A case for being less efficient

At my day job, I have quite a few tchotchkes on my desk. I have 4 mugs (3 of which are not used for beverages), 3 vintage folding maps, 5 Star Wars things (not in including 2 of the 4 mugs), some antique letterpress blocks, pictures of my kids, cigar bands from some of my favorites, a potted succulent named Samwise, a leaf (from a walk with my wife on a lunch break), a pine cone (also from a lunch-break walk with my wife), and a rock with a fossil in it that I found at Lions Park.

I love tchotchkes. I think of them as little crumbs of joy that are sprinkled all over my desk. They make things crowded – I don’t have nearly the amount of desk space I need to do my work as efficiently as I could. And that’s kind of the point. I’ve created an environment where, in order to do that work I HAVE to do, I’m forced to interact with these things that bring me joy.

Here’s an example. You know those plastic, block-shaped paper clip holders? They have the clear plastic on the bottom and the black lid that has a round opening on top with a magnet lining the inside. This is so you can kind of just give the thing a shake and paperclips will stick to the magnet, making them instantly accessible. You don’t have to go rummaging around a drawer or reach inside a box of 100 paperclips that are stuck together. You just pick one off the magnet and you’re ready to roll.

I hate those things.

What I have on my desk instead is a mug that I bought at my favorite antique store in Illinois. I bought it just a few days before the store closed for good. It’s an old ceramic mug with a motif of a windmill on one side, and on the other, a man, who kind of resembles the Swedish Chef, smoking a calabash pipe. It caught my eye because I enjoy smoking a pipe with some aromatic tobacco. I liked the color. I liked the theme. It made me think of happy things.

This mug sits right under my computer monitor. It usually has about 15 paper clips in the bottom, and I keep a microfiber cloth for cleaning my glasses on top of those. That cloth is easily accessible, but when I need a paperclip, it’s a slightly less-efficient process. It’s by no means a laborious thing to do, of course, but it is more steps than plucking a clip off of the magnet lid.

Every time I need a paper clip, I get to pick up the mug and feel its texture and weight. The Swedish Chef doppelgänger and his pipe get a little bit closer, and I can’t help but think of Sherwood Antique Mall in Princeton, Illinois. I have to remove my microfiber cloth and dig around to get a paper clip, usually dumping out too many. Then I have to put it all back together.

This short yet slightly less efficient process brings me a little bit of joy in the midst of what would otherwise be a completely mundane and uninspiring task of getting a paperclip.

It’s a subtle reminder that life is not only about utility, it’s also about beauty.

Sometimes it’s nice to take the long way home to swing by the lake, or park farther away so you get a few more seconds of fresh air. It might be less efficient. But who says efficient is best?


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