Studies have shown that the visual distraction of a cluttered work environment can make you unproductive and less likely to focus. Clutter on your desk “drains your energy and focus, even if you don’t realize it,” David Allen, the author of "Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity," previously told our friends at Know Your Value. Whether you’re still working from home or are preparing to head back to the office, keeping your workspace organized can be a great way to ensure you’re staying focused and keeping all of your tasks in order — and there are multiple tools available to achieve a stress-free, decluttered workspace.
To help you declutter your work desk and maintain a neat and organized space each work day, we consulted professional organizers to provide tips and narrow down the tools you’ll need to get started.
How can you declutter your workspace?
Caroline Solomon, founder of New York City-based home organizing business NEATLY, recommended digitizing as many files as possible to decrease clutter and printing documents only when necessary. For physical documents that you no longer need, she noted a shredder is both useful and satisfying, while a chic wastebasket can be used for non-sensitive materials.
Experts also recommended labeling each tray within your desk drawer and filing cabinet to make the process as simple as possible. This can include labeling trays for work documents and mail to naming storage boxes and individual cords.
Some other tools that experts recommend to clean up your workspace include:
- Drawer organizers: These can prevent things from sliding around and separate small tools. Nancy Meck, a professional organizer and owner of Meck Organizing, recommended modular/individual ones so you can “customize the organization to how you like it versus making the drawer organizer dictate what fits.”
- Filing cabinets: These ensure all of your papers and documents are in one place.
- Acrylic paper drawer: Jamie Hord, the founder of Horderly Professional Organizing, noted these are a good option to “corral anything on top of your desk that you need to reach for regularly.”
- Cable box: These are useful for containing and de-tangling cords.
Top-rated desk organizers in 2021
Once you’ve decided to tidy up your workspace, there are several tools that can help you get to a comfortable level of organization. These include — but are not limited to — drawer organizers, filing systems, stationery organizers and desk trays. To help you narrow down the sea of options, we’ve compiled some expert-recommended and highly rated items in each category.
To keep office supplies like paper clips, pens and highlighters tucked away in a desk drawer, Solomon recommends this sturdy, multi-compartment organizer that features six removable dividers and up to 15 partitioned compartments. And it’s not only useful for office supplies — you can use it to store everything from crafting essentials to kitchen utensils.
This multipurpose organizer, recommended by Hord, is made from clear Resipreme plastic, so it’s sturdy and can match most home office setups. Matching compartments come in different sizes, ranging from a small 4-inch square to a 16-inch-long rectangle for longer items.
In line with Meck’s advice to buy a separate compartment drawer organizer, this metal option comes with five different sized stackable organizers. Each compartment also comes in its own bright color. According to the brand, this organizer is food-safe, too, so you can use it to store snacks or get a matching set for the kitchen.
If you have larger office items that don’t fit into individual compartments, these drawer dividers can be used to keep everything in a specific place. They’re expandable and adjustable to fit inside most drawers — you can simply lift the side lever, adjust the fit and lock it in place. The spring-loaded tension in each divider keeps it both locked against the drawer and standing upright, while the foam ends prevents scratches and marks.
Filing cabinets and systems
The Poppin Stow File Cabinet is sleek, portable and durable — it’s made from powder-coated steel and comes equipped with casters that allow you to roll it around your home office. It has three drawers: two 3.5-inch-high top drawers and a larger 10-inch-tall bottom drawer that can serve as a hanging file organizer. Dividers are included to further organize your files, and it comes with one lock that secures all drawers plus two keys to keep them safe and secure. Poppin also offers a mini 2-drawer version of this cabinet.
A simple desktop file organizing method, this mesh organizer from SimpleHouseware can hold letter-size hanging files and features built-in handles for portability. It also has rubber feet to protect your desk from scratches while also keeping it from sliding around when you’re looking through your papers. This file organizer is offered in Black and Silver, and there’s a two-pack option.
Collapsible and highly functional, this organizing box can be used as a small filing cabinet for hanging files, and each box comes with a label to keep track of your documents. You can choose between Grey, Black and Navy.
A hanging file organizer can help you keep track of the documents you have. This option has 10 pockets that can fit letter-size file folders and includes three hangers so you can easily hang it over your door. It’s machine-washable and made from durable nylon fabric.
