The Office: Week One

Note: Thursday and Friday posts on Argh are going to be Keeping Me Honest posts for awhile, Thursday to keep on task to clean up and reorganize my office and Friday to do the same thing for the books I’m working on. All of which is to say, the posts probably aren’t going to be valuable to anybody but me. You have been warned.

I’ve been reading Marie Kondo and Julie Morgenstern and trying to figure out the best way to organize my office, this time for good. I’ve moved since I last did the Twelve Days of the Office posts, and as in any move, I had to guess where everything should go in my office. I guessed wrong on several counts, so now it’s time to think things through.

A Place for Everything and Everything in That Place
Actually, Three Places

My first mistake was separating home office from work office and work room. It seemed like it made sense, but it just spread office supplies all over the place.

The second was thinking I could use the garage for art stuff, mainly because I don’t, I drag that all through the house, too.

So, the assumption I’m starting with is that it all goes in one room: bills, manuscripts, paint, everything in my office space.

Since my office space is about 12′ x 7.5′ and has three doors in it, plus two massive pieces of furniture that are absolutely staying, that’s going to take some planning. The office is essentially the hallway between the kitchen and my bedroom, so a lot of it has to be walkway, although I can crowd that a little since it’s not a public space like the front of the house.

So organization.

I love Morgenstern’s kindergarten room approach. As she points out in Organizing from the Inside Out, a kindergarten classroom is a perfect model of organization. It’s divided into zones which means it’s easy to focus on one activity at a time (you’re in that zone), all the things you need for that activity are right there, it’s fun to put them away because they all have a clearly marked place to go, and you can see at a glance everything that’s important to that task. She has an entire section on this idea, well worth reading.

So what zones do I need?

I need a computer workstation (in this case, my long work table) with two big screens so I can put up a lot of docs at once, plus keyboards and trackpads. That workstation should also have a laser printer for text. I was thinking “and an inkjet for images,” but the truth is, I use that for collage more than anything, so it really doesn’t go in the word-processing zone. I also need paper and pens, and a corkboard and pins, and if possible a whiteboard. And at least one desk lamp, probably two, but I have those. So when I head into the office later today, I’m going to take a cardboard box in, put everything (except the computers) that belong in that zone in it, and take it out of there.

Then I need a space to create in. That is, I edit at the desktop, I organize at the desktop, but if I’m going to be making things up–stories, blog posts, whatever–I need to stretch out in a comfortable place with my laptop. In this case, it’s my favorite couch ever, which happens to be 7′ long so it fits neatly (almost too neatly, it wasn’t easy getting it in there by myself) at the end of the 12′ x 7.5′ office. There’s a shelf behind it that’s wide enough to hold my Diet Coke and my post-its, and I have narrow table on wheels I can put in front of it for books and graph paper and collages and lunch. I’ve got a small TV at one end of the couch and I replaced the cushions with a twin-size memory foam mattress so it can double as an overflow guest room, so that part’s set. The part that needs revised there is the Stuff. There’s a lot of Stuff there, but all I need is paper and pens, a post-it note dispenser, and a cord for my laptop. So again, I put the stuff I need there in a small box and take it out.

And then there’s the art section. I want my drawing board out of the garage and in here and that’s going to be difficult because the thing is huge and the space is small. If I use one side of the hall space for computing and the other side for art, I can make my desk chair do double duty with the drawing board, but the board is still mega-wide and deep. But if I swap the work table and my bookcase around (much harder than it sounds, then I’ll have the windows at my back as I draw, and I can turn the board sideways . . . . Oh, fingers crossed.

And then we get to supplies . . . Argh. Crayons, my colored pencils, my markers, my acrylics, my watercolors, my paper punches, my stamps, my drawing paper, my graph paper, my sketchbooks, my rulers and T-squares, my Xacto knives, my erasers, my tape, my glue . . . that’s gonna be a big box, but that gets packed up, too and moved out.

Which brings me to my books. I’m building in bookcases as room dividers to separate my bedroom from the office, and I have the old bookcase that was here when I moved in, but I think they’re going to have to hold supplies mostly. Which means the books get filed into labeled boxes and out in the garage when I can just pull out a box when I need it. And then once I’ve finished that project, get rid of the books. So the books get packed up and taken out to the garage.

Keep The Things That Spark Joy

Once I’ve done that, all I have to do is get rid of the ton of the stuff that’s left, which is where Marie Kondo comes in because some of that stuff is wonderful. Kondo says to look at each thing, really look at it, and decide if it gives you joy. “Useful” isn’t enough (especially since I’ve already put all the necessary stuff in boxes). Does it make me feel good to look at this thing, use this thing?

