I stepped out of the house the other morning and was blindsided by the inviting, sunny warmth. This year, it seemed like winter began in February and spring has been very slow coming. I opted to head out sans jacket but dug around the mud closet for something suitable for my toddler. It wasn’t quite warm enough for playing at the park without a warm hat, after all.

A few hours later, I noticed that I had an itch. A bad one. In my haste to find a spring coat for our son, I must have been bit by one of those declutter bugs. Do they hibernate all winter long and strike an appearance as soon as the sun starts rising before 6:30 a.m.?

It’s too late for me — my office is now completely clutter-free and everything is neatly placed in its newfound home — but in case you find yourself in the same plight sometime soon, I’m sharing a system that will help you create and maintain an organized and clean workspace.

Today’s tip is the 5S method that I learned during my lean six sigma days. I’m a huge believer in the phrase, “a cluttered space is a cluttered mind,” and find myself needing to simplify my surroundings a few times a year.

Step 1: Sort

Roll up your sleeves and dig in. The goal of this step is to identify and remove the things that you don’t routinely need. I like to start with three piles:

  • I don’t remember the last time I used this. For that had-to-have-it gadget that has been collecting dust since I purchased it. Or the screwdriver I brought up from the basement and have yet to put back.
  • I might need that for something. The notes from last week’s meeting that are still sitting on my desk.
  • If I lose this, my day will be ruined. My favorite pen. The one with the fine-point tip and super plush grip.

Once you make your piles, pat yourself on the back and walk away. You may want to wait a few days before moving to the next step. That’s OK. Or you may feel energized and want to move right along. That’s OK, too.

Step 2: Simplify

All of the things you sorted now need a home. Anything in the, “I don’t remember when I used it last,” pile should be sold, relocated to its proper place, or thrown away. The things that you might need later should be stored nearby but not on your desk (maybe a file cabinet or nearby closet). The things you use daily should be in close reach.

Step 3: Shine

Now that everything has a home, you need to tidy up a little bit. Dust the cobwebs, sweep the floor, sanitize your keyboard, empty the trash can, and clean your monitor. At the end of each work day — and this is important — make sure to put everything back in its place.

Step 4: Standardize

Create a system that works for you to revisit the first three steps of this process. I like to take stock of my desktop situation on Friday afternoons and put everything back where it belongs. It makes for a nice Monday morning to enter the office without any distractions on my desk.

Step 5: Sustain

The last step is to take this process and apply it in other areas of your home and work life. Maybe those file cabinets are overflowing with outdated documents, or maybe you need to better organize your digital family photos.

Share a picture of your clutter-free desk on Instagram with #nb207 so I can give you a virtual high-five. (And follow you, too.)

If your desk is looking a wee bit cluttered after the winter, and you need a system to keep it in shape so you can actually get work done, you'll want to read this.