Space Solution – Kitchen Counter Office

Last week in response to Cindy’s The Black Hole post Jo responded with this comment…

This is my black hole and so this might be a good place to ask my nagging question: if you don’t have an office or a desk, just a kitchen counter, how would you go about setting up an area of that counter for paperwork (bill-paying, notes, to-do list, business and personal correspondence, etc)? The telephone is accessible at the location I have in mind. I have yet to come up with a way to have an in-box, an out-box, and still store the mail, cheque book, and pile of papers that I have in progression at any one time. Any and all suggestions would be welcome – this has been a problem as long as I can remember.

I promised that I would address this issue and try to come up with a solution to the problem. The photo to the left depicts the kind of area Jo has to work with. She did send me a photo but I couldn’t get it to upload but you and she will get the idea.

My first advice is to get as many bills as possible digitised. Most companies out there give you the option of sending your account via email where you can pay by Direct Deposit or Credit Card. This also eliminates the need for a cheque book. I know this is possible because I do not have a cheque book and haven’t done so for almost four years. Most of our accounts arrive on-line and those that don’t are paid by credit card. If you have an aversion to credit cards it is possible to have a debit card that acts like a credit card but only uses the money in your account.

In order to have a centre for keeping track of everyday notes, list, appointment etc I have a special little calendar holder that I made to which I attach a printed copy of my google calendar page for the month. It has slots for pens, a note book and pockets for other slips of paperwork as well. Although mine is handmade I am sure there is an endless choice of commercially made options. Decide what it is that you need handy and purchase, make or re-purpose a system that best suits your needs. I took a quick look at some options available from which proved to me that there is a system out there suitable for everyone.

I mentioned my Google calendar. For anyone out there who hasn’t tried this or a similar computer generated calendar I would suggest you give it a go. Whenever I book an appointment I input it into my Google calendar which also stores birthdays, my husbands schedule, vacation planning and (my favourite) my meal plan for the week. Each set of information is stored in a separate calendar category and you can display any number of them at the same time or just one if you like. I print the months calendar page off at the start of the month and each day gives me room to write more in if I need to. I attach this to the bottom of my calendar holder and then throw it in the recycling at the end of the month. Meanwhile the information is permanently stored on line so I can look back if need be. The added benefit is that I can set events to repeat such as birthday which of course repeat yearly and my meal plan which is set to a three week cycle then repeats so I never have to decide what is for dinner and grocery shopping is a breeze. (For the sake I privacy I have not included my Google calendar page in the photo).

The photo to the left depicts the mock up of the kind of set up that I feel Jo requires in the area she has to work with. As you can see it has an organiser for pens and  a notebook with a pocket for in-progress correspondence. It also has the calendar required to keep her appointments up to date. The space below has a three drawer organiser perfect for In and Out trays with one left over to store stationary etc. There was enough space left for the phone and answering machine that Jo wishes to be included in this space.

Naturally this area can be tweaked to suit Jo’s need even better. Her file box could be landscape facing with slots rather than drawers and the calendar set up could include a magnetic white board set up which can be very versatile.  With the handy products available on the market these days we are only ever limited by our imagination.

I hope Jo finds these ideas useful and that you may too. If any of my wonderful readers out there has an area in their homes that needs organising feel free to send me before shots and your requirements and I may be able to come up with a solution for you. Also if you are planning a project like this please take before and after shots to share with your fellow readers. Just email them to me through my Contact Colleen page.

Today’s Declutter Item

This was once our bills folder. Hubby changed some time back to a different system which is still quite compact but with a better arrangement to suit our needs. The new folder takes up a space that measures 9.5 x 7.5 x 2 inches and it has very little in it.

Bill File 15FEB2011

I am grateful from anything that brings me joy. Below are five things that gave me joy today.

