I don’t work in a museum (and so should you)

I’m done feeling guilty about this.

This is not me. While I appreciate OCD porn, feeling ashamed of my workspace is detrimental. My office is a living thing, not an exhibit. I don’t work in a museum, and neither should you 1.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Flypaper Method

I spent my youth in a shoebox-shaped house in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It had vinyl siding, cracked slate sidewalks and an under-performing rose bush in the front yard. Inside you’d find my family: happy enough, God-fearing and terribly disorganized.

The kitchen was a narrow galley with pink laminate counter tops and linoleum floors. A row of cabinets ran along the wall opposite the appliances, and inside those doors were my mother’s recipes. Unlike your mom’s collection, Carol’s never saw the inside of a cookbook. Instead, they clung to the doors with yellowing strips of tape.

A Hellman’s mayonnaise label dangled next to pages ripped from Family Circle magazine. Supermarket hand-outs, index cards and torn envelopes with their stamps intact dangled one on top of the other. Anything flat enough to write on and light enough to stick to the door was used.

While the fly paper storage method keeps recipes accessible, it’s a poor filing system. Anchovy paste mingles with blueberry cheesecake, which should never happen, not even in print. What all this means is that I’ve got chaos in my blood. I’m not a fly stripper, but a stacker. Piles rise everywhere, like little cities called “Coulda” and “Gonna” “Soonjustgivemeafreakingbreak.”

The Tidal Wave

Every few months an urge comes over me like a tidal wave. I spend hours arranging my office neatly, finding a typically acceptable home for everything. I call my self a neat person. Neat people are highly organized and productive. They’re intellectual and competent. I am one of those people.

Within a week the piles return, as does the guilt. Clearly, I’m not one of those tidy, on-top-of-things people.

Evidence, not Enemy

When I finish a day’s work at TUAW, I look at my Mac’s desktop. Screenshots, photos, snippets of text in TextEdit files, emails and so forth fill the screen, strewn here and there. Before I throw it all way, I consider the jumble. That’s the evidence of a day’s work, I think.

So is the crap in my office.

I pulled ideas or reference material from those books. The photos reminded me of something or someone I love (like my kitchen back in Scranton). The papers hold all sorts of goodies — contracts I’ve signed, drawings from the kids, numbers I’ve called, arrangements I’ve made.

This is the evidence of my work. Some would put the book on a shelf after reading. I’d rather simply put  it down and start writing. I like the photos where they are so I can reference them anytime. I work hard, and this stuff is a part of the result.

Well Enough

How tightly organized should I be? Enough to pass a white glove test? No. That’s not going to happen, and imposing that ideal on myself is actually counter-productive. So, I stay organized enough to achieve my goals. Today, I achieve what I’m after, stacks and all. I’m OK with it. I have things I love around me, like photos, drawings and Disney Vinylmations. It’s working and, more importantly, I am.

When I was young my grandmother’s house was kept like a museum. It was gorgeous and sterile. My office is a working space. Stuff gets done, and dust is raised. Detritus is strewn about. Like a potter who goes home with clay on his jeans, I get messy when I work.

But the result is beautiful.

[Inspired by Minimal Mac]

  1. Unless that’s your “thing.” Pervert.