re finished using them so that you will be able to find them the next time you need them.

Regardless of what type of work you need to do in your office, having a welcoming, flexible, and consistent environment will make it a functional space. The better your office can work for you, the better work you can accomplish in your home office.

How does your office measure up to these standards? I know that mine could use a little work in the flexibility department. My filing cabinet is almost busting at its seams!

Workspace of the Week: Pie in the sky

This week’s Workspace of the Week is Rephlektiv’s Brooklyn office:

This is one of those offices that screams to be chosen for our Workspace of the Week feature. It’s brilliantly organized (check out the image notes for details), a creative use of resources (look at the window/dry erase board in the upper right-hand corner of the picture), and it has an amazing view (Brooklyn by day, Manhattan by night). In fact, I’m already brainstorming ways for how I can incorporate some of Rephlektiv’s ideas into my home office. What a terrific entry!

Want to have your own workspace featured in Workspace of the Week? Submit a picture to the Unclutterer flickr pool. Check it out because we have a nice little community brewing there. Also, don’t forget that workspaces aren’t just desks. If you’re a cook, it’s a kitchen; if you’re a carpenter, it’s your workbench.

College Life: Back-to-school basics

Today we present Intern Julia’s first installment in her series on back-to-school preparations.

As students everywhere start preparing to head to college this fall, I want to talk about the art of small-space living. College students are a demographic that have particular stock in simple living, as well as anyone with more possessions than space. Whether it be a 500 square foot New York City studio apartment or a shared room with a sibling, it can be difficult to live in a space the size of a dorm room.

Most students arrive at campus for the first time, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with a minivan containing all of our worldly possessions. This is great until we’re affronted with a dorm room approximately the size of a large closet.

If this sounds like it could be you, here are a few basics for maximizing your living space. For my first post in my series on tiny living, I want to begin with the obvious tip:

Reassess your stuff.

The best way to fit your stuff into an itty-bitty space is to have less stuff. Only take the essentials with you. You shouldn’t abandon all of your trinkets at your parents’ place, either. Photograph and get rid of the napkin from prom and donate those t-shirts from your middle school musical to a local charity.

If your dorm room is a suite and has a kitchen, do you really need that minifridge, toaster, and microwave? Are any of your roommates bringing those items? There is no sense in having three blenders, even if you really like “smoothies.”

Do you really need to have your CD collection at college, in the age of iPod? Or DVDs? Take advantage of your school’s student programming and see films for free.

Unless you are in the business school, do you need that suit? Do you really need that commemorative Coors Light bobblehead, under any circumstance?

Good luck to everyone heading off to school in the fall and stay tuned for more back-to-school tips in the coming weeks. Also, even if you follow this advice, be prepared to bring a lot of things home for Thanksgiving break.

Get more use out of a convertible crib

Our daughter used her crib for less than two years. It started to lose its usefulness when she began to climb out of it. We also decided to move her into a “big girl’s bed” when we moved into our new home. If we had gone with a convertible crib, we could have easily doubled the time she used her crib. Convertible cribs, for those who don’t know, are cribs that convert into smaller beds. This makes the transition to a regular bed a bit easier for some children, and definitely easier for parents.

The crib pictured is the Davinci Emily Convertible Crib. The large rail on the back of the crib can eventually be used for a headboard for a full-size bed, as shown. The day bed conversion rail kit, full size headboard and footboard are included with this and most convertible cribs. There are many different makes and models of convertible cribs, so make sure you shop around. Also, don’t be afraid to look for cribs on craigslist or garage sales–these are options that can save you a lot of money.

Unitasker Wednesday: The strawberry huller

Apparently, the strawberry needs to be hulled before one can really enjoy the juicy red fruit. I had no idea. I have been eating strawberries incorrectly all of my life. The HORROR!!

Now is my opportunity to overcome my ignorance and have the chance to really experience a well hulled strawberry with the Oxo Good Grips Strawberry Huller! I shall never eat the totally edible and scrumptious strawberry hull again!

You don’t like the Oxo option highlighted here? Well, there are no less than five different hulling options over at Amazon. I’m not experienced enough in my strawberry hulling abilities to give an educated recommendation as to which one hulls best, so maybe you should buy ALL of them to be safe!

**Each week, the Unitasker Wednesday column humorously pokes fun at the unnecessary, single-use items that manage to find their way into our homes.

Cleaning out your cluttered car

I want to introduce to everyone Sue Brenner, a new contributor to Unclutterer. She’s a mother, performance coach, and a writer living near Silicon Valley.

