Simply Saturday ~ Andréia’s office transformation

The Dreaded Office Project

A guest post by Andréia

My home office is also my working office as I work from home. But I don’t work for a company, I work independently and my clients come to my office to talk and to hire me. Some time back I began to notice my office was always a mess, I started to find it necessary to begin my client sessions with an apology saying: “Sorry about the mess, I am doing a cleanup…” But that was a lie! I was not doing a cleanup I was trying desperately to keep my office under control.

I felt bad that my clients’ first impression was not of me or my words, or how well I could or would do the job, but of my disgusting messy office. This is not a good way to present myself or my business and things had to change. Then, in October 2010 I decided I have had it with this place. The desk, which is very long (about 2 meters = 6.5 feet) and wide (about 1 meter = 3.2 feet) was FULLY PACKED WITH STUFF!

I had piles of paper, folders piled high, hanging files, lose papers, stationary, magazines, you name it. Most of it it belonged in the office, some of it needed filing some of it needed to be placed somewhere orderly to be dealt with, none of it should be lying disorganised all over my desk. Well, it was a whole lot worse than the before pictures I have included here show, believe me.

Before Photo 1


Before Photo 2

Before Photo 3

So when I started to declutter the office my first thoughts were: It is hopeless! I will ever keep it clean, it will just get messy all over again…But I had to give it a try. So I got all my dead files from their hiding place and put them on the desk. I would scan it all. I had more than 6.000 (yes, you read right it is SIX THOUSAND) individual papers to deal with. The first folder I scanned I kept its contents in the desk until I had a backup copy and a CD copy and I kept at it. By the end of my first 700MB disc I started throwing paper away. Oh, what a liberation! All those papers that had been occupying folders and space in my house were gone.That first good feeling pushed me forward, but as my scanner is not exactly state of the art, the work was long and tedious. It would take me five to six hours every day to scan 100, 200 pages of archives. Then I had to transfer it to the proper folder in the computer, name it, and finally back it up in a CD.

Every night I sat in my computer and kept at it. My work was getting behind because I could not concentrate in doing anything with all that mess I had to sort out. By January my progress had slowed considerably because my computer was overloaded, had a tilt and had to be fixed. I couldn’t work and couldn’t declutter. I spent a few days in full stop. Then, by the end of January I finished with all the old files. But I still had the new clients, files and things to file away properly. I had a hectic couple of weeks in the beginning of February, and by middle February I was sick. So nothing got done for a whole of three weeks or more.

Then March arrived and I was determined to finish the cleaning of the office but was tired and unmotivated. So I took on some other projects around the house, and kept stalling finishing cleaning my desk. Finally, after reading Colleen’s post on April 14, as you can check out for yourself here, I asked for help. Colleen put the fear of her Jedi powers into me and I gave myself a deadline. I would post the before and after pictures to her the following Friday. On April 21, just before Easter I finished cleaning my office. The desk was cleared out and everything had a proper place.

The yellow box on the desk is now an inbox, where I keep stuff that has to be sorted out during the week. This system has been working for an entire month, as I continue to work, paper has come in and it has not been thrown on the desk without a proper place. I have not misplaced a single sheet of paper. They are all in their designated files, and when I have to work or find something, I take the file out do what I have to do and put it back again in its proper place. As a paper comes in I place it in the inbox, and at any given ten minutes I organize, put away and do whatever has to be done with that paper, and clear the inbox.

I am very proud to say I have been using my office normally, I have been working, and the office is pristine clean as it was the day I took the after pictures. A clean surface has inspired me to keep my deadlines under very strict care, and they have been accomplished more easily, as I know exactly where everything is. I can find any file in two minutes, give or take 30 seconds. I can find stationary, office supplies just opening a little box or a drawer that is in order. My staplers, which were always under something before and never in sight, are now, neatly beside my box of supplies. To keep control of stray paper I verify if I need to keep the original or just a digital copy will do. Originals have to be stored in specific folders (usually the one I have opened for that client), until I give them back to the clients. Copies are scanned and the paper shredded and recycled on a regular basis. So, there is no danger of being swallowed by paper again. It feels good to come into this office, I feel at peace working in it and I am sure the image I portray to my clients is a far more professional one.

After Photo 1

After Photo 2

After Photo 3

Well done Andréia, what a huge improvement.

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About Colleen Madsen

Colleen is the founder of 365 Less Things and lives in Newcastle, Australia.


  1. Way to go Andreia! What a great job you did. Keep it up.

    • Thanks Deb J! This was the most gruesome project ever, but after months I finally did it and kept it ;-).

