Day 4: I finally have a tidy desk.

A hasty moving and shifting of stuff has to happen in order to clean the carpets and most of the upholstered furniture in one room. Since my desk is in that room, my normally cluttered desktop leaped over “Don’t touch, I know where everything is!” and landed with a rustle of paper smack down in the middle of “Someone needs a psych eval.”

I moved this small, vintage desk into the house about a year ago. Because I did it spur of the moment, I tossed everything from my big lawyer’s desk into these much smaller drawers and vowed to tidy it up the following week. One week, fifty seven weeks…isn’t the adage better late than never? At least this way the desktop finally matched the drawer interiors. Symmetry!

I followed classic decluttering procedure and labelled three sorting bins. As you can see from the sizes, I had an idea of how things would go. Spoiler: I was wrong.

After only ten minutes on the floor I knew my problem wasn’t keeping things I don’t need. My problem is organizing the items I need to keep. I put it off until I had to rummage through two drawers to look for a pen. A while back I started looking at desks, thinking maybe I needed a bigger one. A bigger one! In my tiny house! Unreal, since all I really needed to do was a little space planning.

My main challenge was finding organizers to fit the shallow desk drawers. I vaguely remember this as a reason why I put off organizing this desk last year, but it turned out to be a weak excuse. This time around, I skipped the office supply stores (I knew from experience everything would be too big) and went straight to the dollar store with the desk drawers in hand. Oh yes, I did. I wanted to make sure I bought the right items in the right quantity. And you know what? Smartest move I’ve made in a while. I ended up buying a utensil organizer in the kitchen section and two of the ugliest appetizer plates in the party section.

I didn’t take a picture of the utensil caddy because I’m only a temporary DIY blogger so I keep forgetting procedure. Also, it’s a utensil caddy. You have one.

This next series of pictures will prove how impossibly shallow I am. Since these platters were going inside the desk, there was no reason for me to dig out old cans of primer, paint, stamps, and high gloss sealer, but I did.

I don’t understand the hows or whys of it, but once the gloss dried all those lumps and smears disappeared. Thank goodness, too, because someone with x-ray vision might open my new desk drawers and see through the pads of paper, hand lotion, and calculator. I would be mortified if they saw lumpy trays.

Sharpie much? (Not a word if you follow me on Twitter and were reading last night.)

Here are the other two drawers. I used flocked wrapping paper to line the drawer and hoped the texture would keep my plastic trays (also from the dollar store) and favorite books on grammar from sliding around. It worked perfectly! If it hadn’t worked, my back up options were rug grips or heavy felt from the craft store.

My goal was to have an empty desktop. I’ve never had one before, but I noticed on pinterest that I loved the look of a clean, flat desk.  I’ve become so accustomed to having a set of grammar and reference books on my desk that I didn’t think it would be possible with such a small desk to store my books out of sight.

Turns out I was wrong again. I love my empty desktop so much. Unexpected bonus: dusting has never been easier.

New here? For the next 31 days I’m living according to the famous William Morris quote. You can learn more about the project here.

Jules Kendall writes about books, family, and easygoing simplicity.


  1. says

    You know the “this” and “that” may not show, but the luau and fish trays definitely would have been stabbing your eyes every time you opened that desk drawer. Love that you went to the store drawer in hand. You may be more of a DIYer than you give yourself credit for. I am liking October.
    P.S. I love Sharpies.

  2. says

    I love what you did with the ugly appetizer plates! A layer of spray paint plus a dose of “This” and “That” makes your drawer organizers really sexy! I just moved and am in the phase of unpacking, purging and organising. Will look back at this post when I organise my desk. Thanks!

  3. says

    … the fact that The Elements of Style made the cut means you and I are sisters.
    We should write a book together.
    And I can’t tell you how impressed I am with your spray paint effort. I broke out in a sweat just reading about it.
    Non-crafty in Austin

      • Amy Loves Teal says

        Can I get in on the sister thing?! Strunk and White have been my heroes since 9th grade when they started helping me win grammar competitions. Yes, there is such a thing, at least (ironically) in Oklahoma.

  4. says

    I love that you painted over those hideous trays…and that you are creative enough to skip the office supply store…and your clean desk top is inspiring me to pick up the clutter around my computer (including a potholder, nail polish, necklace, trader joe’s espresso pillows and some other stuff that has overstayed its welcome) and put it away once and for all :)

  5. says

    you mean desk drawers don’t have to look like that? Mine does. hmm…maybe a little more organization is all it will take….my desk only has one drawer though and a mountain of junk on top of it!

