Organize your work from home setup with these 15 expert tips

Lindsay Tigar, CNN Underscored
Updated Fri March 27, 2020

The desk. You spend more time sitting there than you'd care to admit, don't you? And chances are, it's a bit of a mess. If you're like us, sticky notes, pens and notebooks tend to be scattered across the entire surface, and it's long overdue for a little upgrade.

That may be especially true now that more and more of us have been instructed (or are choosing) to work from home indefinitely as one way to help slow the spread of coronavirus. So what better time than now, really, to get things organized so your desk at home or working space (which may currently be your kitchen table) becomes a space devoted to focus, precision and determination.

To help keep you focused on all your tasks at hand, we offer these decluttering office supplies, all recommended by top organizers who have been there, cleaned that. Their strategies will have you up and working, stat.

Choose a dedicated work space

In some cities, having a one-bedroom is a luxury in itself, so a home office? Fat chance. Even so, chief organizing expert for Mercari, Patty Morrissey, says it's essential to have a dedicated working space when you're away from a traditional business environment. How come? This allows us to report for duty — so to speak — and then check out when we've finished our day. "When you walk into the room or the nook or sit at your desk you should feel a shift, the space should trigger a response that it's time to work," she explains.

Try this: Ardilla Floating Desk ($142.99, originally $159.99;

Ardilla Floating Desk

If you're tight on space, consider this floating desk that's attached to the wall. Simply unhook when it's time to dial in for that 9 a.m. conference call, and stow it away when you're off the clock.


Strategize a drawer system

If you ask Amy Tokos, the president-elect of the National Association of Productivity Organizing Professionals, your home desktop should be considered as prime real estate. Anything that isn't necessary on a daily basis should be categorized neatly in drawers. That includes school papers, bills, home projects and so on. "Think of the system that works best for your family situation so that you can easily sort/find a home for each person or project," she says. Whichever way you slice and dice it, finding a way to keep these drawers tidy is key.

Try this: mDesign Plastic Divided Drawer Organizer ($22.99;

mDesign Plastic Divided Drawer Organizer

Tokos likes the functionality of these dividers, and the fact they're clear. This way, it's easy to see where everything is and if clutter is starting to scatter.


Create a desktop file

And no, we don't mean on your computer's desktop — but the surface of your working space. This should be an easy way to file every paper that's coming and going. Jordan Marks, the co-owner of organizational design firm It's Organized, calls this a home office essential, since it houses your active documents. One way to set it up is via various folders titled "This Week," "Next Week" and "This Month," to ensure the paper trail is tidy. "Actively sorting and working on these folders will enable you to stop the random piles of paper," she says.

Try this: Blu Monaco Foldable White Magazine File Holder ($23.97;

Blu Monaco Foldable White Magazine File Holder

Modern and durable, this set of six is not only trendy for your working space, but serves an organizational purpose, too. The leather label holder elevates the design factor.


Have an outbox, too

You have a section of your home desk for papers and projects you're currently tending to — but what about the ones you're finished with? Morrissey says just as you have an inbox (both physically and digitally), it's important to set up an outbox system, too. "It's important to dedicate a space for things that are leaving your home, such as the items you're taking to the post office, items that belong in your car, things you need to return to friends, and the items you want to sell like unused office supplies or electronics," she says.

Try this: AmazonBasics Medium Duty Storage Filing Box with Lid ($43.99;

AmazonBasics Medium Duty Storage Filing Box with Lid

This pack of 12 is not only inexpensive, but the boxes are easy to carry, with a handle on each side. Pack one full of whatever you're donating or dropping off at FedEx, lug it to your car and you're ready to jet.


Make everything digital — and recycle

Most professionals feel a sense of completion when everything is labeled, filed and put away, but few actually take the time to do just that. As Jon Siegel, the owner of professional organizing firm The Spatial Guy, explains, a home office can easily get piled up if we allow random business cards and documents to be scattered about. He suggests scanning and digitally organizing any lingering items once a week. Once they're on the cloud, you can recycle them and clear up some room.

Try this: Canon Wireless Printer Scanner AirPrint ($49.99;

Canon Wireless Printer Scanner AirPrint

This small but mighty office printer can scan and print, all with the click of your phone. Built-in Bluetooth gives busy professionals the ability to wirelessly send docs without installing software or drivers. As a bonus, it can also print photos.


Invest in a bulletin board

Your desk can also serve as a command center: the hub of your family's daily workings, according to professional organizer Sandra Schustack. "Think invitations, school calendars, schedules, family notes, tickets, and so on," she explains. "These items need to be easily accessible, visible and top of mind! A bulletin board hanging in front of or alongside your workspace is the perfect solution for hosting these 'hot' items."

Try this: Office Expressions Personalized 16-Inch Multi-Purpose Memo Board ($21.99;

Office Expressions Personalized 16-Inch Multi-Purpose Memo Board

If you can't decide between cork, dry erase and chalk, you're in luck. This personalized memo board offers all three. Add a family quote or saying, and hang this practical — and pretty! — space saver on the wall.


Always have a to-do list you can see

Yes, there's an app for that. But there's also something motivating about physically checking off something on your priority list, according to Elise Gurock, founder and CEO of Chaos Concierge. "A master to-do list allows you to see everything you need to get done. There is nothing more satisfying than crossing things off as they are completed. This is the best way to make sure you get everything done and don't forget something important," Gurock says.

