As a native of New England, it always seems that the first hint of spring, whatever it may be — a beautiful sunny day with temperatures hovering around 50 degrees, the disappearance of snow mounds in parking lots, the ability to trade wool coats for sweaters or sweatshirts, even, maybe a robin sighting, if we’re lucky — convinces us that spring is right around the corner. (Mind you, this is despite whatever dire warning we may receive from Punxscutawney Phil on Groundhog Day.) Our thoughts, hopes and dreams turn to the warmth of the sun, spring flowers blooming, and, the inevitable dreaded spring cleaning.
My Dad used to tell my Mom that she could create “instant garbage,” because as soon as he would empty the trash, she’d have another full bag just waiting for him to collect upon his return. As you can imagine, my childhood home had very few of what my Mom would refer to as “dust collectors.” Suffice it to say, if something hadn’t been worn or used recently or simply served no useful purpose, come spring cleaning time, it became a prime target for some sort of removal — either trash, disposal, or donation. Such companies as 1-800-GOT-JUNK would be out of business quickly if everyone adopted my Mom’s philosophy.
This came to my mind recently since a number of my friends and family members have started “downsizing,” a process which has necessitated a great deal of spring cleaning. At one end of the spectrum, this entails the usual annual ordeal (dusting, changing curtains, vacuuming, removing winter items from view, etc.) and proceeds all the way to outright purging of treasured possessions. It also forced me to walk around my own home and with a more critical eye, consider what I truly value and what I’m keeping for sentimental reasons only. (Mom, where are you when I need you?)
Unlike my parent’s home, when my husband and I combined households, we both brought a lot of Mom’s proverbial “dust collectors” with us. Granted, many of these items fall into the categories of photos, artwork, or souvenirs from our travels before and after we were married. As examples, one room has pottery from the Southwest and a wall hanging from Turkey; another has carvings from Alaska and a chess set from Mexico; still another has a tapestry we purchased in New York and some collectables from Italy, Greece, and the Caribbean — I’m sure you get the picture.
We also have numerous gifts from well-meaning friends and students — presents from Thailand, China, Japan, Africa, India, and Germany (“Karen collects nutcrackers for holiday displays, let’s pick one up for her” … I really never did, but apparently do now), to name just a few. Couple all of this with family heirlooms — count them, not one, but two complete English and Irish teacup services, the remains of some antique crystal stemware, a couple of chairs hand-caned by my Grandfather (that you absolutely can NOT sit on), a chest my Grandmother brought from England and a 2- by 3-inch professionally framed photo of my husband’s grandparents’ family upon their arrival from Italy.
Where to begin wading through this eclectic and sentimental collection?
In all honesty, this cursory assessment was overwhelming — even somewhat terrifying. So much so that I changed my mind and retired to the sanctuary of my office at Johnson & Wales University, where I experienced what can only be described as a true “aha” moment: Here is one location over which I have total control. Now this, was a doable first spring cleaning project. After all, your work environment is often the first impression clients, team members, and administrators (in my case also students) receive of you and your work ethic.
Taking my cue from the “Tidying Up” expert, Marie Kondo, on Netflix, my goal to declutter my office began. The following are some tips in case you find yourself with a similar spring cleaning urge.
1. Look first at your desk. Is it cluttered? Covered in mounds/piles of paper? Replete with coffee cup stains? Can you even locate your phone, computer, printer, and/or business cards without moving personal “must haves”? When evaluating what to keep or toss, be practical not sentimental. A photo or two is nearly obligatory, but a collection that needs dusting every month is not necessary. At work, your personal life should be just that, personal.
2. Consider the overall image your space—whether it is a cubicle or office complete with administrative assistance—exudes. Is it warm, hospitable, inviting? Or is it cold and sterile? Try to find a balance between inviting visitors to nap on your couch, dawdle for hours over coffee, or feeling rushed out the door.
3. Surprisingly, your door itself (if you have one) can be telling. Is it open, shut, halfway open? If it’s always open, folks will feel comfortable just stopping by. If closed you’re probably viewed as unapproachable. If it is half-open then you’re signaling others to come in if it is something important.
4. Contemplate the direction your chair faces. Do you look out your door? Could be distracting if it is open. At a wall? Is your back to the door? Are you lucky enough to have a window view (even if it overlooks cement or a parking lot)? Probably your chair is behind a desk — does this separate you from visitors — is it an unconscious barrier or protective device? Again, what signals are you perhaps inadvertently sending?
5. Consider the number and condition of your shelves, bookcases, credenzas, file cabinets, or other storage units. Are they dusted? Overflowing with paper? Filled with outdated books? Jammed shut, never to be opened except in a dire emergency? Merely the holders of half-dead plants? Less is more!
Without studying the art of feng shui, anyone can balance an office environment to be professional, user-friendly, and comfortable. Seek supplies to corral your clutter—stores like
The Container Store has amazing and usually inexpensive solutions to many common storage or display issues. If you simply consider the idea of changing office spaces (always a daunting task), what would you keep, what would your purge, and why? After all, unless you’re lucky enough to work at home, most of us spend numerous hours at work, so it should be an environment conducive to both comfort and productivity.
Oh, and, if you’re wondering about my progress relating to spring cleaning at home, in the immortal words of Scarlett O’Hara in the movie classic Gone with the Wind, “I’ll think about that tomorrow!”