  6. says

    WHOA! That is a pretty stunning transformation. It’s amazing what a little organization can do. My husband and I just tackled a similar project in our office and admittedly: It wasn’t a sexy, Martha Stewart-worthy attempt, but it was life-changing for us. Hooray for no clutter!

    (And props to you for painting the trays. They would have driven me nuts as-is. Now that they’re beautiful, you never know: You might be able to use them for a different purpose down the road.)

  7. says

    I love this post so very much.

    I am still going through boxes and my office is in shambles, but I’m so doing this. Also, screw the office supply store, you would have paid gobs more than a dollar for those desk supplies!

  8. says

    GREAT JOB! This looks fantastic. I thought my little clutter-phobic heart was going to give out on me with that first picture, but you revived it with your beautiful “after” photos and narrative. I am loving this series.

    • says

      Yes, that first picture is pretty bad! I probably shouldn’t have it up there since my desk isn’t usually THAT messy–the stuff in the middle was piled on because of the carpet/furniture cleaning–but I forgot to take a picture after I took off the “visiting” clutter.

      I’m glad everyone is liking the series! I’m completely out of my comfort zone with this one.

  9. Dorothy says

    I noticed you didn’t have The Blue Book tucked among your faves. :) of course, my Elements of Style is sitting next to my Chicago Manual of Style on my show-off shelf, ie “Stuff I Never Plan to Read Again, But Am Displaying to Impress You With.”

  10. says

    OH.MY.GOODNESS!! I’m SO glad to know that I am not the only person in the world with a desk that looks like your before!! And I’m even happier to know that there is hope for an AFTER – it just takes work and discipline to do it. Those trays are SO cute, and your final result is so clean and neat and organized and I’m inspired. I’m off from work tomorrow, so perhaps I’ll finally start working on my disaster that is the office and see what I can accomplish in an hour or two. :-) Just popped over from Small Notebook, but I’m guessing you’re also taking part in the Nester’s 31 Days series – so much fun! I’ll be back! :-)

  11. says

    I too would have painted those trays even if they were out of site. This and that is such a cute idea! Just found your blog and I love your writing style. Great idea for a 31 days project.

  12. says

    It looks amazing! Nice DIY work, lady.

    A very clean desktop is one of my favorite things. I’m eyeing my sadly crowded office desktop right now with shame. I have sporadic cleaning fits at least once a quarter and my (German) boss always comes in and asks if I’m okay and when I say I’m fine, he says “Oh, you’re just being German.”

  13. says

    Great post! You rock. I think Nate Berkus just did a segment on spray painting stuff from the discount store and featured shallow trays like yours (in wood) as front door numbers for outside a home! It was really attractive.

    Next time I’m bringing my desk drawers with me, too. Nice plan.

  14. says

    I think you should write out of your element more often! Just kidding of course, I read your site every day because I know the writing will always be great, great, great. But seriously, this post?! Just awesome! The trays are amazing (I’m totally going to do that this weekend with a few blah IKEA trays I have hanging about) and the fact that you’re even doing the 31 day challenge is inspiring. I chickened out…maybe next year.

  15. kim says

    I love the after. I think you have inspired me to finally get rid of my huge desk that has way too much crap piled on it and is way to big for the room.

    And really, there is no such thing as too many sharpies.

  16. says

    First, I can’t believe that was your desktop Jules. Shame on you. I can say that now that we’re friends in real life right? Second, so, so smart to take your drawers with you to the store. I never do that, always end up guessing and end up having to return/exchange stuff, or get lazy and keep stuff even if it doesn’t work right. Third, I love that you spray painted the trays. If you’re gonna do a transformation do it right, right? GREAT post Jules!

  17. says

    I’ve never seen a desk that looked so fabulous! I think I secretly pretend mine is some sort of styled Kate Spade ad o’ messiness. Love Danish modern and the new look really makes it the star of the room. Hope it leads to great inspiration.

  18. says

    Isn’t it interesting how inspiring a clean work space can be? The last thing I do at work every day is make sure I get rid of all the excess papers, coffee cups and evidence of snacks that I litter my desk with throughout the day. I put away stray pens, close and stack books, and generally clean up because I know when I come into work the next day, the last thing I’m going to want to do is pick up my previous day’s mess.

  19. says

    LOVE this challenge, so so SO much. I did a LOT of this style of cleaning in the spring — in part influenced by spring cleaning and in part because my grandma passed and I think, too, I was thinking about the need to get rid of the kind of stuff I didn’t want someone else to have to clean out someday.

    The trick to it all is staying on top of it. Thinking, once you’ve had one go ’round, that you can rest on your laurels. OH but you can’t…every year, you gotta begin anew!

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