Kay: My Cluttered, Creative Desk

my linen closetThis is my linen closet here on the left. Notice how neat it is. I’m leading with this picture because I don’t want readers to think my house is always a total mess. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But if I led with a picture of my desk, you’d wonder how I ever get any work done. It’s easy, though. Really.

my desk2To the right is a picture of my desk as it looks right now, but it doesn’t always look like this. Sometimes it looks like this picture below. cleandesk5But before long, it’s back to the first picture again. I just can’t seem to keep it tidy.


The clean desk of Susan Elizabeth Phillips, or, as Jennifer Crusie would say, “SEP’s sterile existence.”


SEP’s messy desk

Desks—messy or not—are an individual matter. To the right is a picture of the clean desk of Susan Elizabeth Phillips. In a comment on Jennifer Crusie’s blog, SEP claimed that she’d just finished a book and had straightened up. Jennifer Crusie, SEP’s good friend, calls this image “SEP’s sterile existence” and wonders how she can ever find anything. Once, years earlier, SEP had posted a picture of her messy desk, and her messy desk looks a lot like my clean one.

Jenny's desk (from Facebook)

Jenny’s desk (from Facebook)

And as long as we’re being voyeurs here, below is a picture of Jenny’s desk, lifted from her Facebook page (so it’s not current—not even in her new house, but I imagine the effect is more or less the same).

I’m dragging this all up now because—good news for those who have messy desks!—researchers from the Netherlands report that a disordered environment can inspire people to set and achieve goals. In fact, clutter can be a catalyst.

University of Groningen researchers Bob Fennis and Jacob Wiebenga write in the Journal of Environmental Psychology that people have a basic need for order and structure, and if we don’t find it in our immediate environment, we’re driven to create it elsewhere. They write that what people do is convert a fuzzy world into a more understandable and predictable one, and pursuing goals provides a sense of order because goals specify concrete agents, means, and ends—the building blocks of order and structure.

I’m so relieved to learn not only that I don’t have to clean off my desk, but I’ll get more done if I leave it alone! And as those who follow her blog know, Jenny is all about structure. On the left

Notebook for Lavender Blue

Notebook for Lavender Blue

Whiteboard for Agnes and the Hitman

Whiteboard for Agnes and the Hitman

you see two pages from a journal she kept for figuring out the structure of Lavender’s Blue. and on the right is a whiteboard she kept for Agnes and the Hitman. That’s organized!

So—what does your desk look like?



12 thoughts on “Kay: My Cluttered, Creative Desk

  1. Mine’s somewhere between SEP’s clean desk and SEP’s messy desk, except that my desk doesn’t have that grown up look (I have my little collection of River’s toys sitting next to my keyboard instead of a bouquet of flowers, stuffed animals (cats) scattered around, and so forth. My whiteboard (particularly compared to Jenny’s) is a disaster zone. No structure or tidy outline up there just a jumble of notes and thoughts. I had a plan last weekend to straighten out my pin board which hangs to the right of my computer (where I post pictures I like, cards I’ve collected, etc. maps, photos, etc.). Its such a nightmare now, stuff is falling off of it. But for whatever reason making it neat and tidy feels wrong. I guess I need a few areas where the creativity spills everywhere and in my office, my walls are where that happens.

    • I thought you might have a clean desk! I have a toy next to my keyboard, too—it’s a shakeup toy that some friends gave me. And it’s really eerie. It’s a sea creature in a blue liquid, so when you shake it, the creatures swim around. Here’s the eerie part: when I’m having a good day, I swear the creatures are dolphins. When I’m having a bad day, they look like sharks. Every time.

      • At work my desk is pristine. At home it used to be but in the past year or so, I’ve let a lot of stuff go.

        Maybe the fish are actually sharks and they turn into dolphins when you feel good 🙂

        • Having stuff at my fingertips helps me stay on track, but I have other friends for whom having any object on the desk signals disaster. Have you noticed any changes to your internal life that correspond to letting your desk go at home? Otherwise, I always go with “tired” and “lazy.” 🙂

      • Ooooh, I’ve heard of mood rings. But mood aquatic mammals? (Wait, what are sharks again?) Anyway, don’t need to define it, just enjoy the mystery. There should be a stash of shark chocolate in your desk for Those Days.

  2. I’m not a tidy desk person – when I had an office job, I always had so many projects on the go at once, my desk was littered with files. Now my desk is the sofa in our sitting room, so there’s a limit to how messy it can get. Usually I have my laptop, my current notebook and pen, and any reference books I’m using. I have a bookcase nearby with all my writing books on it, and I just added a couple of toys to that – the gold foil-covered chocolate RITA from this year’s RWA awards night, and a cheesy plastic model of King Kong on the Empire State building to remind me to stop flanneling around and get to the effing monkey.

    • I love the King Kong/Empire State building statue. If anything could get me working, it would be that! I’ll have to think about moving a sofa in my office here. It sounds like a very comfy way to work. (P.S.: the chocolate RITA almost went down the hatch the other night, when I was digging around for some chocolate. But then, luckily for it, I found some elsewhere.)

  3. I am messy, messy, messy. I took a photo of my desk recently after a big tidy up job. I can’t work out how to upload it here but I’ll see if I can tweet it (my Twitter is @genbeecroft) so you can see how far removed my TIDY version is from SEP!

  4. Well, I have failed that challenge – Twitter will allow me to take a photo and upload it but not use an existing photo #twitterdunce

  5. I’m afraid my untidiness has gone right out the other end to despair. My desk is under an avalanche of many things. My daughter is studying for exams, so I can’t use her desk, or even set up a folding table in that room. I do my writing in libraries and salons and restaurants these days. And . . . maybe the super-tidiness there is holding me back. Nah . . . .

    We have been cleaning other places in the house this month, and I started taking a look at a clutter-clearing book by Karen Kingston that I keep in the bathroom. She’s very sensible and reassuring. But so reassuring that I just read her lovely prose until bedtime, instead of taking five minutes to clean a square-foot space.

    I do have to say, though, I love your one-legged piano dancer lamp. If I could clean up my desk, I’d have room for toys, inspirational quotes and some knick-knacks that remind me not to take things so seriously. Maybe that’s my project for September . . . .

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