Thank God My Friends Don’t Gloat

Susan Elizabeth Phillips just cleaned out her office and sent me a picture of it to show that she is once again superior to me in every way. I love her, but I fail to understand why she thinks a clean office is a good thing. She’s never going to find a rough draft on there that she suddenly knows how to fix because she lost it at exactly the right time. She’s never going to have everything she wants right under her fingertips (and elbows and keyboards) because she’s put it all away. She’s never going to have the delight of finding a half-eaten Snickers bar just when she needs it most. Really, is there any point in working in a place like this?

I think not.

109 thoughts on “Thank God My Friends Don’t Gloat

    1. I’ve always operated under the theory that a clean desk is a sign of a VERY sick mind. How can anyone write (or think) under such sterile conditions? Jeez!! Half-eaten Snickers bar…how lucky!

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        1. I never would have caught that! Glad you mentioned it. And I’d like a desk that looks like that too. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t STAY looking like that.

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  1. I wish we could all post pictures of our offices to make you feel better. Right now, my desk contains yesterday and today’s paper; an eighth grade math textbook; high school single subject binders; a National Geographic magazine on Yellowstone (for summer trip planning); Five’s library book (A to Z Mysteries, “The School Skeleton”); a pepper grinder; one empty milk glass; cinnamon sugar; crumpled napkins; two plates coated in waffle syrup; and a balled-up pair of hastily discarded jeans that were not, unfortunately, torn off in a moment of passion, but rather dug out from the bottom of a backpack. My desk is the kitchen table.

    Oh, and I have a small bamboo plant in the middle. Because that’s going to save me.

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    1. I was a little worried about the waffle syrup until you explained about the kitchen table. Whew.

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  2. Yeah, the only time I had an office that looked like that was the day I moved into a new office at work, at a job I haven’t worked at since 1995.

    That said, I have rather a bit more clutter around anything that could remotely be called “office space” in my apartment than is really useful. In fact, my “office” is wherever my laptop is … usually the couch.

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  3. Well, my desk is gorgeously clean but that’s probably because I don’t actually work on it. Do you suppose, just out of frame, there’s an enormous pile of papers and folders and half-eaten snickers bars teetering on the edge of avalanche?

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  4. OMG the horror!!!! How is she ever going to find that stupid traffic ticket she forgot to pay, the kid’s field trip form, ect? Plus, even worse — she can no longer hopelessly look at people, wave her hand toward her desk and say “I know it’s here somewhere. Just, juts give me a second.”

    Plus, how can you hide candy for quick sugar fixes if you have a clean desk?

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    1. Somebody with a desk like that doesn’t get traffic tickets and will fill in forms as soon as she gets them. Also, she won’t eat candy bars at her desk but instead go to the kitchen and fix herself a kale milkshake.

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      1. Wow. Can I be THAT woman? A clean desk, always up-to-date, and full of will power? No. I can’t. My desk is currently stacked with paperwork, drafts of reports, and tea cups. I just can’t think without my tea!

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  5. Clean? Cluttered? I’m just jealous of anybody who has an office! My office is… well… it’s a laptop. So, you know, sometimes I get to use the kitchen table. Sometimes I end up huddled behind the couch in the living room, hoping nobody will find me. As the boys get older and cannier, I expect I’ll be reduced to trying to type on streetcorners or up in trees, just to get a bit of space to myself!

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  6. How can you tell that the picture is of an author’s desk? Where’s her stuff? The reference books, the notes, the snacks, the pencil cup with brightly colored markers and jelly pens, the good luck toys? The knitting WIP’s (works in progress) and other craft items you desperately need while figuring out a scene. Personally I think it looks like my dentist office reception desk.

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  7. If it’s any comfort, my desk is so covered with crumbs, that I expect any day to come in and the cockroaches and silverfish have carried it off to the bunkers in the basement.

    (This is my work office…the one at home is actually somewhat better, only because it’s in the bedroom.)

