I’m looking at my desktop this morning- not what Windows calls my desktop- I mean my real desktop. It’s a mess- a controlled mess to be sure- but still a mess. I confess that I don’t understand quite how I lost control but somehow the result of a series of seemingly reasonable organizational decisions over the last month is clutter. As you probably can guess, clutter doesn’t bother me a lot. What bother me are the consequences of clutter. I fear that the wraith of my order loving wife will breach the security of my office and destroy my serenity. She tries to restrain herself in the vain hope that I might suddenly get my act together but eventually she loses it and I hear “When are you going to clean your room?” or the even more ominous “Do you want me to help you clean that mess up?”
This drives me to panic because her involvement will push me to crisis. I know that her solution for clutter is the trash can. Life is simple for her. You handle something; then you either file it or throw it away. I don’t dispute the logic of her thinking. It is just that there is some obstacle in my brain to actually doing it. Everything on my desk is on my desk because it is important. It doesn’t get there otherwise. I am merciless with junk mail. It never gets past the trash can. What’s on my desk is pure gold.
As far as the stuff cluttering my desk, if I could throw it away, I would. It is just that I still need it, although I confess that that need may not be today or even next week. (It is ridiculous to claim- as my wife does frequently- that I am a hopeless hoarder and that without her careful oversight, our house would look like a dump. After all we are only talking about my desk and not the whole house.) I need everything on my desk. The problem is that I don’t necessarily need it right now. If I leave it there in plain sight then when I do need it, I will know where to find it. In the meantime, my only problem is that it might obscure my view of something else that I need now and can’t find.
From time to time, I try to organize the clutter. I consolidate by making piles of similar things but this doesn’t help very much. My wife isn’t fooled and I find it harder to locate important items. It isn’t that I don’t want to put things away; putting items away just puts at great risk my ability to ever find them again.
People suggest that all I need to do is file my clutter away where I can pull it out again when I need it. I’ve tried that with disastrous results. It works fine initially and my desk gets clear. The problem occurs when I need to find anything and don’t know where to look for it. Say I have some information about making videos. Should I file it under the person providing the information, the type of video or do I just make a big file with everything video in it. This bothers me when I file things but it is a real problem when I go to find it again. First, I have to remember that I wanted to dig deeper into this issue which may not happen once the information is out of sight. Second I have to know how I filed it of else I have to go through multiple possibilities. The odds are very good that I will forget about the issue altogether but even if I do remember it, it will take hours to find it. Often even when I know the right folder, I won’t find what I want on the first time through the file. I have so many bad memories about searching for information and most of them are bad. As a result, I cling to my cluttered desk
So what’s on my desk right now? Well, in the far left corner there is a stack of paper with my wife’s business invoices on top. I still have to get our tax information organized and to the tax guy, so it has to stay visible. Beneath that stack is some miscellaneous information that I need and am afraid to file. There is the gate code, copies of our passports, the title for the car we are trying to unload, loan documents for my son’s car, a catalogue I thought I might need, an offer from an internet marketer that promises to change my life and printouts of the pages from one of my websites. I confess that some of those items can be filed away or even tossed because I either don’t need them in the foreseeable future or I don’t need them at all because the offer expired.
In front of that stack is the mailing from the tax guy with instructions about getting him the information. I just consolidated that pile with my wife’s checking and credit card information from the other side of the desk. I filed the registration and the passport copies in my personal folder but I am afraid to file the gate code so it now resides in my ‘I don’t know what to do with this’ bin in my out box. Now the left side of my desk is looking presentable if you ignore the USB splitter, the SD card reader, my cameras (still and video), a calculator and my headphones.
Swinging around to the right we see my inbox (with three levels for in, out-filing- and what they heck do I do with this), a file for index cards which I once thought were an ideal method for taking notes, a stack of those note cards, a jumble of paper, my old Franklin Planner- now unused but containing contact information-, a book I was reading but have abandoned, a stack of audio cd’s, another book and the Spanish Language study program CD we used before going to Argentina.
Now that I inventory the items on my desktop, it is clear that much of it can either go or be stuck in a file with the probability that I will never look at it again. My wife is right again but I can’t just cave and admit it.
After that painful inventory, I confess to being a sadder but wiser man although I doubt that it will significantly change my organizational skills in the future. It is so hard to make this life and death decisions about my desk and so easy to hope that they all will resolve before I have to deal with them and so I muddle on.