Ask Unclutterer: Organizing home office supplies

Reader Vera submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

I have loads of extra office supplies; like file folders, hanging file folders, envelopes, index cards, note paper, binder clips, glue, pencils, etc. Can you give me suggestions about storing these items that won’t take a lot of space?

I adore office supplies, especially new office supplies. They are possibilities and new ideas. They’re physical representations of all the great things I can create with those folders and clips and pencils. And, like you, if I’m not careful, they can overtake my office and clutter up valuable workspace.

In the past, we’ve written about how to store large numbers of office supplies when in a corporate environment in our posts “Organizing an office supply closet” and “Organizing and operating a central supply room.” There may be a few tips in these larger scale posts that you can apply to your smaller workspace. So, I recommend starting there.

Once you’ve checked out those posts, try these additional methods for containing your personal office supplies:

  • Know thy stuff and thy self. Assess the supplies you have and how you are using them, and if you are actually using them (I have a box of rubber bands in my desk, yet no idea when I last used a rubber band … 2008?). Sort the products into like piles (paper clips with paper clips, pencils with pencils). Identify how often you use the products and what circumstances are you in when you need more of that product. Also evaluate which products are your favorites and which ones you dislike.
  • Be realistic. Is there any way you will use all of those supplies in your lifetime? Any product you’re never going to use can instantly be placed in a box to be donated to someone who can use the product. Then, ask yourself how much stuff you can realistically store? Do you have room to store enough supplies for the next six months? The next year or two or three? Most people in their homes only have enough space to store items they’re going to be able to use in the next one or two years. Additionally, products like glue, ink pens, and rubber bands won’t necessarily make it that long before drying out. Set a use-by date (mine is two years) and keep only those supplies that you’ll use by that date (and be sure the ones you keep are the ones you love). Again, all those supplies you won’t use can go into a donation box.
  • Donate. All the supplies you won’t use up by the timeframe you chose can easily be donated to a school or non-profit organization. Obviously, call before you deliver the supplies to make sure the group wants them, but now is an especially good time to give these types of products to a school.
  • Store. The supplies that you have chosen to keep can be kept in two types of storage areas: immediately accessible and long-term storage. Divide your items into these two categories. Things that should be put into the “immediately accessible” pile are those things that you access more than one time a day. These might be a few pens, sticky notes, and paper clips. The “long-term storage” pile is for all your other supplies that you access as you need them, probably a couple times a week or month.
  • Organize. For your desk, I recommend getting a drawer organizer tray to help you keep those things you need daily in an orderly state. Measure your drawer (length, width, and depth) and then get a piece to fit the space. When putting items into the tray, keep like items together. If you don’t have a desk drawer, get an organizing caddy to keep those necessary supplies within arm’s reach on your desk top. For longer-term storage, you’ll want to contain your supplies in a way that gels with your design aesthetic. If the supplies will be stored in a closet or cupboard where they won’t be seen, you can aim for containers that are purely utilitarian. If the supplies will be stored on shelves where you can see them, you’ll likely want to aim for pretty or classy or industrial. Just be sure you like the containers you select because you’re more likely to repeatedly use something you love. Also, keep the items grouped (binder clips with binder clips) and label everything so you don’t have to open the container to know what resides inside it.

Thank you, Vera, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to be helpful to you today. And, be sure to check the comments for even more suggestions from our readership.

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

9 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Organizing home office supplies”

  1. posted by Marguerite on

    Thank you Vera (and Erin) for a hugely timely question and answer. Having decided to sell my beloved roll-top desk in favour of a more streamlined workspace, I have to face exactly this issue: thousands of paper clips, pens, sticky noted, stationery, you-name-it, to sort through and deal with. And then there are the countless bits and snippets, almost always on paper (business cards, cuttings from newspapers, flyers that seemed important at the time — and I’m not yet adept with Evernote or similar software packages.

    My mantra is to attack one drawer at a time, sorting, assessing, filing and yes, shredding the unnecessary. Even one drawer per day is a huge step forward in my process of detaching from a beloved and long-serving piece of furniture. I’m so pleased to learn that someone else is facing similar challenges!

    One of the most challenging for me is to get a handle on all these power packs, connection cords, recharging units, car unit adapters, etc, etc, etc. I can’t always tell what goes with which piece of equipment in the house – or if we even still own the relevant piece of equipment ! Any ideas about disposing of these orphans in a responsible way? Who accepts unlabelled and unwanted telephone jacks, for example? Help!!

  2. posted by Sue on

    Marguerite, it may be too late for your orphan cords, but we started using our label-maker and slapping a label on the charging cords for our cellphones, walkietalkies, videocam, Kindle, etc. as soon as it’s unpacked.

  3. posted by Bernice on

    This was such a timely article today, I have struggled with a problem for a very long time and have tried so many different things. I have sticky post it notes “with notes” on my desk, sometimes 10 or more. I have tried notepaper, dry erase boards, just about everything i can think of. I still go back to sticky notes. Right now I have note paper with bunch of notes on it, but i go bdck to sticky notes because i don’t read all my reminders on the notepaper. Dry erase boards get erased with my hand on the keyboard. I dont like to stick them up on the wall, and the wall is too far away anyway, and I have a window there too. Any suggestions? I dont want to use a program for my random thoughts , and I have a sticky note app on my computer, it is full!This is just fou fou stuff, like movies or a book, or a web site, stuff to google, no work stuff here.A home computer and desk.Thanks so much for any help you can give.

