Behind the scenes

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 given my own office with a door I could 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 does now, in the throes of writing the sixth book in the Leah Nash Mysteries series. At this point my work area includes, as the sharp-eyed among you can see:

  • An oversize mug for water
  • A reference book for the writing software I use, sitting on my printer
  • Colored markers (underneath which is the charger for my Fitbit)
  • A small notebook
  • A camera
  • An open file drawer
  • A cup full of pencils
  • A small cactus
  • A file stand filled with folders I want quick access to
  • A family photo
  • An empty can of sparkling water
  • A stapler
  • A stack of notebooks, reference books and reading books
  • Lots of sticky notes
  • Reading glasses
  • A discarded sweater
  • A pile of yet more papers

However, 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.  But I take some 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, re-file every document they review, 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.

Note: This post first appeared four years ago. I’ve updated the photo, the list of items on my desk, and the reference to the book I’m working on, but sadly, nothing else has changed.