A few weeks ago a coworker asked me if we could trade work cubicles. The coworker who asked if we could trade spaces is in a small, cramped cubicle and because she does a lot of printing she’s in there with at least three different printers. But I have, or rather had, a pretty large cubicle that, in spite of being away for almost all of the last three years, I’m still pretty attached to. It has, or rather had, more than two decades of accumulated stuff, including pictures, frisbees, a Dalek, a Mark Twain statue, books, fun quotes I’d printed and stuck to the walls, the obligatory Far Side cartoons also stuck to the walls, and various other bits of detritus.
So I had to stop and think very carefully for about thirty seconds before I said, “Sure, of course!” As long as I have a place for my stuff, since I’m gradually reintegrating back into office life, I’m fine with downsizing. Or rather I was fine with downsizing.
While doing some preparing to move my boss sent me a message that said, in essence, “Everything you have in the office needs to go.”
That was a shock. I felt a little relief that it wasn’t just me. Downsizing is happening all over the office as some people have settled in to working exclusively from home. Another coworker permanently telecommutes from Cleveland. And it’s not even Cleveland, Tennessee. She’s in Ohio, on the edge of Lake Erie.
Even before the pandemic my job had become more about pushing electrons than papers but there were still advantages to having my own space in the office. When people dropped by, especially new people, they got an idea of who I am. We might connect over some shared interests outside of work.
Some people are comfortable doing all their work from home. They should absolutely be allowed to keep doing that. I’m not one of them, though. I miss face-to-face interactions, even if they’re still conducted with masks and social distancing. Someone might see the King Kong poster in my office and say, “Hey, that’s my favorite movie,” and, for me, that helped make our work-related interactions a little easier.
So did feeling like my work cubicle was a little bit of home-away-from-home. I have a home workspace but it’s also where I like to do non-work stuff—writing and reading and other creating. I never realized before that having some of home at work made it easier to keep work life and home life separate. Now it feels like there’s too much overlap.
For three years people I work with and I talked about what it would be like when we came back. Now I feel like there is no going back. There’s home, there’s work, and there’s the extra effort of keeping them apart.
Not even a picture of your dogs?
I have pictures of the dogs on my computer so that’s my way of compensating.
Oh, it’s going to be hard if they make me take down my cube debris. And they might. Like you, I want my cube to be an expression of me. And my stuff. I do love stuff.
I have a whole box of stuff from several jobs back, upstairs in the attic. I just need less of everything, in general.
Yeah, downsizing is something I really need to do at home, but I keep coming back to this idea that my work space–and I’m talking about my day job–needs to have elements of self-expression too. It needs to have something of me because, while it’s important to me to be good at my job, I don’t want to be defined by my job. Having some stuff that says “This is who I am” is how I anchor myself.
When we were told to work from home, I set up a separate work space away from my writing and reading space after a couple of weeks. I couldn’t stand having the two in the same place. When I finally packed up my office, it was really hard–I’d had it for almost five years and I had a lot of personal touches in it, but I put some of them in my home office space and it helped a little. Hope you find a happy balance!
There’s got to be a happy balance and I think one of the things that helps, aside from having some personal touches in my home work space, is I also use my home work space for writing and creative stuff–the things that are just me. I can put the work computer to one side and write in one of my journals, or just read, and have some tea or some coffee. Maybe something a little stronger. And I always have a dog nearby. Something I never had at the office.
Chris, I’ve always thought it sad that college instructors had to carry their teaching stuff into a bare and basic room for their class before leaving for another instructor to use. So impersonal. Efficient, but impersonal. I guess that same strategic yet austere philosophy is expanding to other work spaces. 🙁 Mona
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Mona, it’s sad that college instructors have to use bare and basic rooms–I know at the university where I work they do–but they also have their own private offices. I’ve been in a lot of college instructors’ offices and they’ve all been distinctively and individually decorated, usually with things that reflect their specialty–anthropology professors have small works of art from various cultures, science professors have periodic tables and specimen bottles–but also funny, often weird touches that reflect the range of their interests. And they have office hours where they invite students in. Those spaces are one of the perks of a career in academia.
I feel for you, Chris. Also, I’ve been told I need to move out of my office of 11 years and move in with another social worker who is very territorial. I’m wondering if there’s going to be space for my stuff, which includes artwork patients have given me over the years. I’m downsizing but I want to hold on to some things. I guess we’ll all do the best we can.
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Downsizing is always difficult and so is dealing with territorial people, but I’ve always admired your strength, and your kindness, which is part of your strength, so I know you’ll find a place for the stuff that means the most to you.