  2. WOW!
    I’m just back from scanning 40 papers and I thought I did a good job but now….

    • Hi Sarah! You are doing a good job! I am the one who let papers get way out of hand. If I had started scanning 10 papers a day, five years ago, when I first got a scanner, things wouldn’t have got that bad. So do small, but do it.

  3. GULP! I need a fear of the Jedi in me too…. my office is tragic (but not as bad as that infamous picture of Al Gore’s desk!)

    • Hi *pol! Ask for Colleen’s help, she will put the fear of her Jedi powers into you:-D. She did that for me from around the globe so it is guaranteed that is a very effective method of decluttering one’s desk :-D. But even if it is not as bad as Al Gore’s desk, get yourself away from this computer and go and clean that desk, now! See that is encouragement ;-). Good luck on your decluttering project.

    • Wow *pol I googled Al Gore’s desk, he needs to start reading my blog. 😆

  4. So great, Andreia!
    And so timely, too! I just (finally) started on my papers this week (no, definitely not a mini mission) and by the time I’ll have everything gathered it’ll probably look just as scary as your before pictures. As I don’t have an office that I can close off but a desk in a room I walk through all the time a lot of things have been neatly hidden. Neatly meaning: boxed up. Inside the boxes everything from quite orderly to absolute chaos, from highly important to clutter can be found. I’d been trying to approach it slowly for a while now, trying to break it up into harmless little time units (even before discovering this blog ;-)) but it just did not work for me. Somehow I need “the bigger picture” in my head first where things are supposed to go and what things (and what amount of things) I am dealing with anyway. Probably this is the big difference between naturally organized clutterers and unorganized clutterers? Anyway, these pictures and your story are a great motivator.

  5. Hi Ideealistin! I am very happy that my story can make you go foward. I know how it works when you want to see the big picture, but there is just not enough time to deal with all that stuff/papers. I can’t advise you anymore than I could advise mylself, but I can tell you this: keep the boxes, deal with one of them at a time. Of course, every time you walk by you will think about what you should do, but don’t have time right now. So I guess in my office I did the same as you, but the difference is that people would come and see my mess. 😀

  6. Andreia, that is a miracle. Unfortunately my whole one bedroom apartment looks like your desk and I dont have a scanner. My papers are not for work, they are *interesting.* Eight Bookshelves are full and there are books in stacks on the floor. I love my stuff, but am so tired of living in a storage shed.

    • Hi Rachel K! I actually didin’t scan all the papers I had. Only files from clients. Some papers I just shred and threw away, because I had saved them to read “later” and never read them at all. I love my books as well, but this blog inspired me to keep the ones I really read, am going to read, or read and want to keep. Start sorting slowly, and you will be amazed at the amount of papers you don’t find that *interesting* any more. It happened to me a lot while I was doing this clean up. Good luck!

    • Hi Rachel K,
      you need to ask yourself what you want the most the obligation to your inspirational clutter or a clear comfortable home.

      • HI Rachel K!

        Oh how I know what you mean about “interesting” papers. I was a little more organized about it but I had 6-8 three inch binders full of interesting papers. I finally realized that I never actually read them after the first time. I also had binders full of future projects and ideas for future decorating ideas, etc. One day I sat down and realized that I was hanging on to things I would never again read or use. I was honest with myself about the fact that many of the ideas I could never afford to do or the ideas weren’t feasible because I didn’t have the home I’d need to have for that idea to look good. I began to take a binder every couple of days and ruthlessly throw out most of the items. I went from about 12 binders to 2!! Since then I have gone through them again and I no longer have any binders at all. NONE.

        I later did the same thing with my books. I once had a room full of books. I realized they had become a thing of pride and I just had them to show off. I had read all of the books but I would probably never read most of them again. I began a campaign of selling them–some were first additions. When I was done I had the money for one semester in college at a over full load. I have since pared down even more and I now keep only the books by 3 authors. These are books that I have read over and over. I feel so much lighter and have discovered that I can find most books at the library and most articles online (I bookmark them) that I want.

        • hi Deb j,
          these words are music to my ears. You prove here that once you really start to see the benefits of decluttering and change your way of thinking about stuff to see it for what it really is then letting go becomes easy.

  7. Andreia, what a WONDERFUL job you did in your office!!!

    It must be a lot more comfortable working in there now. Much easier to think when you’re not surrounded by piles of paper.

