Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Faux Decluttering

Today's guest blogger, author Catherine E. McLean, describes her secrets on how she tames clutter in a tiny working space.

Faux Decluttering               
by Catherine E. McLean

I bet you read the title of this piece and thought, "faux" means "fake," so how does one fake decluttering? Clutter is clutter.

Okay, so we writers are sometimes packrats, if not bona fide hoarders. Especially when it comes to juicy tidbits that spark our imagination. We find research so fascinating that we make copious copies of it to keep. And we constantly hear that little devil's voice whisper into our ears, "You'll need it one day."

I am fortunate to have an office in my home. Okay, in reality, it's a glorified closet— eight feet wide by sixteen feet long. The door at the end faces a small window on the opposite wall. Yet, in this space is a big four-drawer desk, a file cabinet (vertical, four letter-sized drawers), a work table for the cutting board and typewriter, my desktop computer, its tower and monitor, two printers, and six bookshelves. My office chair has just enough room to swivel from the desk to the computer station and back. Not quite a knee-knocker turn.

Of the six bookshelves, three are a foot wide (originally they were video towers. Two were placed to form a square base against the back corner wall. One unit is fastened on top of the two, allowing for more books, and a little shelf space— for the alarm clock and Office Minions (cute knickknacks, like a space alien reading a story to a robot).

The three video units, plus the other narrow bookshelf house forty "keepers," the books on writing craft. The books are the top picks out of the four hundred that I have studied. They're handy references when a fellow writer has a question or wants a definitive source on an aspect of writing fiction.

The computer desktop was originally a kitchen countertop, one that had been ordered but, because of an error, was too short. I wasn't letting something that nice go to waste. So, I had shelf units built to the correct ergonomic height for my keyboard, which means I work comfortably at the computer for hours on end.

Those shelf units hold my enormous American Heritage Dictionary and my thesaurus, manuals for my office equipment, and boxes of clipped "settings" (scenic pictures from calendars and magazines like National Geographic). After all, a picture is worth a million words.

Also stored (that is, crammed) into my office space is my writer's "stuff." It lines the walls and tops of bookshelves. Yet, the secret to keeping my office ergonomically unfatiguing and efficient comes from a kitchen remodeling workshop I once attended. The secret is— work centers.

In essence, my office is arranged into work centers. My desk is for the business of writing. My computer station is for creating tales. Everything for the printers and printing is on the bookshelf next to the printers. I don't get out of my chair to reach the reams of paper, card stock, address labels and business card blanks, brochure papers, etc.

When I turn around from my computer, I face the largest of the bookshelves. It holds bulging three-ring binders, half have four-inch spines. Those contain my story worlds. Stacked on top of the bookcase are more binders— copied information, each one on a specific story element, to help me put the story together, revise it, do the synopsis, etc.

The space under the cutting table's legs shelters three old cardboard file drawers sitting side by side. One drawer holds the overflow from the file cabinet. Another holds clear plastic envelopes (within are hard copies of stories that came to life but are missing elements, which keeps them in limbo, at least for now).

The third file drawer holds an assortment of miscellaneous stuff— like inspirational mottoes that can be pinned on my walls. (No mottoes have to do with being neat or tidy!)

Other "work centers" include a drawer of CDs— backups of the computer's story files. You see, I don't believe in "the cloud" for backups or storage. Computers crash when least expected. Nature and hackers are a threat.

All right, I'll confess. I have an external backup drive. Trouble is, I don't trust it either.

Another work center is the vertical file cabinet. One and a half drawers house correspondence (a lot of it decades old, which I really should purge). The other drawers contain alphabetic files of information on subjects like animals, food, runes, weapons, etc. Such material brings stories to life because I can see pictures as well as read descriptions.

Now you're thinking all I've done is organize my office. No, sorry, it's still cluttered because things are stuffed, crammed, and compressed into containers, which are haphazardly stacked, shelved, or hidden in drawers.

But, you know what? That's faux decluttering at its best!

About Catherine
In addition to being a wife and mother, Catherine has ridden and exhibited Morgan Sport Horses. She is an avid clothing and costume designer, an award-winning amateur photographer, a 4-H leader, and a Red Hatter who loves bling.

Catherine lives on a farm nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains of Western Pennsylvania. In the quiet of the countryside, she writes fantasy, futuristic, and paranormal stories where a reader can escape to other worlds for adventure and romance.

Book Launch

Love, vengeance, attempted murder, and a bomb . . .  No reason to panic.

Join Catherine for an online Release Day Celebration at the HEARTS AKILTER BLOG,  1-5 p.m. EST on August 5, 2015.

Participate in the Release Day Celebration and get a chance to win a $50 gift card giveaway and other prizes. See the Release Day Celebration page for more information.


  1. Thrilled to see MANY GENRES on the "keepers" shelf, Catherine.

    Great article. Congratulations on your upcoming release!!

  2. Thanks for having me visit today!


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