That means that my Mexican folk art stays. It means that I’m keeping the weird metal wine rack that I’m using to organize desk supplies because I love the damn thing. It means that the vase of huge and obviously fake daisies stays because they make me happy. It means that the cheapo one-eyed crow I got on clearance at Walmart stays because he’s Edwin from Monday Street, and the even older and cheaper crow on the pumpkin stays because he was in Wild Ride, and the luxurious, silky crow that Krissie gave me stays because he’s wonderful. This could be difficult. I have great stuff.

And then when I’ve done all of that, I can see about moving furniture around and painting the floor and generally getting my office back. It’s going to be wonderful, sunny and bright and organized. And damn near impossible to move in, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Next week: Pictures to keep me honest.

45 thoughts on “The Office: Week One

  1. If you’re anywhere near a Staples, you might not need a colour printer. They do excellent quality for the price, and you’d never have to buy colour cartridges again.


  2. Is that drawing board like an architect’s drafting table? Can it fold flat when you’re not using it and is it thin enough to be stashed behind one of the big pieces of furniture, or under the bed (yeah, I know, under-bed is prime real estate and probably already being used as storage for shoes).

    I ask because I have an unwieldy self-healing rotary cutting mat that gets used at the beginning of sewing projects. When not being used, it can fit behind my tv-and-book cabinet.

    Just a thought. You have me thinking about moving forward with my own ghastly guest-computer-sewing-library-home office renovation/remodeling project (11′ x 12.5′).


    1. It’s too big to fit under a bed. The thing is a monster. It was in the last house I bought; the guy looked at it and said, “I don’t want to move that. Would you like it?” and I grabbed it because it’s great. And then I moved it because it’s great. So now I have to get it into the office. Because . . .


      1. I imagine that you have already considered this because you are creative; however, is there a way to modify the drafting table (hinges?) to allow it to lay flat against the wall when not in use?


        1. It’s completely adjustible; I’m pretty sure I can fix the top so it’s perpendicular.
          But it’s huge, so that would shut out the light from the window, plus every time I want to work on it, I’d have to adjust it again.

          I need to go out to the garage and measure it. It’s a wonderful work surface but it’s big.


          1. Maybe you need to invest in something similar, but smaller. Acknowledge you need it, but don’t spoil the rest of your work space trying to shoehorn it in.

            This post is good for me: I’m trying to get clear on how much space I really need in the new home I’m hoping to buy. And one thing I was thinking yesterday was, not to get hung up on having to fit in what I’ve got at the moment. It’s the space (the light, especially) that matters.


  3. Don’t forget the plain glass for a white board.

    And the only question is, will your socks be happy with all of this when you’re done 😉


    1. My socks are ecstatic. They’re all rolled together in a big Home Goods bag. It’s like a socks orgy in there.


      1. This has been a difficult week, but every once in awhile I mutter “socks orgy” and crack up. Thank you.


  4. If I were ever in a position to build my dream cottage, it would have bookshelves as walls to the extent it is structurally feasible.

    I keep dreaming about replacing my current bedroom closet door with a bookshelf door. Why not make that vertical space more useful?

    I think mine tenths of the organizing battle is just being in the right mindset to get started and to keep going.

    Good luck!


      1. I guess people who lived in older houses really didn’t have much in the way of consumer goods, because closets are so often either tiny or non-existent.

        Or else they didn’t mind having things stored on the floor. : )


          1. Armoires. I have an old victorian one that I bought about 30 years ago when I realized that while the bedroom was huge, the closet was barely large enough for one person’s clothes. Then I got a second smaller Edwardian one when my husband took up playing the cello and there was no where to store it where the cats would not look on it as a new, very nice scratching post. Both have drawers on the bottom which also turns out to be very handy.


    1. Bookshelves as walls is great. My grandparents had bookshelves that wrapped around the top of almost every room in their house. As a kid, it made the rooms feel safe and calm and full of interesting things that I would one day be tall enough to reach. As an adult, I envy the storage space.

      Right now my parent’s basement has one whole wall that is just a bookshelf. Beautiful, and functional.

      If you ever have a chance to act on the wall bookshelf fantasy, I highly recommend it.


      1. Especially for outside walls. My first house was an old, unsulated cottage (I buy old houses, sue me), and I had a ton of books so I had my then significant other build bookcases on three walls including the two outside walls and I filled them floor to ceiling with books. It instantly became the warmest room in the house.