    Very inspiring. 🙂

    • Thanks Becky! I like very much staying in the office now. As I like very much what I do it made my job a lot more calm because of my organized surroundings. 😀

  8. Amazing job, Andreia – what a difference! You put a lot of effort into getting it that way. Yay, you!

    • Thanks Jo! After all this cleanup I remembered that little chest full of drawers that Colleen organized a while back and that we both wanted. Well now I have the room to put it, but, oh drats I still don’t have the cash to ship it over… 😀

  9. Hi Andréia,
    I have been out of the house most of the day but thought of you and wondered if you were getting lots of encouraging comments and having fun answering them. It would appear they did and you have. I hope you enjoyed the accolades, you deserve it. That was quite some task you set for yourself and now that you are cleared the mess, got everything up to date and know better how to keep it that way in the future I expect you will stay on top of it from now on. Good job!

    • Hi Colleen! I loved to have guest posts at your blog! I don’t have your patience to write a new piece every single day and I admire you for that, but now and again is very nice to share our progress with everyone here at the blog and have everyone cheering you. Thank you for the opportunity to share my thougths with your readers 😉 !
      I shall honour this blog by keeping my working space in perfect condition 😀 😀 😀

  10. Andr̩ia, you have done a sterling job Рcongratulations!

    I’m working in my office too, but alas my office is also my dressing room (AND gym!) so any advice for organising a multi-purpose room would be much appreciated from anyone. I tend to find I drape clothes over the desk (yep, I really can’t actually work in there, I’m currently typing at the dining room table) or I hang clothes over the gym equipment – what sabbotage!

    I’m seriously considering buying a desktop so that I am forced to keep my office space functional – but that might be a step too far 😉

    • Hi Mrs Green – could you tell us more about the problem? Do you have a space to hang your clothing? Or if you do, is it too small? My first thought was that a clothes rack on wheels might help. It’s hard to put things away if they don’t have a home. And it would cost less than a desktop!

      And if you didn’t need it at some future time, it could be re-purposed in the laundry area for putting clothing on hangers to air dry. Just some thoughts, although your situation may be different from what I am imagining.

      • Hi Jo,
        one of those clothes racks was the first thing that came to mind when I read Mrs Greens problem too. They come in mighty handy and you can often pick them up secondhand.

      • Hi Jo, here’s the deal – I have HUGE built-in wardrobes with sliding mirrors for all my clothes and shoes; it’s just easier to throw my clothes on a chair, my desk or across the gym equipment… How bad is that LOL!

        Colleen, you’re right, there is always a reason. Now what is mine? The room has too much stuff in it for starters. There is a whole wall taken up with ‘stuff’ that belongs to DH which he won’t let me get rid of (it’s all broken computers and to my mind it just gets WEEEd – simple, but not to him with his ‘I paid a lot of money for this’ mentality ). I guess I could ask him to at least move it out of the room and into the garage.

        Bad habits comes into it as well, although I quite ‘like’ padding across the floor and putting my stuff away as long as the space is organised. If it’s difficult to get to I don’t care and I’ll chuck things down in a very defiant way. So rooms and spaces need to be organised and efficient – I’m a very impatient person and if it takes me a second longer to do something than necessary I get pretty irate and don’t bother at all…

        I’ll definitely go into observation mode this week and see just what I’m doing in there. I think I walk into the room, sigh and just dump things down because it’s not easy to put things away. This basically means I need to roll up my sleeves and go into declutter mode.

        Apart from getting new furniture we’ve done LMG’s room – she;s done me proud; around 50% of her stuff has gone! So now I need to learn from that and get my own self into gear> I was brilliant at working really hard with her and asking her the right questions to help her release stuff. I need to do the same on myself…

        Thanks for reaching out!

        Andréia, I think I should perhaps start with that – a mini mission; just concentrate on putting my clothes away every night. You know I’ve thought of one adjustment that would make a difference – my rail is very high; way over my head so it makes it hard to reach things. I’ll ask DH to lower it…

        • Hi Mrs Green,
          you confirmed what I thought was the problem here. It can be very easy to get discouraged to maintain an area when it just doesn’t work or inspire you to keep it organised. I can really relate to this as I have had many jobs in my past where the system and organisational aspect was so wrong that any attempt by me to change that was met with such resistance that I just threw my hands in the air and said have it your way and eventually moved on.

          I think you should do as you said and ask your husband to remove those computers to another area out of your way if he isn’t prepared to get rid of them. He needs to know that you can’t find it in your heart to maintain the area when you are so frustrated with the set up. Get that rod lowered like you said and that may make a surprising difference.

