If you’re like me and run a business or side hustle from a home office (or just work remotely), then you understand the need to have a clutter-free, minimalist home office environment.
Growing up, my Mom always told me, “clear space, clear mind.”
That little nugget has always stuck with me—and I believe it.
My friend Joshua Becker just authored a new book, The Minimalist Home: a room-by-room guide to a decluttered, focused life. In it, he dedicates a chapter to the home office.
I thought it was a perfect time to:
- share some tips on keeping a minimalist home office
- give you an update with you on my home office situation
- give my thoughts on Joshua’s home office tips
- share my action plans for removing some of the cluttered chaos in my work life
Table of Contents
1. Define Your Home Office Space
Did you know? According to our partners at FlexJobs:
“3.9 million U.S. employees, or 2.9% of the total U.S. workforce, work from home at least half of the time, up from 1.8 million in 2005 (a 115% increase since 2005).”
There’s a lot of us out there with working spaces in the home. And more folks joining our ranks every day.
Let’s look at some ways (heavily inspired by the book above) we can clean up that space and be more efficient.
Typically, more than any other room, the home office can be a catch-all room for a bunch of things:
- general office (business, side hustle, family finances)
- piano room
- reading room
- extra playroom
It’s okay if the room is dedicated to a few of these things if it’s a big space, but it can’t be all of this.
Set some limits as to what this room is—can you move some other activities out of this space?
Don’t try to do too much in this one space. The chaos will naturally lead to clutter.
How I define my space:
My home office has had several iterations, but right now it’s dedicated to my work with this website (I have a stand up desk and a standard office desk – both of which I made and use).
It’s where I handle some of our family finances, and it’s where I allow my kids to practice the keyboard or occasionally play their computer game of choice, Prodigy Math.
It will also hold temporary FinCon-related storage from time-to-time.
Since I go into a co-working space two or three days a week, I think it’s okay my home office is used for the kids’ keyboard or computer games while I’m not there. This activity only uses two extra items which can be easily stored away.
But this space is not for FinCon storage—I have an actual storage space for it.
So I’ll need to ensure this stuff doesn’t creep into this space anymore.
2. Declutter Your Office Desk Drawers and Cabinets
Once you have your goal for this space, it’s time to declutter the drawers and cabinets.
If you’ve had your home office for some time, you likely have a few desk drawers and filing cabinets which have collected a few things.
Let’s clean it out.
Take everything out of the drawers and cabinets and only put it back if you’ve used it in the past year, or you need to keep it for record keeping.
Only keep one of every type of office equipment or supply!
Put everything else in a pile to sell, donate, or trash. Old electronics can be sold on a site like Decluttr.
What types of records should you keep?
I won’t try to tackle this entire list here but I will add a few key points:
- Get yourself a safe for those physical/embossed “forever items”: passports, wills, marriage licenses, life insurance policies, titles, deeds, and birth certificates. I use this small, fireproof safe (from Amazon.com) and I’ve found that once it starts getting full I need to throw some things out. Small safe = less clutter.
- Keep all tax records in a filing cabinet or storage bin for at least seven years. Here’s more from the IRS on keeping tax records.
- Keep all origination documents for mortgages, loans, investments, for as long as you have the debt or investment.
- Don’t keep statements, bills, receipts, you can get online. And don’t keep anything that gets replaced by a newer version (like an insurance policy).
- Finally, digitize as much of this as you can. It’s a good idea to even snap a picture of your “forever items” to have on file.
My desk drawers and cabinets:
One of my desks has drawers and filing cabinets, and so it’s got a combination of:
- office equipment (staplers, pens, etc)
- personal finance files and checkbooks
- business files and checkbooks
- some small electronic cords and accessories
I’ve also got a couple of bookshelves, both of which have cabinets: one side stores the safe and printer, and the other side stores random boxes, supplies, and FinCon goodies.
I need to take my old business records and have some service scan them and organize them for me. I also need to give those small electronic accessories a once-over to decide what hasn’t been used in a while.
Finally, I need a drawer completely empty so I can take everything off the desktop at the end of the day and store it away out of site.
It’s a goal of mine to have a clean desktop at the end of each day.
3. No Extra Décor on Display: Books, Diplomas, and Extra Furniture
Now that everything behind the scenes is organized, we can take a second look at what’s in plain view.
Do you have too much stuff on the walls, on the shelves, or simply on the floor in your office?
Remember, you committed above to the goal of making this truly a home office.
- Let’s start by pulling out all the furniture which doesn’t fit. Find another place in the house for it or get rid of it.
