Bringing order to your top desk drawer

An organized top desk drawer, full of pens with ink and sharp scissors and supplies you regularly use, is as important to your productivity as the system you use to manage tasks and calendar items. Simply put, if you can’t easily access the materials to do your job, you can’t efficiently do your job.

Disorganized top desk drawers aren’t usually short on office supplies, though. They’re usually overflowing with pens and pocket change and sticky notes and carryout menus from your favorite lunch spots.

A strategy for helping you curb the clutter from your top desk drawer:

  • Take all of the supplies out of the drawer and put them in a small box.
  • Clean out your desk organizer and the drawer.
  • Go about your work.
  • When you need an item, take it out of the box, use it, and then put it away in the top desk drawer.
  • After five days have passed, review the items that made it into the top desk drawer and make sure that they are organized in the best way for your needs.
  • The items that remain in the box on your desk do not belong in the prime real estate of your top desk drawer. Sort through the items and toss out, recycle, or pass along to a co-worker anything that is pure clutter in your desk. Find a shelf or lower drawer where the items you need but use less frequently can be stored.

Another top desk drawer organizing idea: While on your next phone call, give all of your pens a test drive to make sure that they work. On another call, pull out your pencil sharpener and give all of your pencils a point.

27 Comments for “Bringing order to your top desk drawer”

  1. posted by Marrena on

    It’s weird how my work habits have changed over the last twenty years. When I started out working in an office in the early 1990’s there were so many office supplies needed, not to mention the huge amount of printer and copy paper we went through. Now really the only office supplies I use are one pen, an in/out box and a pad of paper. Occasionally I print orders out. Old orders I keep in the lower shelf of the in/out box, and I flip them over on my notepad to reuse the paper to make my to do lists, so the notepad is never used up. The upper shelf has a printout of the corporate directory extensions. I can’t remember the last time I used a stapler, a post-it or a binder clip. Contents of my desk drawer: hairbrush, toothbrush, mini-tube of toothpaste, floss, stamps for personal letters, a nail file, lipstick, emergency can of tuna, box of durable plastic forks, hand lotion, hair smoother and a box of tea. Way in the back never used are small boxes of staples, binder clips, paper clips and some post-its and a staple claw.

  2. posted by reSPACEd on

    Another tip for keeping that drawer organized: Put a little label inside each drawer compartment with the name of what goes in each spot. That way, once you take a bunch of stuff out of the drawer, you can be sure to put it back in the exact same spot. It will help keep your drawer organized long-term.

  3. posted by Lisa Zaslow on

    Great process to determine what you really use often. While they seem helpful, my clients often find that the drawer organizers with compartments (as shown in the photo) can take up more space that they are worth. It’s unlikely that all the items you need will fit neatly in the compartments available. A modular approach – separate bins and boxes to hold exactly what you need – often works best.

  4. posted by ari_1965 on

    I wish I had a top desk drawer to organize. I’m now working off a table. It’s much harder to organize anything. I did pull over a small fold-out bookcase to be next to the table, but boxes don’t work as well as drawers.

  5. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    I have heard of doing things like this with your clothes, but I love that you opened my eyes to this in the office. And as a matter of fact, in almost every area of our lives! I can’t wait to get to my desk so I can clear out the top drawer!

  6. posted by marjoryt on

    At my home desk, I have one of those revolving desk supply organizers. It has a tape measure built in, but over the years I’ve replaced the other items with better quality stuff – ruler, stapler, 3-hole punch. I love the little clamp binders and hate paper clips, so I have a selection of the clamps.

    Thinking about it; I should get one for my office too – the drawer thing doesn’t really work for me!

  7. posted by writing all the time on

    An inexpensive solution to containers for all the paper clips, etc, is to use old check packet boxes. The boxes are a little more than 6 and a quarter inches long, and about 3 and a quarter inches deep. Every time you get an order of checks, you get the box that they come in.

