14 Things a Professional Organizer Says You Must Have in Your Home Office

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Whether you work from home full-time or use your home office to catch up on nights and weekends, having a clean, orderly place to get down to business is key to actually getting stuff done. We spoke with Erika Salloux, a professional organizer and the founder of Living Harmony, about the items you need in your home office to maximize your productivity and minimize clutter.

1. DESK

Desk

Stop trying to get work done from the couch: Typing away with your laptop on your lap not only makes it difficult to focus, it puts strain on your back and neck. “A really good desk is really important and it should be the right size for the space that you’re in,” Salloux says. And she recommends skipping the huge desks with tons of built-in drawers, dividers, and file cabinets—all of those can be purchased separately to best suit your needs. “Just a simple, table-top desk, and you can add whatever you want to it,” she says.

Buy It: Amazon

2. DESK CHAIR

Desk chair

When it comes to chairs, go armless, Salloux recommends. “When you have arms on a chair, people don’t sit up straight; they lean on the arm. Then they’re leaning forward and they’re doing their body a major disservice,” she says. Also, for the most ergonomically friendly choice, pick a chair with an adjustable height—not one that belongs at a dining room table.

Buy It: Amazon

3. PAPER TRAYS

Paper tray

In order to keep clutter at bay, Salloux says you need to stay on top of your paper. She recommends using what she calls the FAT system—each time you find yourself holding a piece of paper (a piece of mail, an invoice, a report, etc.) decide whether you should file it, act on it, or toss it. Use desk trays to store papers you need to act on. “I recommend ones that stack on top of each other and that open the longer way, like the landscape way. The way where the paper goes deeper in,” Salloux says.

She recommends four trays: one for business-related papers, one for anything personal (your kid’s permission slip, a wedding invite you need to respond to), one for bills, and one for “pending” items—things you’ve acted on and are awaiting a response.

Buy It: Amazon

4. FILE CABINET

File cabinet

“People think we’ve gone paperless in this society but we really haven’t. That’s just a myth,” Salloux says. So you’re going to need a file cabinet to hold everything. Salloux cautions you to buy a full-extension cabinet. “Just the other day I was working with a client who had a really nice file cabinet. But when I pulled [out the drawer], you couldn’t see all the files in the back,” Salloux says. “Every time we opened it she would forget that she had more files back there.”

Buy It: Amazon

5. HANGING FILE FOLDERS

Files

Salloux swears by Smead FasTab hanging file folders, which have the tab built right in for easy labeling.

Buy It: Amazon

6. PAPER SHREDDER

Shredder

For the T portion of Salloux’s FAT system—toss—you need a quality paper shredder. “Use a cross shredder not a strip shredder,” she says, and “shred right away” so papers don’t pile up.

Buy It: Amazon

7. RECYCLE BIN

Recycle bin

No need to put less sensitive paper trash through the shredder, but you do need a good-size recycle bin. Don’t get a small little trash can, Salloux says, “but a really big, nice basket that you could put the rest of the recycling in that you don’t have to empty out every day.”

Buy It: Amazon

8. SUPPLY ORGANIZER

Supply

“The other thing that I also see that people don’t have in their office that they really need is some sort of supply organizer that’s within arm’s reach,” Salloux says. “Something where they put all their things like their stickies, their tape, their paperclips, stapler, scissors.” You can waste valuable time rooting through your desk for a paperclip or sprinting to the kitchen for a pair of scissors, so keep everything you need close at hand in one neat spot.

Buy It: Amazon

9. COMPUTER

A laptop computer

Having a computer to do your work is a given, but Salloux notes that you should work from one computer. “It sounds like a no-brainer, but I oftentimes am hired by people who have three computers, or they [hold onto] an old computer that has the old data on it that they’re not using,” she says. “I recommend that people get down to one computer where all their documents are backed up and stored. That way, you know where your documents are and you’re not like, “Oh, wait, that old document is on the other computer or on the other backup drive.”

Buy It: Amazon

10. BACKUP HARD DRIVE

Hardrive

Anyone who has ever lost a report the night before a big presentation or their whole album of vacation photos knows how important it is to back up your files. But here’s a friendly reminder that a backup hard drive is a necessity. “In addition to a hard backup drive that lives in your office you should have a cloud backup as well,” Salloux says.

