The Office Jungle Gets Tamed

The Office Jungle Gets Tamed

Tarzan. Jane. Get that pesky monkey off your back and learn to tame the disorganization in your office. If productivity is down, give your staff the tools they need to work smarter, not harder. Where you work has a tremendous impact on how you work. Studies show that our physical environment has a direct effect on productivity. The good news is it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Simply upgrading a few of the essential items in your office can make a big difference – from new office furniture to office supplies.

Get moving with mobile furniture.

We have all heard the benefits of ergonomic chairs but we are starting to hear more about adjustable and mobile furniture. Adjustable desks, such as Safco’s Adjustable Standup Workstation, pictured, will allow staff to work more comfortably. Mobile filing cabinets are becoming increasingly popular as well. With the invent of cloud technology, we need less space for paper storage – and nothing makes an office jungle messier than stacks of paper.

Safco Adjustable Stand-Up Workstation

Technology is an investment.

Everyone has to deal with clutter; some people just deal with it more successfully thanks to the way they were raised, their own personal tolerance for disarray, or by teaching themselves one good habit at a time to get it under control. You’re not a bad person or terminally disorganized if your office is a mess right now. You’re simply a person who hasn’t taken the time to learn new habits that help you keep your office as organized as you’d like (or you’ve been crazy busy with the holidays). This guide aims to help you get started and give you the clean and clear space to serve as a launch pad for further organization.

Let’s use the ubiquitous capture method from the Getting Things Done system as a parallel example. Some people scoff at writing everything down (the core of GTD’s ubiquitous capture) and say things like “I don’t need to write everything down! I have a great memory! I get by just fine!” We both know they don’t have as strong a memory as they claim, but the real issue is that it’s like someone saying “I don’t need to use that pulley! I can lift this heavy thing all by myself! I’m fine!” It’s a terribly inefficient way to go about things.

We invented pulleys — and notebooks to capture our thoughts — specifically so we didn’t have to work so hard. You might get by with a filing system that consists of piling papers precariously on the corner of your desk and only throwing stuff away when it mounds too high for you to see your monitor, but it’s silly to argue anything but that you’d get by better if things were put away properly. I have never met a creative person who was disorganized that wouldn’t have more time to be creative if their life wasn’t a tornado of chaos and clutter.

Why Your Office Is Cluttered

No one makes it to adulthood without understanding what a garbage can is. Cluttered offices don’t happen because you simply forgot how to get rid of stuff. We can’t tell you exactly why your office is cluttered, but we can offer you some things to consider, and highlight trends among people with cluttered offices and homes.

For some people it’s a matter of scarcity. They view possessions as a type of security, an insulator against change. As long as you’ve got stuff in your drawers and junkmail piled up on the sideboard, you’ve got some barrier against scarcity and want.

Other people hate making decisions and would prefer to put off decision making for as long as possible. Most of the time they can’t — bosses demand answers, utility companies demand payments, the government demands your tax return — but in the areas they control, like dealing with the stuff piling up on their desk, they can say “Not now!” Unfortunately the not now can easily turn into never, ever other people are ineffective at managing their time. They want a clean office but they manage their time in such a loose fashion that there simply is never a window in the day where they can sit down and clear their desk to start fresh the next day.

This guide isn’t going to—and can’t—tell you exactly what the underlying force behind your office looking like a post-apocalyptic nightmare is, but we offer some questions for reflection. If you want to get right into the cleaning and organizing part you can skip this section, but we’d strongly recommend you don’t. Without a little reflection on changing your mindset and habits you’re simply polishing up your office to prepare it for another mess. Read over these questions and make note of your answers.

  1. How does my office make me feel?
  2. How do I feel when I throw stuff away?
  3. People with clean offices are… ?
  4. Clutter is OK when… ?
  5. My office would be clean if I only had more time/money/space/… ?

Years ago when my office was a cavern-like structure of shelves and piles even more cluttered than the photo above, I would have answered the first question with “It makes me feel like I’m going to be crushed to death under all my stuff,” but now I’d answer “It makes me feel happy and in control of my workflow.” It’s up to you to work through the questions and decide if an answer like “People with clean offices are uptight is contributing to you not getting your office to the level of organization and efficiency you would like it to be.

