help me tackle the office desk area... where to start?

celticmoonMay 24, 2007

Making so much progress elsewhere in the house, I'm getting close to tackling my desk area. The contrast between space/order elsewhere and this busy mess is becoming increasingly apparent.

Here is what it looks like now, and this is a relatively good day! There is often a six inch stack or two of files in play on the desk. At least there is some working space on the desk for what I have to write today:

I think I'd like it more serene. Less visual clutter. But I'm wary of too much concealed storage, or change for that matter, as it neeeds to keep functioning.

I work from home - need the computer, printers, fax and file system. Double door entrance is recessed next to desk - thankfully this isn't the sight line from the hall! Wall opposite windows is all bookcases (culled, so OK and pleasant. Room there for some of this stuff.) Fourth wall has closet with tall file cabinets - closed cases I need to keep for years.

Where would you start? I'm thinking to shift less needed stuff from the short shelved piece to the bookcases, making room to get stuff off the desk and out of my face - but still reachable to my left.

I can buy some 'infrastructure', but loath wasting money on the unworkable. Am I ready for boxes and a label maker?Any office organizing thingies to corral files and little items you have found to be very attractive/accessable/functional?? I'm not liking those black file coils much. Desk drawers would have helped a lot in this setup. Too late now...

PS, Tally Sue, I put the tape measure back in the tool drawer already! ;)

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Everybody's work style and needs are different. Personally, I like to have a desk with a large, open workspace. An "ell" shaped setup with computer on one side and large desk area on the other works well for me. I like to have most of my desk supplies in drawers or pushed toward the far edge (ideally it's against a wall so I can have a bulletin board behind with calendar, reminder notes, etc.). I want a minimum of clutter on the desktop, such as the phone, stapler, pens and post-its -- everything else is tucked away.

I think your idea to shift infrequently used stuff from your desk to the bookcase is a good idea. Your workspace isn't super deep, so I would try and keep that area open for files you are looking through and a pad if you are taking notes.

What was that theory of determining the most efficient movement for workers in factories -- Taylorism? Anyway, I think an analysis of how you would like to work, have things before you and around you, the distance to easily reach files, supplies, machines is what should determine the setup. Comfort and ease is critical to being at your best. You have flexibility with the components you have for your files, machines, etc. so moving those to best fit your work style would be fairly easy to do -- obviously those wires are a pain, but they can be dealt with.


    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 12:21PM
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Celtic, as one who just tackled this exact same problem with a goal of No Surface Clutter, I think you need a different desk set up. It looks to me that you're trying to do too many things in a very small space. Now, I could just think that because I prefer to spread out myself!

I always ask myself ''What isn't working for me?'' Since filing is a problem for most everyone, moving the filing cabinet right next to your desk would make that task easier to handle. (Personally, mine wasn't working for me at all so I spent a week on it making categories with colored folders until it did. Now I don't have an excuse for any kind of paper pile because the file is where everything is stored.) I made red ''Action'' files which I look through every two or three days. My ''Pending'' file is frequently accessed, and I love when I can move paper from one file to another, or even throw it away.

I also think some kind of concealed storage wouldn't be a bad thing, especially for office supplies. Could you place your computer desk next to the filing cabinet with a table/credenza/desk behind you? That would allow you to spread out while you're working on papers. If that desk has drawers for supplies, even better! I put my incoming mail holder in the bookcase which is next to my desk/trashcan so I can open the mail and toss it, shred it or file it right away. I think the bookcase for more seldom used items is a great idea, especially if you can containerize them a bit.

I know taking my ''stuff'' from the top of my desk to drawers/closet/files helped calm the feelings of too much going on in my home office. Can you identify what isn't working for you? And what is working for you?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 1:48PM
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Is there a reason that the "closed cases" are in this area? File cabinets take up a lot of space, which is fine if you are constantly using them, but if not?

A truly closed case is one that you don't need to refer to, but do need to keep (like 3-year old tax returns). If you have an attic or basement, those files could be stored. Itemized and in well-labeled, waterproof cases, of course. Seasonal files can often undergo the same storage, just make sure that they can be easily accessed when the season comes around.

