The Idea Desk (not pictured)

OfficeI had a rather successful night at my middle kid’s nursery school silent auction a few weeks ago. Maybe it was the fact that I was straight off the plane from Japan and too disoriented to focus on anything but winning the stuff I wanted. Maybe it was that my husband was in Dubai, so I didn’t get distracted by talking with him. But not only did I win a silver B. Makowsky handbag that I love — for half off retail, with the money going to my kid’s school! — I also scored a photography package, tables and chairs my kids use, and 76ers tickets.

And, more importantly for the purposes of this post, I won an organizing session with Lauren Sullivan, owner of Square One Organizing. I asked her to come look at my home office, and tell me what I should do differently.

Sullivan had looked me up before hand, and so knew somewhat what to expect (and that she might get written about). Like other organizers have pointed out to me, she could also see that I am not disorganized. My life works pretty well. Yes, there are piles of paper everywhere. There may be something close to 40,000 emails in my inbox. On the other hand, I don’t miss deadlines, and the household organization problems I have tend more toward owning 6 bottles of ketchup, because the ketchup isn’t where it’s supposed to be, and so the household system recognizes it as “out” and buys more. This isn’t efficient, but we earn enough to cover the spread. “You have a lack of structure, but it’s not holding you back, which is awesome,” she said. 

Instead, what I was looking for was a better way of coming up with ideas. People mail me lots of books — some of which might have good article ideas in them — and I get about a dozen magazines. We get the Wall Street Journal daily; I often read USA Today. I check out books from the library that sound interesting and then there’s the fascinating nuggets of information I find online, and that wonderful people send me. The organization that is Laura Vanderkam is getting better about having an editorial calendar with fodder scheduled into the future. Nonetheless, I sometimes find myself hiding from editors because I have no idea what I’d write for them.

Sullivan and I discussed that when I can’t see things — if they’re filed — they are dead to me. I once found a package of Sweet Tarts in my desk drawer. I love Sweet Tarts! Clearly I’m the one who put them in there. There are plenty of times I would have loved to have eaten a Sweet Tart in the weeks before my discovery, and there they were, in my desk drawer, and nothing ever got triggered in my brain to remind me where I’d put them.

Her verdict: “You need more table space.” When things are on tables, I can see them. What she suggested? An Idea Desk. Basically, this would be a spot — separate from my work desk — where I would go to think. I’d have little baskets of reading material (so I could take them with me if I wanted to think through things elsewhere). Whenever reading/idea material came in, it would go over to my Idea Desk. And then, at certain points, I’d schedule some time at my Idea Desk. 

And hopefully come up with ideas. Any suggestions for what my idea desk should look like? Do you have an idea spot? A thinking chair? I think mine might need some cool, cerebral art over it…or an idea board.

In other news: If you’re looking for a book on organizing a home office, Lorie Marrero, long-time friend of this blog and owner of The Clutter Diet organizing company, has a new book out called The Home Office Handbook, with lots of ideas for making your work life work.

This photo is of my office when it was styled for a photo shoot. It rarely looks like this. The idea desk would be separate from the work desk (pictured).



14 Responses to The Idea Desk (not pictured)


  1. ARC says:

    Oh wow, I love the “Idea Desk” concept. It reminds me of the “Thinking Chair” on Blue’s Clues ;)

    I have a notebook (and supposedly a bulletin board, which I never use) for that, but it’s out of sight out of mind.

    The same is true for me & craft supplies. I realize I need to have things OUT or I won’t use them/remember I have them. This is a problem because I have way too much STUFF and keep buying more. The collecting is as good as the crafting, I think.

  2. Pamela says:

    I have idea cubbies and idea notebooks – there are a few places around the house that I stash library books and things to read. I also keep a lot of that stuff on my smartphone. I have been using evernote a lot recently – it’s great for quick notes and also, you can snap and save pictures. I’ve found that handy for saving recipes from magazines. I guess I’m lucky because most of my “idea” stuff is either library books or available digitally.

    I also keep a lot of notebooks, since I like to write down bits of information that I come across in my paper reading. I just have to figure out a way to store/reference them.

  3. Toni Gatlin says:

    I too have a bad case of out of sight out of mind. If something is even at the bottom of a stack, it might as well not exist, even though it’s technically ‘visible’.

    Instead of adding another horizontal surface like a desk, what about one of those upright magazine-type display shelves (like you see sometimes in libraries, especially in the kids’ section)? I googled ‘library magazine rack’ and got tons of images. It would have a smaller footprint and you could see everything at once, even from across the room. Line up books across the top and hang a cork board above and you’re completely set. :-)

    • Laura says:

      @Toni – very true – we have some shelves like that in my kids’ rooms. Hadn’t occurred to me to use that as an idea spot, but I could in fact see lots of things that way!

  4. Cloud says:

    I like the idea desk concept. No way I could do it, though- we don’t have the space. I did something vaguely similar when I was laid off and running a job search and a couple personal projects out of the small home office I share with my husband (and a futon that is our guest bed). I bought paper-size vinyl folders and hung them from hooks on the back of the office door. I put my papers for each project in a folder, and when it was time to work on one, I could close the door and easily find my stuff and spread it out.

    • ARC says:

      Hubby and I might be able to share an office, but we absolutely cannot share the desk. I just gave up and stopped using the office because I need clear surfaces to function. I’m always in awe of people who can share working space like that :)

  5. nother Barb says:

    Reading specialist Jim Trelease talks about arranging plastic rain gutters on a wall as bookshelves. Besides books, it can display pictures, articles, 4×6 cards, small objects, whatever is inspiring you. I imagine you could also clip or hang things off the edge, or put whiteboard behind it for “mapping”, if you do that kind of thing, or noting dates. Then you could have a small writing table with it. Don’t like the look of plastic gutters? I saw a picture of some with fabric or paper (contact paper maybe?) to match the room décor.

    • Laura says:

      @nother Barb – plastic rain gutters. Talk about repurposing! I think I just like the idea of having a second desk. Maybe it makes me feel important :)

      • Anne Bogel says:

        We have raingutter bookshelves. I love them for the kids’ books, but never thought to use them for my own stuff!

  6. Anne Bogel says:

    “When I can’t see things — if they’re filed — they are dead to me.”

    I absolutely relate to this, and it’s surprisingly gratifying to see someone else put it in print! I know I love table space, but I hadn’t made the connection between my love of table space and its usefulness in generating ideas.

    I’m grateful for this post. Thanks, Laura!

    • Laura says:

      @Anne – I am totally cleaning out my office today so I can have more table space!

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  8. Tiffany says:

    This whole post makes me really want an office area. I love the rain gutters idea. Or even a wall to use 5×7 size post it notes with project ideas. I’m definitely and “out of sight, out of mind” person. Having it all out on a wall or desk would be fabulous!

    • Laura says:

      @Tiffany – an office area is key! When we moved into our second apartment in NYC, I didn’t have an office for a while (the desk had pretty much been part of our old apartment and couldn’t move). I was trying to write on the floor, stacking things in piles, and it felt pretty unprofessional. It is any wonder, looking back, this seemed like a low point in my career?