desk splice remodelista + einstein

Remodelista recently published the winner of the Best Reader-Submitted Office Space in their Considered Design Awards. We find the image of the office downright eerie: not a paper in sight, no evidence of…a person, the opposite of photographer Ralph Morse’s perfect capture of Einstein’s desk, where you could practically hear his thoughts.  It made us think about our conceptions of workspaces; what they are meant to do.

These days we frequently read articles about how to declutter your desk, as though messy desks were a plague. There is a lot of pressure to be tidy. TIDY. Yikes! Sounds like something from Mary Poppins.  Einstein himself wondered: If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Good question!

We were delighted to read 99u’s recent The Perfect Workspace (According to Science), five aspects to consider when you’re setting up your workspace, like Taking Ownership of Your Workspace, and Taking Advantage of Color, Light and Space, Make Use of Windows and Plants…(and mirrors!)

Our favorite: The Benefits of a Messy Desk, something we’ve written about before (What a Messy Desk Really Means). Like many productivity posts these days, this one cited neuroscience:

Kathleen Vohs and her colleagues at the University of Minnesota found that participants tested in a messy room at a desk covered with paper came up with more imaginative uses for a ping pong ball than participants tested in a tidy room.

As much as we love these “findings”, we take them with a grain of salt. For our money, the essential thing to consider in making your workspace is: What works for you.  ‘No guilt, no blame’, to quote the I Ching. We promise not to read anything into how neat you are or how messy…as long as it works.

Pernille Kaalund
Pernille Kaalund

photo: sally schneider
photo: sally schneider

Abby Robinson/Hauser & Wirth Gallery
Abby Robinson/Hauser & Wirth Gallery


top photo: Jane Archer;  2nd photo down: Ralph Morse—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Related posts: mirrors as windows and views
a busy office disappears behind hafele’s sliding wall
how to disappear ugly power and electronics cords
signs on walls: ‘how to work better’
what a messy desk really means
design inspiration: hemingway’s makeshift standing desk

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5 replies on “messy or neat workspace: which is best for you?

  1. i’m thinking a lot has to do w/the meaning we attach…our own perception of our space…and what feels essential… …for each of us…i’ve always felt more available, open, alive when my space is “order” with little to no clutter…it is where i seem to experience more freedom…so far anyway in this great adventure! i find clutter fascinating and inviting in some way too…as long as it is not in my space!!

  2. Thanks, Jody. It IS so individual. While I love neat, I find I rarely attain it these days. And over the years, I have allowed myself to get messier as my work, and workstyle has changed. But not wanting to live constantly with “messy” is the reason I created an office that I can totally close off, so I can have a clear space to refresh my head.

  3. Maybe it is a bit of both , to have some empty space where ideas can settle . Maybe an inspiring picture or something familiar around to be comfortable .
    Changing perspective, sitting on the floor , going outside . Then you do not want to return to a cluttered desk ; that is distracting .
    Yet when you already work on something , being too tidy does not make sense . where you work , sparks fly : )
    i find it good to sort things to sort thoughts . decide what is part of the process and what not .then , once in a while , just throw ideas (pictures , papers .. ) in the air like confetti and see how they land ( maybe in the coffee mug .. )


  4. ps . i find the closed white door eerie . and yep , the person has definitely left the room .

    There is a lot of pressure to be tidy ..and happy ..and busy ..and informed ..and successful ..and lots of manuals that tell us how to do things .While these can be helpful , discard any that do not advice you to listen to your own heart ( intuition , ideas ..); help you find a way that works you .

  5. It’s interesting to note that my workspace these days is actually the kitchen, so you can ‘judge’ me by its appearance, I suppose. The workspace or countertop is…orderly but not overtly tidy. I tend to clean as I cook, but not to the point where I’m scrubbing like a fool between cooking tasks. The floor will have crumbs and bits of detritus, and before my wife returns from work I’ll do a quick sweep. The stovetop gathers grease and I’ll wipe it down with little guilt when I fail to get every nook or cranny. My wife complains that my dishes aren’t cleaned well enough so I occasionally get grief from her, but then, she never does the dishes…nor do I ask her often to.

    There are piles of tools above the cabinets and today, a year after our new kitchen got put in, we are finally putting up some shelving and a bookcase for my cookbooks. Why the delay? Who knows? Working six day workweeks, fatigue, and knowing that my wife and I will get testy during the installation process–she who will insist on primer this, double coats of paint, etc. whereas I am content with it all being stacked and without guile or concern for ‘appearance’.

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