Oct 13, 2011

Organize Me

After tackling this overflowing Home Office re-organization project earlier this year, I realized that organization is an imperative element to design.  What's the use of a highly designed home if it's not an efficient space for living life?

In all my projects, I strive to create elegant spaces for my clients that are comfortable and efficient.  But how can one create efficiency when clutter seems to take over?

Clutter is normal.  Life happens.  If you saw my kitchen table at any given moment, you'd see that I fall victim to the clutter beast, just like everyone else.  But, the challenge (i.e. the secret) is to create an infrastructure to move the clutter through your home and into designated paths.  Circulation is key, here.  Clutter can't come into the home and stop moving.  Whether you file it, shred it, or recycle it, the point is that your paperwork clutter has a final destination in your home. 

This particular room was a huge stress for my very dear client, who shares this office with her young daughter.  They each have a desk, and matching chairs on wheels for zooming over to each others' workstations to help on homework or view a fun youtube together.  But, the clutter took over in this room, engulfing the pathway between their desks.  Piles of unsorted mail, dated catalogs, old post-it notes and rejected school supplies piled up on every surface, including the floor. 

BEFORE: Piled up paperwork on desks and the floors made this space difficult to navigate

AFTER: Cleared surfaces show a lovely, spacious room, perfectly suited for bill paying, homework and reading.

I had been working with this client for months by the time she was ready to tackle this space together.  It seemed insurmountable, but we pumped ourselves up and started with a simple plan:
  • Start with 1 pile, and go through every document in the pile.   
  • Each piece of the pile goes into one of 3 bins:  FILE, SHRED or DONATE.
    • Yep, donate.  There were a number of unused or duplicate school supplies and office supplies in this office that we decided to donate to a needy cause in her neighborhood.  You'd be surprised how many unneccessary/surplus binders you find in your piles once you start piecing out each item.
  • Finish the pile.  Smile.  Have a sip of tea.
  • Repeat the process on a new pile. 
It sounds like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not.  The only way we could stay optimistic about this massive clear-out was to pretend that it wasn't all that massive at all. 

BEFORE:  It was overwhelming at first, but we took it pile-by-pile to get through it.

AFTER:  The pile-by-pile method broke up the colossal pressure of the project. 

The office serves the entire household, and as such there are many different pieces of equipment needed in the room.  Try as I might to clear out the whole place, it's a working office with many demands, so the big laser printer needed to stay, as did an inkjet priner and a separate high-performance fax machine (the latter of the 2 live in that fantastic bookstand at the window that faces their pretty street). 

BEFORE:  Without a system in place, this bookcase was under-utilized

The tall bookcase had been a dumping ground for packaged paper products, phone directories and reference books.  I decided to completely empty the entire case before refilling it with sorted goods.  Doing so gave us a chance to wipe down all the shelves and grab those teeny dust bunies that gather in the back corners.  It also gave us a blank canvas to which I assigned 'jobs' to each shelf.  For example, I assigned the middle shelf to house the spiral-bound directories because they are used most often, because the middle shelf was the most comfortable reaching distance for my client in her seated rolling chair.  Each shelf was given a purpose, a job.  And seeing each surface as a dedicated space for only a pre-assigned category can mentally steer you a way from dumping random clutter onto the surface in the future. 

AFTER:  Previously, this bookshelf was under-utilized until we assigned each shelf a 'job.'

We purchased clear side-loading plastic trays for all the various printer papers and stationery goods.  I used my trusty label maker to affix to each tray.  Clear labeling of assigned duties for your organization accessories helps keep the infrastructure in place down the road.  Also, I think the space looks cleaner when the packaging on the reams of paper were removed.  They're rather unsightly with sagging sides & torn edges.

BEFORE: Looking out to the hallway through a series of messy obstacles

AFTER: Clear, clean and cool.
I was the motivator and foreman on this project but, in the end, this was her life and her office so she did much of the hard work.  Were it a kitchen organization or a mudroom, I could have handled the project alone.  But with something like a home office, the homeowner has to lead the way.  She wanted to keep old financial documents and homework that her kids had done years prior, things that I might have considered shredding.  She needed to sort through the paperwork that backs up her life, not me. 

I am incredibly proud of her enthusiasm and dedication to the challenge.  She and I worked two 14-hour days, back to back, but we "moved mountains," as she said.  I've visited her home since we did this job, and I'm delighted to report it's just as tidy & neat as the night we finished.  The system really changed her method of dealing with paper clutter.  I felt that I gave her the room back. 

To me, interior design isn't just about making pretty rooms.  It's about creating functional spaces.  Function can only come from efficiency, and efficiency is mastered with good infrastructure.  Organizing is just as valuable as designing, and I'm proud of my results in both sectors.


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