Clearing House…

I was in work on Tuesday last week. The main R&D building in Sandwich is being closed this month and I had to vacate my office. I knew this moment was coming one way or another for a few months and so had been trying to throw out any clutter that I knew I wouldn’t need going forward. And there certainly was a lot of that!

This week then, it was mainly personal possessions and mementos – pictures off the walls, photographs on the notice board. My collection of coffee mugs, books and even some handbooks from various training courses I have attended. My son came in with me – it was his last day of school vacation – partly for physical support (I had a lot of books) but also for moral support (I had no idea how I would feel).

My office is now empty. I have a desk (with computer, monitor and phone) ready in the building assigned to house the Sandwich ‘go-forward’ organisation, and I have a few more books, photographs and pictures in my office at home.

In reality cleaning out my office at work was a much more rewarding and satisfying activity than I thought possible…let alone likely. Everything I boxed, bagged or threw out evoked a memory or two, but all those memories either brought a smile to my face or involved me telling my son the associated story…and sometimes both! The simple process of clearing out my clutter felt good.

And as I was driving home, I recalled conversations I had with colleagues who had left Sandwich but who had come back to visit. It was amazing how many times – when asked what they had been doing since they stopped working – that the answer involved spending time clearing out a garage or basement at home. The first couple of occasions I just assumed this had to be a coincidence. But then I realised that almost everyone was describing the same basic activity. 

I was left with the impression that there had to be some connection between the physical clearing out of clutter (whether it’s from an office, basement or garage) and the mental clearing of the mind. I assume it has to be something about preparing (physically and mentally) to move on – to be somewhere else…or to do something different…or even to be someone different. It’s as if getting rid of clutter – especially clutter from the past – allows us to be more open to new opportunities coming our way.

And being more open to new opportunities certainly sounds like a good thing – a good thing for us individually and also for us organisationally. So at this point I found myself wondering whether this feeling of liberation and openness can be achieved at other times. Wondering whether it is a purely personal thing or whether it can indeed be experienced by an organisation? 

Would it be possible to deliberately set about creating this sense of openness? What would be the ‘clutter’ within an organisation that could be cleared out to generate that general sense of openness? Hopefully it’s not just people? What about projects? Ironically it sometimes seems easier for us to let people go than it is to give up on projects. But clearing out clutter projects – projects that are not going anywhere and that are burning resource – would definitely be of high value intrinsically let alone how it may help in terms of opening our minds to change and opportunity.

I know it’s hard. But it’s worth it – the idea of clearing my office was hard, but I left that day feeling like I had wings…

Cheers

Steve

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About Steve Street

I have worked in R&D within the Pharmaceutical industry for over 29 years. Up until April 2012 all of my career had been with one company, but that has now changed. I left that company and took up a new role on May 1, 2012 - still very much within the Pharmaceutical industry and again based in the UK. I have been blogging every week now for over 9 years but only on an external site since January 2012. Email updates of the blogs can be requested using the ‘follow’ option within Wordpress. The blogs are only ever my personal view of what I see, think and feel. I am delighted if you agree and find value; happy if you disagree with my views and overjoyed if you feel motivated to comment. Most of all I am simply grateful that you read. Cheers Steve
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12 Responses to Clearing House…

  1. Briggs says:

    Nice post, Steve. Quite timely for many. You ask “Would it be possible to deliberately set about creating this sense of openness? What would be the ‘clutter’ within an organisation that could be cleared out to generate that general sense of openness?” The ‘clutter’ in on organization is often its management and its requested ‘dog and pony’ shows — which can clearly be cleared out to provide openness. It is ironic that leaders and managers are often the ones who take the least amount of time to pause, reflect, and make space for openness. I am reminded of the following quote from Peter Koestenbaum: “Remember, it is not that we have so much to do that we cannot find time to think and act as leaders; on the contrary, it is because we do not think and act as leaders that we have so much to do.”

  2. Mike Yeadon says:

    Hey Steve – good to see you blogging ‘beyond our walls’ 🙂
    I even found time to read it. On the clearing-out experience, I shared much of what you wrote.
    I wonder if de-cluttering only feels good if one is really ready to do it? and, that the same may be true for organisations (great thought by the way).
    And also wonder if, like me, organisations retain some functionless clutter because in part it defines what one is, was or wants to remember being? I did.
    If the cost to do so is low enough, it might be important to do that.
    Thanks,
    Mike

  3. Ron Wester says:

    Well done, Steve! I had a similar experience. Although I approached the task reluctantly, I found clearing my office the perfect process to enrich the good experiences and put in proper perspective the others. Not surprisingly, I then found that working a week or so in a sterile environment made me all the more excited about the next step in my career!
    all the best,
    Ron

  4. davidranderson says:

    Hi Steve.

    I went through the same process myself in 2010 and I’m doing it again this year. Actually, I took it one step further. I cleaned out my office right after last February’s announcements. I figured that no matter what would happen, I would have a new job (within Pfizer or not) in the future. It was a way to prepare for and look forward to new things. I’ve since moved my office twice and I’m pretty much down to just my laptop.

    This is really a “Work in Progress” phenomenon. The act of getting rid of the clutter is getting rid of the half finished things; the ideas we had, but never acted on. All the things that we always meant to get around to, but never did. We can get rid of all that “work in progress.” It makes us hungry for something new.

    I wonder how the open office space will work in this regard? With few personal things in one’s workspace, less clutter, will they feel more open to new opportunities? Is it good for an organization for its people to feel less “rooted” in the company?

    -Dave

    • Steve Street says:

      Dave

      Really interesting questions – and I don’t know is of course the answer. But you are right that as we move to less offices and more open plan then the ‘office clutter’ will become more of a thing of the past. Your comment also reminded me of being a lab chemist. Whenever I had a reaction that didn’t work I would shove it to the back of my fume cupboard and leave it in some strange hope that it may work…or somehow miraculously clean itself up!

      Cheers

      Steve

  5. Megan Robinson says:

    I was thinking some very similar to Dave. Having been in open plan for almost 8 months now, I have no belongings. If I were to leave Pfizer tomorrow I would have nothing to clear or empty except my single drawer file. Would that leave the same sense of closure, of exiting, that an office clearing would? I think not, as one could simply slip off into the sunset. I’m not sure whether that creates a feeling of openness and flexibility, or whether it would make transitions feel harded without that “clearing clutter closure”.

    • Steve Street says:

      Megan
      Many thanks – I do agree that the move to Open Plan is definitely a different environment for us all…or at least for most of us. And you are right taht this would suggest ‘easier’ moving…very interesting
      Cheers
      Steve

  6. Brianna says:

    I don’t generally comment but I gotta state thanks for the post on this great 1 : D.

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