A desk's clutter is never cleared

My desk runneth over. It's a lovely desk, really, with a view from the window behind it. It's long and wide, with enough drawers to hold everything I need when I'm writing. I haven't seen it for weeks -- months, perhaps. It's been engulfed by a flood of THINGS. It's a compelling demonstration of the Universal Law of Flat Surfaces: Any Flat Surface attracts THINGS to it. A work space, such as a desk, is particularly attractive. Other Flat Surfaces, such as tops of record players or floors, don't hold quite so much promise.

It's cleaning time -- and sorting/filing/pitching-out time.

Right off, it's obvious I have to clear the kitchen table for a place to sort those THINGS from my desk as they get moved. This table is another small challenge. It has the usual collection of trivets, sugar bowl, salt and pepper shakers, but like any Flat Surface, it's been mysteriously gathering THINGS of its own since breakfast.

Let's see. Two ``Sesame Street'' dolls, who had breakfast with the toddler. A pair of scissors and today's paper, for clippings. A backpack? My teen-ager must be cleaning his room. Car parts, draining, after my husband soaked them clean. Finally, however, the table's clear. After these ``warm-up'' exercises, I'm ready for the big challenge -- the desk. There it sits, two solid feet deep in THINGS for my ``immediate attention,'' which have been convening for the last six months. The only way to do this i s to pick up an item -- any item -- from the top layer and do something with it.

First are several papers I haven't had time to read. I move them to the table and start through them, clipping, filing, stacking, and pitching. The next layer is school bulletins, left by my teen-ager for me to read. I look at them and throw them away. Progress. Wait! Didn't I just throw those out? ``Mo' fo' you, Mommy,'' the three-year-old brags. He's just ``rescued'' the bulletins from the trash.

Invitations to participate in now out-of-date limited-time offers surface. And a stack of Christmas card envelopes with address changes I'll need for next Christmas. For now, I stack these.

I find cartoons I want to save, but haven't put in a scrapbook; some recipes, ditto. They go into separate stacks on the table. And what's this? A flannel shirt? ``It needs to be mended, Mom,'' my teen-ager explains. I hold the shirt up to him and discover that he's outgrown that chore for me.

Here's my folder of writers' guidelines and an ad for a typewriter ribbon sale, good for two more days. I want to rush to the store, but I force myself to wait. I set the guidelines and the ad in more stacks on the table, adding them to the stacks of cartoons, recipes, addresses, and folders. The desk is looking better all the time.

Dinner time comes, and the table has to be cleared. Everything goes back onto the desk. ``Well,'' my husband consoles me, ``at least the mess is organized now.'' (For that, he deserves a meal of liver and peaches. It's Oscar the Grouch's favorite.)

After dinner, everything moves back onto the table. When I quit for the night, the THINGS stay on the table. The next day, breakfast is eaten, amid complaints, from the kitchen counter. I face the mess again. As I near the end of the chore, my family mysteriously disappears.

Finally, everything is sorted, classified, filed, thrown away. I flick the feather duster over that beautiful clear desktop one last time and sigh with satisfaction. I vow NOTHING will sit on that Flat Surface but what I'm working on at any given moment.

My family reappears, smiling smugly. My husband, bursting with pride, says, ``We found you the perfect gift.'' Solemnly, he presents a package. The boys hover eagerly as I unwrap it. It's a marble plaque with the message ``Don't you DARE put another thing on this desk!''

The window behind the desk makes hanging the plaque there impossible, so there that THING sits, on my desk. The Law of Flat Surfaces has triumphed again.

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