Hat on Top, Coat Below


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Ugly on the Inside

December 4, 2002

I clear all the papers and folders and writing instruments off my desk every night. When I arrive in the morning, my work surface is uncluttered. The two desks arranged in an L-shape support a phone, a PC monitor sitting on top of a docking station, a box of facial tissues (usually genuine Kleenex in the boutique-sized box; the current design is a special purple foil with stars holiday edition), a desk lamp, and four pictures. It looks neat and tidy and you might assume its appearance is a sign of good organization. You would be wrong.

Open any drawer under the work surface and the truth will show. The top drawer on the right isn’t too bad, mostly because it’s very shallow. There’s only so much I can stuff in a space an inch and a half deep. Still, in the back of the drawer, behind the compartmentalized tray that holds pens and highlighters and other office supplies and looks all organized, you’ll find a mini-mess. Digging through it just now, I found a five-and-a-quarter inch floppy diskette. Since I haven’t had a computer that used that size in the whole time I’ve worked here, I’m mystified as to where it came from and why I haven’t gotten rid of it.

Two of the three deep file drawers are also semi-presentable. They’ve got hanging folders in them, some of which are even labeled. Many of the files are overstuffed, though, way too fat to be able to find anything in them quickly. I really need to do a serious weeding out, but since I have more than enough stuff to do that’s billable or at least associated with a customer, I never seem to get around to it. I would just pitch whole files into the recycling bin, except some of the documents have customer information on them that shouldn’t be released into the world. I would shred whole files, but that takes time I don’t have right now. So I just keep stuffing more papers into the drawers and hoping my office life calms down before the drawer gets entirely full.

The third deep file drawer is nothing like its brethren. It has no hanging files whatsoever. It’s the dumping ground for most of the papers I clear off my desk each night. Since some of those papers are not actually important, the stack in this drawer grows. Each morning I take out what I’m planning to work on and leave the other stuff that got put in there alone. It accumulates in layers, ready for excavation by some business anthropologist—or by me, if I ever make the time to clean it out. I also use this drawer to store miscellaneous bulky items, like a coffee mug I use only when I’m taking effervescent cold tablets and an extra box of Kleenex. There’s something under the stack of papers that’s preventing it from sitting flat on the bottom of the drawer, but I’m afraid to look and see what’s down there. I think I’ll let the anthropologist have that pleasure.

The last drawer is the worst. Every office needs a repository for personal things and miscellaneous items, and this is mine. But even a junk drawer needs to be cleaned out once in a while, and I’ve let mine go for far too long. It’s absolutely crammed full of stuff. Most of the space is given over to food and food accessories, with health and beauty aids and semi-retired knick knacks taking up most of the rest. Digging through the drawer to see exactly what was in there, I found lots to throw out. There was the snack-size zippered sandwich bag full of Kashi cereal. How long it had been there or how many points it would count as I did not know, so out it went, along with the slightly wadded up facial tissues and paper towels stored away with an eye towards possible reuse. Joining them in the trash: the crumpled piece of tissue paper, the used oil blotting sheet, the gum wrappers, the plastic spoon and two plastics knives I never use, the KLM salt and pepper, the small wad of gold and purple tinsel, the two packets of Taco Bell mild sauce of indeterminate age, four twist ties, two rubber bands, and the four sheets of notepaper with words I wrote but cannot decipher. There’s a little more room in there now for the two-inch tall stuffed triceratops to enjoy the aromatherapy oils. (I hope he doesn’t go looking for chocolate in the Whitman’s Sampler tin; it’s actually filled with o.b. tampons in various sizes.) Maybe if I write several more entries about my desk, I can get the rest of the drawers cleaned out; then it will look as pretty on the inside as it does on the surface.

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