        1. Aha! Validation! My current and hopefully always Significant Other had a lot to say when I requested floor to ceiling bookshelves on an exterior wall. “Insulation,” I cried. “Su–u-u-re,” he replied. But he built, and it’s wonderful. I’m going to show him your answer. And make plans for the next wall. 🙂


  5. Good luck with this. Take your time. Like you, I’m alone with these chores. I packed six boxes yesterday and had to quit. When I get a twinge in my back that’s a warning I always heed. I keep telling myself it will get done, there is no need to rush, which is a hell of a lot better than my norm of get it all done today.


  6. Jenny, as you live alone, why are you making this small and inconvenient-sounding room with so many problems to overcome your primary all-day space? Is there another room you could use as your primary workroom/writing room?

    I’m moving myself and I had something of an epiphany when I realized that my “office” or workroom was as important or more so than any other room in the house and I should not feel shy about allocating a lot of prime interior space for it.

    Secondly, if there is another way out of the bedroom, maybe you can let that door go. I’ve had to do that in several old places with odd door choices.


    1. I don’t actually live alone. There’s a revolving cast of characters who end up in my spare room on a regular basis, and that’s only going to get more frequent once I get the stairs to the lake finished. That’s why the front of the house (guestroom, bath, living room) is designed for visitors and guests (and me), and the back of the house is where I have my private space (office/workroom, bedroom, eventual bathroom). In between is the kitchen because everybody needs food.

      Also this space is the second largest in the house, second only to the living room. All the other rooms are 9’x 9’or smaller. I love that. All larger rooms ever do is give me more space to pile stuff. I love that it’s at the back of the house which is quiet and sunny. It’s the perfect place. I just have to figure out how to make it work.


  7. I’m in the midst of KonMari-ing my house. I’ve read a ton of organizational stuff and this is the only one that has really made an impact. So far, I’ve done clothes, books and paper and my office is currently totally organized. Oh – and my kitchen junk drawer is now a thing of beauty.

    I got rid of a ton of stuff. Best of all –what I’ve done is staying that way.


  8. I was going to organize at home. But I burned out on work organizing today. This is interesting, because I have a grade three class and the zone thing works for me too and I was re-creating my zones. I have less place to walk (I’m a striding teacher during whole-class work) and the group work zone is badly done because of the change to my library corner. It had to move to that zone to accommodate 3 more desks.

    At home I just re-read Crazy For You for the gazillionth time and realized exactly how much you’ve influenced me – philosophically, linguistically and no doubt, emotionally. Thank you.


  9. Also, take ideas from “Tiny House” living. Lots of wall mounted stuff and use of *dead* space – where people can’t walk and doesn’t disturb traffic flow.


  10. The floor is so old that it’s hollow in the middle, so it has to be replaced. Then it has to be insulated. Then . . .
    I can use one end of it, but it’s basically a very old single car garage. Which will be great for my single car once I get everything out of there. Argh.


  11. Wow you have some work ahead of you. I don’t envy you. I am procrastinating and all I need to do is paint my new dresser and organize my clothes in it.


  12. I groaned when I read this post. The Abundant Artist, Cory Huff had a podcast with creative sandbox clutter workshop and I am working my way through a dining room with file boxes of art on paper, swipe (photographs torn from magazines for photo reference for painting and teaching, Mac mini, monitor, passports/back up, where I write ebooks on art, do my photoshop work for art and posting, watercolors, jars for that, acrylic paints, separate jars and water miscible oils, stacks of pads of drawings from my mother and my pads , bookcases of art books and esoteric healing, still life props, shawls, two ikea flat files, … easel, canvases, old stereo and 33’s have to get rid of that. I thought I would get more white file boxes from Container store and keep 1 medium in each, watercolor stuff, acrylic, etc. but should just clear out and organize two white flat files from Ikea. You are one of my favorite writers, protect your eyes and swap the diet coke for drinks with stevia. and paper keeps coming in. I have friends who actually get rid of previous magazines before bringing a new one into their house. Good luck and speed with your space!


  13. I fell in love with KonMari’s methods right away. I did my clothes and the kids’ clothes. I no longer have clothes under the bed waiting for me to lose 10 or 20 or 80 pounds.
    Then I did papers and I went from 2 drawers in a lateral filing cabinet to half of one (I now have space for all the kids’ craft paper etc.).
    Then the lady that gives us her kids’ hand-me-downs gave us a few more garbage bagfulls, so I did the kids’ clothes again.
    Then the next category was books, so I fell out of love with KonMari.
    Then for the next couple months, at every meal I stared at my overflowing bookcases, which are in the dining room, and noticed just how hideous and chaotic it looked (even though a lot of books were in pretty boxes–you can store more that way), and last weekend I KonMari’d and now it looks pretty and nice, and they are actually the books that I’ll read again. And there are 2 shelves available for Lego, which is awesome. (And now I’m wondering if we can build a bookcase out of Lego…)
    So now I’m ready to tackle the rest of the house, starting with the kids’ clothes because I think they grew again, and my clothes because I replaced a lot of work clothes recently, but I may have missed the part about how you throw out that which you are replacing.
    Up next: the kitchen. The new wok needs a home…