  • Taking a different rode to avoid the traffic and seeing an area of town I hadn’t been to before.
  • My hubby road his motorbike to work in the rain and left the car with me today – I would have been willing to drop him of as I really needed the car today but he made the sacrifice just for me.
  • There is an old lady who lives around the corner from my house who has chickens. It makes me smile to see them when they are out of their coup a roaming free in the yard. It brings a little country to the city.
  • Breaking the diet rules to share a chocolate bar on Valentines Day. – Keeping the celebration simple as usual.
  • A little bit of rain to revive my parched garden.

It matters not how fast I go, I hurry faster when I’m slow.

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About Colleen Madsen

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


  1. I like it – all parts of it. Good job Colleen.

  2. Thank you again for your ideas and suggestions, Colleen. I am still looking for that slotted file box – found one that’s almost right except it’s not well made, so I’m trying to find a better one before spending the money. Also, as you suggested by email I am storing extra paperwork in the cupboard below the set-up, as I like to have the current year’s information close by.

    The thing that most amazed me about this process was that once Colleen asked me specific questions and I started thinking seriously about this space and what I actually needed or didn’t need, the solution became clearer much faster than I thought it would. This realization means I can tackle my other black holes on my own!

    I really appreciate the time and effort you put forth for me, Colleen.

  3. Great article! I am thinking about putting a station like this next to my door, where I can also drop my keys and other stuff if necessary. I am going to give this a thought.

    • Hi Nurchamiel,
      it is good to see you embracing the decluttering. Over the last year I have refrained from delving into organisation because I wanted people to realise that once your remove the clutter organising is simple. What I neglected to realise is that not everyone has the same level of organising skills and maybe that is what got them in this mess in the first place. I will include more organising tips in future.

  4. I’m so on the paperless billing – 95% of our bills are like that. I do HAVE to keep a checkbook for misc. purchases that come every blue moon and only ask for cash or checks. I also do HAVE to keep checkbook in my purse since my daughter’s daycare does take cash, check or credit card (at a “convinience” fee of $3). So I pay daycare bi-weekly with a check. It’s no biggie for me!

    • Hi Crystal,
      my guess is that you are from America and not only because you spell checkbook with a ck. America seems to have a love affair with the good old checkbook which astounded me when I first moved there. I actually saw a person paying for ice-cream at a Dairy Queen drive-thru with a check once. I also used a checkbook when I lived there, mostly for the children to pay for school expenses but since returning to Australia we do not have one any more. One thing I really miss from the US is being about to pay at the pump for gas. We have to note the pump number and pay in the shop and it slows everything down. Mind you the price of gas is outrageous here too. There are pros and cons for living anywhere I guess.
      I can’t believe that they charge so much as $3 for a convenience fee to use credit card. What kind of customer service is that? I remember when debit cards were first introduced and one of the big selling points was the safety aspect of not having to carry much cash any more. Well here in Australia unless you pay an extra monthly fee you will be charged 5c for every transaction on your card after 5 transactions be it cash out or Eftpos use. What a rip off that is! I pay the fee, I am sure I would be better off in the long run. It’s a dog eat dog world we live in.

  5. Thanks for the inspiration! That’s a spot in my house that I need to “re-think” and I got some good ideas from this post. Perhaps I’ll be sending you some before and after photos in the near future!

  6. I would like to post a follow-up comment on the article because things has changed this way.

    I live in the Netherlands and we have a programme that is called “AED Alert”, which is a system that can call volunteers that can resuscitate a person before an ambulance has arrived (the standard is 13 minutes – scientist claim that for every minute you haven’t breathed, you lose 10% of your chances to live). Therefore, I can be called any second of the day.

    It would certainly make a difference if I could just grab my bag with everything I need and run out of the door, instead of having to search for my stuff. Therefore, I would certainly recommend a station or a fixed place for a bag that is always filled with essentials (ID card/passport, wallet, phone) within reach. Those essentials actually should be within reach without having to dig into a drawer wasting precious time.

    • Hi Nurchamiel,
      with all the natural disasters occurring throughout Australia this year having all those items sitting close to the front door would be a very good idea. you just never know when something might happen – fire, flood, cyclone, earthquake…