Case Study #3: The Desk Mess
Last updated May 2022
When I was 24, I was diagnosed with a rare eye disease called retinopathy. A year later, I was totally blind. Three months at a residential facility for newly blind adults taught me to type, read Braille, get around with a long white cane, use the stove safely, and keep the house clean.
But no one taught me how to arrange or organize things to make them easy to find. Left to my own devices, I pile stuff willy-nilly atop my desktop, file cabinets, counters, and dressers. Need to find something? Feel through the piles.
The piles grew over time, especially in my office while I was working at home during the pandemic. I needed help.
An understanding friend turned me on to NAPO and its online directory of organizers. My talking computer uses text-to-speech software to read a computer screen out loud, and the NAPO directory was easy to navigate.
It was a pleasant surprise to hear my talking computer call out “people with disabilities” as a filter option. I selected that, hit the search button, and—voila!—dozens of professional organizers located near my home popped up.
Since I had so many choices, I limited my search to organizers who had websites. From there I ruled out anyone offering counseling services along with organizing. I’m all for therapy, but I get that elsewhere.
Because “Contact Us” forms on websites tend to be inaccessible, I also focused on organizers who provided email addresses. I sent the same message to each, giving my Zip code, describing my office space, my timetable, mentioning blindness, and suggesting we chat via phone before meeting in person.
By the next day, I had six responses. After deleting the three form letters, I phoned the other three organizers. The first had worked previously with people who had disabilities, but none were blind. The second had enjoyed working with two different individuals who were blind, but it would be five weeks before she could fit me into her schedule.
I chose the third organizer, “Mary,” not because she had experience with people who had disabilities, but due to her enthusiasm and desire to give it a try. Bonus: She could come in three days.
Mary was one of many certified personal organizers working with a women-owned and women-run business. The company never sends out just one organizer at a time; they work in teams of two or more to get more done in shorter time periods.
Hiring the twofer would be twice as expensive per hour ($180/hour), but maybe the efficiency would be worth it. One person could place object after object in my hands for me to identify; then I could pass it over to the second organizer to file away in the perfect spot.
And that’s pretty much how it went. Mary and Christine arrived on time and, after brief introductions, Mary sized up the project in minutes, calculating the job would likely take three hours.
The pair got right to work, pulling stuff from drawers, reading old receipts, form letters, and business cards out loud, then waiting for my permission to toss them. Odd things—like a metal cube with a big circle on top—were placed into my hands for identification. “A talking clock!” I laughed, explaining how you press the button on top to hear it announce the time. “I don’t use it anymore, but I was thinking of giving it to one of my little nieces.”
Christine took a deep breath before responding. “It’s pretty grody.”
We threw it away.
Drawers, desktops, and countertops emptied; Christine organized everything into categories.
“On the go” items included a backpack, shoulder bag, messenger bag, gym bag, and purses I’d shoved into the top drawer of my oversized file cabinet. The free books I give away when visiting elementary schools went in the “presentations” pile. All the stuff I’d thrown into three metal boxes atop my file cabinet were “office supplies.”
Meanwhile, Mary was assessing what size containers would work to organize everything. “If you can’t see, you must organize things by texture, right?” She figured if she stored my headphones and other computer-related stuff in a metal box, and my personal stuff (lotion, hand sanitizer, nail files) in a wooden box, I’d remember which was which by the way the box felt. Appreciating her enthusiasm, and assuming the trunk of her car was full of containers and boxes to use in this effort, I said yes.
Mary turned to Christine and asked if she’d be willing to walk three blocks to our nearby Target. “They probably have the containers we need.”
What? I’ve got oodles of old baskets and boxes in the hallway closet we could use! No one asked.
Their only question: “You want Christine to use your credit card, or do you have cash?”
The talking clock came to mind. My boxes and containers were probably grody, too. And I couldn’t have walked to Target and picked out containers on my own.
I handed over the cash.
While Christine was shopping, Mary arranged my piles in places I’d find and identify easily.
My “on the go” bags now sit bottoms-down, side-by-side in the top drawer of my oversized file cabinet. I flip my hand over them and can quickly identify the one I need by its handle.
The piles of “presentation” books are organized bindings-up, largest to smallest, side-by-side in the bottom drawer. I judge which is which by their feel.
Mary and Christine cleared out so much recyclable old computer equipment from my desk drawers (and Christine bought such perfectly sized narrow boxes at Target) that the office supplies live there now.
And you know what? I like it.
- Sort your clutter into categories. Once items are separated that way, it’s easier to figure out what to do with them.
- If an item is dirty, worn, or otherwise grody, pitch it.
- Ask, don’t assume. Had I realized I would be paying for new containers and boxes, I might have decided to use items I already owned.
- Having nicer, cleaner things around you in an orderly fashion makes you feel better.
- I’ll do my best to keep things organized now. I don’t want to pay to have someone come do it again!