The editor’s life, in all its messiness


Oy, the things on my desk!

I’m not just the editor of a newspaper, I’m also a subscriber and get a copy mailed to my home. Then I get lots of extra copies at my office. But that’s just the beginning. I get copies of Jewish papers from around the country, and I subscribe to general-circulation papers at home. And then there are the notes, news releases, stickies, letters, printouts, bills, invoices, checks, grandchild drawings, photos and … well, you get the picture.

There are times when I feel like I’m drowning in paper. Yes, our lives are digital in so many ways, but we still produce and live with an awful lot of paper!

Take my desk, for example. I thought you might be interested in the current state of that large flat surface. At home, you can get a glimpse of my life, both current and past, in that pile of papers there.

I guess I’m a bit of a hoarder when it comes to paper. I’ve got bills and books and notepads and magazines and newspapers. Lots of those newspapers.

At the office, you can catch a glimpse of what’s immediately important and who has come to visit at the top of the pile. There are also letters and other correspondence and copies of other Jewish newspapers and photographs and books and more newspapers.

Sadly, my home desk is much more cluttered than my office desk. At the office, my life is in mostly neat piles. There is clutter, but also quite a bit of organization.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced an empty desk.

It will come as no surprise that there have been all kinds of studies on messy versus clean versus cluttered desks. A quick online search finds studies that show a messy desk promotes creativity or is a sign of a creative mind.

Some argue that controlled clutter is the way to go, versus extreme clutter, which is detrimental to your physical and mental health. Disorganized and overflowing clutter, we’re told, can make you feel anxious and overwhelmed.

I have to say, extreme clutter does cause me some anxiety, especially at the office. I work a hybrid schedule – several days in the office and several days at home. After a bout with COVID and a particularly long absence from the office, I returned to stacks of back issues and a tower of mail. I felt that sense of drowning in clutter, and I immediately took to sorting.

Cleaning up a desk requires you to face your realities. I aspire to read all the Jewish newspapers from around the country that fill my office – there’s lots of information and story ideas there. But let’s face it, that just never happens. Anything that can wait until next week tends to keep waiting.

Occasionally, I bring the pile home. And what comes of that? More clutter at home.

My aspirations, even when transported from the office to home, aren’t turning into action. I feel sometimes that I’m letting someone down by not doing something with it all. Can you relate?

Mind you, most of my home is pretty darn neat and certainly clean. Why is it my desk and I can’t seem to keep up?

I keep hoping that the clutter and its accompanying mess will somehow spark creativity, as some studies have suggested. That would make the clutter worthwhile! But it doesn’t seem to be happening for me. It just sits there, reminding me to either do something with it or throw it away.

What it does spark is my need to declutter. Because I know I have lists to consult and books that need reviewing, and I can’t find them in all the clutter. And that sparks frustration, not creativity.

Now if I could just find that list of column ideas ….

Do you think it’s a hint that my husband gave me several new desk drawers (yet to be installed) for my desk at home? I think it’s time for a serious declutter.

I will report back.

Fran Ostendorf,

From the editor, Fran Ostendorf