Desktop trays and organizers
If you prefer to have an organizer directly on your desk, Solomon recommended this multi-tray drawer system from IKEA for more minimal filing needs. “Just make sure to label each tray,” she said. Each of the four included trays can be pulled out for easy access to paperwork, while the vertical design can help save space. There’s cork liner on the bottom of the trays to keep papers from sliding around, and self-adhesive surface protectors are included to keep it from damaging your desk and other surfaces.
These Jerry & Maggie storage racks can be stacked, adjusted and rotated to form a customized organizer that fits your style. Made from natural wood, the two included racks feature five separate units and have flat surfaces to store everything from books and mail to pencil holders and Post-it Notes.
For essentials you want to keep within reach, Hord recommended this clear, acrylic desktop drawer that can hold letter-size paper along with other office supplies. Although they’re purchased individually, the drawers can be stacked on top of each other, and clear bumpers on the bottom keep them all in place.
This mesh desktop organizer can save you some desk space by providing three letter trays where you can easily stow away papers and a three-compartment drawer to store smaller items like pens, paper clips and a calculator. And the back tray is vertical, meaning you can store hanging files while the front trays can hold notebooks, notepads and other office supplies.
Cable and cord organizers
“Not enough attention is paid to electronic wire organization,” said Solomon. To avoid the unattractive and potentially dangerous tangle of cables behind your desk, she suggested investing in a cable organizer. This option is a mesh basket that mounts underneath your workstation, keeping your cables and wires easily accessible yet out of sight. Velcro ties effectively secure cables and the brand claims the basket can hold up to 10 pounds.
Solomon also recommended these 3-inch Gear Ties, which can be convenient if you’ve got several cables stashed away in your drawers. Made from a flexible rubber exterior and a bendable wire interior, these twist ties come in various bright colors that you can use to differentiate between cords or just to brighten up your workspace. They’re available in multiple lengths, colors and packs.
This cable box can house unsightly power strips out of view alongside power adapters and block chargers.. It has an opening on the side to fit cords and cables, while the lid keeps its contents from slipping out. Also included with your purchase are 10 cable ties for bundling and rubber feet to reduce sliding.
Office Depot’s 360-degree rotating organizer can be a good option for storing and easily accessing small stationary and office supplies like thumbtacks, magnets and file clips. It features 16 compartments and a multi-tier design that includes a built-in tape dispenser and a sticky note holder.
This organizer’s built-in phone stand can be an option worth considering for people who use their smartphones as an additional office tool. Alongside the phone stand are two tall trays for pencils, pens and highlighters, a short tray for paper clips and other loose supplies, a medium tray for things like business cards and whiteout, and a Post-it holder.
Additional organizing tools
To regularly encourage paper decluttering, Solomon suggested this paper shredder for disposing of sensitive materials, including work documents, mail and credit cards. This device includes an Auto Start feature and overheating protection, along with a manual reverse option to clear paper jams. Amazon offers multiple crosscut options, from six sheets up to a 24-sheet capacity.
To encourage labeling your file holders, boxes and drawers, this Wi-Fi-enabled device from DYMO lets you type out and print your desired text onto durable, water-resistant labels. You can create labels in six font sizes and eight text styles and choose from a built-in library of over 200 symbols and clip art images. You can also put borders around the text, write multiple lines on a single strip and preview the text using the large LCD display.
To make decluttering and filing papers a hassle-free job, file folders are a major home office essential. This option comes in a pack of 25 and can be easily placed inside a filing cabinet or any other filing system you choose to maintain. Each folder comes with clear plastic tabs and replaceable white inserts for labeling, and Amazon claims the material is made from 100 percent recyclable fiber. You can also get an assorted colors version in legal size.
What are the benefits of decluttering?
By reducing clutter and creating an organized space, “the brain is better able to concentrate on important tasks at hand,” according to Hord. A 2015 Harvard University study found that a cluttered work environment negatively impacted people’s self-regulation and persistence in completing a task. And in one 2017 study published in "Current Psychology," researchers found that clutter in a person's living space was strongly associated with procrastination, so keeping your desk tidy can help you stay focused on the task at hand.
Meck said that there’s several other ways a decluttered workspace can benefit a person’s professional and personal life. With a more organized desk, she noted you can find “what you want and need more quickly,” you have more surface area to spread out reference materials and other work-related items and you have enhanced confidence and pride in your workspace because “you’re sending a clear message that you are on top of things (and things are not on top of you).”