Organizing paper clutter – why a neat desk makes sense

posted by: Allison West
messy desk

Albert Einstein was known to have a notoriously messy desk. Think it bothered him? Not in the least. He responded to critics by pointing out, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign of?”

Scientific geniuses like Einstein, Mark Twain and Steve Jobs were well known for their sloppy desks. In their defense, there’s a good amount of research showing that messiness makes us more creative. Visual clutter supposedly allows our minds to wander and make the different connections necessary for creativity.

See the workspaces of Albert Einstein, NASA scientists, Stephen Hawking and others.

Don’t judge me!

Even though your messy desk may work just fine for you, be prepared for some judgement from your coworkers.

In a new study just released by The University of Michigan, psychologists conducted three experiments that explored how the degree of messiness in a workplace affected perceptions of the owner’s personality.

In each situation, the messy desk owners were seen as “neurotic, careless, cranky and uncaring.” And the participants who judged them also said they would treat them differently because of their sloppiness.

The Paper Culprit

stack of papers

The National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) says the top reason for our disorganization is paper clutter. Having a messy desk isn’t a problem until things get lost. Your boss will mind plenty that you lost an important report and spent too much time searching for it.

  • Some studies reveal the average person wastes up to 4.3 hours a week looking for papers.

Paper clutter hurts productivity in another way – it overloads the brain. An overwhelmed brain can’t give any single thing the attention it deserves. The result? Your work quality suffers.

AnyJunk claims that “overloading forces your brain to divide its power,” and makes it difficult to:

  • Sift through information
  • Move quickly between tasks
  • Have a strong working memory

Enough is enough!

Is your brain overwhelmed with clutter? When do you know it’s time for a clean-up?

For me, the process starts with a question: How will my messy desk make me feel the next morning? Will it energize me or bring me down? I don’t want to look at projects from six weeks ago still taking up valuable space.

That being said, there’s a big difference between standard office clutter like sloppy papers and a few too many pens and a toxic mess of old food wrappers, dirty coffee cups and empty pop cans. If you’ve got a filthy mess, clean it up.

Reclaim your desk

There are many ways to organize your desk at work. The “in for a dollar, in for a pound” method works best for me. This method requires brutal decisions about what MUST be thrown away versus what’s worth saving and organizing.

On top of your desk

First clear your desk completely. Clean any dirty, dusty surfaces with cleaning wipes or a damp paper towel.

  • Throw away unnecessary papers. If they’ve been there for a long time it usually means you’ve already put off a decision about whether to keep or throw them away.
  • Avoid duplicating what you store electronically and on paper.
  • Return extra paper clips, pens and notepads to a designated place inside a drawer.

Video: see it in action!

Commit to an organizational system

Once you’ve decided what papers to keep, here’s an idea for how to organize them. Try a UniKeep binder.

This binder is a fully-enclosed, case style binder with rings that offer dust-free, archival-safe protection for your documents and projects. Its clear polypropylene overlay makes customization and repurposing a breeze, so you can use it again and again.

The UniKeep binder functions as a completely customizable planning, identification, and storage system. Pair it with sheet protectors, pocketed pages and divider tabs and you have a great organizational tool. You can customize it further by inserting your own cover design.

A good idea comes from the experts at Fantastic Cleaners. Implement a simple shared cleanup routine. Clean the desk of the person nearby and thus make a healthy switch. The effect is simple, yet rewarding micro teambuilding.

Do more with less

Take a long look at your desk space. Do you really need to have the tape dispenser and stapler out every day? How about that stack of three sticky note pads on your computer stand?

Start taming clutter by deciding:

  • What needs to be put away - if it doesn’t belong with you, place it where it belongs.
  • What can stay on your desk – what do you use every day? If you haven’t used it in months, give it away or throw it out. This goes for equipment, supplies, personal items, etc.

Remember that clearing clutter will save time because you won’t be searching for what you need. And it will instantly lift your spirits!

Do a little organizing every day

It’s very rewarding to work in a neatly organized, clean workspace. But keeping it that way takes practice. Make it a habit to clean up a little each day so you don’t have an overwhelming mess to deal with by Friday.

Speaking of Friday, it’s a great day to do a quick audit of your desk and office space and get ready for next week!

About UniKeep

If you have a creative interest or hobby, look to UniKeep for organization. Our binders, kits, accessories and office products are available in a full line of styles and sizes, for everything from photos, crafts, video games and recipes to wallets for CDs and DVDs.

Contact UniKeep at 1-800-829-8117 or click