Are you near your writing desk? Have a look at what’s lurking on it right now. Do you really need the [select from below] scented candle, outdated newsletters, empty drink bottle, chocolate wrapper, tiny cactus, stuffed toy, CD, old birthday card, etc etc?

Our surroundings reflect our mental state. Messy desk, messy mind. Some people claim clutter’s a sign of a creative free spirit, but I suspect that’s just wishful thinking!

Clutter creates stress and anxiety. It’s distracting, it encroaches on our space, and it’s hard to find what we need. I have a theory that many cases of writers’ block are actually caused by clutter. It’s easy to lose focus when you are overwhelmed by so many things competing for your attention.

When I was a uni student, my desk used to be perfectly clean, except for the things I needed for a specific task. Everything else was piled up in stacks on the floor behind me. Still messy I know (and it drove my mother nuts), but at least my eye line … and my head … was clear.

What do you actually need to write?

Ask yourself what you need on your desk. Really need, as opposed to what you’ve merely grown used to seeing. Look at each item in turn. Does it directly help with the task at hand? If it doesn’t, ditch it!

I think it’s possible to distil the essentials down to:

  • Computer
  • Pen
  • Paper for jotting down ideas
  • Research notes / plans if relevant
  • Desk lamp if needed
  • Coffee mug or equivalent (well, we’re not robots!)

Everything else can go in the drawers or on the floor. At the end of your writing session, you can pile your desk back up again if you don’t have anywhere to store your stuff. Just be sure to declutter again next time you sit down to write.

You might disagree with me. Back in the days when I had a proper job, my supervisor once told me off for having a tidy desk. She said it made me look as if I wasn’t working hard! That’s partly why I love freelancing so much …

Anyway, try this experiment. Take a photo of your desk right now, mess and all. Leave it like that the next time you sit down to write. When you finish do a thorough declutter, removing everything you didn’t actually use in that writing session. Photograph your desk again. Next time you write, sit down and get stuck straight in, minus the mess. See if you feel more relaxed and write more freely when you don’t have a stack of old bills nudging your elbow. When you’re done, pull out the before and after photos and compare them. If you try this, let me know how you go!

Photo credit: Wm Jas / / CC BY-SA

8 thoughts on “Declutter your desk to improve your writing

  1. I love your hypothesis that a cluttered desk causes writer’s block. That has such a ring of truth to it.

    1. Stella says:

      Yes, it feels right. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Vasudha says:

    So true!
    I used to do the same thing: stack my books/papers in piles on the floor, and take the one I need to my table 🙂

    1. Stella says:

      There you go! The law student and the medical student can’t be wrong 😉

  3. annamayfair says:

    Love this. I have never been able to think with a cluttered desk because I am so visual and it not only cluttered the area, it cluttered my mind. You are so right about this as always with your writings. Thanks for confirming what I have felt for a long time.

    1. Stella says:

      I’m glad others think so too! As always, thanks so much for reading and commenting on my posts 🙂

  4. I agree, Stella, but my clutter comes back as if it had a life of its own!
    What can I do?

    1. Stella says:

      Let the professionals clear away your clutter – try writing in a coffee shop!!

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