    ((There really are bunkers in the basements here, don’t ask….))

    (((And don’t ask why the cockroaches are so big — nor why some of them appear to be mechanical…I may have to shoot y’all…)))

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  8. I just want to know what it looked like before, and what it’s going to look like in 5 days. I LOVE cleaning my desk when I finish a project, but it never stays clean, because I also LOVE piling crap on it once I start the next thing.

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  9. This reminds me of a presentation by a rep at Coalesse (a Steelcase company that makes commercial office furniture) that I saw recently. Their research shows that most people put their work in piles on their desk instead of filing them in their filing cabinets, because people like to see what they’re working on. If they can’t see it, it’s dead. So only dead, finished files go in the filing cabinets (along with the gym bags and extra shoes). So Coalesse decided to stop trying to make the perfect filing cabinet (as if making the perfect filing cabinet would convince people to actually put their files in them) and make things with lots of shelves and surface areas for piles – and maybe a door to hide the piles when neat-freaks come to your office.

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    1. That company is genius. And it also explains why my two work areas at the moment, after years of experimentation, are tables with shelves on the end and cheapo square two-cubby bookcases on top. That’s exactly how I work. Until I lose my grip and it’s all covered with stuff.

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    2. That is…so true! I have nice little piles on my work desk (that pretty regularly end up overlapping). But if I file them away, they’re dead. I totally forget that I need to be working on them! Very creative solution, and maybe I should take a look at their office furniture for ideas…

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    3. I’d like the guys at that company to come talk to the HR dept here. They want us to have clean desks, but they also keep moving the filing cabinets further away. Then they went for smaller desk space with decorative but useless ledge space. They thought that would reduce clutter, the fools. All it accomplished was to make the piles higher. How can humans have so little understanding about human nature?

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  10. Now see, at my house, I am SEP and my husband is you. The trouble with this is we share a desk. Not pretty. My tolerance for clutter is not high – not out of any moral superiority. I just literally can’t think when the house is too cluttered. It takes up brain space and I must not have much to spare.

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    1. Jane, your comment made me think of the difference between me and my beloved. He had a large flat surface that I termed the aircraft carrier which was his favorite way to work. Long before he built the carrier, he organized the work for his PhD thesis by piles on the floor in the study. Chapter 1 in one corner, Chapter 4 in another. Drove me absolutely nuts so I just stayed out of the study. I love desks with lots of clear space. No idea why. SEP’s desk is a lovely shape and the window makes it really grand. The ability to see OUTSIDE is important to me. I don’t do well in enclosed spaces with little natural light. Envy, indeed.

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  11. Love the title of the photo.
    I guess I’m a bit anal. I like a clean orderly space, otherwise I think I have a cluttered mind. ; ) Plus, my space is small so it has to be clean.
    I’m obviously in the Susan camp, although my furniture is not that pretty, and while SEP goes for cooler colors I like dark woods. I keep notes on a stand categorized by different colored plastic clipboards, a side table with the current research books and maps if necessary, a yellow legal pad and pencil at my left arm, (hopefully with interesting future scenes sketched in) a decent light to the right, and everything else is filed. There are a minimum of good luck charms, a coaster for my coffee cup or water glass, and a collage on the wall behind the spinner bike so that as I pedal I can dream up scenes. A cabinet with books and dictionary, etc. A CD player, phone, fax, and candy jar with far too few tootsie rolls left.
    That’s it. Clean, but functional.

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  12. I think she scanned a photo from a catalog. No real working office is truly that neat and uncluttered without a post-it note showing.
    Okay, maybe that rationale is really an excuse because my office is terribly cluttered. Then again, I don’t actually need my desk to be the epitome of neat. I use a notebook computer that I purposely position on my dining room table so that I can look out the window or at the fish tank or at the television, too.
    I ask you — which you would prefer. A view of a wall or a view of a harbor with boats and birds and sometimes even dolphins swimming?

