Organization Challenge: How to Clean Out Your Home Office

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This month we are excited to work in a room that is near and dear to our hearts: the home office! We use a process called 5S when we work in any office. 5S is an organizing method that allows you to maintain order and eliminate waste in the workplace by reviewing office items and minimizing clutter.

The 5 S’s are Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain. For more information on 5S and how it can help you, check out our Organizers Northwest Business Services: 5S Lean Office page on the subject. We also have a helpful blog on the subject, called Defining 5S in the Lean Office. This method can be applied virtually anywhere in the home!

This month, we are going to show you how to apply the 5S’s in your home office, step-by-step.

Get Prepared

Prepare for your 5S office organizing project by gathering all needed items. We recommend a label maker, garbage bags, post-its, sharpies, tape and any cleaning products and dusting rags you may need. Make sure you have adequate light and lots of snacks! You should budget two days for this project – one for sorting and a second for the remaining steps.

1. Sort

Begin by sorting paper into categories based on how you want to file them later. Use post-its to assign temporary categories before making permanent files labels, since you may change your naming conventions as you go. Make sure to keep your topics broad; our rule of thumb is to never have a file with less than four or five papers inside of it. Think about how you will look for things later on. For instance, you car will change over time. Naming the file “Cars” is better than naming it “Subaru.” Be sure to separate any papers requiring an action from those that will be used for reference.

Don’t forget to sort your office supplies when you do this step! This should be done separately from paper. We recommend gathering all office supplies together and placing them on a large clean surface to sort through. Place like with like, remove excess and donate or relocate to another area.

2. Set in Order

Once you are firm on your paper file categories, you are ready to create file tabs. Decide where paper file categories deserve to live based on how often you refer to them. When you return to the paper requiring an action, address the items that can be done in five minutes or less and complete them right away. For the remaining papers, consider making a QuickSort file for your desktop. You can find directions for how to do this on our blog, Organizing The Household Paper Trail: Tip #2. A quick sort file helps you to separate action into verb-based categories so that you can “batch” your to-do’s all at once.

3. Shine

Take the time to dust down the insides of drawers, around power outlets, lights and plants. Pay particular attention to the back of your computer. Check the fan and remove dust from behind all electronic parts. There is no better time to get things clean than after an organizing session!

4. Standardize

Here is a great test of whether your standardization work is complete: imagine that you are away and you need someone else to locate a file for you. Would they be able to find it based on your directions? If not, return to the system and clarify it even more.

5. Sustain

This piece of 5S is in some ways the hardest. The work of sustaining your efforts relates directly to your ability to return to the project for regular maintenance. That means creating a designated time each month, week or even daily to put things back in order and maintain the system. Put it in your calendar, make a date with yourself to keep the work up. You deserve it!

Happy Organizing!


Organizers Northwest (ONW) is a team of Professional Organizers led by Missy Gerber, a third generation Oregonian and leader in the organizing world of the Northwest for the last 10 years.

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