Clearing the Clutter

Is there any piece of furniture more necessary, yet more taken for granted than a desk? It has no pride of place in the home, it’s hardly a grand piano. You don’t plunk it down in the entryway to impress guests, it’s not a priceless heirloom, or at least very few are. No desks sit around in  obvious places waiting to be noticed, always tidy and dusted, at least not in my home. “Tidy” and “dusted” are words I rarely use.

A desk is usually relegated to whatever spare space it can be squeezed into, never a living room. Hidden behind the kitchen door or camouflaged as a sideboard in the dining room between the hutch and the extra chair, even stuck back of the sofa bed in the family room, inaccessible when the bed is made up. The desk is the stepchild of the furniture family, orphaned and burdened with its lot in life, made only to be the repository of piles of stuff, piles and piles of stuff.

A desk without heaps of yellowing papers, mountains of outdated newspaper clippings, unpaid bills, receipts, last year’s calendars  and a chipped mug  full of dried up pens, and pencils with hard erasers just isn’t recognizable.

I don’t know how many mornings I’ve awakened with my first thought being about my “Absolutely Must Do Today” list, headed by “Clean Off The Desk Today.”  I leap out of bed all fired up but somehow by the time the bed is made, the coffee drunk and the jeans pulled on, my “Must Do” list has become a “Should Do Today” list, or a “What Can I Put Off Until Tomorrow?” list. Cleaning off the desk no longer feels like such a priority. I’m too used to those piles of stuff and I’d miss them.

The last time I actually did clean off my desk it was like going on an archeological expedition. I had to stop and re-read seven newspaper clippings about Operation Desert Storm. I found fifteen unpaid bills and final notices (no wonder I no longer get any magazines.)

There was a refund check for $.27 from the phone company and thirty or more undeveloped ideas for blockbuster novels I intend to write just as soon as I get rid of these piles of stuff. I also came across a copy of my great-grandparents’ wedding license, dated October 20, 1865 in Cheddar, Somersetshire, England.  I’d been wondering where that got to.

My first desk dated back to those early days of book shelves made of planks and stacks of bricks. I had half a sheet of plywood (I think the other half became a kitchen table) balanced between two file cabinets, all piled high with stuff, of course.

Over the years I progressed to paint-it-yourself, then a battered specimen I found at a garage sale, next a presentable piece of furniture I’d have displayed prominently if it weren’t always – you guessed it – piled high with stuff. My last desk was a trim computer desk without a lot of extra space to pile stuff but somehow I managed.

Now that I’ve downsized to a one bedroom retirement apartment, I’ve also downsized my furnishings. My current desk is a sturdy card table, complemented by a set of Walmart shelves and the usual piles of stuff, grown taller and messier. It’s not easy to hide things in my small living room. In fact I’ve been tempted more than once to buy a shower curtain, tablecloth or bedspread to fling over it all, but if I cover it up I’ll never find anything.

So, where do I write? In my easy chair. I prop a clipboard on my knees, lean back and scribble away. Most of my writing ends up on the piles of stuff weighing down my card table/desk, but that’s O.K.  I’m going to clean it off any day now.


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