by | Jan 29, 2021 | The Writer's Life | 8 comments

by Carla Neggers

With all the oh-so-tempting sales on all things that help us get organized, I’m not surprised to discover the National Association of Professional Organizers has designated January as “get organized month.” Everything has a place, everything in its place, right?

Marie Kondo, who’s taught and inspired millions to tidy up, has launched a new collection with The Container Store. It offers bins, boxes and canisters in a variety of sizes for…well, everything. It looks fantastic. I’m measuring drawers and shelves and making a list!

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up is comprehensive in its approach but it offers great ideas to help create a tidy, inspiring writing space. Her approach is rooted in keeping only items that “spark joy,” an essential concept that resonates with so many of us.

Now, some writers I know like their “clutter.” They work best with everything out, visible. They’re surrounded by books, magazines, reference materials, printouts of research, drafts of their work-in-progress, bills to pay—nothing gets lost in a drawer, as one friend puts it. And why not? If it works, it works.

I love books, paper, pens and all sorts of office supplies and resources, but I tend not to have a lot of stuff out when I’m writing. Just what I need at that moment. It’s not a sterile space. I wouldn’t want that, either. On my desk are two pen-and-pencil holders my daughter made in pottery class when she was in third grade. They might not be the most practical options but they’re sturdy and they definitely “spark joy.”

For me, art is part of creating an organized writing space. I’ve never framed any of my book covers. I’m proud of my work but I don’t want it up on my walls. I have an original painting by Irish artist Maureen O’Shea that makes me smile; it brings back warm memories of when I fell in love with it at Cleo’s in Kenmare, Ireland.

Like many avid readers I know, I didn’t follow Marie Kondo’s advice on getting rid of all my unread books. I’ve read some of them since the start of the pandemic. Others…I can see she has a point. No books, though, in my workspace. I have non-fiction books in an adjoining room. I’ll sit with a cup of tea and thumb through books on Ireland, Maine, stone masonry, art history. Lots of books. My husband and I keep our library of novels in a different place altogether. (I just finished Lisa Black’s Every Kind of Wicked and loved it!)

I’m not always tidy by any stretch. When I’m finishing a manuscript, I’ve been known to toss printouts of drafts on the floor and then dig around for a cast-off scene. And there was that time with the mice. Best not go there.

What about you? Are you getting anything organized this month? What items in your workspace “spark joy” for you?

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  1. Rogue Women Writers

    Oh yes — among the places I've been trying to organize are my various bookshelves filled with wonderful books of all genres. I always try to donate them to our local library. However, ours is not accepting donations at this time, but recommend we give them to the Goodwill or other charitable resale shops. So that's next on my list of "to-do-things." Thanks for the reminder….Karna Small Bodman

  2. Gayle Lynds

    You've really hit a nerve, a good nerve, with this wonderful blog, Carla. Part of my process is the tension between apparent order, and the order the book dictates. They don't always fit together, and sometimes out of that transitional chaos comes ideas. I've tried other ways, but keep returning. I love my piles! I love my labeled boxes! And I'm so glad you have books on Maine. I have 'em on Vermont!

  3. Lisa Black

    First, thanks for the shout-out!!
    Second, you could have written this blog just for me! I aspire to be a fanatical organizer, never quite achieve it, but come pretty close. I've had a filing cabinet since high school. I wrote my college papers by color-coding my notes. I had a spreadsheet for my book queries. My husband fully expected me to know the location of an empty box he had last seen six years before in a different house. (Though that really says much more about him than me. PS, I didn't know.) I have actually not read any of Marie Kondo's stuff, but after seeing my sister's example I did Kondo-fy all my clothes drawers! And yes, I always get the cleaning-out bug in January.

  4. Chris Goff

    I am currently outfitting my new MI office and found this amazing old oak desk. It has dovetailed hinges, drawers that lock through internal mechanisms (open the top drawer and the bottom drawer slightly to release the catch on the middle drawer). It's 6 feet wide and 4 feet deep, and has beautiful carving. We picked it up in a consignment furniture store and paid $180 for it. I'm obsessed. Bookcases are being built right now to hold all my research books. I have a huge white board mounted on one wall, windows that let in lots of light and look out at the backyard and the woods. If I don't get distracted by the deer and Sullivan (the groundhog), I should get some work done. Oh, and I love my pencil and pen holders, too. One was made by a daughter in art class in third grade, and one was made by a potter friend.

    I like organized clutter, and I'm a note taker. I have lots of notepads and post-its. I collect post-its when I travel.

    Great article, Carla.

  5. Carla Neggers

    Going through bookshelves is a fun chore, at least!

  6. Carla Neggers

    I hear you — I find I need "order" more at certain points in the writing process than others.

  7. Carla Neggers

    A color-coder! I've tried but I run out of a particular color and start on another…which kinda defeats the purpose. January is quickly coming to an end. 😉

  8. Carla Neggers

    This office sounds fantastic. We're going to want photos! Especially of the desk. And these pen holders our children made are wonderful to hold onto. I have a feeling we've only begun this discussion. 🙂