I’ve always had an internal struggle with my office workspace. I see lots of pictures of beautiful workspaces. I sit on zoom calls with people who have wonderful backgrounds. I watch recordings of people who appear to have the complete setup. I read articles about new office spaces. All of it leaves me wanting more from my own space.
But I also have a three young kids and a small house with no garage. So “my” office space is not really mine; nor is it exclusively an office. I do consider myself lucky though. My office resides in an attachment to our house that requires I go outside to get to it. Its separateness is a good thing — enough to give me the space I need. But the space itself, that’s what leaves me wanting more.
My computer desk and chair are in that room. But it’s also a storage room for strollers, bikes, camping gear, fishing poles, motor oil, golf clubs, and more. I want to kick all that stuff out and make that space “my own” but the family’s needs for storage just don’t allow it right now. And that’s fine, I get it. That’s my stage of life. One day I’ll have the chance to make my office space “my own” — whatever that means, I honestly fear I’m just too lazy to do it ha.
All of that is context for something I recently read from Steven King’s book On Writing. He gives a piece of advice that really helped me transcend my inner struggle for a dream office and feel better, however momentarily, about my current situation.
In the book, you read all about his life story around writing: all the not-so-great places he lived and worked before hitting it big, and then what happened when he did.
[I want to tell you about] my desk. For years I dreamed of having the sort of massive oak slab that would dominate a room — no more child’s desk in a trailer laundry-closet, no more cramped kneehole in a rented house. In 1981 I got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, skylighted study…For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship’s captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere.
A year or two after I sobered up, I got rid of that monstrosity and put in a living-room suite where it had been…In the early nineties, before they moved on to their own lives, my kids sometimes came up in the evening to watch a basketball game or a movie and eat pizza. They usually left a boxful of crusts behind when they moved on, but I didn’t care. They came, they seemed to enjoy being with me, and I know I enjoyed being with them. I got another desk—it’s handmade, beautiful, and half the size of the T.rex desk. I put it at the far west end of the office, in a corner under the eave.
Then he gives this piece of advice:
Put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.
As a father with kids, it’s helpful to remind myself of this advice. Here’s what I take from that.
Jim: put your desk in space that’s yours, but don’t worry about curating or preserving it as the centerpiece. And don’t get upset when life happens around it. My workspace isn’t what life revolves around.
They say “a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind” and I get the sentiment. For me personally, I need a space to work and I can’t work if stuff is constantly in the way. But Jim, don’t resent life for happening around it.
Somewhat humorously, it kind of reminds me of that photograph of Putin at his table where he conducts business.
Why does he do that? I don’t know. Perhaps there’s a psychology of intimidation there, sure. But I also think there’s a desire to express the symbolism of the space: I am important and this is where all the important stuff I do happens. Make it big. Make it clean. Surround it with pomp and circumstance.
I’m not going to lie, that’s often what I want to do with my office space. But then I remember King’s advice that life doesn’t revolved around the desk.
It’s ok to have a bit of humility in your space. Perhaps a dose of it is even deserved.
(The above is what I like to tell myself now and is in no way a judgment of anyone who takes pride and care in their space. If anything, save this post and hit me up with it in ten years when I have a big fancy setup and have forgotten my own advice — or rather, King’s.)