For many of us, the home office is the equivalent of the junk drawer — that spot where we quickly stash everything we want to put out of sight fast: piles of mail, magazines, even school notices and other kid-related stuff. But your desk area can and should be a more serene space, says Meryl Starr, a personal organizer in New York City and author of The Home Organizing Workbook: Clearing Your Clutter, Step by Step. Here, her easy ways to combat this mess magnet.
Stop searching for pens. A clear desk makes your office look instantly neater. Keep the items you use every day (pens, for instance) in a pretty cup and put everything else (scissors, stapler, Post-its) in a drawer.
Toss your junk mail. Keep a trash can handy, so you don’t let the worthless stuff pile up on your desk.
File it. Keep files organized, and you'll be more likely to stick to filing regularly -- a must for any clutter-free office. Use names that make the most sense to you ("home mortgage" instead of your lender's name, say) and alphabetize them. Create one large file for things like your car, and put in all related papers such as insurance and repairs. A few times a year, purge anything you don't need.
Use your wall. Bulletin boards save space and let you keep to-do lists, unpaid bills, etc., in plain sight. Warning: They can get cluttered fast. So choose a board that's at least 18 inches by 24 inches, group similar stuff together (a corner for receipts, another for invites), and, for a cleaner look, tack items so they don't overlap.
Pick a container color. Containers help you keep objects organized, and getting them in the same shade (stick with neutral hues) will unify the look of your office. Square and rectangular boxes are great for stacking; use large ones for projects (like your scrapbooking), small ones for things that tend to get lost (stamps, rubber bands).
Stash the keeper magazines. Another major cause of messy pileups -- old catalogs and magazines. Dump that Restoration Hardware catalog as soon as the new one arrives and put magazines you want to keep in caddies (try our pick, at right) organized by name or subject (home design, cooking, etc). Don't have the shelf space? Cut out articles you want and store them in a box or accordion file.
No more desk mess: Put pens in a sleek cup like Iittala’s ceramic Origo Mug (from $21; www.finnishgifts.com).
Well read: Stash mags in these Classic Magazine Collector holders ($40 for two; www.russellandhazel.com).