Southern Life

I’m cleaning up my office

I am a writer by trade, and many writers are able to concentrate on their craft if they don’t have to worry about filing, having office supplies in the same place, or having a place on your desk to put things like a pencil.

You could say, charitably, that my office is messy. I think of it as disorganized. The Goddess says it’s gross.

So in a stunning moment of stupidity, I told Rebecca I would clean up my office.

“Does that include the stuff poking through the rails along the walkway to your office?”

“Why not? In for a penny, in for a pound is what I always say.”

“You never say that.”

“I might have if I had wanted to.”

After committing to all that cleaning, I was asked where I planned to put all my “junk.”

“It’s not junk.”

“Then what is it?”

“Accumulated treasures without a suitable home.”

“It’s junk.”

“It’s not junk. Junk is defined as stuff you can’t identify that’s been in the corner of your office for over 2 years.”

“Hand me the dictionary.”

“I’ll have to go find it. I think it’s in my office.”

I am following the advice in one of the organization books I found under a stack of National Geographic magazines which were under a winter hat and a baseball bat. The first rule is to box up anything I haven’t needed for a year, date the box, and throw it away unopened a year from now. I’d like to point out to Ms. Big Deal Organization Boss that “need” is a complex word and difficult to define. I realize that I don’t need the “Beware of the Bears” sign I got at Denali National Park in Alaska, but I’ll be damned if I’ll toss it into a box never to see it again. When I dug it out from under the pile of ink cartridges for the printers that passed away but are still in the basement somewhere, it was like a reunion with an old friend.

The second rule from Ms. OB is not to fall into the “I might need this someday” or “(Name of adult child) might need this when she has her own apartment.” This is a tough one. It is likely, for example, that Joanna will not need a Mammoth Cave lapel pin even though it did cost $3 and was purchased on site at Mammoth Cave. On the other hand, a possibly still working instamatic camera would make a neat gift or be handy for insurance documentation. Maybe. If you could find the film.

Writers and other creative types like pens and pencils. I have been advised by members of my family that a shoebox full of wooden pencils in varying stages of use is possibly over the top and that I should donate the pencils to a school. Logically that is a great idea. Actually giving them away means I won’t have them to look for if I want a pencil. Actually, I don’t like pencils; I use a fountain pen. That I can’t find right now.

The biggest challenge – with the possible exception of the bear sign – is the mystery boxes. I have four. Mystery boxes are essential if you are planning to clean your office someday.

Whenever I pick up something and don’t want to go through the painful mental exercise of deciding where to put it, I throw it into a box in the corner “until I can find a place for it.” Mystery boxes are full of “I wondered where that was” things. Four golf tees, an index card, a roll of exposed film, a necklace with an arrowhead, a plastic duck, two desk clocks that don’t work, 5 empty eyeglass cases, power cords that do not fit any known device, some pictures of me with hair, one sock, a Rosary (I’m a Methodist) and more … you know … treasures. Think of the boxes as your grandmother’s attic in the middle of the floor.

I told Rebecca that I had come to the stage where semantics play a large role. Just as “need” is a word with multiple interpretations, so is “clean.” She allowed as to how she was familiar with the word “clean,” and offered her definition:

“It only needs to be clean enough for a cocktail party for the CEO of Coca-Cola.”

She’s nothing if not precise. I like that in a person. No ambiguities. None.

I told her I felt like I was getting ready for the annual military inspection at GMA. She said that was a fine analogy and scheduled her visit for a week from now.

“What’s in it for me if I pass?”

“Use your imagination.”

“And if I fail?”

“Use your imagination.”

Okay, but I’m not throwing away the battery-powered chicken that walks, flaps its wings and cackles. No way.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is a professional mentalist and mind reader who presents his unique and unforgettable program to conventions, college and universities, sales meetings, private parties, business and civic clubs and more. He has also appeared at the Punchline Comedy Club in Atlanta and produces, along with Jerry Farber and Joe M. Turner, Atlanta Magic Night at the Red Light Cafe in Midtown. He is a member of the Psychic Entertainers Association, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, the Georgia Magic Club,Buckhead Rotary Club and Friends of Jim The Wonder Dog. You can learn more at He is the author of three books: "Living The Dream," the story of the first ten years of FedEx; "Superman, Hairspray, and the Greatest Goat On Earth," a collection of mostly true stories;, and "Yes Ma'am, You're Right: The Essential Rules For Living With A Woman."  Mark's day job is as a freelance writer and communications and marketing consultant. Mark has traveled around the world twice but has never been to Burlington, Vermont. He does not eat beets or chicken livers, and he has never read "Gone With The Wind." He is the only person he knows who was once a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists. He is a fifth generation Atlantan,  the father of three, and the grandfather of five. All offspring are demonstrably perfect. He lives in Smyrna with his wife Rebecca (aka The Goddess) and two dogs: Ferguson, an arrogant Scottish terrier; and, Lola, a Siberian husky who is still trying to figure out what the hell she's doing in Cobb County.