  14. I liked Kondo’s book a lot. In part, I liked it because it was so eccentric. (Thanking your shoes?) And in part because the book showed me a new way of looking at my stuff, which has helped me whittle down possessions. I’m pretty tidy and keep a fairly streamlined, organized household, so realizing that I was actually holding onto stuff I could shed surprised me, and I’m enjoying exploring that and getting rid of things I don’t miss.

    Anyhow, my experience of keeping a house (and home office) that seldom gets out of control (and doesn’t even get messy very often) is that there is a crucial third leg to (1) a place for everything, and (2) everything in it’s place, which is: (3) every time you use something, put it back. It’s really unusual for me to leave my office for the day with stuff all over the place. Part of my ritual is that everything gets put away. Ditto my kitchen (where the only exception is that I will leave newly-washed dishes in the drying rack until the next time I use the kitchen, since I’m usually too lazy to dry them).

    I most do this because my grandmother did it, my mother did it, and they made me do it as soon as I was old enough to be mobile. So it’s a lifelong habit, and I usually feel uncomfortable if I don’t put stuff away.

    For someone who’s not used to putting everything away every time you use it, it’s probably a laborious habit to acquire. But it does make the tidying effort you’re going through worth it, because it ensures that things STAY tidy over the long run…


    1. The key really is having a place for it. My problem is too much stuff, not enough place. So that’s what I’m working on. Instead of trying to find a place for all my stuff, I’m separating out what I need and making sure I have storage for that. The rest of it can go.


      1. My problem is not only am I trying to keep up with my own stuff, I’m trying to keep up with 2 kids and my husband and all their stuff. I put stuff aware and they come along and take it all out again.

        I had a moment recently though. We’re having approximately 100-150 people over May 1st. So far I’ve finished pulling the wallpaper from the big bathroom, a project started 7 years ago.

        The holes are patched, the walls are primed and I’ve slapped test colors on the walls. We’ve agreed on a color and that’s going up this weekend. Then it’s on to the next project I’ve started but not finished – the kitchen floor.

        The bathroom actually has multiple other issues that we’re going to have to address. But my husband has a valid argument that I don’t finish projects once I start them and that I expand the scope. So for now, I’m finishing a project within it’s original scope.


  15. Once in a great while I awaken at 4 a.m. with heartburn and worry that I’m going to die right there and OMG SOMEONE WILL FIND MY DIARY. It’s a diary I started in fifth grade, wrote in intermittently for the following 20 years, and you know what? Does not bring me joy.

    I have vague plans to cull memories for my many younger siblings (“Beth! For your third birthday, you got a stuffed blue dog and some kind of ‘spoon pat’ toy and two pair of slacks, and you loved them!”) and then dispose of the thing. Hasn’t happened.

    Today, inspired by all the Kondo talk, I started ripping out pages. Most embarrassing ones first. I still can’t quite let go; now I have vague plans to put the shreds through my papermaking blender…but at least no one can read them.


    1. You know the day after my soon-to-be ex-husband moved out, I put all his love letters in a metal pan on the front porch and burned them. It seemed like a fitting way to end the marriage. I kind of regret that. Not losing him, that was a blessing, but losing that part of my history.
      On the other hand, the only thing I left in my life to remind me that I was ever married to him is our beautiful daughter, and that’s a good thing. Wait, no, that’s not true. I also have a gold lace wrap he got me for my birthday one year after I pointed to it and said, “I want that for my birthday.”


      1. That image conjures up intense emotions! (Although the lace wrap sounds lovely.) If you had kept the letters, how would you feel about your daughter finding and reading them?

        We ran into this with my parents–we found more than a hundred letters buried in the basement, after Dad died and while Mom was in the last year of Alzheimer’s. One of my sisters read a few aloud to her, and all she said was, “Those people sound very happy.” The letters are filled with fascinating daily details (they wrote to each other every night, because long-distance calls were too expensive). But it’s weird to read Dad’s declarations of love right after he reports his bowling scores. Anyhow, we have to figure out a way to preserve/share among the 10 kids.

        As for my diary, I would be embarrassed to have anyone read it. Hell, I’M embarrassed to read most of the stuff in there. So it’s going, shred by shred.


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