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The surprising joy of personalising your work desk

The surprising joy of personalising your work desk



I came into my first (and current) job with a lot of wariness: Not wanting to rub people the wrong way as the newbie; careful to self-censor my random quirks for fear of judgement. Just treat it as a workplace and be as professional as you can, was my guiding thought for the first few months.

With time, however, a welcoming team sets you at ease, and the freedom to express yourself comes out a bit more. More than two years in, I finally did it: Bought a desk shelf, and fully embraced the thought of personalising my workspace.

(Again, a caveat before we proceed - I am new to this entire work desk decoration situation, and am not putting pressure on myself to craft the world’s best personalised workspace, or clinch any design awards in the office. Please pardon me if all this sounds very trivial.)

02.thumb.jpg.9bc90e53badc79c5bbd00237649c5694.jpgCleaning - and building - up

Even in our old office, I always had little bits lying around on my desk - a 1:32 diecast of the Volkswagen up! bought in 2019, to commemorate my first (and only - thus far) Frankfurt Motorshow visit - then as we moved here, other items like a small plushie of the ebi fry character in San-X’s Sumikkio Gurashi series, gifted to me by family. But for fear of my desk growing messier than it already was, never dared to venture further out in adding more items on. 

I don’t recall now when it was that the urge to simultaneously clean things up (sorry Des/Denise) while entertaining myself a bit more kicked in - but right at the dawn of 2024 (my Lazada order history indicates 5 January), I finally decided to get a shelf to house everything. 

Things have been changing - I’m still figuring out what items I want to see daily - but following a team bonding event that we had over this past week, a new tenant resides on the shelf’s top floor: A terrarium of my own making, which stares right back at me now whenever I need a break from my screen. 

08.thumb.jpg.bade03cf1b63612d5ec578511d87e0c8.jpgFlanking the other end of my designated work area, bits of what put a smile on my face have also gotten stuck into my name tag - my participant number for an unforgettable media event last year, a picture of a car I adore, and a card from a good friend that… basically calls out who I am as a person. (Here, I have no shame.) 

All of this is still work in progress, naturally. But anyhow, the point is that injecting my work space with small yet significant parts of my soul has brought me invaluable joy, even if the act doesn’t seem significant in itself. 


Unsurprisingly, this topic has gotten its fair share of discourse online too. The office is inherently an un-private, and perhaps rather intrusive space - you’re basically at the beck and call of whatever or whoever requires your attention in a professional setting. In counteraction, a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology noted that “higher personalisation at work reduced the adverse effect of the experience of low levels of privacy on emotional exhaustion”. 

On a less verified internet-sleuth level, however, I personally enjoy this take by a commenter on Quora, who singles out notions of control, connection and consistency as some of the driving forces behind why we like to personalise our workspaces: 

“Personal objects give a sense of control in an environment where people often complain of having less and less of it. They offer permanent connection to familiar and reassuring symbols in an environment which increasingly pushes people apart even though they might be in the same open-plan office. Their presence provides consistency in an environment where unpleasant surprises can occur at any time.”

I’d like to think that specific material objects - when carefully chosen - can be powerful storytellers for their curators too. 

07.thumb.jpg.0102ab2526713d03bfc67551d0d19468.jpgWhen I look at the POPMART toy, for instance - permanently frozen in a stance of faux-attack - I think of last year’s roundtable of  blind-box opening at Christmas dinner with my siblings and cousins; laughing at the corner of my sister’s place over red wine and potato chips, while singing along to 2000s mandopop hits.

The single, isolated hour of terrarium-making also counts itself as one of my more treasured memories over this tiring week - and I have no doubt the feeling of warmth it gives me will continue to wear well in the months to come. 

Something to hold onto

No matter how much we love our jobs, the undeniable fact remains that work will often confuse and frustrate. In turn, any source of joy we can hold onto - whether small or big; human or inanimate - is of inexplicable comfort. Things don’t have to be static either. As life brings with it routine changes, so too, will new objects of joy fall into frame. In turn, embracing this state of flux - knowing you are in full control - is exciting. 

Among the decisions I know I will not regret from 2024, buying this shelf will most certainly be one of them. But for now, I think I’ll get cracking with narrowing down its next tenant…



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