Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a Gloater

Every now and then my Close Personal Friend Susan Elizabeth Phillips sends me a picture of her office, which is always expensively spotless:

Susan's Office

You know how she got that picture? She has a freaking balcony in there because her office has cathedral ceilings. So I send her a picture of my office, which has no ceiling because I bought a derelict cottage in the wilds of New Jersey and then tried to move from a 4000 square foot house into 900 square feet of charming shanty:

Jenny'sOffice 1

This is usually where I say something about how creative people can’t work in spotless environments, but clearly something must be done. In my defense, I’ve been dumping anything paper-related in here for months with the idea that I would organize it as I went . . . yeah, that’s not gonna work.

I’m going to have to clean my office. Hell, I’m going to have to paint the floors, build the bookcases, and install the ceiling. Sigh. Never buy a derelict cottage. The work never ends.

I sent the picture to SEP. I haven’t heard back. She probably had a heart attack, but she’ll be okay because her office is completely sterile so they can probably just operate on her right there . . .

Edited to add:
This is Susan’s idea of a REALLY messy office. You’ll notice she needed help to get there. Amateur.

73 thoughts on “Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a Gloater

  1. Lol. Good thing you don’t like to write at a desk.
    I’m suspicious of Susan though. Are you sure that office really exists? If it does exist does she ever really go in there or is it a front for wherever she really writes?
    Starbucks or Paneras maybe.

    1. She sent me a picture of her messy office once. There was a styrofoam container with salad open on her otherwise spotless desktop.
      Why I’m friends with this woman is beyond me.

    1. That pretty much sums up the whole cottage.
      I’m hoping posting that picture will shame me into doing another Twelve Days of the Office.
      Maybe Twelve Months of the Office?

      1. No, the biggesr the project you plan, the harder it is to start. I like the UFYH (Unf*** Your Habitat) plan, which is to only commit to 20 minutes at a time, and then a 10-minute break. There’s even an app to count it off for you.

        Plus, she reblogs before and after pictures people post, and some of them are just as bad. And it’s encouraging to see how much can be accomplished in 20 minutes.

        1. I looooove UFYH. I’ve been working on un-effing my office at work (I teach high school). Two of the seniors recently volunteered to help me and stay during tutoring period every Friday (their idea). It’s looking MUCH much better (although still terrible) and we’re only halfway through the school year!

          When I thanked them publicly on Facebook, they said they’d decided to help because “We need to make our mark on the school before we graduate, and your office has been a huge mess as long as we’ve been in school here.”

          I wasn’t sure if I should be flattered or embarrassed that “clean Larkin’s office” counts as a momentous, reputation-making task… (Probably a little of both?).

      2. This is a me-too – it made my feel better about my shit-heap house altogether. I share study with DH and it is way better than it was….but it’s got about five dismantled Billy bookcases cluttering it up at the moment. Sigh.

  2. Well….in her defense she DID post a picture the other day of her granddaughter coloring at that desk with real pieces of paper thrown in wild abandon on the floor. But it might have been photo-shopped – just sayin’.

    1. Didn’t she also say that she wrote sitting in a recliner in another room? She’s never posted a picture of that room. Hmmmmm.

      1. No, that’s Krissie and me. Susan writes at her desk like the professional she is.
        Actually, I’m typing this in bed. Sometimes the recliner is just asking too much.

  3. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

    I think her picture is photoshopped.

  4. I took a long look at my own clutter a few years ago a realized that the problem, really, was my own belief that ‘someday’ this would come in handy, or I might need that. As long as I kept thinking that way, I would have a clutter problem. But ‘handy’ and ‘necessary’ are not the same things! Since then I’ve been quite a bit more ruthless. I even called the Got Junk people last year and they hauled off half my basement. These days most necessary paperwork is available somewhere on line, so that helps. I’ve also created a new vision of what I want my future to look like, and that gives me incentive to be more ruthless about getting rid of stuff. I do still have a ways to go, but these days nothing comes into my house that doesn’t have a definite long term purpose.

    1. My problem is more “That’s really beautiful” or “I love that color” or “That’s an amazing thing.”
      I am getting more practical thought. All of my purchases lately have been recharging cords and surge protectors and cleaning stuff.
      Of course the surge protector and cord were pink.

