Another year, another beer

The start of a new year is the perfect time to organize your home office (or even your cubicle in a regular office).

It's time to discard old calendars, and replace them with shiny new ones filled with blank pages. Time to "strip" old files. Time to clean off your desk, down to the naked wood. Yes, it's truly a time of "out with the old and in with the nude."

Many workers let this opportunity slip by because they're too daunted by their messy offices to even attempt such a clean-up. These same people find themselves pawing through garbage bags in search of receipts on April 15.

How to tackle such a big job? It's a matter of sorting files and arranging folders and stacking up those unfinished projects you lost six months ago. Here's what you need to get started:

--Boxes. Use those left over from Christmas. They're probably in the garage.
--File folders. Get nice, new folders. They're cheap.
--Large envelopes. Ditto.
--Extra-large trash bags. Preferably clear ones. You may be hunting something in the bottom of one later.
--Stapler, paper clips, rubber bands, etc.

Assemble these items in your office, roll up your sleeves and get to work.

(If your office has a door that locks, you should lock yourself inside. This will prevent those inevitable interruptions and provide a barrier to distractions, such as the fridge and ESPN. Also, you don't want your family or co-workers to see you like this -- sweaty, frantic and confused.)

Label the boxes and envelopes in a way that makes sense to you. For example, you might have envelopes labeled "IRS" or "Receipts." You can label file folders by the names of your clients, or by date, or alphabetically. If you're in a home office, you might have extra folders labeled "Bills" or "Lost Stuff" or "Kids' Homework???"

Once you get everything labeled, you should brace yourself with several beers, because it's time to start sorting.

Begin with your desktop. Desks are junk magnets, and the top of your desk is buried in stuff you don't need. Yes, it is.

Go through these items and sort them into envelopes, boxes, trash bags, etc. A good rule of thumb: If you haven't referred to a piece of paper in six months, then it's time to throw it out.

If you don't recognize an item, then it's also a good candidate for the trash. It probably belongs to somebody else in your office/household, and tough luck to them.

As you put items away, the landfill level will lower and you'll unearth other items that you didn't even know were there, such as your phone. File these away, too. (Though you might want to keep the phone in plain sight.)

After you've cleaned off your desktop, pause to reconsider your sorting plan. Do you need other categories, such as "Overdue Work" or "Overdue Bills" or "Whoops!" or "Mystery Folders"? Create these new categories and make sure you have plenty of room in the existing envelopes/folders/boxes, because your desk drawers and file cabinets come next. Drink several more beers.

Go through each drawer, throwing out old papers and arranging ones you need to retain. Be merciless. Don't keep anything you don't absolutely need. Otherwise, you'll be looking at these same papers next year, and they'll make even less sense then.

Drink more beer.

By the time you're done, you should be drunk and sweaty and perhaps naked. But there's still one more job to do: Cart off the boxes and garbage bags. Put them in the garage or basement or other storage area.

Make sure it's someplace convenient because you'll be looking through them again. On April 15.

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