messy desk

(Not a ‘Before’ picture of my desk. But it may as well have been. Actual credit for this photo goes to camknows via*)

It’s no news to anyone that I’m not the world’s best housekeeper.

As I’ve mentioned here before, it’s not that I object to things being clean.  In fact, I rather like a clean office, a clean house.  It’s just that aside from going to the dentist, I’d rather do almost anything than engage in the process of cleaning.

Take this past summer.  I hunted on the internet and in local stores, and eventually bought a small, mosaic tile table for my sunporch.  For the rest of the summer, I wrote on that clean, uncluttered surface, with a lovely view of the nature in my backyard and the forest just beyond it.  Also, the purchase of that table allowed me to put off cleaning up the mountainous piles on my desk for several more months than would otherwise have been possible.

Now, I’m a writer who works, for the most part, at home.  This generally functions like any other job, except that I spend much of my day talking to imaginary people and much of my pay takes the form of aspirational, imaginary dollars.  (I’m talking about the novel here.)  Another difference between writing and my previous, office-based jobs is that I don’t have to keep up office appearances for the sake of colleagues, because no one will stop by with a question or for a consultation.  (The UPS guy doesn’t care how messy my office is.)  But people do enter our home through our office, and when I found that I could no longer stand to work for any length of time at my own desk, I finally had to admit it was time to take on The Mess.

So for three days last week and this week, I set my writing aside and cleaned the office.  (Yes, it took three days.)  I spent two of those days focused on my desk.  I cleared debris and sorted through articles, scribbled research notes, miscellaneous papers, semi-fossilized sticky squares, dust…

It’s amazing what one finds on a desk when one hasn’t gone through the piles in a while.  Here’s a select list of what I uncovered:

  • Numerous names and phone numbers of people I swear I’ve never heard of;
  • Several phone numbers with no names or other identifying information attached;
  • A large percentage of the pens I’ve lost–and accused my kids of taking–over the past few months;
  • Approximately ten notepads of various sizes, each with only a few pages used;
  • A handwritten list of blog post topics that I wrote two years ago–none of which I ever used;
  • Scribbled notes that I presume were at one point ideas for essays or columns, but now make no sense whatsoever;
  • Several cringeworthy story ideas;
  • A couple of good essay and story ideas;
  • Entire catalogs rivaling the age of those in your doctor’s office, saved solely because I’d needed an inch of their margins for the purpose of jotting down one of those good/bad ideas;
  • Countless shopping lists;
  • Two gifts cards with zero balances;
  • Multiple flash drives, including redundant back-up drives for my novel that had gone missing;
  • A receipt for a T-shirt I purchased two years ago at my alma mater;
  • Forty dollars cash;
  • My kids’ school photos from last year;
  • Colonies of dust bunnies that were reproducing like, well, you know…
  • Discount cards from the Korean grocery superstore where we’d just gone on our quarterly shopping spree three days earlier; and
  • The slipcover from the arm of a friend’s sofa that I accidentally brought home in my overnight bag from a reunion weekend in June (Hi, J., if you’re reading this, I’m sending it back in the mail!).

The job is now done.  Here’s the proof:

clean desk

(You can see the surface!)

If you’re wondering about the frog: he’s the spark for an essay.  Also, he’s good company (i.e., he doesn’t eat my chocolate).


*Note to all the people whose desks I found on when I searched under the term “messy desk:” most of you are amateurs.  Come on, you could have cleaned that up in an afternoon.  Except you, Argus Beansprout Carabiner.  The toilet paper was a nice touch.

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