    The boxes are easily cut with a utility knife and taped back together to make smaller sizes. I ask my friends to save these boxes for me, as I use them frequently with clients.

    The boxes that business cards come in are handy, too. They’re a bit tougher to cut, but the larger size is useful.

    Making boxes for your desk drawer to fit your specific needs only takes a few minutes, and it’s kind of fun, too.

  8. posted by Carolyn on

    I’m glad to hear someone else uses those check boxes! I’ve done so for years — they are a great size for office supplies and you can customize “the layout” in your drawer very easily with them.

  9. posted by Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady on

    I like this tip! It’s unconventional yet effective and fun. I don’t even have such a drawer by the way. I use a small case, which prevents me to save up too much because it simply doesn’t fit. Works like a charm.

  10. posted by ecuadoriana on

    The “Dump it all into a box for a week and only put away those items which you take out of the box and use” method is totally what works best for me!!! I use this method for everything from cleaning out closet to bathroom cabinets to kitchen drawers. And yes, those particular items that are a must, but not a must every day, are the ones that go into the back of the closet, drawer, cabinet. I post a list on the inside of the cupboard door (or closet door) that tells exactly what is back there and the date I put it there, and the dates I’ve used it. This way, if 6 months goes by and I haven’t taken out that DoodlyBop or ThingymaJig, then I reevaluate whether I need it so bad for that once in a while chore. Maybe it’s better it give it away to a friend or neighbor- and then borrow it back later!?!

    @Writing ALL the Time: Yes! The cheque book boxes are the best! I keep them looking & working good by covering them with vinyl contact paper or fabric. Protects them and they look nice in drawer. I know there will totally be a day when cheques will be obsolete & those boxes will be for sale on ebay!! LOL!

  11. posted by Kim on

    Great ideas, and I love the tips on taking everything out, and adding back one by one when I use an item!!! Will be cleaning out my drawers this week! Awesome post. 🙂

  12. posted by Greg on

    I use 4 of the modular drawer dividers that sort of snap all together 3 going length wise and one across the bottom. Other than for pens/pencils they were too long for most of my needs.

    I saved 5 of my grandson’s rectanglar plastic babyfood containers and the fit in just perfectly. One for my large paperclips, small binder clips, rubberbands, staple remover, white out roller, etc.

    And yes, it is probably just a bit too organized…!

  13. posted by Another Deb on

    The checks I get are not coming in those handy little boxes any longer. I have to admit I am hording the ones I have for my desk drawers!

  14. posted by April on

    I tend to keep a lot of little boxes and things we collect, not just check book boxes. If I don’t find a use for the box after about a month, I get rid of it (that way it doesn’t pile up).

    I use cereal boxes (cut up to sizes I need) to divide utensils in my kitchen drawers, an old disposable obento tray (the kind you get at a Japanese convenient store) in my “junk” drawer, an old silverware tray in my desk drawer, an old jar as a vase, old ice cream tubs to hold various frozen foods (I freeze liquids and ground meats flat with the air pressed out, and then stand them upright in the containers later to save space), etc.

    In my last apartment I use the bright blue dividers that came in the package for our Wii for my kitchen drawers. I only needed to adapt them a little and I loved seeing the bright blue when I opened the drawer—a bit of cheerfulness in a secret spot. Had to get rid of it when I moved overseas, though.

  15. posted by [email protected] on

    Checks? What are they? 🙂

    Seriously, we never finished the book from before we made my husband’s account our joint one, and the new one in both our names is still pretty full.

  16. posted by terriok on

    Enlist a primary school Munchkin and a metal cupcake tin pan and voila! Best for the top drawer on the right or left side.

  17. posted by AE Thanh on

    A great routine I use every day is before I stop working at the end of the day, I take about 5-10 minutes to clean my desk (and drawers). The goal is to clear all the clutter and set it up for the next day, so when I start working again I can start right away.