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    1. I’ve been there, it’s real.
      And no kidding, a view of the wall. I used to have an office that a 135 degree view of the woods and river. I never got anything done.

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      1. Yep. My desk has a great view of the neighborhood, and I’m pretty sure one of my neighbors is growing pot in the basement and selling it out the backdoor, and that another neighbor has serious agoraphobia, and I know exactly what time the garbage men come, but if I want to get anything done I sit on the floor.

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    2. I so agree. I just need a clean desk to start work. I need a drawer to stuff said work in at the end of the day. One year I had a boss who decided to review my files nn a day I called out sick. She left them piled on top of my desk. My OCD erupted. Took me hours to calm down.

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    3. Wall, all the way. I used to have a view of the forest outside and my kids in the yard. I spent a lot of time staring and not doing. Now I do a lot while my kids are probably being attacked by bears.

      You know- when I’m not reading blogs on the interwebs…

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  13. I’m the clutter queen. I have fairly organized piles, in that I basically know what is living in each pile, most of the time, but I need to see or have all my shtuff close to hand. And once a week I make myself dig out the kitchen table so we actually have one from time to time.

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  14. That amazingly clear desktop just calls to be piled with SOMETHING! LOL. I have my desk looking like that for about ten seconds and things start jumping on board.

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  15. Jenny, fret not.
    “…just cleaned out her office and sent me a picture of it…”
    Of course she sent you a picture she took the moment she cleaned it. Because the life expectancy of a pristine (don’t you love that word?) desk is about 4 minutes, unless you’re actually out of the country.

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  16. I…want…that…office. Not the chair in the living room with an upside down cookie sheet on my lap like I have now… πŸ™‚

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      1. I use it upside down and put a pillow under it for a bit of comfort…doesn’t work that bad at all! πŸ™‚

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  17. Wow, so that’s what the top of a desk looks like. I had forgotten since it’s been years since I’ve seen mine.

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  18. but last week on facebook she was working from a bedroom not her office….I think the clean office is a trick!

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  19. Is she only writing there? Because on my desk, I have piles for all those things I do: my clients’ documents, stuff for my kids, pictures of the house we put up for rent, the notepad on which I prepare things for church, tax forms and a questionnaire for my social security fund, brochures of apartments for our vacation in France, the dictaphone with which I occasionally type things for my husband, online-shop coupons, and invoices waiting to be paid next week. I don’t think I’d remember all that unless I have it in sight.

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  20. I’m one of those messy desk people like you but I bet you can find things you need faster than she can. I call it organized chaos.

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  21. Vee and Jenny – totally hate it when people mess with my stuff.

    Happened over the Christmas break. I dumped a whole lot of junk from my class and had piles that I understood. Somebody sponsored paint and another teacher organised workmen, and they took EVERYTHING out of the shelves. I nearly lost my mind. It took two days to get to a semblance of order and dump more stuff. Now there’s new smaller but meaningless piles. GRRR.

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  22. I miss pictures of your office – it was awesome. soo purty. Btw, are you officially moved in to NJ place yet? Also, thank you for link to other blog – I’ve read half so far and it’s Barney Stintson awesome.

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      1. I have two monitors on my desk – they’re behind the piles of paper. It’s good to have research (or solitaire) on one while you’re typing/creating on the other.

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  23. That’s perhaps less than only 180 degrees of the room. What about the other side of the room? There has to be a snickers stash somewhere ….

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  24. Give me organized chaos any day of the week. The old adage- “out of sight-out of mind” is definitely true for me. If it is put away, it means I’m done with it. But if it is on my desk, counter,etc– it still is rolling around in my mind and waiting for just the right phrase or word. I heard on the news today that a disorganized desk was a sign of creativity.

