I’m contemplating an article about the relationship between being productive in scale modeling, and how clean your workbench is. What are your experiences? Do you find that a messy desk slows down your progress, or is it no big deal?
Here are a few of the responses I received.
I like to be organized. It makes me want to get back to the bench and build. I don’t like dealing with a mess. It’s not very inviting or motivating.
I have to clean my desk after each project to keep my mind straight and on task.
…a messy bench is beneficial when you enjoy conversations with model manufacturers because you can’t find the left side fuselage half and begging a new one is in order.
In my case, build frequency has no correlation to how neat or cluttered my workbench is.
A few years ago, I was busily working away on a model. I had just glued the fuselage halves together, and after setting those aside to dry… well, setting them on top of other stuff would be more like it… I looked for the sprue that had the wing parts.
I looked and looked and looked. No sprue.
I began to tear through the piles of sprues, instructions, decals, references, paint bottles, glue, sanding sticks, brushes, old kit boxes, a coffee cup or two, and even the remains of some nachos. And yet no joy – my airplane model remained wingless.
I finally realized the only place I had not looked was the trash can. So I began to dig through that.
Finally, near the bottom of the modeling waste, was the sprue I needed.
After the initial relief set in, I started to wonder “how did I think this was something to throw away?”
I began to try and reconstruct the scenario. The sprue had been in the middle of some similar sprues, from a similar kit (Yes… it was a Spitfire…). Because it was from the same manufacturer, the color of the plastic was the same. The sprues I had meant to throw away were for a kit that was finished. The parts I did not want to throw away had somehow gotten stacked into the others.
I realized I had a problem.
I was a slob modeler.
I don’t suppose I meant to start out that way. It just seemed more convenient. While my shelf and desk space was limited, the vast open stretches of air above all horizontal surfaces seemed fair game. Just stack things up. Make sure it all balanced out.
Initially, this worked well. However, as I tend to work on anywhere from four to six projects at a time, things soon got out of hand. As I piled stuff up, the usable desk space went down from about 12 square feet down to less than 1. The slightest movement out of that usable window was likely to cause a pile o’ stuff to tumble over. The piles had gotten so high that it actually began to block off the light from my desk lamps.
And the more I thought about it, I realized that all that mess brought a sense of dread. Yes, I do want to work on that kit, but it’s beneath 32 sprues, 4 boxes, 2 books, and a peanut butter sammich. (Jif, Extra Crunchy, slathered on very heavy. Because peanut butter.)
Often I’d avoid working on models altogether. Which was a problem, because I sell what I build, and my family and I depend on that side income. Nothing like a hit in the wallet to wake you up.
So I did for many modelers what was unthinkable.
I cleaned the model desk.
And I didn’t just clean it. I went through mounds of junk, throwing away items with the brutality rarely seen outside of an all-you-can-eat buffet down the street from an IPMS convention. All of those supplies that I was sure I would someday use went in the trash. Every bottle of paint was opened, and the old, dried up corpses of FS colors long past were tossed.
I also made a few purchases. A rolling plastic 3 drawer organizer for under the desk. A large shoe organizer that became a deep shelf system. A kitchen cutlery organizer that when turned on it’s side became a paint rack. More plastic drawers that could stack on top of each other were added.
By the time it was over, I had several trash bags full of junk, a solid 8 square feet of working space, all my lighting clipped up and out of the way, and everything in drawers and jars and shelves.
But How Do I Sustain The Neatness I’d Committed?
Now, I know myself. Unless I was careful, the desk would be back in the state it had been in under two weeks. So I knew I had to apply something that I was normally loathe to do.
Discipline myself to be neat.
I know, I know… it’s a radical concept. And it was hard. Very hard. (Seriously, it was…)
But I made sure I did things habitually. Using the hobby knife meant putting it back in the jar as soon as it was no longer needed. Switching from one model to the other meant placing the parts back in the box, sliding it on the shelf next to the desk, and retrieving the next kit to work on. Paints were used and put away. Brushes cleaned and set aside.
While I tolerated some general loss of neatness during any particular session, the end of the modeling day meant everything went back in its place, so the next day I had a clean workspace to start from.
And a funny thing happened.
I liked it.
More importantly, I was more productive. And happier at that productivity.
Once I got in the habit of it. it was not hard to do. In fact, the process of being neat, in overall terms, was much simpler than the process of being sloppy. Parts were not lost. Decals stayed with their models. Instructions were in their place. Paints and tools and other accoutrements of the hobby were easy to find.
Since then, I’ve refined the process a bit. I added some more shelving, found more things I could remove, and have generally looked to eliminate obstacles in the work environment that curtail the process of building, and that sour the fun.
Of course, everyone is different. Some folks like to keep it simple, working one project at a time. Things are always in place because there is only one thing. That has a beauty of its own. And I do know a few people who can ignore the chaos of clutter and just build. So I’m not saying that change will automatically bring about positive results.
Still, I’d assert that looking for ways to organize, to clean up, and to create an inviting work environment can’t hurt you, whatever your current process is.
And it does not have to be expensive. A trip to a second hand store, garage sales, kitchen stores, or a big box discount store can yield some interesting tools for organization – even if they’re not purpose built for the task.
So if you’re having trouble getting the motivation to sit down and build, or if you’re at the point I was and take your life in your own hands each time you sit down at a messy bench stacked high, trying doing the unthinkable.
You never know. You might like it. 😉
Messy desk image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Photo by Pascal from Heidelberg, Germany.