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Anna G. Larson, Published February 06 2013

Fargo woman finds hidden treasures, peace of mind in desk organization

FARGO - Theresa Settles saw some of her wedding photos for the first time last month – a full 15 years after her big day.

The disposable cameras she’d passed out to guests all those years ago had been buried on her desk until recently.

But the cameras weren’t the only items creating clutter. Papers, books, teaching materials, coupons and CDs were taking up every inch of her desk space.

It took working with professional organizer Melissa Schmalenberger to clean up her desk, declutter her office and think differently about organization – not to mention finally get the photos developed.

Settles says she keeps everything in stacks, calling herself a “pile person.”

“It doesn’t work well because I can’t even work at the desk,” Settles said before her desk revamp.

The rest of her house is organized since she is a day care provider. But when she walks into her home office, she’s immediately overwhelmed.

“When I come into this room, it’s like ugh, where do I start?” she says.

Schmalenberger had Settles slowly clear away unneeded items so she wouldn’t feel overwhelmed. Every time Settles passed her messy desk, she’d take two or three things that didn’t belong and started to see progress.

When decluttering an office, don’t just move the clutter from one space to another, Schmalenberger says.

For instance, most people will never reference 80 percent of the files in their filing cabinets, she says.

Find a home for the 20 percent of the files that are useful.

“Make the hard decisions and decide if this is something you will ever need again,” Schmalenberger says.

The most difficult part of Settles’ home office cleanup was deciding what to do with her collection of school books she uses to home school her children.

Schmalenberger suggested magazine holders for the most frequently used books and papers. The other books were tucked away in Settles’ newly cleaned out file cabinet.

Grouping like items together is helpful because everything is in one place and you don’t waste time hunting to find anything, Schmalenberger says.

For bulky items, baskets work well, and file folders keep papers in order, she says.

Since organizing her desk and learning tips from Schmalenberger, Settles has changed how she thinks about organization.

“Every time I sit at the desk to do work, it is so much easier, and I do not have to move stuff for five minutes before I get to work,” Settles says. “If I do set something on it the next time I go by, I make myself put it where it belongs because my desk is no longer for piles!”

Schmalenberger also recommends creating a relaxing office or desk space after it’s organized.

A plant, a comfortable chair, a candle or a shelf with family photos or memorabilia on it can encourage relaxation, she says.

“Being able to have something that you can look at and go to a place of relaxation is helpful when you are stressed out,” Schmalenberger says.

A little organization went a long way for Settles. Instead of dreading her home office area, she smiles when she sees it.

“Every time I go by the desk, it makes me happy!” she says.

Next task: Framing the wedding photos.