Monday Art: Updating the desk

The reorganized desk

The reorganized desk

A few weeks ago, my desk was a mess. Actually, I have three desks, and they were all a mess: my computer desk HANNES, my writing desk, and my sewing table. But this story is about the writing desk.

(But first: I cannot say “writing desk” without thinking of Carroll’s famous riddle. My all-time favorite answer, which is not given in the link, is: “Because each begins with e.”)

Vertical files

Vertical files

I bought the writing desk several years ago, when I created a study area separate from my computer station (read: I couldn’t stop playing computer games). At the time it was meant primarily for reading, note-taking, and longhand writing; as a grad student, these activities made up much of my work. The organization of the desk has stayed pretty much the same since then. It functions beautifully when it’s clear and tidy, but as none of my desks is large, all three bear the burden of overflow from the other two — and since the writing desk is the only one without an appliance (desktop computer, sewing machine), it gets the worst clutter.

Hence it was, not too long ago, that I found myself seated at the writing desk, trying to paint delicate watercolors while elbowing aside stacks of scrap fabric, piles of mail, and bottles of calligraphy ink. It finally hit me then: my writing desk no longer serves my work. These days I actually don’t do much writing at it; I do my morning pages at the kitchen table, and most everything else is digital. But I do read mail and sort papers there, and it’s also where I paint and do calligraphy, exclusively. I clearly needed to reorganize.

Writing, drawing, painting tools

Writing, drawing, painting tools

The painting and calligraphy supplies were previously stored in clear plastic boxes on high shelves next to HANNES. This made sense when I used them infrequently, but is now officially stupid, especially as I can only reach the boxes by standing on tiptoe. Meanwhile, I had vertical files taking up prime real estate on the writing desk, but those files had gotten neglected and overgrown. (Do you doubt that files reproduce while you’re not looking? You must not have much paperwork.) Other odds and ends had found their way to my writing desk as well: random sewing tools, wooden spools, plastic thingies (the kind that fall into the “I don’t need it now and am not even sure what it is, but I can’t toss it because I can imagine it being useful” category).

(Another note on that category: I have a metal thingy that I’ve kept for years, even decades maybe, which has proved the wisdom of “don’t toss it” — at least for that particular thingy. I have no idea what it is, I think my dad brought it home from an engineering trade show, but do you know how handy it is to have a sturdy, flat piece of metal that you don’t care about? No, its function does not overlap with a flat-head screwdriver. Uh, actually, that possibility didn’t occur to me until this exact moment. Hmmmm.)

This was my plan of action:

  1. Remove everything from the writing desk that obviously doesn’t belong there.
  2. Do the same for all caddies and folders on the writing desk.
  3. Take a look at what’s left. Do those things serve the activities for which you use this desk? If they don’t, remove them.
  4. If they do, are they currently stored/displayed/organized in the way most appropriate to their use? If not, rearrange as needed.
  5. Think again about your uses for this desk. What supplies or qualities are missing from it now?
Nice rack!

Nice rack!

I set aside an afternoon and, taking frequent breaks, managed to get through everything on the above list. Afterward, I knew I wanted to add more painting and calligraphy supplies to the desk, so I rearranged my two pen caddies to take up less room, and hunted around for paint and ink storage solutions. An old glass tea jar now houses my watercolor tubes, and a vintage spice rack I found on Etsy has proved a perfect (and adorable) shelf for bottles of ink. I can even display some cards and other paper mementoes behind the inks, including Tisha’s paw print, mailed to us by the vet after his passing.

Angled view

Good advice on the bookcase wall

It’s remarkable how much happier I feel about the desk, now that it more accurately reflects what I do at it. It’s visually appealing and offers easy access to all my creative tools, and the cards and quotations arranged around it remind me what’s important. Also, it’s a bit silly, but I feel so much more legitimate as an artist after reorganizing my desk to support my goals; I’ve quite literally put my art-making front and center. All in one place, I can point and say, “This is where I work. This is what I do. These are my tools.” It’s a very nice feeling.

Tomorrow’s artist date: Mindfulness meditation!