A Secret Order

my desk, sad but true

my desk, sad but true

My name is Susan, and I have a very messy desk.

I’m hoping that out there is a chorus of people shouting “Hi, Susan,” in recognition, solidarity and non-judgment. Though I’m sure some looking at the actual, real-life photo of my desk that accompanies this blog will be recoiling in horror and disbelief.

I’m a washout in the clean desk brigade. Before anyone calls the health department based on the above picture of my desk, I’d like to say that my appalling ability to allow clutter to build up around me does not extend everywhere in my environment. My used dishes are put in the dishwasher (mostly), my floors are dusted (periodically) and my bathroom is clean and clutter free. Though full disclosure requires that I admit a significant part of that is due to my very tidy husband, who never met a piece of paper he didn’t want to throw away.

The inability to maintain workspace order is a lifelong condition which has followed me from messy lift-top desks in grade school to overflowing desks in college and continued on to extremely cluttered work stations in my various places of employment. The situation became even worse when I was no longer stationed in an office pool with other staff, but had my own office with a door to close when the desk was no longer in condition for public viewing.

When I’m working, whether on a fifth grade book report, a grad school thesis, or a mystery novel, silently, unknowingly, unintentionally I begin piling up detritus, until my desk appears as it did at the recent completion of the final edit of my second book. At that point my work area included, as the sharp-eyed among you can see:

  • A coffee cup
  • An overflowing printer
  • Empty wrapper from a ream of paper
  • 3 water bottles
  • A camera
  • 2 open file drawers
  • 1 open desk drawer
  • Stacks of notebooks, reference books and reading books
  • Pens, pencils, markers
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Discarded hoodie
  • Discarded blanket

But there comes a point in each messy desk growth cycle when the scales tip, and my  need to hold that thought, capture that phrase or write that chapter is outweighed by my need to find my cell phone, locate a hastily scrawled message, or retrieve a lost earring. At that juncture, I regroup and declutter by tossing, filing, discarding and/or returning to their proper places all the leavings I’ve deposited, and reclaim my workspace, restoring it to a place of order instead of chaos.

I always intend for it to stay that way, but it never does.

I have finally come to accept that something there is [in me] that doesn’t love a clean desk, and sets about festooning it with notebooks, pens, books, manila folders and piles of paper and doesn’t stop until it once again resembles a hoarder’s paradise.  And I will take solace in Carl Jung’s observation, “In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.”

However, to all those who shut every drawer they open, file every document they need, discard every used item in its proper receptacle, and sit down to a well-organized workspace every day—I salute you. But I am not one of you, nor will I ever be.


Falls the Shadow


Words are easy, communication is hard


  1. Dian Frayser

    Excellent and so clever as always. I can just imagine you at a MDA; Messy Desk’s Anonymous, meeting. But, always remember, I’ve heard that a clean, neat, uncluttered desk is the sign of an empty mind. Thus your genius is displayed. Be happy for yourself. We are, and looking forward to your
    next book!!!

  2. Thanks Dian, but I can’t go to MDA anymore, having outed myself I’m no longer anonymous. I just hope my story will free others to embrace their chaotic workspace selves. 😉

  3. Julie

    First thing I saw was the tea cup….the ever present cup…it’s what makes up you. Your messy desk was just your way of a different temporary filing system. Sometimes, it went from your desk to mine…ha!

  4. Ah, Julie. You know more about my organized disorganization than anyone should have to!

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