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By Cheryl Gochnauer
[email protected]

If you've got a home office, you know how challenging staying organized can be. Let's take a few moments to explore some tips for overcoming clutter.

I KNOW IT'S HERE SOMEWHERE. When working from home, it's especially important to project a professional image. That's hard to do when the receiver rings and you can't find the crucial document you need, much less the phone. Instead of scrambling, try these organizing ideas:

- Assign various projects color-coded work folders. When papers cross your desk, mark them with the color of the folder in which they should be kept.

- Instead of adding another magazine to your stack, clip out articles you're interested in and trash the issue. Feel like you're wasting money? Stop your subscription. Check the same magazine out of the library when you have time to read it. Now you're saving space and dollars.

- Stephanie Winston, author of The Organized Executive, devised the TRAF system for sorting incoming papers: toss, refer, act and file. Keep a trashcan close as you sort mail; immediately toss the junk. Have a set place (other than your desktop) for mail that should be routed to someone else. Record mail you need to act on in your daily planner, then mark and sort to the appropriate work folder. Only file crucial papers you can't reproduce elsewhere.

- For ease of filing and retrieving papers, arrange your home office so you can swivel your chair to reach your files. Too busy? Hire a student to file for you.

IF IT'S TUESDAY, THIS MUST BE KNOB NOSTER. Mark Failing, pastor and Air Force Reserve chaplain, maintained several offices: one at home, another at his church, and a third at Whiteman Air Force Base in Knob Noster, Missouri. "I used e-mail to send myself messages and attachments," Mark says. "That way, I kept information accessible."

Bonnie Perry, a managing editor, works out of her home several days a week. To keep organized, Bonnie carries one large briefcase to transport her laptop and crucial papers between office and home. She keeps duplicate files at both locations, so important information is where she can access it immediately.

"Whatever it is that's specific to your profession, keep those resources close at hand," suggests Bonnie. That includes phone directories, dictionaries, professional journals, art supplies; anything used on a regular basis.

THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME. Even if you work in the basement, make your home office as attractive as you can. Paint the walls; put up a picture. Don't use the kitchen one day and the living room the next. You'll feel more in control if you work in the same space and keep set office hours.

It's tough to concentrate in the midst of chaos. "If your kids also have access to your computer, streamline your desktop before you start work," says Bonnie. "You don't want to have leftover soda cans and candy bar wrappers cluttering your workspace."

On second thought, maybe we'd better keep the kids out of our home offices entirely. We know how THEIR rooms look!

Even so, it can be fun to set preschoolers up with a little desk of their own close by. Provide crayons, glue, paper, etc. and give them activities that make them feel like they're also "going to work". Keeping their area clean and organized can be a good object lesson, and will help keep us accountable, too.

Cheryl loves to hear from her Homebuddies. Write her at [email protected] or visit, where you can interact with lots of other at-home parents in the active message forums. Also check out your online Homebodies Columnists - we now have more than 20 talented writers who will encourage and equip you in your family-focused lifestyle choice!

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