Buy It: Amazon

11. EXTRA SET OF CABLES

Storage case

We’d never heard this piece of organizing advice before and now can’t believe we’ve lived without it: Keep a second power cord and any other cables you need for your computer in a bag or case next to your desk. “You don’t want to have to unplug all your cords, go under your desk and pull them all out, every time you go on a business trip or go somewhere to work,” Salloux says.

If you work primarily in an office but bring a laptop home to work frequently, keep one set of cords at work and one at home.

Buy It: Cords will vary by computer, but we found a cute felt case on Amazon

12. WIRELESS PRINTER

Printer

Salloux tells us printing should be easy—so why add the extra step of having to plug your computer into the printer every time you need to?

Buy It: Amazon

13. NOTEBOOK OR NOTEPAD

Notebook

Salloux is a fan of making lists in order to help stay focused. “I think that it helps people stick to the most important tasks as opposed to the easy stuff,” she says. There’s no one right way to create a to-do list (here are seven ways experts recommend), but Salloux says it’s best to find a system that keeps you accountable for tasks that are important but not particularly urgent. “That quadrant is one that we a lot of times have trouble with,” she says.

Buy It: Amazon

14. SUPPLIES

Supplies

Your home office doesn’t have a supply closet you can raid, so don’t forget to stock up on all the fun little supplies! Salloux says they’re just as important as the others. “It sounds crazy, but it’s really super important to have the right tools at hand,” she says. “Those things like stickies and having tape—those items can be super helpful in an office so you’re not looking for them every time you need them somewhere else. That’s super essential.”

Buy It: Sticky Notes; Tape; Ruler; Stapler; Staple Remover; Pens; Scissors; Memo Pad; Paper Clips

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EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images
EvgeniyShkolenko/iStock via Getty Images

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7 Pieces of Reading Advice From History’s Greatest Minds

When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
When it came to books, Albert Einstein subscribed to the "oldie but goodie" mentality. He wasn't the only one.
Lucien Aigner/Three Lions/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If there’s one thing that unites philosophers, writers, politicians, and scientists across time and distance, it’s the belief that reading can broaden your worldview and strengthen your intellect better than just about any other activity. When it comes to choosing what to read and how to go about it, however, opinions start to diverge. From Virginia Woolf’s affinity for wandering secondhand bookstores to Theodore Roosevelt’s rejection of a definitive “best books” list, here are seven pieces of reading advice to help you build an impressive to-be-read (TBR) pile.

1. Read books from eras past // Albert Einstein

albert einstein at home circa 1925
Albert Einstein poses at home in 1925 with a mix of old and new books.
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Keeping up with current events and the latest buzz-worthy book from the bestseller list is no small feat, but Albert Einstein thought it was vital to leave some room for older works, too. Otherwise, you’d be “completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of [your] times,” he wrote in a 1952 journal article [PDF].

“Somebody who reads only newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses,” he wrote.

2. Don’t jump too quickly from book to book // Seneca

seneca the younger
Seneca the Younger, ready to turn that unwavering gaze on a new book.
The Print Collector via Getty Images

Seneca the Younger, a first-century Roman Stoic philosopher and trusted advisor of Emperor Nero, believed that reading too wide a variety in too short a time would keep the teachings from leaving a lasting impression on you. “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind,” he wrote in a letter to Roman writer Lucilius.

If you’re wishing there were a good metaphor to illustrate this concept, take your pick from these gems, courtesy of Seneca himself:

“Food does no good and is not assimilated into the body if it leaves the stomach as soon as it is eaten; nothing hinders a cure so much as frequent change of medicine; no wound will heal when one salve is tried after another; a plant which is often moved can never grow strong. There is nothing so efficacious that it can be helpful while it is being shifted about. And in reading of many books is distraction.”

3. Shop at secondhand bookstores // Virginia Woolf

virginia woolf
Virginia Woolf wishing she were in a bookstore.
Culture Club/Getty Images

In her essay “Street Haunting,” Virginia Woolf described the merits of shopping in secondhand bookstores, where the works “have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.”

According to Woolf, browsing through used books gives you the chance to stumble upon something that wouldn’t have risen to the attention of librarians and booksellers, who are often much more selective in curating their collections than secondhand bookstore owners. To give us an example, she imagined coming across the shabby, self-published account of “a man who set out on horseback over a hundred years ago to explore the woollen market in the Midlands and Wales; an unknown traveller, who stayed at inns, drank his pint, noted pretty girls and serious customs, wrote it all down stiffly, laboriously for sheer love of it.”

“In this random miscellaneous company,” she wrote, “we may rub against some complete stranger who will, with luck, turn into the best friend we have in the world.”

