Carina has been typing on the internets before there was a www in front of everything. This is why she’s cranky and wants to know when you’ll get off her lawn. She resides in a hopelessly outdated home in the Mountain West with a mathematician and three children hell-bent on destruction. Her laundry is not done, but her Twitter is totally up to date. Carina does not have a Tumblr, because get serious.

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How to Organize a Desk

My desk is in my family room, which is the same room as my kitchen; it’s big and in the open. If I had people over my desk was sitting there, piled with my projects, cookbooks, fiction books, fabric, broken headphones, sewing needles, quilting batting, broken sunglasses, bills, taxes, financial documents, warranty cards, magazines, old mail, and general debris.

You might remember how terrible my desk looked.

Yeah, that’s the one. So embarrassing.

I had no place to work, so my laptop and I would go to the kitchen table, or the dining room table, where my mess would inevitably spread into satellite piles. Not good. Bad parental example. But I fixed it, and here’s how:

How to Organize a Desk

Decide how you’ll use the space.

I needed an area where I could work (that means a laptop,) space for sewing and craft projects, go through mail and pay bills, keep reference materials (cookbooks and magazines,) an area for kid art supplies, my art supplies, office supplies, media storage, and everything that’s related to all those tasks (everything from glue to DVDs.)

De-junk it. Be ruthless.

Determined to tackle this thing, I got down to work by ruthlessly throwing away all the junk. OK, most of the junk. I threw out three full large trash bags of crap. If you haven’t touched it in two years and it’s not important documentation, toss. You do not need that paper clip, I swear.

Get organization supplies

I picked up three clear bins with lids, two larger project bins, four smaller assorted bins, a small drawer box, a larger file box, two desk drawer organizers, three accordion file folders, one large binder with 4 plastic envelopes, and a label maker. Oh, that’s right, labels, I’m as serious as a heart attack.

Accept that your project will expand

In my original post, I suggested to confine your organization project to one space or area. While I still think it’s a good idea to create the idea of one finite project, in my case it wasn’t realistic. The desk is flanked by two closets, one small and one large. I had a ton of stuff I needed to keep, and two whole closets that were barely used. The solution: optimize all the space I had by cleaning out those closets, as well as my desk. Use the closets for things I wanted hidden (the kid art supplies) and items I don’t use as often. Keep the desk for my actual work space.

It will take longer than you think it will

As with most projects, it got worse before it got better. I’m fighting the last of the plague and so are the kids. I have three children, one of them is a baby. Homework, soccer practice, piano lessons, working, dinner, and basic housekeeping sucked my time, but I kept at it. Projects that used to take an afternoon, now stretch to days. I tried to quit, but kept working. Accept that your life no longer contains quick projects, and do it anyway.

Keep going: do one more thing

Like I said, the project got so huge, the days passed by, and I just wanted to quit. But I didn’t. Every night I’d try to get one more drawer finished, one more bin labeled and put away, another part of the closet cleaned out. You can create a pile-for-later-pile, but know that you’ll still have to deal with it eventually.

Get outside counsel

I got to a point where I had a pile of things that I still needed to find a home for, and no idea where to put them. I was 90% done, but just needed a little perspective. I asked my husband to take a look at the remaining pile of shame, and prompt me to make a choice where the items would live. I explained all of the organization to him and we found the holes in the system together. I could have asked my sister, or a friend, too, anyone who can give you feedback and help you finish the last of it.

And then, one late afternoon, LOOK!

Clean inside and out! Organized! Everything has a place! Everything in its place!

And I did it!

From the top, clockwise:

1. A desk lamp for task lighting, space for my laptop, a mail and pen caddy, magazine holders for my (wait for it,) magazines (If you must know: Atomic Ranch, Cook’s Country/Cook’s Illustrated, a Vogue or two, and The New Yorker.)

2. Top drawer with the desk drawer organizers, the mom office supplies, and a few lotions/sanitizers. The left top drawer has an organizer with the kid supplies, like pencils and erasers.

3. The organized closet! A space for my quilting supplies, notions, my sewing kit, extra fabric, interfacing, a new short bin for thread, and my nice pens and markets. Not pictured: a lower shelf that has the kids’ art supplies, upper shelves with my cook books, DVDs and other media.

4. A large file box for important documents that I don’t need to access all the time, like tax returns, that can live undisturbed at the top of the closet.

5. My new organization folders! First, small accordion file labeled “Coupons” for those and other items that I cull from the mail, need to take with me, and didn’t have a place before so the mail piled up.  A large accordion file I labeled “House” for warranties, manuals, and other related items. Two medium accordion files labeled with the kids’ names. Those are for school work I want to keep, photos, and various other items that my kids might want or need, say for memory/scrapbooks. And a large binder that has plastic envelopes where I can keep business receipts, medical receipts and docs, and anything else financial that I might need later. I even labeled one envelope “Sentimental”, where I can put notes and cards my friends send that I can’t seem to toss.

Keeping it up

This week I came into the house and immediately filed the receipts I needed to keep into the right folder. I put a few coupons into my blue accordion file. I made my son throw out a piece of garbage instead of leaving it on my desk. I took out my sewing kit and then I put it back in the closet, you know, where it lives. I wrote this post on my desk. WHO AM I?

What do you think?



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Cleaning Checklists

Best Ways to Get Organized

Laundry Tips and Organization

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Comments (5)

  1. Heather B 03/26/2012 at 7:11 pm

    CARINA!! It’s Like.. a Tardis!! HOW did you make it look so little on the outside and hold so much in the inside!!! Remarkable!

  2. Kalli 03/26/2012 at 3:34 pm

    It’s like I don’t even know who you are anymore.

  3. Jenny 03/26/2012 at 2:54 pm

    Holy Organized Batman! I bet Peter Walsh would be proud of you. I know I am. I also love your desk and chair and want them both.

  4. Erica 03/26/2012 at 10:31 am

    This is one helluva before and AFTER! Great job! I tackled my kids’ room this weekend and am going one room at a time from there. Thanks for your inspiration!!

  5. Amy Allen Johnson 03/26/2012 at 6:22 am

    Holy organization, Batman! you have a DESK! I’m confirming, “As with most projects, it got worse before it got better” at my house. To be fair, I didn’t have the guts to start until Thursday, so I’ll check back on Friday. Wow, still impressed.. way to DO!