          I am not going to elaborate any further with this comment response because it has inspired a post and I will expand on it more in that. Needless to say I understand exactly your frustration with this area and hopefully your experience and the post it has inspired will go towards not only helping you find a solution but others as well.

    • Hi Mrs Green,
      there is always a reason behind these problems, sometimes it is just disorganisation, sometimes it is bad habits, sometimes the space just can’t work properly for what you are doing, sometimes it is a combination of two or all of these things but most of the time the problem can be solved if we stop long enough to analyse the situation and be realistic about the space and ourselves.

      Sometimes if we don’t like the way a room works we unintentionally allow our dislike of the situation to rule our behaviour with in it ~ we give up and “treat it with the disrespect it deserves”. I think that this week you should use this room as you usually do but while you are using it be in the moment and be aware of the ergonomics of the situation. Be aware of where things are placed and how you behave to keep the space organised or not. Write down your observations as the week progresses and as you discover the issues take steps that you think will improve the situation. This may be a case of trail and error but nothing ventured nothing gained right.

      Like Jo says, you may need a clothes rack to keep that aspect of the problem more organised or maybe a little decluttering in that area needs to take place. Make sure that the furniture/equipment is placed in the best position in the room. Sometimes some small tweaks in this area can make a big improvement but on the other hand sometimes even the best positioning isn’t going to work and you have to settle for good enough.

      Be realistic and be honest with yourself and make what improvements you can. Break the ties with stuff in that space that you don’t need in order to declutter it to give yourself the best possible chance of making space enough for the necessary to work. Just remember you only have to work on one aspect of the problem at a time and eventually the whole area with come together to be the best it can.

    • Hi Mrs Green! Thank you for your praise! I think that just like I used to do with my clothes, you get home throw them somewhere and they stay wherever they land 😀 . I guess for multifunctional space to work you have to be 1) very organized and put everything away as soon as finish using the item (that includes the clothes you worn but are going back) 2)not to have too much stuff in that space because it will get messy and be not so functional. I started organizing by just putting my clothes away at their proper sapce in my wardrobe every time I got home. It helps to keep the bedroom tidy.

  11. Hi Andreia,
    I think with the bigger picture I meant that I need to see what I am dealing with first which unfortunately doesn’t seem to work for me as long as all the bits and pieces are tucked away more or less nicely 🙁 I envy people who can make very good plans that work out just from thinking about it. I think you had a plan and you had a system and then just needed to get going and chip away the load. I feel one step behind, though the situation did not look that messy (till yesterday that is, when I decided to finally get to it and dragged everything out). So wish me luck that it soon dawns on me what needs to go where and how to approach the whole task (and how to break it down, because no, I absolutely don’t think (anymore) that I can solve a chaos I created over years in one weekend). I have reserved my whole evening for getting a clue on this and afterwards I have two months for getting everything in order (I have a fixed date then where I need to present certain papers – and fixed dates with some kind of authorities apparently do help my motivation).

    • Hi Ideealistin,
      check out my response to Mrs Green and her problem with her office/gym/dressing room and work from there. The key is to take notice of how you work in the space from day to day and then divise a plan that works to set everything up in its most convenient workable position and eliminate all the unnecessary stuff that is just getting in the way. When it comes to paperwork, eliminate what isn’t required, be realistic about how much time you have in your life to dedicate to books, magazines and snippets of paper that you keep for ideas and entertainment ~ chances are if you don’t have the time to look at them you haven’t got the time to act on what is in or on them so they are only acting as space wasters and aspirational clutter. Files that have to be kept for tax or necessary archive reasons can be boxed up and stored out of the way. All other paperwork should have a category to be filed under ~ divide you file drawer into categories like, bills, finance, school, insurance, warranties etc and then break those categories down to their sub-categories like bills = gas, electricity, phone etc – Finance = superannuation, bank accounts, investments etc – school = one file per child (if you have children) subjects etc – insurance = vehicles, house, life etc. Colour code the small files to match the large category so they are easy to keep separate.

      There are so many blogs and sites on the internet to help with ideas for this so take some time to check these out. And of course if a digital file is all you need eliminate the paper altogether.

      This doesn’t all have to be done at once and there is usually a logical place to start and just go from one thing to the next reorganising as you go until you have the optimal woking conditions. The mess didn’t appear overnight and it won’t fix itself quickly either you just have to plug away at it and the solutions will present themselves as you move along. Have patients and only focus on the one thing you can do at a time.

