pens, tape, rubber bands, hole punch reinforcements tangled in messy desk drawer

Organized enough

There are no organizing police, but you’d be surprised how many of my clients worry there might be. Perhaps you too feel you aren’t organized enough, that you’re not doing it right. Often, that’s because you grew up in a cluttered environment and so your reference point for what organized is, is skewed. You know you don’t want clutter over every surface, that doesn’t feel good. But you’re unsure how organized you need to be. When are you done? Should the towels be folded a certain way? Must everything be labeled and placed in the perfect containers in order to get the coveted label, organized?

READ MORE >>> How to stop organizing overwhelm

It makes you susceptible to organizing porn – the highly curated images that run through your Instagram feed of spotless home offices tricked out with stylish accessories. In your home office, the pens are stuck in a spare mug and the word spotless does not apply. Clearly, you must be doing something wrong. You must not be organized enough.

READ MORE >>> How will I know when I’m organized?

Organizing enough IRL

So, I’m working with a client and we’re organizing office supplies. We’re looking at the desk drawer and it’s stuffed full of paperclips and tape, push pins and address labels. The scissors might be in there somewhere but it’s hard to tell. We take everything out and do the decluttering thing. Do you love this, does it make you smile? Do you use this? Does this still work? You have four of these, which is your favorite?

Then it’s time to organize the drawer. Finally! This is it! The Organization part. It’s time to fill the complicated desk drawer dividers, which sometimes separate one desk drawer into 13 separate little sections. Clients are sometimes surprised when I take out the dividers and suggest we add them to the “donate” pile. Why am I removing these fabulous organizing tools? Look how pretty! All the little compartments.

Sure, we could spend 20 minutes finding a slot big enough to hold the stapler, putting the little paper clips in one spot and the big ones in another. Designating separate cubbies for different sized binder clips.

But let’s get real

Are you going to go through that laborious sorting process every time you need a piece of tape or a pencil? Probably not. Most likely, you’re going to grab what you need and then shove it back in there when you tidy up.

So, let’s make sure you only have what you need in there. Yes, the address labels are cute, but either put them with the envelopes or better yet, toss them. You can write your return address on an envelope in half the time (conservatively) it takes to find a label.

Ditch the supplies you never use. The white-out tape that you’ve never quite mastered how to use. The pencil leads for the mechanical pencil you can’t find. The cute but odd-sized post-it notes that have seen way better days. Pens that don’t write or worse, that write erratically. The ones you have to scribble on a piece of paper to get going each time.

Organize the keepers

Put back the things you use. Put them all in the drawer. Test it out: if you open the drawer, and reach for the scissors, are they easy to find? How about the glue sticks? Is your pen easy to grab? If you have to put things on top of each other, the drawer’s too small or you’re trying to put too much stuff in there. Can the pens go in a cup on top of the desk? Can you go through the contents a second time and see if anything you don’t use snuck in there?

The goal is to be organized enough. Which is to say, to arrange your things so you have easy access to the things you need, it’s easy to put things away and it won’t seduce you into trying to maintain a level of organization which no one outside of a magazine photo shoot can keep up with.  Life’s too short to sort binder clips by size.

READ MORE >>> How to declutter and get organized

Organizing isn’t decorating

Your office is for creating, inspiring, working, thinking, reflecting and paying the bills. You’re organized when the space does all that for you. If you then want to spend time and energy and all sorts of money replicating the perfect color scheme and buying the pretty accessories, have at it. Just know that’s all surface and has nothing to do with how organized you are.

by Lucy Kelly


  1. You might have hit a nerve with the address label comment. LOL

    I do think there is truth in what you’re saying about the address labels in the fact that if they are buried among a lot of other items and/ or are difficult to find, it might just be easier to write out your return address.

    But if they are stored with the rest of your mailing supplies, they are then way more useful.

    Everything else in this article is spot on. A pretty container is not going to make you instantly organized. Purging and sorting are important first steps before going out to buy containers. Then, you’ll have a better idea of what you actually need, instead of buying something for pretty’s sake.

  2. YES, this is so true. Decluttering, if you do it right, many times leaves enough room that you don’t need the “fancy” stuff. Sometimes, storage solutions that provide structure to small or floppy items is nice to have. I’m pretty particular about that sort of thing and will never push product on people unless I think it’s truly necessary.

  3. Organizing isn’t decorating or vice versa… no truer words were written. It makes me bananas when I watch the Home Edit and that is all they do… decorate. No one seems to do the hard work of purging and sorting. Great post!!!

  4. Couldn’t agree more about the difference between organizing and decorating. In an Instagram world, I think these lines are getting blurred. Function comes first in organizing. I see lots of beautifully styled spaces, but they don’t necessarily work well, and to me, that is no good. As for the white out tape – yes, pitch it! How often does that ever get used these days?

    1. Yes, Instagram is so visual, I think those images are leading people astray. The white-out tape has gone! I remember when we used to type things on a typewriter and need it, but those days are long gone.

  5. Organizing isn’t decorating, indeed. I tell prospective clients that if a space is cluttered, it will look much more appealing when we’re done, but that my focus is creating function from dysfunction. If they want it to look like a magazine cover, I’m not their girl. I think we get an innate sense of when something is “done” and organized “enough,” but for those who don’t, the sense that you can find what you want, when you want it, and put it back easily is going to get you 99% of the way there.

    I agree with everything except the address labels. I just wrote out a stack of thank you notes, and my labels where next to my stamps on my small table that holds just correspondence-related items: bills to be paid (even though, nowadays, they’re mostly paid online), address book, address labels, stamps, and two neat stacks of cards, one for business and one for personal. If I EVER had to actually handwrite my return address, with my 23-character street/suite address, I’d never send anything! 😉

  6. Lucy, your comments, as usual, are spot on. Those little compartment dividers are mostly for the birds. No one I know has the time or energy to sort that finely. I love the way you advise your reader to open and close the drawer and see if they can find what they may need at any given time. Also, I agree with Janet. I can find and use my return address stickers. But, hey, that’s me!

    1. I’m rethinking the whole address label thing, Diane. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the sheer number of labels I see in many clients’ homes – if they wrote a letter every day for a decade, their stash wouldn’t be significantly reduced. But to each their own!

  7. I have to disagree about the return address labels – I can always find those right away, even though I hardly send any mail anymore. On the other hand, every time I go through my desk drawer (or other areas of my home) I discover items that I forgot I even owned. Those I can (usually) get rid of.