I’ve just had an opportunity to declutter my workspace, having spent half of the day swapping my home office and my son’s room around. The swap wasn’t an excuse to declutter (rather, to make better use of the utter lack of telephone outlets in our house) but I take every chance I get; we all know how clutter can creep up and before you know it you can’t turn around in your chair without knocking something over.

I’m a musician and it has always been hard to keep my office space uncluttered; at a minimum I need a decent set of speakers, monitoring headphones, a keyboard, a mixer and digital audio input and an array of instruments in my working space to compose and create. That’s in addition to all the tools I need for the other half of my work life, which is writing. Each time I declutter I have to try and strike a balance between accessibility and lack of clutter, and each time I optimize enough to find a setup that works a little better.

I spend most days of the week in this room, usually way more than the recommended eight hours of work a day. So having a good workspace is important; ergonomic equipment is only one half of the equation – the physical half. The other half is mental, and for me, the best way to keep a positive attitude throughout the day is to have a clean, decluttered working area and a fair bit of natural light coming into the room.

Here’s what I did. Bear in mind you don’t have to go to this extreme end of the spectrum, but I was clearing out the room anyway so there was no harm in doing it properly!

1. Remove everything from the room

If you’re decluttering the same way I have, this means removing everything, including the assorted junk hidden in your cupboard (built-in wardrobe if your home office was really meant to be a bedroom!). Yes, I know it’s in there. You can’t fool everyone.

Now that the room is empty, I suggest taking the opportunity to vacuum, clean the walls, and do anything else you need to do to get the room in its best condition. You don’t empty the whole room often and this may be your last chance for a few more months, or even years if you don’t move regularly. The cleaning stage is all a part of decluttering, really, and fortunately you’ve got unhindered access to every cranny of the room.

2. View all items as equals

The first thing you do when you examine the contents of a room for decluttering is discount your ability to declutter certain things. You look at the furniture of the room, for instance, and don’t even consider whether you need it in there or not; your mind automatically bypasses those things and looks at the assorted pile of junk.

It is quite possible that the bookshelf or a part of your desk is actually clutter you don’t need. I have one of those corner desks similar to this (though way less ugly!). By viewing all my items as potential targets of the decluttering machine, I realized I could gain significant space in the room as well as provide less surface area for clutter creep by removing the rounded pane in the middle that connects the two main desk surfaces.

3. Choose necessities

The next temptation is to fill the room with things you think you might need to have on hand, but in reality only use once a week or once a month. The key to a successful decluttering is to choose the absolute necessities for your workspace, and only bring those items back into the office. At this point the only things I have on my desk are my computer, keyboard, mouse, speakers and a notebook (as in the kind with paper inside) and pen.

I’m trialling a system with my music equipment that will require me to bring them out of storage only when I need to use them. The main difficulty with this system in the past has been the time it costs to plug everything in and set it up, but I’ve found a solution that’ll only cost about a minute in set up time; I think I can live with that!

4. Place items consciously

Once you have made a conscious decision about what gets to come back in before you bring everything back in, you can go about finding a place for each item. Think carefully about where you’re going to put it in order to maximize the amount of room you have, in terms of both floor space and desk space. As I mentioned, removing one component of my desk allowed me to increase my floor space drastically which reduces the sense of clutter and claustrophobia. It has already made the office a much more productive and positive place to work.

Don’t just chuck everything you’re left with back in the way it came out. Decluttering is pointless unless you put some thought into every step and really optimize all aspects of your workspace. In short, decluttering isn’t just about throwing things away.

5. Make a commitment to regular decluttering

Many people would tell you that you should now make a general and obtuse commitment to keep your workspace decluttered, but we all know how clutter works. It creeps up slowly and you have to set aside a specific time at a regular interval to fight it off and keep it at bay. Whether you find five minutes at the end of each day or an hour once a week works best for you, don’t make the mistake of telling yourself you’ll just magically keep the workspace uncluttered with your newfound clean-freak attitude. You won’t. Just make a commitment to declutter again in the future at regular intervals.

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