- Then tackle the walls. In his book, Joshua references an “ego wall” of diplomas and awards. Get rid of anything on the wall “that’s more distracting than helpful.”
- Finally, pull off all the books and don’t put it back unless you are reading it, you will be reading soon, or the book has sentimental value. Consider switching to digital here too. I use Audible for all of my “reading” these days and find it far more productive to listen on the go and at a speed that suits me.
My décor and furniture:
I’m guilty of the “ego wall.” While I’m proud of my education and it’s certainly nice to get rewarded for your success, these things do feel a bit dated and not as aspirational or meaningful as something fresh and simple.
I’ve also got a few musical instruments in the room which are more decoration at this point. I need to find another place for them or get rid of them. I do pretty well with my books and keep them trimmed down to just one shelf on my bookshelf.
I think it’s time for the diplomas and trophies to come down. I’m debating the musical instruments. I think the guitar could be hung on the wall and I’d be more likely to pick it up and strum. The drum needs to be moved to my closet or donated.
4. Commit to a Clean Desktop
If you’re like me, the clear desktop probably has the biggest impact on your sense of emotional well-being in the work environment.
There’s nothing sweeter than walking into my workspace to find a crisp, clean, clutter-free desktop to get going with my days’ work. This doesn’t happen naturally, so you’ll need to commit to it.
Your desktop is for the things you’re currently working on.
Don’t store stuff on your desktop which could/should be somewhere else. This is why #2 above is so important. Leave a desk drawer empty enough so it’s always available to store your commonly rotated desktop items.
My desktop situation:
It’s not uncommon for my desktop to get cluttered with:
- stuff brought home from travel
- business cards
I tend to revisit my desktop cleaning process every few weeks or so.
Something which has helped me a bit has been to have one bin on the desktop and commit to keeping everything there.
Another thing which has helped is purchasing this monitor stand from Amazon which gives me space under my monitor to store my keyboard and mouse at the end of the day.
I’m going to attempt to find space in my desk drawers to move the bin of papers. This way, the only thing on top of the desk is the exact thing I’m working on right then.
If nothing is there, then I think I’m less likely to drop trinkets or cards or other random items on the desk on an ongoing basis.
5. Deal with Incoming Paper
The home office tends to collect a lot of paper so you’ve got to create systems to allow you to sort through this paperwork quickly and efficiently.
- First, opt out of as much junk mail and as many statements as you can. Visit your bank to tackle the statements and visit the FTC for info on stopping all the solicitations. You don’t have to get this stuff!
- Secondly, get a recycling bin or shredder and place it beside your desk. In my opinion, this is an acceptable item to have out because it creates quick action. As soon as the mail comes in, sort it all, then drop the junk stuff and opened envelopes in the recycling bin. Done!
- If it’s a statement or bill or other important financial records, file it in the appropriate place. Nine times out of ten, I usually just snap a picture of the item and send the paper version to recycling anyway. I can usually deal with it digitally.
How I deal with paper:
I tend to let paper pile up in my bin and usually go through it all every week or every other week. When I’m doing this daily vs weekly I find I’m better at keeping the clutter at bay, of course.
As for opting out of mail, I did this myself several years back and it’s worked well. I primarily get things from companies I know. However, Mrs. PT did not opt out yet and so she still gets a ton of offers thanks to her impeccable credit score.
I’m going to encourage Mrs. PT to opt out. As for the incoming paper, a weekly routine should be good for now as long as that bin goes in the drawer.
Final Thoughts on The Minimalist Home Office
Hopefully taking some of these steps will lead to a happier, healthier work life for you and your family.
The home office can be a special place, where important, life-changing work gets done. So please don’t neglect it when it comes to trying to create a minimal lifestyle.
I’ll close with a quote from Joshua’s book which I found particularly useful for us side-hustlers:
“With a minimized home office, you can get—and stay—on top of whatever work you do there. And here’s the thing: when you’re on top of it, you can see more… and start taking steps to accomplish more. Maybe after entering your home office on a Saturday morning and realizing you’re totally caught up with your office chores, you can plan how to begin that part-time business you’ve been thinking about.”
The Minimalist Home: a room-by-room guide to a decluttered, focused life is available on Amazon. It’s got you covered for tidying up your entire home, not just the office.
And as Joshua always likes to share, you can simply reserve it for free at your local library if you don’t want to buy another book. You can learn more about Joshua by listening to this podcast episode I did with him.
What are your tips for keeping a clutter-free home office?