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The M Dash

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How to Rescue Your Office From Clutter (or Just Make It Look Great)

May 13, 2016

You’re an accomplished, well-functioning human, but your desk looks like a ream of paper waged war against an army of ballpoint pens (which, come to think of it, are never around when you need them) and an ever-growing militia of books, which are constantly getting tangled in your phone charger—when they’re not toppling onto your office ID, obscuring it just long enough for you to pony up the $25 for a new one. Speaking of which, where did you put your wallet?

Alternatively, your office is a beige wasteland populated by a lonely power strip, a few crouton crumbs left over from lunch (also beige), and your handbag. Aren’t you tired of working inside a giant yawn?

(Or, of course, you might have an orderly, nice-enough office that you’re vaguely interested in improving. Congratulations. We can help with that, too.)

To address all manner of office-decor needs, we sought the wisdom of Julianne Collins, a senior stylist at the online interior-design service Havenly, for tips on desk organization (she’s seen hoarder-level issues, she swears) and how to create a sleek, professional space that’s worthy of the work you do there.

What’s the number one problem you see in most offices?

Clutter. Most people have a lot of stuff on their desks, because they want to keep it close at hand, but it winds up infringing on their workspace—and they can never find the right file when they really need it. Get a little rollaway filing cabinet that you can keep next to you or push away as needed. CB2 has stylish, modern ones; you can also look at Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, and West Elm. If you have a lot of tchotchkes or books, put them on a side table or a cute bar cart.

Personal photos at the office: How many is too many?

At an office where you interact with clients and co-workers, I’d say keep it to one or two personal photos—your office should be a reflection of your professional identity, not your personal life. You don’t want your desk to look like a scrapbook.

De-Clutter Your Office

Can you recommend some office-friendly art that isn’t a cheesy motivational poster?

Inspirational posters aren’t always bad; what’s bad is bad art. A typographic print with a motivational quote can look good. The key is to stay consistent with your design aesthetic so that the art isn’t distracting. For example, if the rest of your office is very minimal, stay away from art that’s busy or extremely colorful. Minted, Society6, and Z Gallerie are good places to shop for office-appropriate art. Restoration Hardware also has a strong contemporary selection.

What’s the etiquette for displaying awards and diplomas?

It’s the same principle as art: Make sure it fits the style you’re going for. Pick one or two diplomas or awards that are most important to you—800 diplomas on your walls will be overwhelming—and frame them in a consistent way. You can try Framebridge, which has a ton of customizing options online, but if you’re looking to update an old frame, it’s worth going to a local frame shop.

De-Clutter Your Office

What paint colors should be avoided?

Red tends to elevate your mood and make you feel antsy and aggressive, so that’s one to skip. Use clean whites, grays, or neutrals. If you want color, try a cooler hue—teal can be nice. The most dramatic I’ve ever done was black walls, which sounds oppressive, but it was a large space with lots of natural light, so it worked.

How about additional furniture, like chairs?

If you have enough room in your office, try to include at least one guest chair. Additional seating is also helpful for when you need to take a break from the computer and do some non-screen work. Jonathan Adler has a some funky lounge chairs, and Design Within Reach has beautiful ones, too—as well as great ergonomic desk chairs. A comfortable desk chair is a must.

What are some easy ways to add small, unobtrusive touches to your work space in an open-plan office?

Use a pretty mug to store pens, and make sure to have a plant or greenery of some sort on your desk. Small succulents are a low-maintenance choice.

De-Clutter Your Office

How do you organize drawers?

To keep your drawers from turning into junk pits, you need to divide them up. I use silverware organizers—mine came from Ikea. You can also make your own out of old boxes, if you want to get crafty with it.

What are some other small changes that make a big difference?

There are a lot of creative ways to deal with wires—you don’t want your desk to look like a robot exploded on it. I usually put a basket next to the desk where I can throw unused cords, chargers, or a power strip. Also, get a lamp with a dimmer, and try to stay away from those awful overhead fluorescent bulbs. When you’ve been on your computer for a really long time, you’ll want to adjust the lighting.

The kind folks at Havenly are now offering 20% off to MM.LaFleur customers until July 1. To check it out, click here and enter promo code FLEUR20.

Photos courtesy of Havenly.

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