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  25. Now, I have t confess that I was so inspired that I cleaned off my desk, washed everything down, knocked the crumbs out of my keyboard, moved old files off the sideboard, put them in the standing cupboard. I know have a desk that is so empty, if my officemate arrives tomorrow morning he will think I”ve quit…

    Of course, for god’s sake, DO NOT OPEN THAT CUPBOARD!!!!

    (It may be the last thing you do…)

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  26. When I drove by the local auto service center this morning, their thought for the day was “A clean desk means a cluttered drawer.”

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  27. Your friends don’t gloat…but can I gloat about one of your friends? I just got my copy of A LITTLE NIGHT MAGIC in the mail today, and it is beeee–ootiful.

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      1. So yummy inside! I’m having a hard time putting it down long enough to get my own writing done. Lani/Lucy’s writing is like crack for readers πŸ™‚

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    1. exactly what I was thinking.

      My desk gets sort of cleaned off in between writing projects but it’s never as clean as SEP’s.

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    2. Nah….that’s a myth. However, Snickers bars with dents, or torn, dusty wrappers, or squished flat do lurk in paper piles. They creep out from an alternative universe and exist only to bring us joy and wonder…!

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  28. Yeah…my desk looks nothing like that. As Himself puts it, “Office Depot exploded in here.” I tend to do my work on the coffee table or TV tray and use the desk for storage (i.e., piling crap).

    I’m actually off to clean it now. Wish me luck and cross your fingers that I don’t get buried in an avalanche.

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  29. I would like an office like so when the local paper came to take pictures I would appear to be in control of my life. Otherwise, just too much responsibility.

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  30. Yes. it’s beautiful. But this time of year, there’s winter out there. Not a good thing when you’re trying hard to pretend it’s not there.

    I just realized that I went to the Corner Bakery ( comes with big tables, free wifi, and good brownies) with my ipad and my origami a day calendar to have lunch and get some stuff done because there is no flat surface in the house to work on. For the second week in a row. I think I need to do something about that.

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  31. I had a friend whose husband kept a desk like that. While I adore SEP, this man had issues. He tried to spread his disease to his wife and once commented on the “mess” his wife left on the credenza…a closed box of Christmas cards. The horror!

    My revenge when I’d visit…I take rubber bands and paper clips from his drawer and sprinkle them about with wadded up pieces of paper all over his clean desktop. πŸ™‚

    My office looks like SEP’s right now, but only because Margie Lawson told me to “dung-shui” my workspace. I did. And then I went downstairs and am now working from the rocking chair near the fire. Next to a pile of post-its, books, empty cups, and wadded up paper. Shhh….

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  32. I clean my desk ocassionally but it never looks like that. And it doesn’t last 5 minutes. I’m always piling junk mail on it. And now there is a plant wintering on it.

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  33. Contemplating the virtues of order vs. the virtues of chaos. Hmmm, zen mind vs. Snicker serendipity . . . I’ll take the sugar buzz (-:. (Although I do appreciate the pretty picture!!)

    Now, off to google “dung-shui” . . . if it’s for real, it might be just what I need (-:.

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  34. Wow–that’s a “I’m try to sell my house” type of clean desk! LOL. My desk used to resemble what most of you have described. I used the carbon dating method of finding important papers. The longest searches were for things that I had filed during a cleaning binge. Cleaning is bad. Filing is bad.

    It literally took an act of God to clean up my desk. I am now allergic to paper and have to wear gloves to touch it. I can’t be around stacks of paper because of the fibers. Desk is pretty tidy, except for too many CDs stacked in one corner. I just now have the electronic equivalent of a messy desk. Is it still in my email inbox or did I file it in one of my useless electronic folders? The longest searches are when it’s in a folder. Same lesson, different medium–don’t file!!!!!!!!!!!

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      1. Electronic readers are a good thing. (Pets my Nook color.) And I don’t doodle anymore, which I miss, because it was the only way to express myself artistically during boring meetings. It could be worse–I could be allergic to toilet paper! Now that would be a problem. I’d have to join a Renaissance faire!

