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An organized home office
Credit: Tosca Radigonda

Q. I am a clutterbug and am often overwhelmed by the amount of paper in my life. Do you have any tips for organizing my office so that it won't look like such a mess?

A. When it comes to banishing clutter, old habits die hard. Implementing (and maintaining) new systems are just as important as the physical space you're organizing. Keep any home office working for you by sticking to a few basic principles:

File Away

The tried–and–true "touch it once" rule really works—once you touch a piece of paper, either act on it, file it, or throw it away. Assign file folders with categories that work for you, and discipline yourself to drop each piece of paper into the appropriate file the first time it crosses your desk. Resist the temptation to let piles build. If something comes along for which you don't have a file category, create one on the spot.

Take Control

Create a system that allows you to decide when to work on what, so you don't feel ambushed by the paperwork, bills, and invitations that flood your office. Set up an in-box for holding unread items and an out box for things ready to be passed along. A desktop file rack should hold only current project files, with less frequently needed items tucked away in cabinets or on shelves. Have a wastebasket (and perhaps a paper shredder) within reach so you can instantly trash items you don't need.

Divide and Conquer

Separate personal from professional paperwork, birthday invitations from bills. Set aside a reasonable amount of time to do scheduling, respond to invitations, and pay bills. Don't, however,  try to do it all at once. Keeping like items grouped together will allow you to deal with things more efficiently.

Store Properly

Books, magazines, and other reading materials you intend to keep should be kept on shelves or in cabinets. Attractive document boxes and magazine files are widely available and will help keep the space looking clear, so you'll actually enjoy spending time there.

Empty and Purge

If you notice the piles of paper starting to build, don't panic—just address them. When your files are bursting out of their cabinets, it's time to devote an afternoon to purging.

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