A Place for Everything

A place for everything, everything in its place.
Benjamin Franklin

My bosses at various jobs over the years have made subtle hints about my messy office desks. (For example, “How can you find anything on this desk?”)

Messy desk

This is not my desk.


This is my desk. Some writers, like Jill Weatherholt, Sharon Van Zandt, and Kate Sparkes have lovely work spaces. Welcome to your worst nightmare, kids.

Yet whenever I worked in-house, every time a boss requested a file or a book, he or she was always surprised when I plucked it instantly from beneath a pile of papers or other books, rather than having to search for it at least an hour. I’m messy, but I have my own weird storage/filing system. If you like, I’ll give you a window into that system via a little quiz. Answers are at the end if you want to skip the quiz and go eat gelato or something. (I would.)

1. You’re in my apartment and want a cup of coffee with sugar. Where would you look for the sugar?
A. In a canister on the counter
B. In the refrigerator
C. That was a trick question. I ran out of sugar.

2. You want to watch the blu-ray of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, because there’s a song in it you’re dying to hear again. Where would you expect to find it?
A. In the DVD/blu-ray case in the living room
B. In the refrigerator
C. In a Christmas box on the floor


3. For some reason, you need a clean, but mate-less gray sock. Where would you look for it?
A. On top of the dresser
B. In the refrigerator
C. In the garbage where it belongs

4. A freezing wind kicks up (you’re in the Midwest after all) and you want a scarf (or muffler, if you prefer) to wear. Where you would you look for one?
A. In this basket in the living room closet, bearing this label

006B. In the refrigerator
C. On top of some DVDs

There. Welcome to my world. I’m one of those people for whom the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” was coined. For some items, if I can’t see it, I forget I have it (hence the piles of books in my living room at eye level). For others—reference books for example—if I’m working on a project, I need to have them in a pile nearby for immediate access, instead of having to hunt them up in a bookcase.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m glad I don’t live with her. You wouldn’t be the first person to think that. Some people are good at keeping their environments neat and clutter free. I worked with people with pristine desks—desks so clean you could eat off them. But looking at their lovely, clean desks made my head hurt. No books, no strewn papers—not even a single hand puppet for that lived-in look!


A hand puppet on my computer desk

Or one of these babies:


The robot doin’ the robot. Work it. Work it.

Who could resist a robot??? But having a clean desk, my coworkers told me, gave them a sense of accomplishment, like marking something off on a checklist. I can respect that. And I tried to live like that, especially when guests were due for a big meeting and all of the cubicles needed to look ship-shape and uniform. But usually that resolve lasted for only a day or so, and then I was back to the strewn papers and hand puppets.

I used to drive my mother absolutely crazy when I was a kid. She’s very neat and organized and greatly despaired at the thought of having to use a machete just to enter my room. My locker in high school was pretty much the same as my room at home. And don’t get me started on my undergraduate dorm rooms. This aspect didn’t change in grad school either. Yet I could always find whatever I needed.

Right now, I need to find a library book that will be overdue unless I turn it in soon. I think I remember where I left it: somewhere near the refrigerator . . . or in it.

Clean or messy—which are you? How does this work for you?

In case you’re wondering about the answers to the quiz, they’re here: 1. B; 2. C; 3. A; 4. C.

If you comment below, I’ll tell you the why behind some of the answers.

Messy desk (first photo) from theguardian.com.