Is your desk a physical manifestation of your to-do list?

The Declutter Lady

Albert Einstein is alleged to have said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” And many who have desktops piled high have claimed this quote as justification for their continued clutter.


However, a recent survey of more than 1,000 adults by OfficeMax found that “90 percent of Americans believe clutter has a negative impact on their lives and work.” Seventy-seven percent said clutter damages their productivity, while other studies show that executives waste six weeks a year searching for lost items and information. In addition, more than half of all respondents said disorganization affected their state of mind and motivation levels, with two out of five workers admitting they think clutter and disorganization hurt their professional image.


For many of us, our desk becomes a physical manifestation of our “to-do” list: Each pile, every piece of paper, represents tasks and decisions that we face. We put each of those things on the desk “for now” because we know we need to handle each item “soon.”


Contest entries

Several of our “Sequim’s Messiest Desk” entries reflect that, too.


Gigi Christensen admits that her kitchen desk “has become my dumping ground.” And Sue West tells us that her office is her kitchen table and, as a result, “we have been unable to eat at the table for five years,” signing her entry “Sincerely lost in papers, etc.”


As much as we’d like to deny it, having a disorganized workspace affects every other area of our lives, too. Debi Fair, like many others, uses the dining room table as a desk. She says, “When my grandkids come over to visit, they have to eat on TV trays, as moving everything would mess me up worse!” She states, “It would sure be nice to have a meal together and not lose my work.”


Jane Anderson has been a caregiver for 22 years and acknowledges that while “having a neat desk has a low priority when dealing with people’s lives,” she believes that “a neat desk would allow me to pay bills and do paperwork much faster and with less physical and mental stress.” She adds that this would enable her to be a better caregiver.


The main reason we become overwhelmed with clutter – paper or otherwise – is that we fail to make decisions and move items forward. Whether it is because we are not in the right frame of mind or simply don’t have time, we tend to set things aside to deal with “later.” In the meantime, new items and information come in and also get set aside. It doesn’t take long before we are oppressed by it all.


Although the process seems slow, we soon discover that taking the time to decide the next action will lead to increased productivity and better control over our clutter.


(Editor’s Note: Look for the winner of the Gazette’s Messiest Desk Contest on March 12.)


Reach Brenda Spandrio at or by calling 360-504-2520.