Just last week, maybe you tossed a business card from a new client into your car? You can look up the website on the Internet, but you would like to have the e-mail address and direct phone number of this hot new prospect. Is it under the ream of paper spilling onto the passenger’s seat? Wedged between the booster seat and the seatbelt? Or, is it mangled in a corner of the glove box?

Whether it’s a business card, your cell phone, or the extra pair of socks you need for the gym, it’s great to be able to find what you need in your car when you need it. The more you use your car and the more people who travel in it can result in your car becoming quite a clutter collector.

Use these tips to unclutter your car for mind clarity, fewer distractions, and, hey, you might just find the pen you need when you’re in the drive-through teller line at your bank.

The Ideal

If you envision your car exactly the way you want it, what would it look like? How would you feel when you got behind the wheel? What things would be useful for emergencies? What things would you want to keep to a minimum (such as trash, gym clothes, and popcorn kernels)? Start with the ideal in mind. You don’t have to create the perfect car setting, yet … but it’s good to have a goal to move toward achieving. With small steps, you can make it happen.

Divide and Conquer

Tackling car clutter can make you sweat. Divide your car into zones before you begin. Your zones might include: the driver’s quadrant, the front passenger’s side, the space behind the seats, and second-row seating. Unclutter one section at a time, and be sure to have a recycling bin and trash can handy for the apple cores and junk mail. Even uncluttering just one section of your car can begin to part the sea of clutter.

Do I Need This?

Let us say, hypothetically, that you find your old cell phone in a cup holder of your car. Do you keep it as decor or should you donate it to a charity that accepts cell phones? You will want to get rid of what you don’t need or what never should have found it’s way into the car initially. An extra pair of safety scissors? That may be a keeper for your car. Four coffee mugs? Probably not. (You can pass along used cell phones to Collective Good, a company that supports groups such as Red Cross.)

The 3-Bag Approach

This tip comes from my book The Naked Desk: Along with your trash and recycling bins, bring three grocery bags with you when you clean out your car. Label the first one “Does Not Belong Here.” Write on the next one, “Give Away/Return,” and label the final one, “Storage.” Each bag will serve as a receptacle for the variety of things that found their way into your car. The “Does Not Belong Here” bag, for example, would be good for tossing in the spoons, client folders, and other items you want to keep but don’t belong in your vehicle. Return these items to their homes after you’ve completed your car uncluttering project.

Junk in the Trunk

Depending on what’s in your trunk, you may need at least 15 to 20 minutes to free up space in this part of your car. Just like you did for the interior, you can section off your trunk into sections. Starting with one small area will help you sift through the jackets, dig out the suitcase from last month’s business trip, and take out the ski gear from January’s family vacation. Getting through a section will motivate you to clear out the other stuff jammed in there. Continue the 3-Bag approach to fully de-junk your trunk.

Try one or all of these tips and let us know which ones lead to a smoother, more clutter-free ride.

iPhone apps help reduce clutter and improve productivity

After a week of playing with my new iPhone 3G, I’ve found the following applications to be helpful to my productivity and in my fight against clutter.


Notes — I played with a number of the list-style programs (My Lists, iNeedStuff, To Do, etc.) and productivity applications (EasyTask Manager, OmniFocus) and found that Notes is just as effective for keeping track of action items and projects. Seeing as Notes is free and installed on the phone at point of purchase, I don’t recommend paying to download a more specialized application. Grocery lists, errand lists, and other to-do items are easily stored and erased when finished.

Photos — Use a digital camera with better than 2 megapixels and a micro focus to take closeup pictures of the bar codes on your membership cards. Then, transfer the pictures to your iPhone and store them in a folder in Photos titled “membership cards.” Barcode scanners should be able to read the barcode image and they also can be manually typed into a keypad if the scanner doesn’t work. Give it a try before you throw out your membership cards, but I’ve had success with this at my grocery store and pharmacy. (The Camera on your iPhone won’t work for taking pictures of bar codes because it can’t focus well enough at close range.)

Calculator — Ignore all of the tipping programs and budget planning programs available for download and simply use the calculator that is already installed. If you turn the iPhone on its side, the standard calculator transforms into a scientific calculator. Save your money and stick with the one that is provided and works.


Jott for iPhone — We’ve already discussed the wonder that is Jott in a previous post, so there isn’t much more to say about this application. If you’re someone who is tempted to text while you drive (DON’T DO IT!), Jott is the perfect application for you. It’s super convenient and free to download.