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  35. I think we all need to take pictures of our desks and post them up, and have a competition for the messiest πŸ™‚

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    1. That’s actually a project in the works. We’re (slowly) developing something new, and one of the things the something new has is galleries, places to post pictures of writing collages or desks or whatever. Key is “slowly.” We’ll get there.

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    1. OMIGOD!!! I loooooove henhouse!!! I hadn’t discovered this site before and it is smashing!!!

      Thankyouthankyouthankyou!!!

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  36. OMG, I have been laughing ever since sitting down here today. It is sooooo nice to know I’m not the only clutter bug. My husband was home for lunch so I was laughing and reading bits to him. “Where ARE you?”, he asks. He looks confused when I tell him. “Isn’t that the writer you like? And you’re discussing desk clutter?” Confusion reigns. I love it here.

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  37. I prefer organized chaos to a clean office. Everytime I “clean” my office I lose more things than I find. Sometimes it takes me months to find the things I organized.

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  38. My desk got cleaned off yesterday [sort of] because I’ve lost a check. UGH. I still haven’t found it but many layers of paper have been recycled or filed. I wish I knew how much the check was for, then I could determine if I REALLY needed to keep looking:)

    I think a desk should have everything within reach all around me and not limited to one dimension. I mean, my ceilings in this office are nearly 16 feet tall and my desk is only – what 30-some inches off the floor. That’s a LOT of wasted space. I do have a lovely window that is probably 10 feet tall. Some of the glass is original to the building so it’s mid-to-late 1800’s. Lovely to look at but when the wind blows or it’s raining I feel the weather just like I’m sitting outside!! Did I mention the view — oh, it’s breathtaking. Especially if you want to know who is trying to sneak out early. Yep, I have a great view of the parking lot:)

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  39. Hey! In my defense, I ALWAYS send Jenny a photo of my desk on those rare moments when it’s actually clean. (At least once every 6 months!) There’s just some evil part of me that can’t resist. And I kinda agree about the clean desk and unused mind. I’ve been a total space cadet ever since I cleaned it up. Not that I don’t have tendencies anyway….

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    1. Yeah, but every time I’ve visited, it’s been spotless, so I’m not buying it.
      I am delighted you’re getting defensive about a clean desk, though. My work here is done.

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  40. You notice, SEP, that Crusie WANTS to think it is usually that clean. You may want to change your story, just for Crusie….

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    1. It’s a good thing she can’t see my house now! I’m just off deadline. Everything had gone to hell while I was working, and for the past week I’ve been reorganizing, straightening, rehanging pictures, etc., like crazy. She’d hate me forever! I’m even cleaning out a kitchen cupboard today.
      Please don’t mention this post to her.
      I value her friendship.

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      1. Once you’re done with your house…couple you come organize mine? You know, in your free time πŸ™‚

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  41. Want to have a happy day? You MUST check out cuteoverload.com annnd bunnyfood.com. Instant smile guaranteed!

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  42. Hmm…Sorry Jenny, but I’m with Susan on this one. That office is exquisite. But my slightly OCD self is the polar opposite of how you function. When my room is in a glorious state of sparkling clean, harmonious order, I’m at peace and the creative juices can flow all the easier. But creative chaos works for some people. So all the more power to you and your half-eaten Snickers bar, madam.

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  43. I actually took a case of the head staggers yesterday and tidied my office. Well, I couldn’t for 3 months (my back was BAAAAAAD), so yesterday I got stuck in for 20 minutes. Which is all my 4 year old would allow me. But it looks better. Maybe tonight I’ll get another 20 minutes.

    And no half eaten snickers. I don’t leave half-eaten chocolate. Ever. That’s just insane!

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  44. I love that desk. But looking out the window while writing equals serious eye strain for me. Aside from that, wow… all that rooooom to spread out All The Things!

    Half-eaten candy only happens by mistake around here. Hey, we’re human. We make mistakes.

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