Personally, I have a split personality towards my desk area. When I am at it, I want everything I'm using in sight and easy to reach; when I am away from it, everything should be hidden so that you only see bare surfaces and closed doors. Drawers and cabinets furnished with open boxes work well for me. Actually, some of my drawers have boxes: the top layer holds the single items and underneath that are the spares/refills. For example, pUll open the "writing" drawer and you will see a tray with many holding areas: pens, markers, hand stapler, paper scissors, post-it notes in 4 sizes, and a staple remover, each in their own area; easy to remove and easy to replace. Under that tray are boxes of staples, spare pens, extra markers, a box of rubber bands [not used often], extra pads of post-its, etc. The tray lifts out while I'm working and swoops back in when I'm finished. I like bulletin boards for reminders, but I don't like looking at them otherwise. I bought one cork-board and 2 magnetic marker boards and installed them on the inside of the cabinet doors. Open the door to look, close it the rest of the time. And next time I'll skip the cork... magnets are just as good and easier to use than pins.

I've learned to be harsh with my storage: things that I use often should be close-by, with their replacements out-of-the way, but accessible; and everything else should either go into a labeled box or be tossed. And because I am a packrat and not a natural tosser, I bought a self-inking date stamp and *everything* gets dated. If it sits around for a year without being used, it either goes in a closed-file box or gets tossed. The exception are reference and instructional books, those go behind closed doors.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 2:37PM
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Fourth wall has closet with tall file cabinets - closed cases I need to keep for years.

You must keep them--but must you keep them *there*? Could you invent your own version of "off-site storage"? If so, would that give you room to store some of the stuff you decide you don't want here?

Another thing that helps is to decide what tasks you do often, and what you need for them. Often, you can tell what tools you need because these are the one that are out already. Therefore, anything that's already (or still) in a storage space is actually the stuff that should go out. Or go farther away.

Your furniture is really open, which lends itself to visual clutter. Good for those who are very visually oriented, bad for those who need more visual calm.

If you need more visual calm, can you find ways to add enclosed storage? Paper boxes, or something?

Otherwise, maybe it's amatter of deciding which spots store what, and enforcing it?

I like that mid-level ledge on either side of your monitor; that's where I'd want to put stuff like the stapler, the tape, and the staple remover.

(it reminds me of these sorts of three-drawer shelves, which I fantasize about putting above my workspace, to put the stapler, etc., ON, and the refills for them IN)

But I would also forget to put them back, and jam other stuff in there instead, etc. Labeling the shelf might make me stay more honest about it.

As for the six-inch piles of stuff in play--it sounds as though those piles can interfere with your workspace? Can you figure out a spot to put them, and a way to stack them without mingling them? One of those desk sorters? So then those piles have a legitimate place, which both legitimizes them, and keeps them out of the way.

Something like this side-loading stackable letter tray?

This would keep several ongoing projects in the footprint of one; you could limit yourself to only 4 or something. (it could become the sort of spot where stuff starts to "reside" instead of "hanging out for just now." Something to watch out for)

Or a vertical one, which might not store as many: this one's wire; we have wire ones at work, and they're sort of annoying, actually; I prefer the solid metal ones,, which have the added advantage that you can put wider stuff in them (I keep a dictionary in one slot, the phone book in another, and files in the others) And, stuff doesn't fall over if you take something out of the middle, which makes putting away much easier.

I have a plastic drawer that I keep all the staple refills, etc., in; I don't store them in the desk drawers themselves, bcs they're not used frequently enough. You could do that as well; identify some of the lower-profile desktop doodads (hole punch, if you don't use it very often), and the extras & refills, and put them in a paper-covered box on the shelves.

At the desk, ONLY keep the stuff that you use frequently. and in the course of your most common work (for example, I seldom punch holes in something while I'm working, but I do staple and I do tape, so the hole punch is not in a drawer; it would be in that box; ditto the X-acto knife and the compass and the rubber cement)

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 2:37PM
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Yep -- start with the basic stuff that could be re-assigned to "closed storage" especially the office supplies. I think just THAT move would maake a great difference to the visual clutter ......

