The Writing Life

The cheap thrill of a clean office

I did something bad. Bad bad. I have this great office all to myself attached to our garage — perfect creative space surrounded by fruit trees with its own door (that locks), a clean tile floor and Tuscan yellow walls. And for the first half of this year, I junked it up so much that there was no room for me to work or think in it. Shameful. It was swallowed up by one errant pile of stuff after another, until I lost command of getting it back.

Confessions of a disorganized slob:

First, I took a big pile of artwork and framed stuff that lay stacked in the dining room (doesn’t every dining room have this?!) and I moved it into my office so we could entertain for Christmas.

There are so many things wrong with that statement, but I’ll continue…

Then, I used my office for wrapping and hiding Christmas gifts. Then, after the New Year, my high-powered router went out, leaving my internet capacity confined to our house. Of course, it would only take a drive across town to Best Buy to get a new router and 15 minutes to install it to solve this particular problem, but I couldn’t make the mental leap required to take it on. I kept waiting for someone else, (a Genie, maybe?), to do it for me. Months went by, and in those months, my to do list felt crushing and merciless, and more unfiled crap made its way from the house to my office. My poor desk sprouted new piles of papers and the floor held more boxes of stuff we’d failed to unpack in the nearly two years since we moved. Meanwhile, my kids were in school, so during the day I worked at the kitchen table, furiously making deadlines and promoting the new book. One day, maybe tomorrow, I’ll deal with my office, I’d think to myself, and that thought was made ever twitchier by the rash of folks reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Something, however, was always more urgent than tidying my office, and by then, it needed something beyond tidying. I would love to be one of those organized grown-ups with orderly personal affairs, but alas, part of me will always buck adulthood.

My mother saved me. The women in my family crave industry; they’re old-school productive, and when my mom visits me from her home in Georgia, she’s always got a project in mind. This time, it was my office. It was so time. I was sad about its poor state, and I craved being back between its cozy walls, especially now that I was working around children on summer break. I wanted to resume writing in there, where everything was quiet and private.

We cleaned it up in a way that had never done before, finally hanging art and pictures, cleaning out files and clearing a desk plastered with disordered paper. A few weeks before, I’d bought and installed the new router as well as a new printer when my old one broke. We worked so hard and it gave us so much pleasure that we kept walking back into the office just to feel its shiny effects.

Like I said, cheap thrills. Thanks, Mom.

Five things in my office that I absolutely love:

A signed photo of South Louisiana shrimp boats by my friend and New Orleans based food photographer, David Gallent.

A framed Woman’s Day “Guide to Herbs” poster from the 50’s that used to hang in my mom’s family home.

A couple dozen Gourmet magazines I pick up now and then for inspiration.

One of my son’s self portraits in which he looks like a large Russet potato.

Windows that open and look out onto blueberry bushes and orange trees.


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