Messy Desk No More

In May 2019, Shipshape Solutions and Workspace Interiors, Inc. partnered together for the Messiest Desk in the Chamber Contest. Anyone whose business was a current Kingsport Chamber member and needed organizing help and new office equipment was encouraged to apply. The winner would receive 8 hours of free organizing services and up to $1,000 value of workplace tools. Our goal was to transform a messy office with suboptimal equipment into an organized, comfortable space that lends itself to efficient work. We are happy to introduce our contest winner and to highlight her story.

Our contest winner was Sandy Vowell, Hillhouse Creative’s Expediter and Quality Control Director. Hillhouse Creative is the oldest graphic design and marketing firm in the Tri-Cities region and serves hundreds of diverse businesses, individuals, and organizations. Sandy’s job includes estimates, purchase orders, invoicing, researching and pricing specialty products, wayfinding signage, filing, and general support duties; basically everything except the design work. We could see from her application that Sandy was a perfect candidate. “My job has always been “part time” but even with increasing my hours, the amount of INCOMING always exceeds my OUTgoing! My priorities sometimes are overlooked in the piles of paper. I am sure that if my desk was not messy, my mind would be less cluttered and my stress level would go down.” 

Laurie Harvey (organizer and business partner) and I met with Sandy first to talk about her challenges, plan our approach, and brainstorm ideas for new office tools. In the first organizing session, we started by removing anything from her office that belonged elsewhere in the office or wasn’t needed. To work towards the goal of an uncluttered desktop, we removed everything and only replaced items on the desktop that had “earned their spot” through daily use. We spent a lot of time talking about setting up and maintaining regular systems for frequent tasks. As a person who prefers digital solutions, I suggested switching from her current system (sticky notes scattered around the office) to a digital list. Sandy really liked using sticky notes that she could throw away once the task was completed, but she needed a way to organize them. We decided that she could try putting the notes on a white board in categories and order of priority. With this system, she could easily move the notes around and could still throw them away when a task was completed. She needed a way for coworkers to give her papers that needed attention without them getting lost in the piles of paper. 

After our first session, we identified several needs to suggest to Workspace Interiors. Sandy needed more desktop workspace, a magnetic white board, several paper trays, and more storage space. Adam Gray, Jody Cowart, and Deb Browning from Workspace Interiors came to meet with Sandy and me, take photos and measurements, talk about her needs, and brainstorm possible solutions. After our meeting, they designed two options for an improved workspace. Sandy chose one of the designs, and the products were ordered and installed. 

Workspace Interiors provided new storage solutions and work tools by Steelcase, tailored specifically to Sandy’s needs, and to help her easily manage her day-to-day projects in a personalized, organized, and aesthetically-pleasing manner. These solutions included: 1) Slatwall™: Allows the user to configure worktools for a customized “fit” and provides fingertip reach of pens, papers and projects and allows work surfaces to remain clear by using vertical space to get day-to-day clutter off the desk. 2) Premium Edge Whiteboard: Lets the user put their personal notes where they can see them and prioritize them in a clutter-free manner. 3) Payback™: Cabinet for “out of sight” storage of binders and personal items. We amplified her workspace by creating a U-shape design instead of her existing L-shape, thus creating extended desk surface and more room behind the desk. 4) FYI™ Adjustable Monitor Arm: Elevates monitors to an adjustable ergonomic height and allows open, usable work surface below.

After the new tools were installed, we had our second organizing session where we replaced everything into the new design, which perfectly incorporated all of Sandy’s needs. The whiteboard was perfect for her sticky notes. The letter trays were ideal for coworkers to drop off paperwork. The additional desktop surface gave Sandy more space to spread out while working on projects. The additional storage cabinet allowed her to store many of the items that had been cluttering the desktop into a space that is easy to access but not taking up valuable real estate. 

 The best part of this whole process is reading Sandy’s description of the difference that the new tools and organizing made. 


“I felt rushed, frantic, out of control because of my messy desk. Things came in, I pushed it aside; only immediate work was on the top and taken care of, while other things remained buried. Projects that were certainly part of my “to do” list, but not urgent, were so lost in my stacks, that I would only remember them when I had lost something and had to search for it!

Our Vice-President/Creative Director sent me the link about the contest, and I never hesitated to enter. Because what a great prize! Working with a professional organizer, getting a new viewpoint from the premier workspace designers… it was a brief moment of transparency for great reward.

After the clearing of the space – the hard part of deciding what needed to be there started. And the harder part of thinking about why I did what I did, and how I worked. They say that nothing worth doing is ever easy, and it did take me a while.”


“But today I come into my office, and I can BREATHE!!! I have space to spread, because I’m a spreader. My in-trays are working well so our team can get what they need from me. And my magnetic/white/post-it board is super awesome – I can look over there and quickly check status PLUS I can throw away sticky notes that are done. I LOVE IT! This entire experience has been so worth the time and the introspection.”

I’m so thankful for Workspace Interiors for their wonderful partnership in this project. I’m especially grateful to Sandy for being such a good sport throughout this process and for her courage to not only enter the contest but to do the work necessary for such a big change. Helping my clients achieve transformations like this is truly the most rewarding part of my job. 

For more information and photos of this project view

-Article by Angie Hyche, Shipshape Solutions