From chaos to, well, something slightly better…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I’m basically quite messy…  If you ask my mother, my sisters, my children, my wife, ex-colleagues, they would all agree – orderly but definitely messy. To explain – my digital life is very ordered. My image files are exactly where they should be, they’re backed up, they’re clearly labelled. My piles of paper have, for years, threatened to drown me in a great dead mass of dried out wood pulp.  And I have a habit of acquiring ‘stuff’ along the way – the children will bring something exciting down to the office to show me, and it stays.  A lens goes off for repair, and the box it was sent in somehow only gets as far as the floor by my desk once it’s returned.

This is fine – for a while.  Life is full of exciting opportunities, and things far more interesting than filing. Really. So I’ve never been too worried about it (though I’ve certainly upset people I’ve had to share work space with in the past… Sorry). I’ve been sent on courses (I used to be surrounded by sheets and sheets of slides that were being edited, but not re-filed, as well as all the paper – now it’s just hard drives, and they’re a lot less of a problem).  Four or five years ago I moved into my cellar office – a chance to begin again. Which I did, amassing a whole new collection of stuff, and this time, being at the bottom of the house, the whole thing seemed to be settling out, like mud from a glass of pond water, into my space.  The lights stopped working, things felt damp, I wasn’t enjoying going to work anymore (at least in my office), and it was heading for a bit of a disaster.  So my wife called Rachel Clarke at Moveability.  Here’s how the room looked before she arrived (and I’m not proud of this. Oh no…):

Painful to look at. And not a space I ever wanted to invite anyone remotely professional into.

So, the way it goes is this: Rachel is a professional de-clutterer.  She’s trained with an impressive set of TV de-clutterers and general sorter-outers (but unfortunately I never really watch TV so didn’t know who they were), and she goes around helping people who need some space back in their lives (or need to sort out and sell their houses – but that’s another story).  She came and sat in this joyful, creative, uhh, mess and said we needed two days, then came back and held a bin bag open for me, while I sat on the floor going through the detritus, and chucking stuff out, while wittering on about the random things that fill up my life.  We filled the car four times for the recycling dump, found enough envelopes to last me until 2042, enough Sharpies to write the next On the Road on a sheet of the backing paper sitting in a corner, and after a day (a very tiring day), things looked like this:

Now, that’s looking a lot better already.  So now we needed to look at how to sort things out in the long term – and as well as never buying another Sharpie or envelope (but they’re so niiiice…), it was simple things like vertical filing for incoming letters and jobs, and extra storage in the back of the office, and not letting things sit on the floor (and getting another dehumidifyer – that was my idea…). And making anyone who comes in take their stuff away (yay!). A week after the first visit, we blitzed the rest, and ended up with completely clear desks, floor and work surfaces, complete with visible and usable storage. Wow!

Incredibly, my efficiency shot through the roof, without all the piles of stuff around my monitor, and knowing that the pile behind me was sorted (in fact didn’t exist!). And I could get to my photo books to actually read some inspirational stuff (though I’ve not had time to do that yet… If ever…).  Surprisingly satisfying, almost a spiritual experience you might say. And Rachel said my office was now too hard (that’s me, well ‘ard…), and needed something alive (one of my children?), so I bought an Ikea green thing that needs watering (it’s got a nice silver pot…).

That was almost exactly a month ago. That’s definitely long enough to mess with. The question is, how does it look today? I thought you’d ask that:

That’s definitely a living thing in the corner there… This is actually almost as tidy as when Rachel left – that’s in four very hard-working weeks. Which is incredible. And I’m enjoying sitting in front of my computers again, nothing like as stressed, the overhead lights work (four years of murk and gloom for a seven minute job…), and this is now a proper professional work space again. And that plant’s not died yet. And nor have I purchased a single envelope for a month – makes me shake just to think about it (actually, any suggestions as to why I would want to hoard envelopes would be very gratefully received…).New storage shelves in the corridor to nowhere.

So, really, I wanted to say thank you to Rachel (and to Ingrid for calling her) (and to my mum for years of patience while I was growing up). I’m not a reformed character all round, but I’m a lot happier in my workspace, and the systems that Rachel put into place have so far remained effective.  My big challenge is that on July 2nd I’m going back to Haiti, and a trip always means that everything gets spread everywhere…  We’ll see.

Thanks Rachel!