The important thing is you figure out what the underlying cause of the clutter is. Your office isn’t a wreck because you magically forgot how to use the trashcan. It’s a wreck for some other reason, the piles of unattended to paperwork, the tangle of cables, and the pop cans lined up along the windowsill are just the after effects.

Everything must go.

Digging at your own brain to figure out the hidden factors contributing to your office disaster is hard work—it’s time to look at the physical side of things.

We’re going to enter this phase of saving your office with the mantra “Everything must go.” Ultimately you won’t be getting rid of everything, but you need to shift your perspective. Right now you hang on to too much stuff for too long. Doubtful? Look at that pile of paper on your desk. When you keep stuff past the point it should have been shredded, recycled, thrown out, or put back into storage you’re operating under a “just in case” mentality which will always lead to clutter and disorganization.

We don’t live on a remote island with once a year mail service. We live in the modern world where you can buy anything, anytime, and either have it that day or overnighted to your house. Holding onto something “just in case” is a mild form of hoarding. The mantra for decluttering and reclaiming your space is “Everything must go.” Your office might be a total wreck or it may just be a few weeks overdue for a good threshing. You’ll need to adjust some of the following rules to suit your situation. Don’t wimp out on them though! It’s not “adjusting to your situation” if you decide not to do something because it looks too hard or time consuming. You’ll never get an organized office by saying “Hmmm cleaning out the drawers doesn’t really apply in my situation, I like my drawers full. I’ll just skip that step.”


Get together some simple supplies. Never buy any organizing tools until you’ve lived with a clean office for awhile and found that Organizer XYZ or Laptop Stand ABC would actually benefit you. Note: While we are an office supplies company and would be happy to have your business, we are not going to tell you to purchase something before we think you will actually need it! Buying organization stuff before you know you really need it is just asking for more clutter and chaos.

You’ll need, at minimum, three containers of some sort—sturdy laundry baskets are great—some heavy-duty garbage bags, some Ziploc bags—the kind with the label space already on them are awesome—and some masking tape and a sharpie. We need containers to put stuff in, bags to bag things, and the marker and tape to label.

Blocking The Time

Cleaning out a cluttered office takes time. You can clean even the most cluttered office out in a weekend but you have to put aside the time to do it and you have to be committed to getting rid of the clutter. You need to set aside a block of time where you won’t be interrupted and you need to commit to using that time effectively. Remember the mantra. Everything must go.

Setting Up

If at all possible, if you can completely empty your office that’s ideal. When I did my office makeover, I emptied my entire office right down to the tile floor. It makes it so much easier to control the flow of what goes back into your office space when the room is completely bare from the start. If you can’t empty your office because there’s nowhere for the stuff to go or your boss would frown on you upending your office into the shared hallway, you can work within the space—you’ll just need to be more diligent about not letting stuff creep back into your space while you’re working.

This is where the three containers come in. One container is for stuff that’s going straight to the trash, one is for stuff that you’re keeping but doesn’t actually belong in the office, and the third is for stuff you’re going to donate. Let’s get something clear here, however. Donating is great (and we really do recommend it), but if donating the item really means you’re just going to move an item to a pile you’ll never get to, you just need to trash (or recycle) it. The cluttered office is evidence enough that you’re crunched for time, why make yourself feel guilty over a box of stuff you’re going to take three months to get to the donation center? When in doubt, just trash it. Everything must go.

How do you decide what to trash? Start from the default position that everything absolutely has to get the hell out of your office. Everything. If you can’t justify the existence of something in a concrete and immediate fashion it’s headed for the dumpster.

We hope our advice helps you tame your jungle of an office! On our Facebook page, let us know how it goes!

Featured Office Organization Products

Sparco Smart Solutions Organizer with Two Letter TraySparco Smart Solutions Organizer w/ Two Letter Tray Sparco Removeable Storage Drawer OrganizerSparco Removeable Storage Drawer Organizer
Safco Mesh Desktop OrganizerSafco Mesh Desktop Organizer Lorell Mesh Desk Drawer OrganizerLorell Mesh Desk Drawer Organizer