A New Desk…A New Year

My home office with my tidy something old something new sit-stand desk.

I have always been a messy person. A roommate once called me a radio. “She has stations all over the house.” I’ve always found when I organize things, I lose them, so I like to keep them where I see them. Everyone in my family organizes by piles. Mom once took over a tiny guest room with a twin bed with her piles of paperwork. 3 on the desk on either side of her laptop, at least a dozen piles on the bed, plus 3 more on the floor.

I rarely completely put anything away. I’ll finish making toast and then not put the toaster away. I tell myself it needs to cool down (It doesn’t. It has a plastic shell and is cool in 20 seconds) and then it stays on the counter for hours or days.

I know this drives my partner crazy. He likes things in their place. When his work day is done, the only thing on his desk is his monitor. He even puts his laptop away. My desk, up until recently, had 4 corner piles. Top right, my fountain pen case on top of which are things that we drop or need as soon as we come in the door: hand sanitizer, extra change, receipts, sunglasses. Top left is my lamp with charging station. This is also where I place my candle and paperweight. Bottom left is a laptop envelope/cat bed under which I “file” important papers I may need access to. Bottom right, next to my mouse, is the place I keep open for when I need to move things around, like putting my keyboard aside so I can write in a notebook, or a pile of post-its. My desk also had two small drawers which were very loosely for office supplies on top and “technology” on the bottom. To make matters worse, my desk is in the main living space, so my mess is there for all to see.

A couple of months ago, I converted my large wooden desk to a sit/stand desk. This required lots of elbow grease to loosen C-bolts and tear apart IKEA particle board, but that wasn’t the hardest part. It also included removing everything from my desk surface as well as the drawers. I filled a large paper box and a shoe box.

There is a thrill and joy and motivation that comes from accomplishing something you really value. I loved the pine table top of my desk, and I went to the effort to keep it and find a company that sells sit/stand bases. When it was done, I felt such a sense of accomplishment and pleasure at how it turned out, it was like I fell in love. As I wiped it down with almond oil furniture polish, like washing the altar on Good Friday, I made a promise to this desk that I would always appreciate its beauty and let others appreciate it too. That meant keeping it tidy.

In order to keep my desk tidy, I had to commit to one thing. Putting things away when I am finished with them. Somehow I missed that childhood discipline of returning all the crayons to the box. In paying attention to this new habit, I became aware of an inner dialogue I had never realized was happening:

Me: finishes task
Inner voice: Yay, We’re done the task!
Me: What now?
IV: The next thing! Check your email! Check social media! Make the phone call! Read the article!
Me: Whoa. I am really busy. I don’t have time to put this away now. I’ll do it later.

Ah, later…

When I looked at my tidy desk, and how I had organized things for easy access and storage, I felt a deep desire to keep my promise to my desk. So, I started putting things away when I was finished.

Then, I started changing up my lunch routine. My usual routine is make and eat as fast as possible. Now, instead of throwing stuff in the sink for later, I wash it and put it away. And you know what, I can make a tuna sandwich from scratch, make and pour some orange juice, eat, and wash my dishes all in the time it takes to watch one episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. That’s less than 30 minutes.

A few days after building my desk, I took a couple of hours to sort through the clothing in my overflowing, busting, dresser drawers. Now, each drawer has three stacks of clothing, organized. Today, when I got dressed, I found what I needed in each pile and it took a lot less time than digging through heaps of clothes I haven’t seen in a year. Putting my pajamas away took as much time as throwing them in the drawer. I even discovered that I kept losing socks in the dump of an underwear drawer and so I kept buying new ones. I gave away 15 pairs of socks! Yesterday, I finally tackled the top drawer and my jewellery.

It took 40 some years but I have learned childhood lessons and I have made life slightly more peaceful for me and partner. But that’s not the big learning.

I am taking the time, even a few extra seconds, to finish a task.

While it feels like I am moving slowly, I am actually getting things done.

I am paying attention to what I am doing now, not what I will be doing a few seconds from now.

I think they call this mindfulness.

Great learning, but also there has been a huge change. I am less rushed and frantic overall. My new mantra is, “It’s going to take as long as it takes”. If I have time to wash a dish, then I can take another minute to make sure I want to send that email, or just stop when I don’t know what to write and let my brain recalibrate. More often than not, the task takes as long if I take my time as it would if I were rushing then backspacing entire paragraphs.

I was always telling myself I was too busy to put things away. Why do I lie to myself about this? Because I live in a capitalist world that tells me if I am not producing for someone else then I am not worthy to receive society’s benefits, let alone love and support. So, if I look “crazy busy,” such as having an untidy desk, then I can convince myself and others that I am worthy.

I like this more attentive me. The organization and tidiness is great, but, more importantly, I am present. I had never known that connection before. Taking care of things and people you value is worth the time, and the practice of presence is also an act of self-compassion. Even though I’m not the breadwinner in my household, I am worthy of a place to work that is pleasing to me.

Many of you have far more responsibilities than me. I respect that. I’m not here to make “being present” one more thing you have to do, and I am the last one to judge how you are managing it all. All I can offer is a wish for 2022 that you may find pauses in your day to breathe, even be bored, for as little as 60 seconds.

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