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RISMEDIA, February 2, 2011—(MCT)—As home offices go, Dianna Lovelace’s work space wasn’t the messiest. But every time the Rancho Cordova, Calif., mother and pastor’s wife wanted to pay a bill, do some writing or work on a project, the clutter crowded out her ability to concentrate.

Like many of us, the energetic mom, who also runs a women’s ministry and teaches motivational workshops, could never find the time to get on top of her home office clutter.

And in her otherwise spotless home, it showed. The desktop was covered with family photos, piles of paper, bills, school notices. The wall-to-wall shelves were crammed with books, binders, old phone books, family mementoes, magazines, even a wedding bouquet. And the floor? It was a holding station for accumulated household stuff: last year’s Christmas wreath, a bedroom comforter, the vacuum cleaner, Goodwill donations, a bag of to-be-shredded papers and 15 years’ worth of women’s conference materials.

“All I want is peace…and to be able to multitask a little easier,” exclaimed Lovelace, who said she procrastinated several years before hiring Tonya Piper, a professional organizer.

That’s a typical response. “It’s overwhelming for many people. Sometimes they just need permission to get rid of their ‘stuff,’” said Piper, owner of Control C.H.A.O.S., a former engineer who has been a professional organizer for churches, homes and offices the last five years.

A home office, whether it’s a corner table or an entire room, is the place where every document of your life—from bills to health care to school—needs a place to roost. Getting it organized can free up usable space, and result in less time and money spent looking for lost items or buying replacements.

The mantra of every personal organizer: Everything in your house needs its own home, including every piece of paper you keep. And even then, we keep too much.

“People like to pile, instead of file,” said Ann Nagel, the Elk Grove, Calif., owner of Organize With Ann, who has seen clients’ homes with paper piled on window sills, dining room tables, bathroom floors and just about any flat surface. The most typical—but worst—place, she says, is the kitchen counter, where papers easily get wet or spilled on.

“About 95 percent of what we file, we never look at again. But it’s taking up valuable real estate in our home office,” says Nagel, who turned to professional organizing after 30 years as a legal and corporate secretary.

When tackling a home office organization, there are two necessities: a good filing cabinet and a commitment to purge paper. And an understanding that it’s often ugliest at the start.

To begin, spread your piles on the bed or floor and sort by category: taxes, insurance, bills, owners’ manuals, etc. Put a sticky note on each pile as you go.

Once they’re sorted, create sub-categories. For instance, under “Insurance,” you might have separate files: “Insurance-Health,” “Insurance-Life,” “Insurance-Home.” Ultimately, those piles should go into a permanent home inside labeled folders in a filing cabinet.

“It’s not rocket science. Everyone has the same stuff, but with their own special needs,” said Nagel.

Create a filing system that works for you. Some need a file for resumes, airline rewards, gym memberships, Social Security. Some like organizing files alphabetically, by color (green for finances, blue for medical, etc.) or category.

Another home organizing tip: Have a single place to store incoming papers. It can be a letter tray, a file folder, a basket or even a box. “If it’s all in one spot, you stand a much better chance of dealing with it when you’re ready to take action,” says Nagel.

She always gives clients two brightly colored file folders: a red “Take Action” (phone calls to make, letters to write, insurance companies to contact) and a money-green “Bills to Pay” folder. They’re intended to sit prominently on a desktop as visual reminders. “So many people don’t pay bills on time and get late fees,” said Nagel, “because they lose their bills or they’re hidden in a pile somewhere.”

Another common clutter contributor is sticky notes that often proliferate on desktops or computer monitors. Instead, keep a small binder or spiral notebook on your desk to consolidate all your to-do lists, phone calls, follow-up reminders and sticky notes, says Holly Graff, owner of Clutter Control Angels in Sacramento.

Lovelace’s office transformation took about 12 hours, not counting “homework” assignments to weed out unneeded papers sitting in binders, boxes and piles. She enlisted her son’s help to shred pounds of unwanted paper. Her printer and scanner, once across the room, are now within reach. The files she uses most often are fingertips away. A wire basket for bills sits on her desktop, along with a few favorite family photos. Everything came off the floor and went into designated areas. The result: a place for every object, including the wedding bouquet.

And because so much was discarded, donated or relocated, Lovelace now has six empty bookshelves and space for her sewing and scrapbooking projects—as well as freedom to write the motivational women’s book she’s been planning.

“With all this clutter, I couldn’t ever focus on it. Doing this project has shot up my self-esteem,” says the exuberant Lovelace, who calls the organizing experience energizing. “One of my slogans is ‘Do it scared, but just do it.’ That’s just what I did here.”

(c) 2011, The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.).

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.