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Setting up the New Home Office

Following four basic rules of organization can turn any home office into a workstation as fit and flexible as its inhabitant.  Real Simple magazine coaches reader Tzatzil Willebeek-LeMair on setting up her home office.

Separate personal from professional.

Willebeek-LeMair’s single biggest problem came from not separating her paperwork: It was impossible for her to work on one kind without constantly running across the other. Now that she has her papers cleanly segregated — thanks to extra shelving, filing cabinets, and bins — she can decide what she’ll work on, rather than being ambushed by an overdue bill or a renewal notice.

Clear the desktop.

Formerly a catchall, with piles stowed in nooks and crannies, the desk is freed up for its intended purpose: reading and writing. Papers that once covered her desk are still within reach, stowed in her original filing cabinets (bills and other home expenses to the left, invoices and business materials to the right). Supplementary job materials — magazines, mailers, tear sheets — are in labeled storage containers on five adjustable shelves installed above the desk.

Create a station for incoming and outgoing.

A wire-mesh file mounted on the wall to the left of the desk helps her keep track of the flow to and from the office. The upper basket contains bills, bank statements, and other papers that require filing. The lower basket is for items to take the next time she leaves the house. “Outgoing mail, notes for school, a racing shirt that has to be delivered — anything that’s urgent goes in there where I can see it,” she says. A portable filing box (shown on the floor to the left of the desk) allows her to easily carry files to meetings.

Consolidate, consolidate, consolidate.

Because she lacked shelves in her home office, Willebeek-LeMair used to store fitness books and magazines in the nearby family room. Since it was a pain to carry them back and forth, more often than not she simply dumped them on her desk. Now that they are within easy reach, she’s more inclined to put them back where they belong.

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