Don’t Work in a Goat’s Stomach (Or, It’s Time to Spring Clean!)

Despite the fact that those of us living on the Eastern seaboard woke up to snow this morning, spring is in the air. And while many of us think about spring-cleaning our homes and yards, now is also a good time to take a crack at your office. After all, you never want to be the person who has the CEO refer to their office as looking like “the inside of a goat’s stomach.” (Yes, I heard that happen.)

What I’ve learned over my years of helping others present their best selves is that there are three kinds of recognized office clutter (as identified by psychologist Sam Gosling.) These are: “identity clutter”: photos of family, friends, pets, etc. which are designed to remind us we have a life outside the office; “thought and feeling regulators” which are chosen to change our mood: so, squeezable stress balls, miniature Zen gardens, daily affirmation calendars; and “behavior residues”: old coffee cups, food wrappers, post-its stuck to the keyboard, etc.

Now I’m not saying you can’t have a few personal items, but I am saying there are a number of items I would prefer never to see again.

For example, I would happily forego having grooming products in plain sight, piles of alternate shoes under the desk, or bouquets of dead roses sent by your sig-O last Valentine’s Day.  Old Coke cans, food wrappers, dirty coffee cups, etc should be dealt with immediately, and any food that’s going to smell up the vicinity should be thrown out in a garbage can down the hall. I’m also not a fan of the personal coffee cup warmer. It makes me worry your crock-pot isn’t far behind.

In all this I recognize that people respond differently to different stimuli; that there are those among us who are sparked by visual reminders, and that putting everything in drawers is, in fact, disastrous for them as it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” If this is the case for you, I recommend buying two wire rack step files for your desk: one for current projects and one for “to do” items. This keeps the things you need in plain sight but ensures the top of your desk isn’t chaotic.

I also know that an office has to be worked in—that worrying about keeping it pristine can, ultimately, detract from focusing on what you need to accomplish. For this reason, it can also help to set aside fifteen minutes at the middle and end of your day to clear your desk/chairs/floor of any accumulated clutter. A principle applied by airlines and luxury bus lines, these intermittent sweeps help keep things from piling up.

Happy cleaning! Happy spring!

Frances Cole Jones