IF you do happen to clear that small table that sits between the desk and the shelves -- THEN pull it out of the room -- JUST for a few minutes ...... and look again at the whole layout.

OR shift the printer that is sitting on top -- down to that little table. OR try to sit the printer and other "machines" to their own area in the room -- to try to clear your "prep and creation area" -- otherwise known as your vital desk area.

How about re-assessing your lighting -- and even your artworks -- may be time for a shift there too. Maybe a large artwork with bright colors?? Or even a bulletin board to act as an "inspiration site"

Or how about a fresh coat of paint in the room? JUST a thought!!!!!!

JUST some thoughts -- hope you don't mind! :)

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 3:23PM
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For example, pUll open the "writing" drawer and you will see a tray with many holding areas: pens, markers, hand stapler, paper scissors, post-it notes in 4 sizes, and a staple remover, each in their own area; easy to remove and easy to replace. Under that tray are boxes of staples, spare pens, extra markers, a box of rubber bands [not used often], extra pads of post-its, etc. The tray lifts out while I'm working and swoops back in when I'm finished. I like bulletin boards for reminders, but I don't like looking at them otherwise

oooh, I like this--remember my "shallow drawers" mantra from a while ago? I feel that most desk drawers are TOO deep--the stuff you need to store ends up jumbled. in the bottom w/ stuff on top of it. Most if it isn't that tall; converting the area under it to "refills" storage is brilliant!

meldy, I hope you don't mind--I'm going to talk about you for years to come!

celtic, I looked again at exactly what is in the pictures. It doesn't look that bad, honestly--it looks like you probably *need* to have some places to keep papers out in the open.

But stuff is falling over, maybe?, on the top right of your desk--that's where I'd put that metal file sorter.

That littls unit to the left of the desk could be where something like that vertical letter-tray stack goes. And, if that entire unit could be enclosed, would that help w/ the "visual calm"? I'm not exactly sure what's there, but maybe it wouldn't be that "out of mind" if it were behind doors?or inside a box on the shelves?

(for that very closely spaced shelf, get a tray or flat box of some kind to act as a drawer? like >a href=;jsessionid=RHHXD2YQKSQB3QFIAIMCM44AVABBMJVC?referringProduct=10018794&referringCategory=74527&PRODID=62136&CATID=72586>; this one, but turn the lid into one tray, the bottom into another? )

Or, I do sort of like the idea of moving some of the machines (printer, scanner, fax) a little farther away. Maybe just move the printer off the upper shelf, and put *it* on (or in) that middle cabinet to the left? So it isn't "looming" so much?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 3:36PM
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You all are great!! So many ideas - the fresh take and reactions is helping me see this all much more clearly. Thank you!

Things that really popped out:

Teacats, the paint! God, yes. Actually the entire house was painted in that sick 80's computer componant color. Ew. All that's left is there in the picture -I only got partway around the room changing over to a sage. But it's been so long, I'm going to have to repaint it all. I'd love to find a soft yellow that could live with the carpet - till I get round to ripping THAT out.

Files. The ones up here in the closet I am done with (closed from my perspective), but still need some access to for legal, billing, tax and other loose end reasons. Don't want to dig through the basement every time I get a call on one of those. Two years' worth up here is probably safe. Been doing this for four years, so it is past time to set up that tertiary LONG term storage in the basement. (between the courts and HIPAA, I'll have to baby sit thiese files for decades). Well past time.

What else.... Tina, I do hate those wires and your redone office can be my inspiration.

Claire, I have a nearby 'working' lateral file unit for noncase files, mostly household (open on the left under the window in the picture). Can swivel and reach it easily. And with it open, makes a nice functional work 'surround'. The desk on the angled wall is perfect, look a bit left to see out the window, look a bit right to engage the rest of the house. And the desk is just one step into the room to drop bills for later payment. All that works really well. The files in the closet are really a one way storage, or holding place, if that makes sense. And it is a joy to to put one there when I 'm finally done with it. Don't mind those steps at all.

