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The Surprising Health & Psychological Benefits of a Clean, Uncluttered Desk

Despite their best intentions, many workers fall prey to desk clutter. And from behind their towering paper piles, old coffee mugs, outdated manuals and the swarms of unused office supplies, they usually shout out the old adage that "a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind" in self-defense.

In truth, most of us sense that a cluttered desk actually leads to disorganization, a bad impression on coworkers, internal feelings of disarray and a cluttered mind. What's surprising, though, is that a messy desk can actually make you sick -- and there's a new syndrome to describe it.

Some 40 percent of U.S. office workers say they're "infuriated" by a cluttered desk.

Irritable Desk Syndrome

Researchers at NEC-Mitsubishi, a maker of computer monitors, questioned 2,000 office workers and found many to be suffering from "Irritable Desk Syndrome" (IDS).

IDS is caused by working long hours at a cluttered desk, often with poor posture. The combination can lead to both physical and mental symptoms, including chronic pain, and loss of productivity. Among the survey's most telling findings were:

  • 67 percent said they are more tied to their desks than they were two years ago.

  • 40 percent said they were "infuriated by too much clutter and paper on their desks but could not be bothered to do anything about it."

  • 35 percent said they had back or neck pain because they knowingly had poor posture or an awkward position while at their desk.

Said the study's lead author and "deskologist" Nigel Robertson, a consultant at Open Ergonomics, "What most individuals fail to realize is that desk symptoms typically escalate very quickly, from persistent discomfort to chronic pain, which can end a person's career and reduce their quality of life in a wide range of ways."

Not to mention that working at a cluttered desk adds extra stress to your life and can eat up valuable time.

The average desk has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table.

"Studies have shown that the person who works with a messy desk spends, on average, one and a half hours per day looking for things or being distracted by things. That's seven and a half hours per week," says time management speaker and consultant Dr. Donald E. Wetmore,

And employers are noticing. According to a study by DYMO Corp., which surveyed 2,600 bosses worldwide, 51 percent said they think there's a link between an employee's organizational skills and their job performance. Which is understandable when you factor in their finding that every document lost by an employee (due to a cluttered desk or otherwise) costs the company $120.

"Like going on a date, first impressions at the office are often lasting," says Deborah Wiener, an interior designer and owner of Designing Solutions in Maryland. "We also make quick judgments about work relationships. You want your desk to say: 'I mean business and I'm ready to move up.'"

Desks Can Hold More Bacteria Than Toilets

Aesthetics and personal well-being aside, a messy desk can be home to much more than your old files and memos: your desk may hold 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat.

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This was the finding of a three-month study funded by The Clorox Company. Other findings included:

  • While typing, your hands may be surrounded by 10 million germs.

  • Telephones had the highest levels of germs, followed by desks, water fountain handles, microwave door handles and computer keyboards.

  • In areas where desks weren't cleaned with disinfecting wipes, bacteria levels increased between 19 percent and 31 percent daily.

  • Toilet seats had the lowest levels of bacteria.

"For bacteria, a desk is really a laptop of luxury," says Charles Gerba, PhD, an environmental virologist with the University of Arizona. "They can feast all day from breakfast to lunch and even dinner."

"We don't think twice about eating at our desks, even though the average desk has 100 times more bacteria than a kitchen table and 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet," says Gerba. "Without cleaning, a small area on your desk or phone can sustain millions of bacteria that could potentially cause illness."

How to De-Clutter and Really Clean Your Desk

  • Take a few minutes each day to go through papers. Throw away those you don't need and file those you do.

  • Invest in color-coded file folders and bins to organize important papers.

  • Keep your desk (and the rest of your office) clean using the highly recommended PerfectClean Cloths and Dusters. Unlike ordinary cleaning rags that simply push dirt around, PerfectClean's revolutionary ultramicrofiber construction enables them to reach deep into microscopic crevices and remove everything in their path: all forms of dirt, dust, hair, dander, and the biological contaminants too small to see with the naked eye. That is because at an astonishing 3 microns, the ultramicrofibers are even smaller than most bacteria (each cleaning cloth contains over 300 miles of actual cleaning surface!).

  • Put only the bare necessities on your desktop. Keep everything else out of sight in drawers or cabinets.

  • Personalize your desk with (a few) personal items such as a desk lamp, tasteful personal photos or a plant. Devote one desk drawer to your personal items like snacks, breath mints, a hairbrush and photos.

Recommended Reading

Dangerous Toxic Fumes from Six Everyday Products that You Most Want to Avoid

12 Signs it is REALLY Time to Leave Your Job


BBC News: Cluttered Desks Make Workers Ill

Forbes: Desk for Success

Top Five Time Management Mistakes

Don't Let Messy Habits Hinder Career Success

Messy Desks Breed More Than Dust Bunnies

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