Monday, May 18, 2015

The Tidy Up

I am the person at my workplace who ends up doing the stuff that no one else will do.  Toilet clogged?  Call Spark!  Computer won't go?  Call Spark!  Ants in the kitchen?  Call Spark!

Colleague died, leaving 1.5 offices full of stuff to be sorted through?  Call Spark!

How did this fellow manage to fill two desks with his stuff?  He had one office for seeing clients (the tidy office) and one in the staff-only area (the messy office).  Although frankly, by my standards, they were both pretty disorganized.  (No offence to his memory.  He was a brilliant but absent-minded-professor type of guy.)

Technically I could have delegated the task of going through his belongings, but honestly I didn't want to.  Not because it's a laugh riot digging through a dead guy's desk, but because I wanted it to be done right.  And you know what they say about that.

It's a weird experience, to go through a colleague's personal stuff when you weren't that close in the land of the living.  I mean, we worked together for 12 years, but that's different from handling his half-used underarm deodorant.  (Right Guard spray, in a gold can.)  Definitely different from packing up his spare pair of well-worn shoes into a box together with framed photos of his grand-children.  I feel like I'm getting one last weird chance to know him better, after he's already gone.

I can see the layers of his forgetfulness in his desk drawers; read how he asked his administrative assistant for some blank file folders, transcription request forms, and mailing labels every few months.  The strata of office supplies are separated by random accumulations of industry journals and sales flyers.  Eventually, when the last lot of unused supplies was fully buried, he'd go get a fresh batch.  I stacked them in growing piles on the desk as I proceeded with the excavation.

His most-hoarded office supplies were binder clips of all sizes, and stacks upon stacks of 1.5" x 2" sticky notes in every colour of the rainbow.  I picture him stashing them deliberately, like a squirrel burying nuts for winter.  I retrieved at least 150 binder clips and dozens upon dozens of stickies from his two desks and returned them to the office supplies shelves.  We won't have to order more of those for quite some time.

There are still a few cupboards and three drawers of a large filing cabinet to be gone through.  I have been at the task for a week, but I can only manage around 90 minutes per day.  It's not that it's emotional, although it is a bit, but it's just a lot of decision-making.  After staring at the umpteenth document and trying to determine if it belongs in the shred, file, recycle, or reuse piles, my brain seizes up.

I think I will feel most sad when the job is done and all reminders of him are tidied away.  Fortunately, that doesn't need to happen for a while.  No one is in a hurry to take over his office space.  I'm going to leave his papers in the filing cabinet for a few months, to give his widow a chance to get over the worst of the shock.  Maybe I'll give her a call in the fall to ask her what she wants done with all the papers.  There is also a box of personal financial records that I stashed away where they won't be discovered by all and sundry.  I didn't read them closely, but it's nice to see that she'll be amply provided for.


DarcKnyt said...

I can think of no one better to handle such a task with dignity, grace, discretion, and respect. While I don't always agree with things being dumped on you, I think this one needed your delicate, and professional, touch.

LL Cool Joe said...

I agree with DarcKnyt. Not an easy job at all. I've been having to go through some of my Dad's drawers and cupboards and it's a very painful experience.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

A man after my own heart, you can never have enough colorful sticky notes. It's nice to know someone is respectfully sorting personal from business items.

PhilipH said...

You have a mountainous task. You describe it so well and carry it out with care and consideration.

I do not envy you in this task.

A few years ago I typed up the memoirs of Ken Whittle, a 'WOP/AG' (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) in Bomber Command of the RAF in WW2. He survived numerous crash-landings, enemy fighter attacks and the dreaded flak shells.

Many of his fellow airmen did not. And one of Ken's most emotional jobs was to sort through the personal effects of those who did not return from a mission.

He had to decide what to parcel up for the next of kin to have and what to dump in the rubbish bins. He also had to write a short note to include in the parcel for the parents or wife or other kin - and this he found the hardest of all.

Next day, Ken would have to climb aboard the Blenheim or other aircraft and face the battle again, and again ...

Many of these gallant chaps would always leave a farewell letter in their belongings in a sealed envelope, ready to be sent to their loved one(s) should they never return to base.

I'm an untidy guy, the despair of my poor wife. Nature abhors a vacuum and fills all available space. Just like me, I'm sorry to say. However, every now and then I have a 'blitz' and descend on the charity shops with anything, such as books and unwanted gadgets. The rest is binned or put in recycling bags.

I'd understand if you'd prefer not to have Phil-the-Untidy clutter up your comments so please feel free to bin this message. :-)

Jenski said...

You're such a thoughtful person! So good of you to make the time to sort through your colleagues office to make sure it is done well and considerately.

G. B. Miller said...

I remember at one of my previous stints at another state agency, I happened to peek at a lawyer's office as I was walking by (door was open).

This lawyer's office was pretty much like your colleague's untidy office by, except messier by a factor of 10.

I don't know, it seems like some truly intelligent people become hoarders extraordinaire.

Vanessa T said...

I think my husband said it best. You are the right person for this job, even though I wish it weren't a job that fell to you.

I imagine (assuming this is the same colleague who's been out for a year with illness, and if it's not, then my condolences on the loss of another co-worker) that going through things that have been sitting that long is doubly hard to go through and decipher. I think you're handling it just right - a little at a time, as you can cope with it. *hugs*