How to Defeat Workspace Clutter

I have started 4 articles for WorkAwesome in the last month, and each time, I’ve gotten frustrated. The words just won’t come out right. I was disorganized and I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t write anything down because I couldn’t find a pen. Or a pencil. Or even paper. Well no wonder! Look at the environment I was working in:

It’s like a Where’s Waldo puzzle, isn’t it? Can you find the keys, the Halloween pumpkin, the oven mitt and the cell phone? Riiiiiight.

I work from home. There was a dedicated home office in this house once upon a time. Then we had a kid whose taken over and I get to work on the dining room table.

Forget the mess, even, and look at where my light source is—directly behind my chair, glaring on the computer screen. Is it any wonder I couldn’t write a single thing?

Working from home has its own challenges. Here are some tips on keeping your desk from becoming a disaster like mine.

1. Remove the Clutter

I found actual homes for the pumpkin (outside) and the oven mitts (on top of the fridge). Clutter is the mind killer. I will face my clutter and find it a home. I was also missing a lot of things I normally need for work, so I gathered up a new pile of clutter and set it aside to organize.

2. Light Source

There’s nothing more distracting than not being able to read anything on your screen because the sun is reflecting right into your eyes. Sunglasses are not the solution (although I’ve actually tried). After I got rid of the clutter, I rotated the table 90° to the window. Now there isn’t a glare at all AND I can turn my head and look out the window and daydream if I want to.

3. Sanitize

Underneath that mess was a dusty, fingerprinted and germy mess. Even if everything was organized, I wouldn’t be able to stop obsessing over the thin film of grime, so out came the dust cloth. Now my desk is nice and shiny. And it smells good. Mmmmm. I can feel the zen already.

4. Wires, wires, wires

Do you see where the power cord for the laptop is in the messy photo? Yeah. I kept tripping over it when I got out of my chair. Now that I’ve rotated the desk, the cords go away from me behind the laptop. I can also finally hook up my backup hard drive because it sits in an unobtrusive spot on a small bookshelf where both the USB and power cords can reach where they need to. I have a printer, but I thought ahead on that one—it’s wireless and sits on top of the pantry.

5. Bringing everything else back

Now you can organize all of the other things you need to work: reference books, printer paper, pens, pencils, notebooks, CD, etc. I have a nice little wooden organizer sitting on top of a place mat so as not to scratch the nice dining table. Everything besides my computer is in it, so if I’m having people over and actually want to use my table, I just move two things and *presto* dinner time.

See my lovely new working space. It didn’t cost me a dime!

And now I can finish an article. Oh yeah.

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Stephanie is a graphic designer who has managed art departments in the non-profit and corporate worlds. She is currently Work(ing)Awesome(ly) at home with her company Studio Lewis Graphic Design.


  1. Web 2.0 Tools on the 20th October

    Well I had the same problem also but I figured it our 3 months ago… but I don’t recommend to use a chair like that get a boss chair for yourself like me 🙂

  2. Sergi on the 21st October

    I would like to know where did you find that little wooden desk organizer, because I want one similar, please 🙂

    • Stephanie Lewis on the 21st October

      I would love to tell you, but it was a gift to my husband from a former employer. He says he’s willing to bet it was from Target about 10 years ago.

  3. Murray on the 21st October

    My desk could really use some cleaning up at the moment as well. I’ve got stacks of early drafts of some of the papers I’ve wrote that were updated over and over, probably should just throw them away.

    My wall of sticky notes aren’t helping either haha.

    I agree that probably the most important thing is a great light source. Being left in the dark, no pun intended, sort of zones you out but being next to a window can bring you both natural light and great inspiration. If you’re not able to be around a window, I would say avoid using fluorescent lights as they are quite harsh, so go for something more natural, perhaps a lamp with stained paper to give the room a really nice vibe.

    It’s a bit low tech, but if you could use a pvc pipe that’s slit open to hide your chords in the back of your desk. Yes, it’s a bit cheap but clears them up nicely haha.

    Also, with the winter coming up, sanitizing is really important at the moment, especially if you work in an office environment. Don’t let your neighbor come over and sneeze on your desk heh.

  4. Enk. on the 21st October

    Interesting read, really enjoyed .. My workspace is really really cluttered and alot messy ! 😀

  5. Catherine Cantieri, Sorted on the 21st October

    Great work! I like the step-by-step solution, and I really like that you included “Sanitize”! It’s so easy to forget that step, but during The Cold And Flu Season, it can be a lifesaver.

    Love your desktop organizer, too!

  6. Brian on the 21st October

    One thing I do is utilize Outlook to the max! Here are some things I do:
    – Lots of recurring tasks
    – Put directions in tasks
    – Forwarding emails with a future date that need followed up down the road.
    – Use the calendar, especially recurring meeting

    This helps keep lots of stuff off the desk. Brian

  7. Daniel Groves on the 21st October

    Glad that appeared today. I was gunna tidy my desk in a moment =P

  8. zoe4ever on the 22nd October

    I’m having the same problem and work always to get rid of chaos.

    Thank you for these tips.

  9. Lisa Parris on the 30th October

    What about files! My desk looks like yours except minus the random stuff and plus tons of paper stacks, magazines, notepads, etc! I loathe filing! Maybe you guys can give us file-aphobes ideas for getting our filing system straight!

  10. monsieurj on the 3rd November

    I’m trying the Getting Things Done Methodology, frst thing is to trash, dump, get rid of un needed stuff.
    My desk seems very professional now 🙂

  11. shakageek on the 20th December

    This is similar to how I also clean up my working space before I begin to work. When I have a dirty and disorganized working place, I can’t concentrate for nothing!

    If I may suggest, I would also focus the working space in a place where it does not cause distraction, like a window to the street or something..

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