I am sitting amid chaos.
I made the decision to finally replace my old, World War II era office desk with a more modern desk arrangement. That more modern arrangement currently sits, scattered around the office, in a state of disarray. It turns out (who knew) that radically altering the work and organizational system that one has been using for 20+ years takes more than a couple of hours to do.
For most of my adult, working life I have had the same desk in my home office. The old girl is a wood office desk from the 1940's. I picked it up in the early 1990's at a rummage sale in a small office building in downtown Loves Park for $10. It was actually the second desk that I'd purchased within a few days. The first was a particleboard and veneer thing that I'd purchased from a big-box store that I thought would work fine until I brought it home and placed my computer - an IBM PS/2 - on top of it. That computer - the relatively small all-in-one design - simply dwarfed my big-box store desk, so when I saw the old girl a few days later I snapped it up and took it home... With some help from a friend (it's very, very heavy), and promptly disassembled the particleboard jobbie and returned it to said big-box store.
The big old desk has moved with me from the apartment to our first house and now to the Homestead. MLW, who has never been unclear about her feelings regarding the relative attractiveness of my old office desk, had hoped that I would set it aside when I set up the home office here - a fresh start in a new place. Still, when the time came to claim that office I went ahead and cleaned up the old girl and put her in place.
I mean come on - I got it for $10 - how does one turn one's back on a deal like that when the old girl still worked perfectly fine?
There was much (well-deserved) eye-rolling at this decision, and the old girl sat in place, doing her duty in the new office, for the past five years or so. This, while I periodically looked at desks in catalogs, online, and during trips to IKEA.
It was finally time.
Advice to the wise - if the office furniture you are moving can be disassembled, don't wonder - just disassemble it.
Part of what I am re-realizing with this process is a bit of why people use big old office desks. That array of drawers has the potential to hide a lifetime of organizational sins. Taking the things out of it is a little like watching clowns exit a tiny car - one is amazed at the volume of things that can emerge from what otherwise seemed a relatively small space.
And this is why I sit amid chaos. What I pictured as a single day of relocating things, moving a bit of furniture and placing things anew did not go strictly as planned. Most of day one involved relocating things in a fashion that makes them accessible for re-relocating later. On day two.
What it illustrates as well is the struggle of trying to work towards a more minimalist office approach. I am extremely fond of the visual and philosophical aesthetic of the minimalist workspace. The reality of it, however, is considerably harder to achieve.
If one were starting anew - as a young person without the encumbrance of years of work and accumulation of cruft - it might be relatively simple to attain and - perhaps more importantly - maintain that ideal. For someone with a couple of decades of work under one's belt, however, it involves removing that accumulated cruft. This is, of course, consistent with the concept - hell, it's a core tenet of the concept, that one is freed from being owned by the things one owns - but it also means that one has to sort through that cruft and determine what remains and what does not.
This is considerably more challenging than never having accumulated it in the first place.
For millennials and subsequent generations this might well not be the same issue. As we work towards a more digital world - one that some people continue to hold out against - the need for all of the assorted office supplies designed to manage paper will diminish and disappear.
To be clear, this - and one other item - is the bulk of the remaining struggle. As a person who began his career towards the dawn of the digital age, and working within a field that still has not entirely entered that age, my office continues to contain the paraphernalia needed to cope with King Paper. So: what to do with all of the envelopes - Manilla and otherwise - hanging files, paperclips, printer paper, etc? I cannot simply be rid of all of them (if I could, this would be much simpler) because my work still continues to require them. This is a progressively smaller and smaller need, to be sure, which I realize when I look at the astonishing pile of paperclips that I have gained as the papers they used to secure have been either digitized or simply eliminated, but how much of it will I need going forward - how much do I retain.
The one other item that enhances the challenge towards a delightfully minimalist space is the older technology. Desktop computers - even sleek, streamlined machines like Apple's iMac, a version of which sits on my desk as I write this (on my iPad), require an array of cords and cables to sustain them and their peripherals. This means that my futuristic desktop machine has attached to it an embarrassing tangle of wiring that was readily, easily hid behind the solid facade of that old desk. The iMac and I both knew it was there, of course, but we never spoke of it.
This will be manageable, of course - I've already got the cable organizers and such ready to be applied (more of day two - or perhaps three?). This is again a transitional problem. As we move ever forward towards mobile devices most of what all of that wiring does is now manageable wirelessly. But legacy requirements still present the periodic need for these wired machines, at least for my work and, I suspect, still for the work of many others.
It does seem that, in the near future, our homes and home offices will be able to achieve that clutter free ideal that you see in the IKEA catalog; or as I think about it, my Victorian-era homestead will return to the appearance that it had before the electric, and then digital, age modified it. It seems close.
But it's not here yet.