Some people would say I’m the last person in the world to be writing about clearing out clutter; I seem to accumulate so much of it. But I also get rid of it, when it reaches the point of bothering me.

That’s the first thing about clearing out clutter. Everyone has a threshold at which the clutter starts to bother them. My husband’s threshold is much lower than mine, and when he starts clearing out, I jump in and help him. But in my office, things go to my threshold and no further—usually. Recognizing your threshold and working within it is the first key to letting go of clutter. If it’s really not bothering you, and you can find everything you need, it’s not essential to tackle it right away.

The second key to letting go of clutter is to bring the recycle bin (for paper without staples) and the large kitchen trash can (for everything else) into your office and put them beside the desk, which is clutter central in most offices. Get a box of manila file folders, a box of hanging file folders, and a plastic file box, the kind with a handle that you can get for about ten bucks at a big office supply store. And a pen.

Pick up every piece of paper off your desk, one sheet or sheaf at a time. Start with paper because there’s usually more of it than anything else. Don’t touch anything twice. When you pick it up either put it in the recycle bin (remove staples first), put it in the trash if it can’t go in the recycle, or put it in a folder, label the folder, and put the folder, inside a hanging folder, in the plastic file box. Don’t worry about organizing the files. Just get everything out of site and off your desk. Get two or three boxes if you need them. They stack nicely out of the way against the wall.

Once the paper is off your desk, you should be able to see the surface, which will probably be littered with books, pens, soda cans, memo pads, and CDs, if it looks anything like my desk. Take one category at a time, like CDs, and put all of them away. Then books, and so on.

The rest of your office may be cluttered in the same way as your desk, with stacks of papers and books scattered around. Use the same method. Start with the paper, don’t touch anything twice, and declutter by category—CDs, books, etc. after the paper.

De-cluttering doesn’t have to mean deep-cleaning, though you may get motivated and do that. Really it just means getting the clutter out of the way so you can work. Letting go of it is as simple as realizing you don’t need it where it is right this minute, and putting it somewhere else—even if that somewhere else is the recycle bin.

A good rule of thumb is, if you can get that piece of paper again, especially by printing it off your computer, you don’t need to keep it. Now, you might, if it’s important. But just use this as a rule of thumb.