The Scroll: The Perils of Summer Cleaning

Kris Bunton was an inspiration to me.

In June, I walked into the office of the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. I thought I had entered the portals of Architectural Digest. The mood was soothing. The plants were healthy. The desktop was tidy. Heck, there were no papers on the floor. I was shocked. Truly, I had never thought about the possibility of an academic office looking like that. It was a revelation.

Dr. Susan Alexander

I went back to my own space. Now bear in mind that for the past five years, I have lived in the shadow of Nancy Zingale, previous holder of my current position and professor emerita of political science. Nancy’s theory of organization was spatial/archeological. Stacks of papers were between ankle and knee high, depending on the severity of the issue. But Nancy could find anything, anytime, just by reaching into the appropriate depth in the stack. My own level of clutter looked modest by Zingale standards. My ability to find items is unfortunately lackluster in comparison to Nancy’s, but that’s another story.

I’ve had other role models in clutter, notably Dave Jones in the Economics Department when I came to St. Thomas. Dave’s stacks eventually extended past his office door and into the hallway – at least until the fire marshal came to call. With the fire marshal’s cautionary tale in mind, I never dared aspire to that level.

But with Kris as my role model, I had a new vision for my environment. So, in the dog days of summer I began my renovation. I tossed paper. I dusted. I sneezed. I threw out matter that had not seen the light of day since I moved in. I threw out the half-dead plant.

Then there were the treasures I found when emptying file cabinets. Among these was a photo of my Peaches, the smartest dog in the world. Peaches has been gone for 15 years; nonetheless, the Department of Dog Advocacy remembers her with love.

I found gadgets whose uses were but dim memories. There was one odd little thingamabob with a button. After fingering it awhile, I punched the button. Then, I remembered – it was my panic button! At one time, there were threatening situations in the office and Public Safety installed an emergency warning system. The officer who showed up to rescue me was very nice.

Apparently, summer is the time for cleaning. When I went to Joe Kreitzer’s office for a meeting, Joe told us that he, too, was cleaning up and then offered Girl Scout cookies he had found in a musty file drawer. To the best of my memory cookie sales had occurred about five months previously. At least, I assume they were this year’s cookies. I hope the Girl Scouts put in plenty of preservatives.

The academic year is underway and my office does look better. It’s not up to Bunton standards, but on the plus side, everyone does notice. Starting from a low level of expectations is always an advantage.