Try this: At-A-Glance Planning Notebook ($11.50;

At-A-Glance Planning Notebook

Every morning, scribble down your deliverables in this undated planning notebook. Scratch them off as you go, and then recycle the paper before bedtime.


Choose effective organizers

If you're someone who prefers items to match, a set of desktop organizing goods may be ideal for your style. They're also effective for organizing necessities like scissors, pens, Post-its and beyond, according to Marks. When we have easy-to-reach organizers within sight, we'll see an uptick in our productivity and effectiveness, since we won't be overwhelmed by piles of papers surrounding us.

Try this: Blu Monaco Office Supplies Gold Desk Accessories ($27.97, originally $30.97;

Blu Monaco Office Supplies Gold Desk Accessories

This pretty set of gold baskets makes sure everything from your mail to your important papers to your pens are all in order.


Label away

What really leads to clutter on a desk is not having a special place for everything you need — or not knowing where those things are, once you've given them a space of their own, according to Michele Goldsmith, professional organizer and founder of Live Love Organize. "This may mean that supplies you use monthly or less often are tucked away on a shelf or in a closet in clear labeled bins," she says. "No matter if your supplies are visible to others or are tucked away, you want them to be neatly organized so that you can find what you need when you need it."

Try this: Brother P-Touch Easy-To-Use Label Maker ($19.99, originally $34.99;

Brother P-Touch Easy-To-Use Label Maker

Not only is this little guy lightweight and portable, but it also offers various fonts, symbols, frames and templates. Using a label maker not only makes it simple for others to find what they need, but keeps you standardized, too.


Remember, file cabinets are still trendy

Sure, your mother had one, and probably your grandfather, too. As Gilat Tunit, the founder of personal organizing firm The Project Neat, explains, these cabinets keep clutter off your desk and allow you to have zones. "Rolling carts are also an amazing product to help out with all of your desk clutter," Tunit says. "They add a ton of extra storage space without breaking the bank."

Try this: Invie 3-Drawer File Cabinet ($99.99;

Invie 3-Drawer File Cabinet

Lock away sensitive material and maintain a spick-and-span working space with this file cabinet. Not only is it affordable, but it comes in various colors to match your style.


Use a color-coding system

To keep that rolling file cabinet tidy and user-friendly, professional organizer and founder of Apartmentjeanie, Jeanie Engelbach suggests a color-coding system that make sense for your workflow. "You have been liberated from oppressive olive drab hanging files," she says. "I recommend using specific colors as visual clues for the file's contents — green for financial documents, red for health matters — whatever makes sense to you. It's far easier to initially search by color than by label — which of course every file and folder should be labeled."

Try this: AmazonBasics Hanging Folders, Letter Size ($10.88, originally $12.00;

AmazonBasics Hanging Folders, Letter Size

The jewel-tone colors in this 25-pack are not only pretty to look at, but practical for keeping everything you need to WFH organized and clean.


Find freedom from cables and cords

Repeat after Melissa Groff, professional organizer from Namastay Organized: It's time to tame your cables. Between smartphone chargers, laptop chargers, headphone cords and countless others, Groff says these can be a distracting eyesore. "Start by shortening your long cords by wrapping them and secure with a cable tie," she says. "Organize what is left using cable clips to keep them in place. With a sticky backing, they can be placed anywhere and prevent a tangled mess."

Try this: OHill Pack of 24 Self Adhesive Black Cable Clip Holders ($11.99;

OHill Pack of 24 Self Adhesive Black Cable Clip Holders

Sure, you might not need two dozen right away, but for the price, it's smart to have a supply on hand. Let's be real: You'll probably lose a few, right?


Use stick-on hooks to allow for change

Perhaps with one gig, you want a whiteboard for brainstorming. But then a year later, when you're promoted, you want to hang awards instead. Stick-on hooks keep your walls safe and provide flexibility.

Try this: Command Hooks ($6.68, originally $13;

Command Hooks

Simply add adhesive to the wall and to the hook, let it sit and you're ready to hang. Once you've changed your mind and need a refresh, simply tug on the strip and it releases, without chipping the paint or making a mark.


Think vertically

If you're lacking desk or drawer space in your at-home working area, organizing expert and lifestyle blogger Mika Perry says to look up! "A blank wall can be utilized for so many storage dilemmas — from hanging hooks that can hold supplies to putting up a pinboard for your important documents and inspirational quotes, swatches, and snapshots," she says. "Your clutter-free surfaces will thank you."

Try this: Compono Hanging File Organizer and Wall File Holder ($15.99;

Compono Hanging File Organizer and Wall File Holder

A spot for files, pens, scissors and more, this organizer just needs two hooks to have your necessities hung and ready to use.


Use scents to focus

Adding little luxuries is an effective — and meaningful — way to make your desk feel less cookie-cutter and more your own. That's why Perry suggests tapping into your sense of smell to supercharge your workflow. Scents like mint and citrus are known to help us focus, so candles and diffusers shouldn't be limited to our bedrooms or bathrooms.

Try this: Ultimate Aromatherapy Diffuser & Essential Oil Set ($39.95;

Ultimate Aromatherapy Diffuser & Essential Oil Set

Complete with an ambient light and 10 scents, this modern and simple diffuser will let you figure out which aroma sparks your creativity. Time to get your Zen on.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.