Motherhood & Words

when clutter really means clutter

Many of my favorite mother bloggers have been writing about the desire to get organized at the same time they’ve been lamenting the challenge that “getting organized” poses when you have a house full of small children.

I get it. I spend so much of each day picking up toys that I’m often tempted to say the hell with it and just vacuum them all up. (And when you add to the general child and house maintenance a gerbil whose poop chamber, as we have taken to calling it, always needs cleaning, well, “organized” seems impossible.)

But after reading Kara’s wonderful post about framing tasks as questions and Kay’s post with some tips for keeping a clean house in the midst of preschoolers, I knew I needed to do something to clear the clutter. Then I was inspired by this photo of Vicki’s office, and I realized that I didn’t need to tackle the whole house (or even the basement); I just needed to clear some space so I could think again.

I am embarrassed to even post these photos of my office, but I need the evidence so you’ll know how hard I worked yesterday. This is my office yesterday morning:

If you take a look at Kara’s office again it’s clear that “clutter” means a slightly different thing to her than it does to me. And seriously, what is that disheveled Barbie doing on my books?

Okay, now here is my office last night. D came home from taking the girls to Stella’s dance class and said, “Look how big your desk it!” Indeed.

And now I am ready to dive into my work. Do you think I’ll write faster now that I can actually see the surface of my desk?

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I have been teaching creative writing for almost twenty years. Reading about other women’s lives and experiences has expanded my world. To be able to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether it’s for a moment or an hour or a few days, is an incredible gift, providing me with insight into the human experience. It takes courage to write your truths, especially if it doesn’t seem as though anyone cares, as though anyone is listening. Let me tell you: your stories matter, I’m listening, and I’m here to help you find the heart of those truths, to get them down on the page, to craft them, and to send them out into the world. Together, we will change the world, one story at a time.


  1. Kevin Fenton on January 7, 2011 at 11:30 am

    You are my total anti-clutter hero! And teh idea oftasks as questions is brilliant.


  2. Joy Riggs on January 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Wow! I'm inspired, Kate. I did like the Barbie, though.

  3. Elizabeth on January 7, 2011 at 11:46 am


    I've surrendered to clutter and am not sure if I'll ever come out of it.

    Your desk does look great, though.

  4. Andrea on January 7, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Yes, you'll definitely write faster…unless you suddenly feel compelled to organize everything (how's your linen closet looking these days?). I use my cavernously cluttered basement as an excuse to never do anything productive, ever, because I have so much stuff down there that requires my attention.

  5. Peg on January 7, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I always write better and work better when my work space is clean and clutter free. Happy writing!

  6. kristenspina on January 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    It's beautiful! And yes, you will write faster and better!! I've spent over a week tackling the kitchen. Ridding myself of all the things I will never/have never used. Including boxes of cereal that expired in 2008 (we are not a cereal-eating family, alas…)

    The primary goal was to get rid of the papers that come home from school, the graded tests, the art projects, the Hot Wheels packaging my son hates to throw away. It never ends!!

    Here's to an uncluttered new year…

  7. kate hopper on January 7, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks for the words of encouragement, folks.

    Joy, Barbie will be back, I'm sure of it. Zoe, especially, loves to leave her toys on my desk.

    Elizabeth, you'll come out of the clutter someday, I promise.

    And Andrea, you are one of the most productive people I know. Clutter does not seem to hinder you at all.

    Yay for your clean kitchen, Kristen!

  8. Cecilia on January 7, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    It looks great, Kate! And not that I would know, but I imagine a clean desk and extra space would destress you enough to really push you along in your writing.

    Your "before" shot looks better than my "after."

    I want to ask you how you did it but I will ask on FB!

  9. Leightongirl on January 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    Fantastic! It looks wonderful. I remember reading an organizing guru who said there should be NOTHING on your desk if you want to get things done. That seems dramatic (what about the stapler?) but I have found that when my desk is fairly wiped clean of stuff, I am indeed much happier sitting there.

    And I'm impressed it only took you the evening. I spent three days on my office.

    Finally, I vote for you to have a bigger desk 😉

  10. householdwords on January 8, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Wow, looks great! I am inspired to tackle our entryway-area clutter, even if it means opening mail, a great dread of mine. Also, I know what you mean about picking things up all day. I feel like a picking-things-up robot!

  11. Amber on January 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    I'm with Cecilia. Your "before" pic would be an improvement of my various areas. See how nice they are stacked!

    Way to go, Kate!!

  12. cath c on January 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    good work! and good luck keeping it that way. periodically i do the same, but my desk appears to be the family's forgotten wasteland of lost articles.

  13. Kara on January 11, 2011 at 7:54 am

    Hilarious! Your desk looks marvelous darling! And you're right, my desk was not *quite* as bad… but because I continued to lose important pieces of paper in the waves of paper, it was nagging me! But how embarrassing that there was a wine bottle on my desk that I did not see until I posted the photo??

  14. notshoppingattarget on January 11, 2011 at 11:42 am

    wait kate, where did all of that stuff go? did you put that on my desk? pretty sure you did.

  15. kate hopper on January 11, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Ha! Kara, I LOVE that there was a wine bottle on your desk. And notshoppingattarget, I um, don't know what you're talking about. Really.