  5. OMG!!! Jenny Crusie, you are in so much trouble! My friends, what our darling J.C. isn’t tell you is that I captioned this photo something like, “A writer who is obviously not writing.” This is what I did after I turned in the manuscript of my newest Chicago Stars book (clearing throat), FIRST STAR I SEE TONIGHT. And, no, it doesn’t normally look like this, WHICH SHE VERY WELL KNOWS! What do we do with this woman? Other than love her?! (I so want to dig into that mess of hers. Hmmm… Maybe a trip to New Jersey?) 🙂

    1. You notice that after showing me her impeccable office, she goes on to just mention CASUALLY that she’s finished another book.

      Susan Elizabeth Phillips is a gloater.

      1. She is. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t perfectly capable of coming to New Jersey and cleaning your office.

  6. I was going to write something about untidiness going like tides through my house and then I misread the reassurance that my email would not be punished and now I am so far down that rabbit hole I can’t say anything else.

    1. Lee, it’s so weird that you wrote “tide” because that’s exactly what was in my head about my own messes. Stuff rolls in and slowly covers available surfaces — at some point during the high tide, I start to get clear stuff, slowly at first, over days, then get a real head of steam, and get close to a state resembling SEP’s desk. After a day or two of ebb, the flow of clutter slowly starts again. And on and on and on.

      My husband’s desk looks like SEP’s every damned night before he goes to bed.

      That may explain why we fight a lot (smile).

  7. I’m relieved to see I’m somewhere in the middle of the two of you. While I admit my quilt room sometimes looks like Jenny’s office (especially since we cleared out Mom’s house 3-4 (or 5?) years ago, my office is usually fairly workable. Except when it’s in its guest room incarnation.

    No, I don’t think that picture from SEP is her office. It’s clearly her gynaecologist’s examining room before the first patient of the day.

    1. It was the cleaning out my mom’s house that both did me in and made me straighten up and fly right (relatively speaking – I’m somewhat closer to a Jenny state than a Susan state). My mom’s stuff was taking up so much space that I had to tackle All The Things, and it’s much better now. Not perfect, but better. I cleaned out my closet and re-arranged things (I am a visual filer, so need to be able to see all my shoes and sweaters or they’re forgotten, so dropped some $$ at the Container Store for plastic stacking drawer in several sizes), and have instituted a “one comes in/one goes out” rule that I think will help keep things in check. But it is so much more restful to my eye and psyche to have less clutter around me!

      1. I think that’s key for me. I make clutter but I’m so much happier when things are where they belong. I’m always going to want folk art and lots of pens and baskets of yarn and all of that, but the clutter is driving me nut. I think for me it’s going to come down to, “if there’s no place for it, it has to leave.”

  8. Ha ha. Good to know there is a new book coming out of this discussion. And Jenny, that is not an office, that is a storage room, but I do like that there is a pathway.

  9. Where is this office? You had a cute little cubby area off the kitchen that wasn’t insulated underneath…is this connected to that? This photo looks kind of like the enclosed porch that became your bedroom.

    The only really successful, long-lasting way to organize clutter is to get everything outta there at one time. Throw it on the lawn and sort through it all in one day in the spring: Goodwill, Keep/Use, and Trash piles. No storage pile.

    I’ve never been big on astrology–in fact, I’ve never taken it seriously and don’t really know what I’m talking about when it comes to chatting about it–but please go with me here for a second. You and I have the same birthday. Supposedly, Virgos crave order and discipline. I am completely the opposite of that Virgo trait! I like spontaneity. I’m “live and let live.” But I walk around feeling vaguely confused a lot, like I don’t know where to settle my gaze. Always have. I grab at lots of toys and play hard–I think so I can avoid dwelling on that off-kilter feeling.

    My big recent realization is that maybe I’ve been suppressing my own Virgo-ness. And that off-kilter feeling is my essence saying, “Straighten up and fly right. You just might like it.”

    So my point is, I might pretend to be that “typical” Virgo for a while and see what happens. Otherwise, what are horoscopes for? Except for the intensity of emotion Virgos lean toward, I am just not a Virgo in any way, shape, or form–or so I’ve always thought. Maybe I am. Maybe I really am a hard-ass Mary Poppins who wants everything in its perfect place, well-dusted, etc.

    1. The problem with my Virgo-ness, which as my sun sign is my inner self (look at the way I analyze fiction, that’s a Virgo for you) is that as my rising sign/outward self I’m a Scorpio. Scorpios are born with no fucks to give, and we love chaos. We NEED chaos. Just not this much chaos.

