The Desktop Dozen: Twelve Items to Toss Today!

“I knew my office clutter had become a problem when I realized it was costing me money,” stated Ed, a student in my recent Declutter Your Workspace seminar. “The worst case occurred when I bought a $69 textbook on improving your memory – twice – because I forgot I had it!”

Whether you’ve moved from “filer” to “piler” in recent years or have noticed your workspace slowly closing in on you, clutter may prove more damaging to your career than you realize. An excess of “stuff” in the office depletes your energy, hinders productivity, and portrays a negative image to clients and/or supervisors.

Fortunately, a clutter cure is readily available and – believe it or not – already within your reach. If you do not know where to start decluttering, the following list will help. By tossing (or shredding, recycling, or donating) the items below, you’ll begin to uncover that lovely desktop once again!

  1. Obvious trash. This might include anything from food wrappers and disposable coffee cups to broken, rotten, or moldy items.
  2. Outdated or expired materials. Travel brochures, advertisements, propaganda and coupons all fall into this category. Also, if you can find it elsewhere (the Internet or library, for example), make note of that in your planner and let the item go.
  3. Unnecessary duplicates. Whether multiple copies of the same form or two computers when only one is needed, decide where you have duplication and pare down.
  4. Junk mail. Prevent it from finding you in the first place by signing up for the opt-out programs. If it does sneak into your mail pile from time to time, send it back (at their expense) with “Remove From Mailing List” written on it.
  5. Rough drafts of completed projects. A year after publishing my doctoral dissertation, I realized I still had five previous drafts…just in case. When the project is complete and you do not need the drafts for legal reasons, recycle them.
  6. Useless souvenirs and conference giveaways. Just because it’s free doesn’t mean you need it! Whenever possible, go through conference goody bags at the event and leave any unnecessary or unwanted items right there.
  7. Anything empty, unused, or unknown. For this category, either fill it, use it, seek out its purpose, or get rid of it.
  8. Items you dislike and do not need. We often display items because we feel we “should” – if we received them as gifts, for example. If you do not like or need it, and you own it, you have the right to handle it as you please (even if that means, gasp!, re-gifting!).
  9. Things you do not use on a daily basis. In general, the items on our desktops (and countertops at home) will only include those things we use on a daily basis: computer, telephone, planner, and coffee mug, for example. Whenever possible, other less frequently used items can find homes elsewhere, to keep our immediate workspace fresh and clear.
  10. Anything in excess. Rather than 70 pens of questionable functionality stuffed into a canister, how about three or four quality, easy-to-access ones instead? Seek out the excess in whatever form it takes and take steps to eliminate – or at least decrease – it.
  11. Materials that evoke negative or unresolved feelings. One woman in my seminar shared how, when she went through the items displayed on her shelves one at a time, she realized that many of them were received as wedding gifts many years prior. She had since gone through a difficult and painful divorce and had not realized the negative emotions that stirred each time she passed these items – until she reviewed them one by one. This realization made her decluttering go much more quickly and easily than expected.
  12. Items that do not help you pursue your purpose. If you’ve written your personal purpose statement encompassing all aspects of your life (career, self, family and so on), you have a clear vision where you are headed and will more easily discern what “stuff” is blocking your path. Get rid of any items not helping you carry out your mission. You never know, they might be just the items to help others live their purposes!


After you’ve decluttered the desktop dozen, you will revel in the shine of your work surface! And now that you have begun making decisions on what to keep and what to toss, you’ll gain momentum and find further decluttering becoming even easier. Not only will you benefit from the new energy you’ll surely gain, you’ll also view your work with a fresh and clear attitude, too.

By Christine D. Hegstad, Ph.D www.meaning-and-purpose.com

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