Tally Sue, helpful comments as usual. Always comes down to fresh eyes, a plan, infrastructure and discipline, doesn't it?

Meldy, love the lift out tray with storage below. I'm gonna steal that one for the kitchen desk. Can do something similar front/back on that shelf unit. I like that. A lot.

Ok guys, gotta write now, but tomorrow is kinda open for moving stuff around. Can't wait to declutter and experiment with relocating all the peripherals. That alone will help a lot. And if I'm reading my work load right, I just may be able to shut down to paint next week.

Oooo, getting excited! Keep those ideas coming. Especially the creative storage ideas.

Thanks again. Back to work now for me...

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 4:45PM
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How about an easy-to-live-with gold color for the walls instead -- check out Sherwin Williams Ivoire or Blonde. Or Laura Ashley's Gold #2 or #3.

For a complete change -- Sherwin Williams Coconut Husk -- a deep rich brown that would make the room very cozy.

We did our home office/guest room in a very deep olive that works so well with the red tones in the brown leather sofa bed and the darkest brown "Billy" bookcases from Ikea. We really love the deep rich color!

Just some more thoughts!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2007 at 10:20PM
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Here is the desk area decluttered. Moved each peripheral to the left - much better. My, that IS an unattractive desk and lamp... oh well. First things first. Located spackle, blade, and even the sage paint and Flotril. Ah the rewards of organizing the house.

Now I shall tackle the wires and try to tidy that. There is a desktop USB splitter, The Frog I think, I may search out. Then I can tuck the CPU back further. Maybe get the shredder and lamp out of there too and nudge the desk over and back a bit. Thought I'd post before I dismantle things cause you know how that goes! Oooo, reminds me to proof, print and send the last report first before I am shut down.

Meanwhile behind me there is this little problem (BTW that is the EK sage paint color there behind the basket. It'll do. Rather not pull all the books again to paint a different color behind the bookcases! Better to finish what I started.):

Amazing all that came vomiting out just from the desk and shelf unit. No wonder my chi was choking. Guess while I'm while I'm out picking up the USB thingie, I should explore some better storage options. Could be a loooong weekend... wish me luck - and order!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 12:20PM
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isn't it amazing how useful it is to take everything out and spread it all over the floor? You can actually *see* it.

I like that sage color, and I'm w/ you--don't switch colors midstream.

I was told once of a study that was done to try to measure which paint color improved productivity, They kept repainting the walls of an office a different color every so often. Productivity went, and stayed up.

It turned out that the ACT of repainting improved morale so much, it had an effect on productivity that completely masked any change that might have been affected by the paint color alone.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 12:58PM
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Got some new work by phone & fax and finished up some. Good thing not to have shut it down just yet. Kinda nice to work in the less cluttered area - long as I don't turn around. Aaak!

Got my measurements and a list of what I'm looking for. Think this will go well.

And yes Talley, the morale thing makes sense. I know I'll be happy to stop kicking myself that I never finished painting. Losing the ugly color is a bonus!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 1:36PM
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I'll be happy to stop kicking myself

boy does that sound familiar! That's one of the big things I'm "decluttering" by tackling my paper backlog: that feeling of having been inadequate and unadmirable.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 2:14PM
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Here is what I'd do now: take one of every thing I need (one pen, one pencil, 50 sheets of paper, one check book, only genuinely active files, CDs, tapes) and arrange those things in my cleared off space.

Getting up from the desk every 30 minutes to walk somewhere is good ergonomics so that means I don't need to keep everything at hand. I could take everything else on the floor to my newly organized garage (with Talley Sue's suggestion of a few more shelves added). And I'd be done.

However, I know all this is sooo personal what I would do may not even be in the same universe as what you would do. I actually spread a lot of my things around the house in odd places. Pencil sharpener is in a pretty box displayed on a table away from my desk. I have to wheel my desk chair four feet away to get my check book out. Stamps are in a drawer on the way out the door, active files are in an entirely different central room but dead files are in a way back room near the washing machine. One side of my desk is for personal active projects and the other side for active professional projects. All papers are covered and I can leave my desk uncluttered at night and return uncluttered in the morning. Love it.