  18. posted by Laetitia in Australia on

    I use a desk-top organiser for my most frequently used items (scissors, pens, pencils, eraser, sharpener, correction tape, paper clips). This is one of thos things with different height tubes to store different things in, so scissors go in the biggest tube, pens in the next etc. Less used things like sticky notes and highlighters live in the top drawer.

  19. posted by Marrena on

    hmm…well I guess from reading the posts here people are still using office paper products and all their related paraphenalia. I’m surprised!

  20. posted by tinyclairey on

    I don’t have a desk for work; I’m an on-the-road auditor. I work from a laptop bag, and finally was able to fit all my supplies; tape, scissors, pen, pencil, and stapler into a little makeup bag. And all the extra paperclips and binder clips got returned to the main office. Heck, I could probably return the stapler too, but it’s so darn cute!

  21. posted by Inadequate Wife on

    I keep pens and highlighters in a coffee mug on my desk along with a stapler and tape dispenser. The post-it pad lays on base of my monitor.

    I have a package of felt tip pens I routinely use too, and I keep them in the vinyl holder they came in, tucked inside the drawer (I use them to color-code things, and keeping them in the drawer prevents them from “walking away”). The paperclips are in a open plastic box in the drawer, along with a box of rubber bands and a box of binder clips. I have a ruler I use simply as a straight edge, not as a measuring device. And a pair of scissors.

    I use almost everything at least once a week, if not daily. The binder clips, ruler, and scissors are the least used, but provide a necessary service that justifies keeping them in the desk. As far as other junk in the drawer, I have none.

  22. posted by Beach Mama on

    What a great idea! I declutter on an ongoing basis but this is a great system to really get down to brass tacks . . . It makes good sense!

  23. posted by Teresa on

    I use the boxes that business card orders arrive in. Not to big, not to small. Top Drawer is in great shape. Its the 2nd drawer that needs help; extra plastic forks & spoons, granola bars, drink & sugar, salt/pepper packets, etc. Some great ideas above such as clamps, and pen boxes.

  24. posted by Linda on

    I have only one drawer, so everything goes in it. At the back of the drawer is a Sun-Maid raisin box, cut down to fit my space, and in it are rubber bands, but you could put anything in it. It is not as flimsy as a check box and can even be washed out occasionally. You could use several of these if you wanted to, and it wouldn’t cost you anything extra.

  25. posted by Cindy on

    I love the fact that I am not the only obsessive-compulsive person out there using old boxes, etc. to organize my desk. The funny thing is that others have noticed my neat desk drawers and have asked me to help them save boxes and organize them too. The little plastic boxes fresh mushrooms come in are another great find…

  26. posted by katrina on

    The stationery organiser in the photo looks lovely but I couldn’t use it. I’d want to have something in each section and would end up getting more stationery than less.

    Like ‘inadequate wife’ I use a coffee mug for my few pens, pencil, a staple remover and an eraser. I also use a pad of post-its, a few small binder clips and 2 highlighters – which are all stored in the top drawer to avoid mysterious overnight disappearances.

    @Marrena – I wish I could move to doing everything electronically. But some of the very intellectually clever people I work for are technologically resistant and respond to emails in fountain pen written on paper copies of the emails printed by their assistants. *sigh*

  27. posted by Lacey on

    I have a hard time keeping my desk drawer clean, and buying a desk drawer organizer wasn’t in my price range, so I went to my local Goodwill and purchased a cutlery organizer. The sections for flatware are the perfect length and depth for pens/pencils, and the larger square holes on the bottom and side are great for erasers, rulers, etc. For binder clips and notecards, I use one of the tiny desk dressers. I use binder clips on a daily basis (for everything from holding papers together to closing a bag of chips), so it works well for me to have them within reach.

    But yes, a cutlery organizer worked well for me and was much more cost efficient. Plus, having one of the holes shaped like a fork makes it kind of quirky without being obnoxious or distracting.

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