Personal, Not Perfect
March 26th, 2010

It’s around this time of year that Pottery Barn catalogs become dangerous for me.  I’m already in a spring cleaning mindset, and all of those symmetrically fluffed throw pillows and effortlessly organized home offices have me aching for such a zen-like space of my own. 

My desk itself is lovely.  Solid hardwood from Crate and Barrel and a hutch with two drawers and a cubby.  But recently I’ve been unable to appreciate it.  Over the past several weeks (okay, months) it has taken on a life of its own.  Or rather, it’s the sundry clutter upon it that has taken on a life of its own; the desk is an innocent bystander.  Current resident offenders?  IEP’s baby book that I don’t know quite where to store.  At least a dozen unspent gift cards stuffed into an envelope.  My baptismal records from the church I grew up in for the day when I finally and formally join the church we’ve been attending weekly for the past four years.  A horseshoe from my now-retired show mare that was given to me for luck on the eve of my wedding.  The reminder card for my upcoming dental appointment.  Hartmann luggage locks that I have never used.  A coffee mug peace offering from the St. Regis hotel in Shanghai after they ruined my favorite silk sweater.  A box of business cards from a job I haven’t had since 2007 that I am now using one-by-one as bookmarks.  And the list goes on.    

In the face of such disorder you can understand why Pottery Barn photography can easily become quicksand to me.  Before I know it I am sucked in, debating between colors named Wheat and Lemongrass.  I envision myself breezing in and out of our study, immediately zoning in on the exact sheaf of paper I needed because it was properly tucked away in an attractively labeled file.  (In these scenes in my head there is always sunlight streaming through the windows and I am always wearing a white linen tunic and tortoise shell glasses.) 

These visions seep from my brain and down to my fingertips where I skillfully dog-ear catalog pages and circle particular sku numbers.  I want linen-covered inboxes.  I want a cork board with tidy hanging folders.  I want perfectly arranged family photos in vintage silver frames.  I want a muted color palette that evokes both peace of mind and productivity.  I look at the scenes in these pages and I think, “I could live there.  That could be me!”

And this is the exact moment when a career in marketing can take the bloom right off the rose. 

“That’s exactly what you’re supposed to think,” my professional self tells me.  “They want you to put yourself in that scene.  They want you to believe that it suits you so that you will jump online and order each item in that picture.  They’ve made every room in the entire catalog detailed enough to seem homey but generic enough to appeal to you and every other 30-something woman in America.”

Professional Me can be a real drag sometimes.

Nevertheless my wheels are spinning.  One word from Professional Me’s little diatribe sticks in my head.  Generic.  That word stings.  I want, so much, not to be generic.  I want to be interesting and engaging.  I want to be unique and colorful.  I want to be quirky and idiosyncratic.  I do not want to be generic.

Wheels continue to spin.  The random bits of untended mail – file or toss.  The gift card envelope doesn’t need to be lingering about – it can go in a draw somewhere.  Same for the luggage locks.  But the St. Regis coffee mug?  It reminds me of the completely divine stay I had there; and of how, strangely, the coffee mug (which now holds my pens and pencils) was a trade up from that sweater (which would long have gone out of style by now).  The horseshoe?  It reminds me of the years I spend riding competitively and the passion I had for my firey mare; and of the thoughtfulness of my parents to give it to me as a wedding gift – a double entendre universally symbolizing luck, and serving as a unique talisman of my past.  Also on my desk sits a small black and white print of GAP’s and my engagement photo that I love for both its poignancy and its simplicity.

After inventorying all of the items strewn about my desk I come to a certain realization.  Some of those things aren’t just things.  They are experiences and memories.  They are moments translated into something tangible.  And they are utterly and exclusively mine; representations of my life and character.  They will never appear in any catalog layout.  They are far too unique, far too intimate, and as I think about it, not at all generic.  That’s the dangerous thing about perfection.  It begs us to purge the imperfect.  But with the imperfect comes the personal.  And with the personal comes the person. 

I will clean out my desk this weekend.  But it won’t be in search of a catalog-worthy image.  It will be in search of my own image.  I want my desk to look like me.  At the moment, any sense of Gale has been obscured by clutter.  But shortly I will be visible there again.  My desk will not be zen-like perfection.  But it will be mine.

6 Responses to “Personal, Not Perfect”

  1. Nicki Says:

    Oh, Gale! It is good you cannot see my desk. I need to stop reading blogs – which I am sadly behind on reading – and start working. Not sure who would work from this desk, though. Me!

  2. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I love this. Because it reminds me that there is some method to the madness, that there is a sense of true identity in the chaos. My desk is also strewn with bits of me – including two little rocks that say Luck and Wisdom that a certain friend of mine realized meant more… I think that all of us get sucked into the catalog vision of clean lines and clarity, but real life has more going on – and thankfully so. Through the items of our lives, we wade and smile and realize just who it is we are.

    Yet another bright post.


  3. Anne Says:

    Well, you know how I feel about clutter…and this is exactly why. Some if it is a reflection of you.

  4. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    Umm…Gale? Is that your home office in the picture? Because if it is, then I am going to stop drooling over the Pottery Barn catalog and make your office my new inspiration.

  5. Gale Says:

    Kristen – not by a mile. I’ve done the initial cleaning up and it looks so much better. But there’s still aesthetic work to be done.

  6. becca Says:

    Yes, embrace your clutter! As much as the clutter in my office/kitchen/bedroom/family room/bathroom drives me NUTS… it’s me. You would know me very quickly if you were to glance at my clutter because the things I keep tell little stories about me and what makes up my and my family’s life. I could do with a few LESS memories but I just can’t let them go… because they all mean something to me!

    And I’m the same with my marketing brain. I analyze to death everything. Every commercial, catalog, in store display, brochure…I’ve got it ALL figured out! :)