We like to keep things organized here at CNN Underscored. But if you’re stuck working from home and don’t have a lot of space to store your gear, you’re probably finding yourself buried under a desk full of clutter.
Here are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years to keep things organized.
Clear the desk clutter
Some creatives thrive under the mess. But many folks find the clutter distracting. It’s a constant distraction from the task at hand, nagging you about other things we need to do (or have already done). If you fall into the latter camp, keeping that surface neat and organized can help you feel more prepared to take on the workday.
If you don’t already have a filing cabinet in your office, it’s time to get one — even in today’s seemingly paperless world, you’re likely to accumulate enough important documents that one of these drawers will seriously cut down on your desk clutter. If you don’t have enough hard copies to fill the entire cabinet, use the bottom drawer for files and the top drawer for longer-term storage — with two hanging organizers on top for pens, USB drives, SD cards and anything else you may need quick access to. Oh, and pro tip: If you don’t like the look of the cheap plastic handles on the filing cabinet, you can replace them with some stainless steel ones.
Some monitor risers, like this one from Well Weng or this model from Bambloom, also offer space for storage, which is a nice one-two punch — a monitor riser is great for ergonomics if your display is too low (the top bezel should be close to eye level), and you have a place to store odds and ends. Models with drawers underneath not only let you keep items hidden but also lead to a cleaner aesthetic.
- A monitor stand with built-in drawers: Bambloom Monitor Riser ($43.99; amazon.com)
Finally, you’re going to laugh, but let’s talk mouse pads. They didn’t deserve to be left in the ’90s; a mouse pad protects your desks from scuffs and gunk from your mouse, and it can help keep your desk tidy — especially if you use a big desk mat like this one from OrbitKey. It has a great trough along the top to hold everything from pens to earbuds, and the mat itself is a large flap under which you can store loose documents that aren’t yet ready to go in your filing cabinet.
- A desk mat with built-in storage: OrbitKey Desk Mat ($64.90; orbitkey.com)
Repurpose unused surfaces for hanging
You aren’t beholden to gravity when it comes to storage. Whenever possible, find ways to make use of the empty surfaces in your office, whether it’s the sides of walls and cabinets or the underside of your desk. There are plenty of “storage caddy” products out there, but anything that you can get off your desk, get it somewhere else so you have a clean surface to work.
For example, you can hang your video game controllers on the side of your entertainment unit with these malleable hooks, or put your TV remotes in this wall holder next to the couch. You can do the same with your over-ear headphones, which are a godsend when working from home. Instead of laying them on your desk, couch or bed at the end of the day, hang them on a hook mounted under the desk. It’s easily accessible without creating visual clutter.
You don’t have to use those exact hooks, of course — adapt it to the surfaces you have available. For example, if you don’t have room on the underside of your desk, you can use a side-mounted hook like this one for headphones on a cabinet or dresser. Actually, since CNN Underscored writer Whitson Gordon reviews headphones for a living, he has an entire wall of these to store the (sometimes dozens) of headphones during testing. That’s not something most people will need, but you can see how making the most of your vertical storage can really help avoid a cluttered desk or storage cabinet.
Speaking of the underside of a desk, you can use it for much more than just headphones. If your computer doesn’t have an SD card reader built in, for example, stick a USB card reader to the underside of your desk with ever-useful 3M Command Strips (arguably one of the best organizational products of all time). You could do the same with a USB hub, a fingerprint scanner or anything else that connects to your PC. It’s a lot easier than rooting around your desk drawers when you need to copy some photos.
- Stick anything under your desk: 3M Command Large Refill Strips ($9.99; amazon.com)
Organize your cables
If you’re just working at a laptop at the dining room table, you probably don’t have a bunch of cables strewn about. But as you build up a more permanent office — with an external keyboard and mouse, dedicated monitor, maybe a microphone for those Zoom calls — the rat’s nest can start to tangle up.
First things first: Instead of unplugging everything from your laptop when you decide to move rooms, consider a laptop docking station like this one from Lention. With multiple USB ports, three video ports for your monitor and an Ethernet port for more stable internet, you’re set with pretty much everything you need. Did we mention it doubles as a laptop stand as well? It’s not as ergonomic as a laptop riser, which brings the screen up to eye level, but if you’re using your laptop as a secondary display, its height isn’t quite as important. You could, though, opt for a more traditional desktop hub, one that clips on your desk or one that docks to the side of your MacBook — then stick the whole thing on an ergonomic riser.
Next, you can bundle that mess of cords together with some simple cable ties. Most tech reviewers prefer Velcro ties, and they can work great — but we really like these rubber Gear Ties from Nite Ize. They come in multiple lengths for different sized cable bundles as well as multicolored packs if you’re into that. Coupled with a few stick-on cable clips to keep loose ends from falling down to the floor, and you’re in business. (You could even attach some coat hooks to the bottom of your desk to keep cables from falling to the floor when not in use — that’s been a revelation in our office.)