Whether it's for running a business, or simply to handle your household's finances, having a place to work and store files is important. But it's more than having a desk and file cabinet. You need a place that works for you and how you operate.


Determine Your Work Style

Before you even think about how to set up your home office area, think about how you work. The most organized, pristine office won't be a good fit for you if it doesn't mesh with your work style and needs. Ask yourself a few questions before starting:

  • Do you like to have everything in front of you or do you like things stored neatly in files or drawers?

  • Do you like to have office supplies on your desktop, or do you prefer your desktop remain uncluttered and neat?

  • Do you use a computer, or are you more geared toward pen and paper?

  • Do you get all your bills electronically, or do you have them in paper form?

  • Are you good at remembering details, or do you need to jot them down?

  • How do you keep track of what you've completed and what still has to be done?

  • How do you remember appointments, meetings, and due dates?

  • Do you mail or ship things out on a regular basis?

  • How do you stay organized now? What does or does not work?


Figure Out What You Need

Once you've determined your work style, you can then find organizational tools and systems that help you stay on track. If you keep paper copies of bills, invoices, etc., you'll need a file cabinet with file folders. Or perhaps file trays are more your style for items you need instant access to. Don't forget inboxes and outboxes. And you'll likely need paper, pens, pencils, staplers and staples, tape dispensers, paper clips, rubber bands, and more -- and ways to keep them neat. How about a computer and printer? Fax machine? Copier? Do you like to work at a desk, or will a bookcase and laptop do? Will you need a phone nearby?

Make a list of everything you use on a daily basis. Then make a list of items you use often, then once in a while, then rarely. The more often you use something, the more accessible you'll want it, and knowing that ahead of time will help when it comes time to set up your space.

Once you have lists of items you use, take stock of what you already have. Do you have what you need? Are you missing something? Make a list of items you'll need to buy. If there's something you use frequently, you may want to have back-ups available for when you run out.

While you're thinking about what you use, think about how you use them. If you like to grab a pen when you need, do you have a place to store that pen so it's within reach? Is there a place to store an open ream of paper for the printer? Jot down possible organizational tools you'll want to pick up.

When you're creating your lists of items, think about how much space you have for these items. If space is limited, you may need a more compact organizational system, a smaller desk, or pieces that have multi-functionality (such as an all-in-one printer). Take measurements if needed.


Go Shopping

Once you know what you need, it's time to head to the store. Walking through an office supply store or department store can be overwhelming. It can also get your mind working in ways that can or cannot be helpful. For example, you may see that "cute" or "practical" storage system and be tempted to buy it -- even if its design doesn't work with your systems. That's why it's important to know how you work and what you actually need before you go shopping. It helps you avoid temptation and stay focused on what you'll really use.

If there are some items you were questioning how to organize, however, keep an open mind as you're shopping. You may come up with the perfect solution. Those organizers were designed for a particular purpose, and one may suit your needs.

Shop with your lists in hand so you know what you're looking for. You may want to consider stocking up on frequently-used items, as long as you have the space available. (You may also want to think about a storage system for extra supplies while you're at it.) Try not to go overboard, however. You may not go through items as quickly as you expect. Once you have your office set up and functioning, you can always go back to the store to pick up more supplies if needed.


Put It All Away

Bags and boxes can quickly take over a space. Before you clutter your office area with packaging, drop it all off outside the room. If possible, remove anything you already had in the room, as well. Only bring items into the room when you have a place in mind for them.

Start with any electronic items you have. Though you won't set them up quite yet, you'll want to make sure you have necessary outlets, internet connections, cable connections, and phone jacks nearby. Once you've determined where the electronics will go, set up any furniture you have. Assemble your desk and chair. Figure out where you'll put your file cabinet, bookcases, etc. Furniture will be the basis of the room, so make sure you place it where you want it. Sit at your desk and look around. Think about how you work, what you'll want within reach, and what can be across the room. It's a lot easier to move pieces when they're empty, so take the time now. You'll be happy you did!

While you're setting up your furniture, you may want to also take into consideration things like windows, bulletin boards, and doorways. Will they be distractions? Will they be useful work tools?

Once the furniture is in place, hook up your computer, printer, copier, telephone, etc.

Next, determine where you'll store extra supplies. That way as you're setting things up you'll know where to put half-empty packages and other miscellaneous extras. Set up any drawers, shelves, etc., that you plan on using for extra supplies.

Once the basics are in, it's time to start putting the individual supplies away. Set up file trays. Install hanging file folders. Put away pens and pencils, tape dispensers, staplers, staples and rubber bands, etc. Think about what you use and when. Make frequently-used items accessible. Think back to your work style. Are you placing items where they'll work for you?

Be careful not to put items across a room if you'll need them often. Likewise, don't take up prime real estate with items you'll use rarely. If you have corkboards or dry erase boards that you'll need throughout the day, be sure to mount them in an accessible location.


Organize What You Have

Unless you're starting from scratch, chances are you'll have existing files and paperwork that needs organization. Once the office area is set up, put these items away – before you start adding to the pile.

You may also have existing office supplies or equipment that needs a home. Put those items away as well. Don't be afraid to discard things you no longer need. Unused items will just take up space and distract you from what you need to focus on. Pack away any old paperwork that you need to keep but don't need readily available. Find a safe place to store it.

While you're putting these things away, you may come across conflicts or questions. Feel free to move things around and tweak your organizational system. Your office has to work for you, and if something isn't working, fix it! Sit in your chair and pretend you're working. Are things where you want them?

Once everything is in its place, sit back and enjoy your new work space!