  4. posted by WilliamB on

    When I don’t have a desk drawer tray, I use small boxes to define my drawer storage space. Small supplies like paper clips come in these boxes, so do business cards and sometimes small packages.

    A pricier option is drawer organizers, such as The Container Store sells ( Even just one in a drawer can make all the difference, separating pens and post-its from the rest of the stuff.

    I fiddle with what I have till the boxes no longer move around, then rip off the tops and put stuff in the boxes.

    @Bernice: it sounds like sticky notes work for you, why change?

  5. posted by JustGail on

    @Bernice, if sticky notes are working, I don’t see a problem. Sometimes keeping mental clutter to a minimum is worth a bit of visual clutter. Perhaps a frame that designates an area to put them might make it more appealing?

    I keep a simple text file on my computer of things I’d normally rip out of newspapers and magazines of places to go (public gardens for example) or things I’d like someday (like plant varieties for the garden). It cuts down on the bits of paper stuffed away, and my brain is happy knowing the information is somewhere in that one file.

    Regarding rubber bands – I’ve found that they need to be kept in the dark. It seems like whatever they are made of now is suseptible to rotting from UV – it’s really bad at work with florescent lights.

  6. posted by Bernice on

    I guess you are right, they must be working, but soooo many, and all these yellow papers sticking up on my desktop, just looks so untidy!Right now I have notebook paper with notes and on TOP of the notepaper i have sticky notes!For instance, the notepaper says a list: a greek phrase i want to remember,
    tieton surplus sales,
    google 2 toned furniture, stacey london what not to wear, flash drive b’s emails, oregon Garden silverton or…etc on the sticky notes Humana, Ohana appt, pay charter bill, antique prayer book,movies casablanca misfit…….etc…What is this all about?Every so often i go through them and either do them or discard them and START ALL OVER!I guess I just want to know what this means!AARRGGHHH

  7. posted by Jo-Anne on


    What it means….only you know…..sit with your sticky notes and ask… will be surprised at the answer…..

    My daughter who works in a big office, told me she has two books at work….one is the diary and one is a note book that everything relevant get written in…date, daily reminder list, who, what, when, why, how long etc. So I have adopted and customised her system to suit me.

    Relevant data goes to the diary, only task completed are highlighted…..I love a highlighter but never have more than one or two colours unless you can keep it straight…pink for you blue for you man yellow for the household… get my drift. By the way, I also do that with the files….blue for him, pink for me and plain cream for household.

    Back to notes…..I too love sticky notes but I have a plain spiral note book near the computer/phone….to date or not to date is the question……but I note, I doodle, I record, I use different coloured biros, I put in my sticky notes and reminders to self. I write my question when I need to make a call along with the person’s name, business name and other relevant data in my book….always leaving spaces and margins….I love margins and spaces…..for thoughts and other information….never think you have to fill the page…..outsourcing my memory I call it but in writing it down it also helps my memory.

    I highlight only completed tasks….transferred to the best place, phone calls made etc. However every now and then, usually when I am having a coffee or need a break, I go through the book and see what is NOT highlighted and assess if it’s use by-date has passed, if so I just highlight it if not I do it or highlight it and copy the information to the current page to do….whenever.

    Just One Book and when it is full I keep it handy when I start a new one just in case I need some information at a later date. When the current one is full I put it aside, start the new one and go through the previous book one last time….it’s a little nostalgic and fun….and then I put it in the rubbish after transferring anything that I may have missed and sometimes I even call that person again and get an update.

    It is also a good idea to at least put the date first used and when retired so if you are one to keep all of them you can store them neatly. I think of my children having to clean out my house when I fall off my perch……and remind myself to keep the treasure, keep an eye on and minimise what’s in transition and do the obvious with the trash.

    Sorry this was to be a short response…..

  8. posted by squibby on

    I made the mistake of ultra-organising my stationery a few years ago … because then I wasn’t using it because it looked so organised and bought more to use. *sigh*

    As soon as I got the new bits of stationery home, my husband messed up my ultra-organised stationery so I had an excuse to use it.
    He knows my thought processes way too well 🙂

    @Bernice, I suggest you find a way to store the post-its that don’t have to be on your desktop right now. Perhaps something like … sort the post-its into categories like ‘useful work references’, ‘quotes’, ‘web addresses’ etc. Then grab a sheet of paper, write the category on the top and stick relevant the post-its to it. You can then store the sheets in a display binder or plastic sleeves, or pin them to a board, etc.

  9. posted by Laura on

    Bernice, Although I’m a big fan of sticky notes at work, I don’t like them cluttering my desk at home. I am a fan of lists, and I’ve found that Google Documents works really well for me. I have lists of movies I want to see, books I want to read, websites I want to revisit, etc. The beauty of it is that it doesn’t take up space on your computer, and you won’t lose the info if something happens to your computer.

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