      The cute little cubby is (a) too little and (b) too cold. But it makes a MARVELOUS tool room so I don’t have to go out to the garage to get all the stuff I need. And possibly some day there will be a dryer in there. Dryers don’t freeze.

      1. As a Scorpio rising, this “no fucks to give and love chaos” thing suddenly explains a *lot.* I think chaos just follows me around.

        My mom’s Virgo rising and well, she has crap piled everywhere. I think the perfectionism thing keeled over and died somehow. On the other hand, she did recently follow me into the shower during Christmas break, insisting I didn’t know how to shampoo with my new haircut. My shrink was all, “how does she think you function the rest of the year?” UH-HUH.

        1. I just did some research, and I’m Virgo rising, too. And my moon sign is Virgo. Where is all my fussiness, then? I’m not that way! If someone can explain to me how I can be so Virgo yet still so loosey-goosey, I’d love it, haha!!!

          1. I’m a Virgo with Virgo rising (I share a birthday with both of you), and I live with 2 hoarders. Someday my head my explode! I don’t mind a bit of clutter, but after a while it’s soul-sucking and I give up the will to live!

  10. The office of Jenny greatly resembles my basement just prior to November 2015. That was when I decided I really needed to clear it out and make it a pleasant place again. It had become the spot where everything anyone doesn’t need or want anymore goes to stay.

    My goal is to drastically downsize everything in our house, so that we can actually drastically downsize into a much smaller place. I think if we off-load a bunch of clutter first, we are much more likely to be able to move and feel at home in a smaller house.

    I mean, we moved into this house ten years ago and there are still dozens of unopened moving boxes in the garage! That’s nuts.


  11. Yes, she must be a gloater. She embarrasses her characters to a degree where I often pull a “can’t watch” and put the book down and go away.

    But that’s just me. I’m an envier. An envier of the clean office. I need metal shelves at work, the termites are in everything. So I look at prices and go nuts because I know I can’t buy it for myself.

    Also, my New Year = 45 grade 3s. Majority 2nd lang English in a First language English school. No assistant. Let the games begin. – Gladiatorial to the death, not modern Olympics.

  12. That was funny. Thanks for the laugh, Jenny. I want an office too, and either one would do. For now, my office is a desk in my bedroom, so I don’t really have room for any clutter. Just no surfaces available.
    BTW: I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Her books are delightful.

  13. I don’t even have a desk at the moment. I was writing lying on my stomach on my bed, propped up on my elbows and typing away – when I wasn’t dictating with dragon. But then I messed up my shoulder and I can’t do that anymore.

    The table I used to use as my desk is covered in crap – including my TV which the kids are using to play xbox one. One of these days the kids will move out and I’ll have an office. Or two. Possibly three. Possibly an office and a sewing room.

    For now I’ve got four weeks of PT trying to recover my shoulder and a tiny table to type at when I’m not dictating. Truthfully, typing hurts. I’m doing a lot of dictating.

  14. That space is like your books – colorful and stuffed with interesting things and layered, revealing something new with every pass. Except it’s still in the DLD draft.

    Yes, please, to a 12 Days!

  15. I love SEP and all, but Jenny, you are clearly my people. I do recommend reading or listening to Marie Kondo on how to get rid of stuff, though the woman reading the audio book (the one with Tidying in the title) does sometimes go a bit monotone, and some of the stuff Marie Kondo says is so hippy dippy I wanted to throttle her. Really? If I ball up my socks they will be too sad? Screw you. She seriously went on a rant about this that was the craziest thing in the world. But many of my friends gave away bags and bags of clothes using her method. If I lived in NJ I’d come help! But first I have a lot of stuff to get rid of here in California…

      1. *giggle* Your book is sad that you don’t know where it is. It wants to be happy on a shelf where it will always be put, for that is its place.

        1. I found it, I found it. It’s on my bedside table now.
          It was in a drawer, trying to escape the clutter.

        2. @ Robbie – Consider your comment “liked.” (Or starred. Or checked. I think it was a check mark)

          @ Jenny – Yay! Now your book can bring you joy! I just found my Nook (under a pile of crap on my desk, which is all out and on my desk because it’s “urgent” and must be dealt with soon – ha), which has her first book on it. I made a lot of progress, but I didn’t get all the way through the whole house, which she rightly warns of. I stopped after my bedroom. My clothes are more manageable, and much more put away, but the fact that my office has stuff in it, so I moved to the living room has bugged me for a long time. Let me know if you like the second book. And, if anyone’s read both, how do they compare?

