Did you know that today, the second Monday in January, is National Clean Off Your Desk Day? It’s one of those obscure unofficial “holidays” that often escapes the notice of the mainstream public since it doesn’t really lend itself to a Hallmark sentiment. I, for one, think Staples and Office Depot are missing out on a huge marketing opportunity during January’s normal post-holiday sales slump—with some creative advertising, they could have been selling the daylights out of organizing paraphernalia these past three weeks since Christmas.
My husband, a workspace neat-nick, doesn’t need this holiday to remind him to clean his desk—it’s in a perpetual state of organized bliss, and is even dusted regularly! Rather, his joy in the day comes when he can walk into the office and not have to suffer the disaster zone that normally passes for my half of the room. When I was teaching elementary school, time to put things in their place was a luxury I just did not have, and I became accustomed to working amongst tottering piles of papers, books, file folders, magazines, and other assorted crap. The piles multiplied and migrated from the desktop to cover an arm’s-length radius around my desk chair, making the approach to the desk an avalanche waiting to happen. Since I could still instantly locate almost anything I needed from those piles, that dysfunctional work habit became deeply ingrained, and was hard to break even when I stopped teaching full-time.
Two years ago, I was shamed into adding Clean Off Your Desk Day to my personal calendar. In early March, Jim and I had left Japan for a few days’ visit to Hong Kong, leaving our friend Patrick to pop in on his way home from work each day to check on our kitty, Alina. Unfortunately, on March 11, Japan was rocked by a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami. Well south of the most devastated regions, our town nevertheless got a good shake. As soon as it was safe to drive, Patrick made his way to check on Alina and assess the damage at our house. The cat was seemingly oblivious to the drama, purring happily to have some company. The two made their way through the house, noting only a few crooked pictures on the walls and a decapitated Willow Tree angel that had shaken loose from her perch on the bookcase. When Patrick popped his head into our office, though, he was stunned by the devastation he perceived on and around my desk. The desktop could barely be seen under the haphazardly piled detritus of my English classes, which also buried a fair amount of the floor around the desk. He truly thought the earthquake had toppled formerly neat stacks, and was frantically trying to determine how to restore order when he happened to glance to his left. Jim’s desk seemed remarkably untouched by the vicious tremors, even boasting a towering stack of 20-yen coins balanced on the narrow lip of a square wooden sake box. He concluded that the state of my desk had nothing at all to do with any natural disaster, and was solely due to my horrendous housekeeping.
Humiliated by the glee Patrick and Jim have found in the countless retellings of that story, I’ve made a concerted effort to keep my desk in better order year-round, and to completely clear and organize it on the second Monday each January. This year’s result is just too good not to share, although the lack of a “before” photo severely diminishes the magnitude of my accomplishment. Ironically, in our current house, Jim and I are not sharing an office for the first time, so even he misses out on the full benefit of my observance of this little-known holiday. But if you’re in doubt about what a stunning turnaround this is, just ask Patrick.