      • Well Ideealistin, Colleen said it all! But just to butt in I might say that whatever filing system you decide to use make sure it is easy to figure out. I, for one, don’t do to well with numbers, so my files have names on them, so I finf them pretty easily. Having digital files are the de-cluttering thing because I fit all those papers in 3 CDs, and if I put on DVD it will be just 01 (hmm, isn’t that a good idea? 😉 ). And don’t keep papers you will read someday, because, as I told before if you weren’t interested enough to read until now, or when it came to your hand, what makes you think it will interest you tomorrow?
        Good luck and good job decluttering!

      • Ideealistin, may I add my experience with filing – I had too many categories so I had too many folders. Now I keep all paid bills in just one file, banking in another. I rarely have to refer back so it’s not worth my time to file everything separately. Now it’s quicker and easier so I don’t put it off 🙂

        • I agree Jo, as we have pretty much no categories at all. I file for tax purposes and one file for the few bills we don’t get electronically. The is a hanging file box archived in the linen closet with warranties evaluations and insurance and that is it.

  12. Amazing! Way to go! That was a HARD, LONG job, but you did it ONE DAY AT A TIME. Hurrah for you. And for anyone who didn’t google “Al Gore’s desk” be prepared to gasp!

    • Thank you Cindy! Al Gore’s desk did not scare me. Been there, know how ugly it is! That looks like my desk when everything else was on top of it. So everyone don’t get like that, do one day at a time, because if I ever let my desk get that way, you will all see me in BBC or CNN for I will get out of my house screaming in terror 😀

  13. Ok, now I am inspired to get to work on my work office. I accumulate so much paper and books, being a teacher and all ! Thanks as ever for your wonderful postings X

  14. Hi all,
    thanks so much for all the tipps and encouragement! I procrastinated a lot (used that time for washing though and reading about procrastination ;-)), drank tea, coffee AND wine, was up till odd hours but … tadaa! … 8 kg of paper are going to the recycling and about 40% of the total amount is sorted and back in place. Some of it may be the object of further decluttering (manuals for example), but I am fine with it for now and have a list where everything is and what to do with it later. For the first round my goal is simply to establish a good system, have everything in place and chuck out the obvious clutter. No scanning or other deep decluttering techniques … yet.

    • Wow, Ideealistin, when you decide to take on a project, you don’t fool around! Good for you!

    • Hi Ideealistin,
      well done! You have proved to yourself that you don’t have to deal with the entire task in one go that doing it in stages really does work. You might want to schedule a time or date to start eliminating those items that you identified as needed more reducing and to start scanning documents that can be stored digitally. Most important thought is to stay on top of it in the future by reducing as you go.

      Now that you have got to this point take some time to work out what system will work best in your space and continue to streamline the system as you get a feel for what works best and what you don’t need.

      Good luck and once again WELL DONE!!!! 🙂

    • Congratulations Ideealistin!!! I am happy that your project is moving along. You will see, as soon as you establish a system, you will easily get on on the heavy decluttering 😉

  15. Hi Andreia, well done on the office declutter. I have recently done the same and I can tell you, it was one of the most difficult things that I ever did (and no, i will not post the “before” photos ha ha). It took the whole weekend to get rid of all of the stuff from the office but what came as the hardest things was throwing them out. I mean, it is one thing to pack them in bags and so on but taking them to the bin is something completely different (“what if I need this cable in a year or so?” etc.). To me that was the hardest thing.
    Anyway, made it. YAY!

    • Good for you Thomas. I think decluttering paperwork, keepsakes or photographs have to be some of the hardest tasks of all. There are sometimes thousands of individual items that have to be gone through one by one. So having to deal with a whole office can be an horrendous task so congratulations or getting through it. I understand what you mean by actually throwing the stuff away being the hardest part and under certain circumstances it is harder for some things than others but the chances are if it hasn’t been used it a long time it never will be and it is a gamble I am prepared to make. I alway figure that if it is something that I use so infrequently I can probably borrow one from a friend if I need it at some point.

      Also, welcome to 365 Less Things and thank you for leaving a comment. I am sure Andréia will be pleased when she sees it.

  16. Thanks Colleen.
    I once heard this advice to look at an item and ask yourself whether you will use it at least once in the next 30 days. If yes, keep it, if no …. bin 🙂 That’s the method I used but yeah, the actual throwing things out was the hardest thing. Anyway, thanks for the great post, YAY!

    • Hi Thomas,
      if you have a hard time parting with things you can always put them in a box out of the way somewhere, put the date on the box of when you set it aside and go back there after 3 months and if the item/s haven’t been used then donate, sell or through them away.