Desk detox: On decluttering your workspace for the new year

New Year finds our man Dan in the mood for a thorough tidy up. Room to think, room to work … and an intimidatingly vast and empty space to fill

declutter_illustration
Illustration by James Weston Lewis, jwestonlewis.co.uk

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

William Morris

“What’s all this crap on my desk? Bloody hell.”

Daniel Benneworth-Gray

It’s a new year, and my work is down there somewhere, beneath sedimentary layers of paper and crockery and present-wrapping detritus and lord knows what; physical clutter that mirrors the mess of half-formed ideas, anxieties and distractions still lingering from 2016. It’s hard to get motivated. Time to tidy, to simplify, to start the year afresh. So:

— Keepable desktop clutter is decanted to random drawers and shelves. Not the most elegant of solutions, but as long as none of it is in my immediate field of vision, I’m happy to pretend that it’s all okay. Everything else gets binned.

— Ditto the above, but for my computer desktop.     

— Computer is cleaned. Keyboard coffee dribbles are dealt with, grime is removed from mouse crevices, smeared and swiped fingerprints (my son was born into the “well this makes no sense at all, why isn’t everything touchscreen?” generation) are wiped off the display using that nice little square of sci-fi-chamois that Apple give you.

— All of the envelopes and letters and receipts that have been forming a nest around my feet are sent shredderwards. And then the shredder is emptied. And then the shredder is cleaned and oiled. I take this very seriously. I’m not setting foot into 2017 until I’m certain that my shredding capability is at maximum shreddiness. I may buy a new shredder.

— Social media connections are reduced to a manageable number … unfollow unfollow unfollow … perhaps rashly, I decide this number is zero … unfollow unfollow unfollow … I’m sure I won’t regret this … unfollow unfollow unfollow … this feels incredibly liberating, even if it does have that delicate whiff of burnt bridges about it … unfollow unfollow unfollow …

— Meaningless little notes and clippings are untaped from the walls and binned. All that remains is a Richard Weston artwork, the Marber grid reconstructed with cotton thread and map pins – a constellation of lines and points and harmonious design purity. This shall be 2017’s designated Thing To Stare At Whilst Thinking.

— Website is updated, simplified, redesigned, restructured, abandoned, redesigned, overcomplicated and simplified again (this isn’t specifically a new year thing, it’s just Monday and it needs to be done).

— Inbox is zeroed, using an elaborate system of folders and colour-coding to hide emails away in useful places until I completely forget about them. Mostly this means putting them in the trash.

— Trash is emptied. Junk is emptied. Spam is emptied. Recently deleted is emptied. Another trash is emptied. Actual real-life bin is emptied into another bin. That bin is emptied.

And I’m done. All that remains is a useful and/or beautiful blank canvas. A big white void. And a coaster.

It is rather intimidating – clutter at least suggested busyness, a workload, an income. What I’ve done here is turn everything into an empty inbox; a pristine reminder that as a freelancer, there’s no guarantee of new work, new clutter, new anything. Still, this has been an important psychological exercise more than anything else. As well as freeing up space to work, I’ve freed up precious space in my head to start new.


Daniel Benneworth-Gray is a freelance designer based in York. See danielgray.com and @gray

More from CR

Cover to cover: Obama v Trump

For the past eight years, writer Ben Arogundade has been collecting magazine and newspaper covers featuring Barack Obama. Here, he compares visual depictions of the former US President with new US leader Donald Trump

Six New Ads To Watch

This week’s round up of great new ads features work from Jack & Jones, Paul Smith, Volvo, the BBC, Adidas, and the Drink Aware charity. We open with a series of films starring Christopher Walken, which trade on him doing what he does best: being cool…

Graphic Designer

Twiddle & Co

Design Team Leader

De La Rue