Organizing the cockpit

After reading Michael Pollan’s “Botany of Desire” soon after it was published, I found myself hungry for more of his words. “A Place of My Own: The Education of an Amateur Builder,” in which he chronicles the process of building a one-room house for writing, was a surprising option available at the time. Reading about design and space from this unexpected source was intriguing to my organizer’s mind, and this passage in particular was the greatest takeaway in obvious and less obvious ways:

“I picture a space no bigger than it has to be, single in purpose and shipshape, with a specific, dedicated place for everything. We should think of the interior less as a room, in fact, than as a piece of furniture, or maybe a cockpit.”

– Michael Pollan

Inhabiting a space with intention and having what you need where you need it when you need it is optimal for an organized life. In collaborations with clients who seek greater efficiency and ease, my focus turns to creating a kind of mise en place that enables greater flow and functionality befitting the individual and their activities, proclivities, and goals.

Beyond agreeing with this wise reflection, I elicited an an audible “wow” to share with my husband, Sven. At last, we had a more than apt description for his  office. Ever since and with much affection, his space has been called “the cockpit.” When a computer, pen, and paper are the primary tools of your craft, not much more space is needed.


View of the cockpit the morning of this post.

Picture a “walk-in” closet that’s a whopping four by seven feet with two doors and a generous east-facing window that’s too small to capture in its entirety without a real estate photographer’s grossly distorting wide-angle lens. Welcome to the cockpit. It’s a compact personal, office, and writing room all in one. Sven loves being able to swivel around in his chair and have whatever he needs at his fingertips. Most of the time, that is.

Very often the desk of a creative person gets messy, and this is his place to make a mess. When it gets to a critical mass of mess, he is able to reset it before letting things flow once again. But there came a time some months ago when I casually inquired about the arrangement of something on one of the three shelves above the desk and how a little desktop filing system I recommended a year or more prior was working for him. His response led me to ask if he would be open to some help. After a brief pause, an affirmative response was delivered. I began with a couple of questions, and then one thing led to another.

The next day, I returned home from work to find an envelope on my desk. Inside was a thank you card with a folded piece of paper containing a typed and unsolicited testimonial.

I’m German, so I’ve always thought of myself as naturally organized. However, when I was recently trying to find a nice spot on my office shelf for a framed drawing a friend had given me for my birthday, I found myself flummoxed by the lack of an available space. As I was trying to cram it between a bunch of other stuff, Deb innocuously asked about the purpose of some of the lose items on the shelf below. Before I knew it, my desk was filled with everything from old bills to dusty CDs, expired business cards and past campaign buttons on their way to being triaged out of my life. It was actually pretty freaky, and frankly, a bit overwhelming to realize how cluttered my little cubby-hole had become, to the point of where I was simply in denial of just how much it was cramping my style.

Even though I’ve been living with Deb for 10+ years and have always admired the magic she works with her clients, this was the first time I experienced in my own body (yes, the relief was physical!) and mind just how powerful her gentle, caring and knowledgeable guidance is. This was the “aha moment” I had heard so many stories about but never thought I’d be in need of, and when it came after an hour or so of focused rummaging and rearranging, I knew right away that I too had now become “experienced.”

I’m sitting here at my newly breathing desk, marveling at the liberated spaces in front of me, weightless smile on my face, ready to tackle the tasks that matter.

This work I’m privileged to do constantly takes me into the innermost realms of peoples’ lives, their spaces, and their thought processes. I am always humbled to be invited in, and even when it’s my own husband, I, too, need to say thank you. It’s amazing to be part of and to witness your transformation.


The piece of art (a.k.a. culprit) by the incredible SF-based artist, Anselm Yew, that lead to this post.


Debra Baida is the owner of Liberated Spaces.
  1. Meg Connell

    this is awesome! love it!

  2. deb

    thanks, meg!