      1. My socks are not sad. My socks are all secure, curled up in a ball together with their mates. Except the one whose mate is in the washing basket. That sock’s sad.

  16. I am currently in a hotel for 3 nights paid for by work. We are due big bad weather any minute now and when you troubleshoot and dispatch for things like oxygen equipment someone has to work. Guess who?
    There is a nice clean desk in here that I plan to make use of over the next few days when I am not working.
    Maybe I’ll pretend I’m a SEP / Crusie contemporary. Wish I would have brought my signed books.

  17. Noooo… I saw the picture with a grandchild [I think] and her editing/rewriting process and it looked like Office Supply colored paper exploded!!

  18. Okay, both pictures…she photoshopped the kid and paper in too!

    This is all in fun, I hope you know. I’m jealous because my room could be Jenny’s room’s doppelganger. But I know where every. Single. Thing. Is!


    I do!


  19. And I just paid the price for my slovenliness. My computer fell off the bed and now there are multicolor lines on the left of the screen which Google tells me means I’ve cracked the screen. Argh.

    If I disappear for awhile it’s because my computer broke. I say that because the number of lines appears to be growing.

  20. Wow. Cute desk SEP has. If she painted it in red & white stripes it could be a candy cane.

    My office is like a combo of both of yours–cute & cottagy but neat. With both a chair area & desk area where I can write. But I’m thinking I’d have to write a lot of books to get the balcony. 🙂

  21. I’m more like SEP. Looking at Jenny’s office makes me want to volunteer to show up in good, warm weather, say in May for a week with my handy husband and treat your place a little bit like a Habitat for Humanity project. He can handle the ceiling and wiring and plumbing and whatever else. I’m fantastic at organizing. I do it to calm myself. Plus, I’m handy too or at least quick to learn.

    So anytime you want a hoard of people to descend on you, just mention here you’d like help, because doesn’t that sound like fun? ?

  22. I think I’d try to spin your office to your publishers as a reason you’re behind on your books. Maybe they’d send someone to help you get it in shape? It doesn’t have to be as sterile as SEP’s office, of course. Just maybe enough horizontal surface to put your laptop/keyboard, and enough space behind it for your collage.

    Every year, yeah, around this time, I think about getting the house cleaned up, and decluttering. Then I decide it’s too darned cold, and I’ll do it in the spring. Every year. Clearly, it doesn’t happen in spring either. As someone with a walkway through the clutter, and occasionally a wee bit more (but never as nice as SEP’s office), I hope you get it to where you’re happy with it. It doesn’t have to be tidy, as long as it meets your satisfaction. And you can find what you’re looking for. Fortunately, since I don’t excel at tidy, I’ve had a knack so far of being able to find where I put things, even if it’s only when I’m looking for something else.

  23. You just made me feel better. My office is not as ba- full as yours.

    On one hand, we’re getting a couple of feet of snow in the mid Atlantic this weekend. Maybe you can start decluttering then?

    On the other hand, I saw a lot of really really neat stuff in your office. It looks fun.

  24. Nothing useful to add but just wanted to say that I adore this post and all the comments (except for the bad shoulder – sorry, Kate – and cracked computer screen).

  25. I’m with Sarah, nothing to add except I adore this post and all you people, and I hope the bad shoulder and bad computer heal soon.

  26. SEP has an awesome desk, she just needs a little round table at the end and it would look like a question mark 🙂

    Huge fan, I am literal an arms length from my Hard copy of Breathing room. Of course I own copies of all your books so…

    You may feel better, if you rename your office, to something more appropriate for purpose, then it is no longer a messy office.

    I have a desk stacked with books, I mentally relabelled it “more book storage” and I now write on my laptop on my bed (only clear space in my room, I do have some standards, i.e. no using the bed for book storage)

    Every now and again I watch the scene from Limitless (movie) when he cleans his apartment for inspiration.

    1. When he looked around and said, “Who lives like this?” I said out loud, “I do.”
      I disliked that character before that line, a lot, but that may have been the deal breaker.

  27. Whatever the level of clutter, I love the design of SEP’s desk. Mind you I’d also love to have a room in the house big enough to fit it…

    I like a level of ‘comfortable clutter’, but I have a limit where I’m screaming ‘We have got to put things away, now! I can’t cross the room with tripping on things!’ Seriously, this is a major problem for me; I’m famously clumsy and can trip up on the flattest carpet in the world…

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