Hint: The most useful take-home -- from Talley Sue--when I was re-organizing was to use cheap/free cardboard boxes until I figured out what sizes I wanted. Admission: I had my desk measured around the temporary boxes and they are still there.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 4:04PM
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Heyyyyyyyyy -- good looking naked space on that desk area! LOL!

Yes -- finish painting the room in the sage -- another task crossed off your task list! And the room will just feel so much better. I can really believe that report about painting office or workspaces -- and that act alone boosting worker morale -- certainly works for me!

Don't forget to stash the checks into a closed environment! Security first! :)

Also LOVE the idea of fresh lighting too! :)

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 4:36PM
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That was fun. Got lots o different shapes and sizes. Oh, and sandals - what, that wasn't on the list?!?! All work and no play...

Course then I get home and read this: "Hint: The most useful take-home -- from Talley Sue--when I was re-organizing was to use cheap/free cardboard boxes until I figured out what sizes I wanted." Whoops. Well they were mostly clearance and dirt cheap-cheap - and most I know I want or need. Any can go back.

And while I was out I got the broken glass replaced in a large peice of artwork that fell, oh, 8 months ago. Nice guy, did it while I waited, reassembled the frame and all. $16. (!) So easy. Why do I leave these things broken for months? Happy that I got me a 'glass guy' now.

Enough procrastinating. Here we go....

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 5:34PM
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Good for you! Very attractive organizer stuff. It should do a lot to help you corral your clutter.

Once upon a time, my ideal desk set-up was much like your furniture. But I found out all too soon that in practice it looked like your first photo - not terribly bad, but visually cluttered. And I found that very disturbing. Some, like my DH, could work in much more clutter all day long with no problem. Now I'm setting up my office with most things behind closed doors. I think that will work better for me.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 6:33PM
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VERY nice purchases!! Classic colors and shapes -- this is going to be one heck of a Home Office!

What no picture of the sandals????? :)

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 8:45PM
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Back on line with many fewer visible wires. Virtual spaghetti back there!!

My sister, an IT guru, once set up by brother's system, calmly wiring away, etc and drew threw a fist full of conectors to the desktop looking just like a bunch of daisies. Plug, plug, plug, plug and she says "That's it." I'm like: "Don't we have to turn it on and check it all?" She says, "Nah. It'll work." It did.

This didn't. But it does now. Whew.

BTW, half that stuff is going back. Sigh...

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 9:02PM
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Love the looks of your desk, Celtic! You are an organizing machine. I loved all your organizing boxes...why is half of it going back? (I always like to know what isn't working and why. Sometimes it can help me think through something before I go and do the same thing.)

My dining room looks a lot like your desk did; tomorrow that goes away. I need my space back!

Isn't it funny that as soon as you declutter your desk, you get new work? The feng shui is working!

We have a new printer to hook up of those 4 in 1 units. Part of me thinks those don't work very well at all, but then I'm always hopeful. I love the idea of getting four functional machines in one piece of hardware; if it will actually work that is.

I kind of wanted to see the sandals too!

    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 3:18AM
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What a day.... Behind me still looks like a bomb went off, worse actually, because I've been painting. Not exactly smart to be climbing over all that - and the desk, chair etc - holding a paint tray...

AND, halfway though I realized this isn't the same sage as is on the wall. Aaaack. It is is all slowly coming back to me, this paint business from last year. Didn't finish cause I ran out of the lets-just-dump-it-all-together-and-see-what-I-get color. And the sage I am now painting was for another room but rejected cause it looks so awful with the carpet. Yes, the same carpet is in this room. Yes, it is bad. No, I don't care. Arrrgh. So now I have THREE colors on the walls. This is going in the wrong direction. And of course there won't be enough to finish in this color either. Breathe.

And I lost internet - which always makes me mental. Appears I killed my router (says my sister after the long distance consult).