4. You can skip outdated scientific works, but not old literature // Edward Bulwer-Lytton

edward bulwer-lytton
An 1831 portrait of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, smug at the thought of people reading his novels for centuries to come.
The Print Collector/Getty Images

Though his novels were immensely popular during his lifetime, 19th-century British novelist and Parliamentarian Edward Bulwer-Lytton is now mainly known for coining the phrase It was a dark and stormy night, the opening line of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. It’s a little ironic that Bulwer-Lytton’s books aren’t very widely read today, because he himself was a firm believer in the value of reading old literature.

“In science, read, by preference, the newest works; in literature, the oldest,” he wrote in his 1863 essay collection, Caxtoniana. “The classic literature is always modern. New books revive and redecorate old ideas; old books suggest and invigorate new ideas.”

To Bulwer-Lytton, fiction couldn't ever be obsolete, because it contained timeless themes about human nature and society that came back around in contemporary works; in other words, you can’t disprove fiction. You can, however, disprove scientific theories, so Bulwer-Lytton thought it best to stick to the latest works in that field. (That said, since scientists use previous studies to inform their work, you can still learn a ton about certain schools of thought by delving into debunked ideas—plus, it’s often really entertaining to see what people used to believe.) 

5. Check out authors’ reading lists for book recommendations // Mortimer J. Adler

mortimer j. adler in 1983
Mortimer J. Adler in 1983, happy to read the favorite works of his favorite authors.
George Rose/Getty Images

In his 1940 guide How to Read a Book, American philosopher Mortimer J. Adler talked about the importance of choosing books that other authors consider worth reading. “The great authors were great readers,” he explained, “and one way to understand them is to read the books they read.”

Adler went on to clarify that this would probably matter most in the philosophy field, “because philosophers are great readers of each other,” and it’s easier to grasp a concept if you also know what inspired it. While you don’t necessarily have to read everything a novelist has read in order to fully understand their own work, it’s still a good way to get quality book recommendations from a trusted source. If your favorite author mentions a certain novel that really made an impression on them, there’s a pretty good chance you’d enjoy it, too.

6. Reading so-called guilty pleasures is better than reading nothing // Mary Wollstonecraft

mary wollstonecraft in 1797
Mary Wollstonecraft in 1797, apparently demonstrating that a book with blank pages is worth even less than a novel.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To the 18th-century writer, philosopher, and early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, just about all novels fell into the category of “guilty pleasures” (though she didn’t call them that). In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, she disparaged the “stupid novelists, who, knowing little of human nature, work up stale tales, and describe meretricious scenes, all retailed in a sentimental jargon, which equally tend to corrupt the taste and draw the heart aside from its daily duties.”

If her judgment seems unnecessarily harsh, it’s probably because it’s taken out of its historical context. Wollstonecraft definitely wasn’t the only one who considered novels to be low-quality reading material compared to works of history and philosophy, and she was also indirectly criticizing society for preventing women from seeking more intellectual pursuits. If 21st-century women were confined to watching unrealistic, highly edited dating shows and frowned upon for trying to see 2019’s Parasite or the latest Ken Burns documentary, we might sound a little bitter, too.

Regardless, Wollstonecraft still admitted that even guilty pleasures can help expand your worldview. “Any kind of reading I think better than leaving a blank still a blank, because the mind must receive a degree of enlargement, and obtain a little strength by a slight exertion of its thinking powers,” she wrote. In other words, go forth and enjoy your beach read.

7. You get to make the final decision on how, what, and when to read // Theodore Roosevelt

theodore roosevelt in office in 1905
Theodore Roosevelt pauses for a quick photo before getting back to his book in 1905.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division // No Known Restrictions on Publication

Theodore Roosevelt might have lived his own life in an exceptionally regimented fashion, but his outlook on reading was surprisingly free-spirited. Apart from being a staunch proponent of finding at least a few minutes to read every single day—and starting young—he thought that most of the details should be left up to the individual.

“The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be,” he wrote in his autobiography, and rejected the idea that there’s a definitive “best books” list that everyone should abide by. Instead, Roosevelt recommended choosing books on subjects that interest you and letting your mood guide you to your next great read. He also wasn’t one to roll his eyes at a happy ending, explaining that “there are enough horror and grimness and sordid squalor in real life with which an active man has to grapple.”

In short, Roosevelt would probably advise you to see what Seneca, Albert Einstein, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other great minds had to say about reading, and then make your own decisions in the end.