Evernote — Like Jott, Evernote is a program we’ve discussed in detail in previous posts. Integration with the iPhone Camera, however, makes this an even more useful tool. My only complaint is that it doesn’t seem to allow for web page tagging. It’s also a free application.

Unclutterer — Don’t forget to include an Unclutterer icon on your home screen! Directions for how to install one are here. We know that the man vacuuming his face off creeps a few of you out, but I find him to be unbelievably entertaining. Why can’t he figure out how to vacuum properly?!

Google Mobile — This application gives you iPhone formatted access to all Google applications. I’m a committed user to Google Calendar and Google Docs, so it’s nice to have these services in an easy-to-use configuration. I’ve also installed a separate Google Reader application, but you can access it through the main Google Mobile as well. It, too, is free.

Tiny landing strip for tiny spaces

The landing strip is an important area for one to have upon entry into one’s home. A traditional landing strip may be difficult to accommodate in smaller spaces. A wall mounted option might be a necessary alternative, like the one pictured here from Tiny Living. It has room for keys, mail, cellphone, and wallet.

This solution can serve as a landing strip in any home, but is especially useful for people in smaller spaces. Now tiny apartment dwellers don’t have to sacrifice floor space for a landing strip table.

(via Apartment Therapy)

Inbox zero

A quick overview of my two email inboxes shows that I have 2,200 emails in one and just under 400 in the other. Why am I holding on to all of these messages? I’m not sure, but I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that some of you also have ridiculously high message counts.

Inbox clutter is definitely a issue I have yet to conquer and the problem is not taking care of itself. Over at 43 Folders, Merlin Mann has quite the series on emptying your inbox. It is called Inbox Zero. The series is extensive and also includes an hour long video of Mr. Mann’s Inbox Zero presentation.

From the introduction:

Clearly, the problem of email overload is taking a toll on all our time, productivity, and sanity, mainly because most of us lack a cohesive system for processing our messages and converting them into appropriate actions as quickly as possible.

Just as with any clutter, inbox clutter effects focus and takes away from the task at hand. Holding onto messages for no reason other than the fact that you “may need them one day.” Sounds like the excuse for clutter that takes up space in your basement, attic, or garage.

iPhone 3G reduces pocket clutter

At 5:45 a.m. Friday, July 11, I was standing in a 17-person line at my local AT&T store. By 7:00 there were more than 100 people in line, and at 8:00 the line wrapped completely around the corner and down another block.

Being the seventeenth person in line had its advantages; I was able to purchase a 16 gig iPhone before the store ran out of merchandise. The process did not go smoothly, but by 4:15 that afternoon I had a fully functioning iPhone 3G in my pocket. The last time I upgraded my cell phone was four years ago and I think the word brick aptly describes what I had been toting around in my pocket before my conversion to the iPhone 3G.

Last summer, Jerry wrote a review about his experiences with the first generation iPhone. At the time, he didn’t see it as being a clutter-reducing device:

Because it’s a phone, a camera, an iPod, and an internet communicator, you’d think you could consolidate all of your devices. But as good as it is, it’s not going to replace a proper digital camera, a laptop, or even an iPod.

The new generation of the iPhone, however, eliminates most needs to carry an iPod or a laptop, and the camera is great for candid images. With 16 gigs of hard drive space, you can fit a great deal more of your iTunes music collection on the phone. The headphone jack was retooled between the first generation and this model, so it works now with all standard headsets. With the Airplane Mode, you can turn off wireless capabilities and watch a film on a flight. The camera is still just 2.0 megapixels, but allows for geotagging. The 3G network is significantly faster than the Edge network, and you can open Word, Excel, and Adobe PDF documents (you can’t alter these documents, but you can view them).

One of my personal favorite features is the GPS system that provides searching for area businesses and landmarks. Want to find the closest pet store? Search for “pet store,” and contact information and directions will appear for how to get from your current location to the store. It’s better than other handheld GPS device I’ve used, but since it doesn’t talk, it’s not as effective in the car. You can view turn-by-turn directions, but it won’t call them out to you as you drive:

I wish that it had a SSH client and the ability to edit Word and Excel documents, but overall it has significantly decreased the amount of items I take with me when I’m on the go. Tomorrow, I’ll review my favorite iPhone applications and how they further reduce the need to carry objects with you like a notebook, membership cards, and other pocket clutter. Are any of you new converts to the iPhone? What is your response to it and all of its hype?

A year ago on Unclutterer