Claire, what's gong back is the accordian purse like thing. Great buy but not what I need. And one of the large lidded boxes is broken. And the hub is overkill. I just need a basic one. Especially now that I need a new router.

What I am dreading is the file shuffling. I'll have to start boxing the very old ones from the closet and dispatching them to the basement. Then I can shift files over from the lateral to make room for the ones that were in my face on every surface. That'll be a job....

    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 3:56PM
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Here we are painted, rewired and reassembled:

What is best?
-That is is deep cleaned - man, computers generate a lot of dust!
-Everything I need is in reach. Like a phone book now bottom right in the shelf unit - getting up for that had been annoying.
-The rewiring. Look Ma, no wires!!
-The USB hub so everything can stay connected. Note the USB for the camera I flipped onto the desk ready for this picture. That one and one for the Palm and phone, and the headset are all hanging on the left outside of the desk - easy reach but out of sight.
-The sorting of the shelf unit. One shelf with a pull out box for supplies is better than lots of loose things shoved deep into 2 short shelves.
-The 2 desk trays. One on the left for supplies, the one on the right for mail: invites, bills to pay, etc.
-The better file access hierarchy. Only ones I absolutely need handy are out and ready behind the calendar.

Floor is clear, but the file shifting will take some time. Oh, and painting the rest of the room too. But this desk project is DONE!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2007 at 3:39PM
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You are an inspiration to everyone! Reading this thread made me feel like being part of Clean Sweep. It looks great and I bet it feels even better.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2007 at 4:30PM
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Celtic, what a huge project you've tackled. Less visual clutter and everything organized for ease of use -- excellent. Love your elimination of wires! I'm sure you'll enjoy working in your "new" office.


    Bookmark   May 27, 2007 at 6:05PM
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Thanks Marie and Tina! And Tina, mine is not so pretty behind the esk, but way better and out of my way = good enough!

Anybody see last week's Time magazine with Al Gore on the cover? Inside lead picture shows him at his wraparound desk. 'Yikes!' is all I'll say. Wish I had a scanner... unbelievable.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2007 at 10:21PM
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Oh! That is AWESOME! *I don't care if no one uses that word any more...sometimes it's appropriate.* You cracked the whip and tamed that wild beast! Congratulations.

Sadly, in cleaning up the dining room with a deadline today, I brought some clutter back into my home office closet that I previously removed. At least I know I can deal with it without taking too much time in the very near future. I know exactly what you mean about deep cleaning too. I just hate to dust, but it's not so bad when the clutter is gone. My dining room has been reclaimed, for which I am grateful.

Celtic, I wish you had a scanner too. Tell us about the picture. Was the wraparound desk piled high?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 12:51AM
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yeah, piled high. Kinda like this:

There now. Don't you feel better?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 1:26AM
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Aargh! Looks kinda like my desk areas have often looked - amazing I ever managed to get stuff done.

celtic, your space looks great! It must be a pleasure to work in.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 2:06AM
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Wow! Excellent job on the home office!

And just how the heck does Gore manage to run his life -- and why isn't that junk and stuff under control???? Awful! He really really needs to reclaim his life from under that landfill .....

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 9:21AM
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I'm not one of them and I don't think most of us are but some people (like Gore and DH) work better with chaos all around them. I happened to catch a few minutes of Dr. Laura this week and a husband called in asking if he should go through with his threat of a divorce. The threat was given to his wife of 12 years because she cleaned up his office. He preferred the mess in there. Dr. Laura thought it was ridiculous to end a marriage over a clean room and told him if he wanted a room like that to get one out of the house.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 11:30AM
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congratulations, Celtic! That looks great. (yours, not Al Gore's)

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 12:22PM
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OMG! Al Gore's desk is Scary. I'll bet he knows exactly where everything is though. I used to work for a lawyer a lifetime ago, whose desk looked exactly like that. No way did I ever attempt to ''help'' him out with it. He functioned quite well, despite appearances!

    Bookmark   May 28, 2007 at 12:43PM
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