Clean Up Your Desk?

Yesterday I noticed a couple of hashtags trending on Twitter: #NationalCleanOffYourDeskDay and the somewhat pithier #CleanYourDesk.

I presumed this was not something my wife dreamed up, yet it conjured so many questions. Who benefits from such a movement? Is this a conspiracy by "Big Tidy?" No, seriously, is my wife behind this?

But if this was not a conspiracy perpetrated by my wife, who was behind it?  So, instead of cleaning my desk, it was "off to the Internet" to find the answer because, as I like to point out in this modern age of digital information, ignorance is a choice.

Clutter doesn't look that bad in this sort of blue-scale image.

And... I immediately hit my first roadblock:  There is a tremendous amount of fascinating office invention trivia out there.  For instance, it is said that Thomas Jefferson "invented the swivel chair" and that Charles Darwin "invented the rolling chair."  These are fascinating rabbit holes to investigate, but I made my Willpower saving-roll and managed to just capture a couple of URLs to look at later before I got back onto the main scent.

Eventually I tracked down a bunch of sites linking back to an archived 2003 article on a now defunct website that sources the holiday to Anne Chase Moeller. Rather than rewrite this concise history, I'll just quote the relevant segment:

This special day was originated by Anne Chase Moeller, the daughter of Mr. Chase of the Chase’s Annual Events—the very book where special events are listed.  Anne often helped out in her father’s office and shared his incredibly cluttered desk.  In order to create a place where she could work, she would spread a cloth over his chaos and then do her work.  When she finished, she would put her things away, including the cloth and leave.  The end of 1982 she declared that he would clean off his desk at least once each year.  Naturally, being in the business, they entered National Clean Off Your Desk Day into the record book for the second Monday in January, and the rest is history.  The record book has since been sold to a larger publisher, but the event is still celebrated each year.  It is a great time to get a fresh start for the new year.
From the 1990 edition of Chase's Annual Events

Above you should see a snippet from a 1990 edition of the book.  There you may be able to make out that "National Clean-Off-Your-Desk Day" was sponsored by A.C. Moeller of Michigan.  This 1992 article from the Washington Post talks about the 10th anniversary of the event and its bearing on Washington DC's need to cut down on paper. I recall a lot of media around "less paper in government" back the 1990s. By 2010, the NCOYDD had shown up on the blog of the US Army. That's probably as official an endorsement as one needs to accept a "national day" without some congressional intrusion here in the US, but then yesterday it got the most clear evidence of reification possible when it became a trending hashtag on Twitter.

So, you may be wondering: Did he clean off his desk?

Yes. Sort of.

You see, I've been on a "clean up my office" kick for a couple of weeks, inspired by the efforts of my wife to clean up her own office and books. She's been on a purge, which is quite helpful when reducing clutter.  Of course we don't throw away books!  But we did downsize our collections, she removing cookbooks she'd decided she didn't need, and me removing most of my IT books written before 2013 whose contents and relevance had rotted long before the paper upon which they were written.

I'd done a few other things to clean up as well.  I did a big purge of junk-mail (the physical kind) and have put a burn bag in the corner to collect the incoming junk immediately.  We don't actually burn our junkmail, but our city has a twice-annual free shredding event where we can take stuff like this and get it safely disposed of without risk of identity theft and the like.

Another step I took to clean my desk was to install a monitor stand so that my monitor is above my desk and gives me more working room for temporary clutter.  My biggest issue isn't papers piling up, but cables.  We primarily work on Apple Macbook Pros and the new models have pretty much gotten rid of all their inputs except for USB ports. This means a lot of my devices that I connect to have to be routed through a USB hub, so there's a glowing squid of cables cluttering my desk that I'm brainstorming on how to minimize. That's my next big project.

This is a fairly accurate display of what's going on behind my monitor.

For now, the addition of a pencil & tape holder (with Post-Its™ dispenser) and some wireless headphones is about as much as I want on my desk to go with the "normal" keyboard, mouse, monitor and speakers.  I guess I could, if I were so inclined, also move the speakers off my desk but I don't always like wearing headphones to jam to SynthWave while I work.

Should I get an in-box? Should I use more paper files?  I don't know.  But I do know that seeing the #NationalCleanOffYourDeskDay hashtag and noting that my desk was already clean felt really great.

It's worth mentioning that if you want to reduce paperwork and junk paper on your desk (and in your company), Apex has many solutions which can help you automate your workflows, dispense with paper copies, and store critical information online. That won't keep you from piling up paperwork on your own, but it can certainly reduce the amount that you have to encounter to get work done.

National Clean Off Your Desk Day is observed on the second Monday in January and is a great way to knock out a New Year's Resolution right at the top of the year. If you enjoyed reading about the background on this holiday, you might get a kick out of this newspaper clip from 1985 discussing the other holidays created by the Moeller family for the Chase publication.  Perhaps we can eventually declare the second Tuesday in January as National Read About Made Up National Days Day, or NRAMUNDD. I like that because it looks like a made up JRR Tolkien word, which means it likely has a nice ring to it.

Blake Smith

Blake Smith