Can Smoky Plastic Letter Trays Make You Insane?

Can smoky plastic letter trays make you insane?

By Lisa Earle McLeod

See Jane. See Jane run. See Jane work. See Jane slowly go insane as she toils away in a drab, anonymous office, chained to her brown laminate desk, with only a flickering strip of fluorescent light to keep her awake as she sorts through an endless pile of bedraggled manila file folders.

Why are most offices so ugly? You get all dressed up for work, choosing the perfect pink lipstick or your favorite nautical-inspired tie. Yet you arrive at your office and are immediately surrounded by a sea of gray metal filing cabinets and nubby, beige-fabric cubicle dividers. The only indication that you’re an actual human (and not a clock-punching drone) are your initials stamped in flaking gold on the burgundy leatherette company-logo portfolio you received on your fifth anniversary of employment.

Meryl Streep may have commanded the universe from her sleek, white office, with its Italian leather desk blotter in “The Devil Wears Prada,” but the rest of us peons are toiling away in much less glamorous surroundings.

My own home office looks more like a disorganized storage closet than it does a center of commerce and creativity. The decor features a tattered burgundy executive chair I bought in the early ’90s, dog-eared papers littering every available surface and a big ol’, banged-up beige desk that the cat loves to pee under. I always figured that, since nobody ever saw it but me, there wasn’t much point in making it nice. But when a writer friend of mine told me how much she loved her office after she furnished it in cool, chick-friendly accessories from, an online retailer specializing in “pretty” office products, I thought, “Why have I been working in such a dump?”

I spent thousands of dollars on a dining room we use once a month, yet the place where I earn a living is the worst room of the house. So I broke down and decided to spend a few bucks sprucing up my corporate headquarters (aka the spare bedroom).

At first, I was just going to get a new desk and chair but, after clicking through the See Jane Work site myself, I decided that if I expected my work to be fresh, funky and fun, it’s time my office felt the same way. So I ordered some Ocean Blue and Grass Green wooden letter trays, a Tropicana Red desk blotter and even the “handcrafted Sannibel glass” pencil cup.

I’m shocked at what a difference it has made. I not only love being in my new office but I swear to God, I’m funnier and I write faster. The first time my assistant saw my newly transformed space, she audibly gasped. (Managers and corporate office supply buyers, take note – she was positively beaming for the rest of the day.)

And, even better, after she perused, she told me that, if I ordered the fuchsia-striped file folders, she would reorganize the entire office. Who knew I could improve our productivity simply by buying colorful office products?

But it shouldn’t be a surprise. Holly Bohn, See Jane Work CEO and founder, says, “colors profoundly affect your physiological, psychological and emotional state.” When Bohn worked in a corporate environment herself, she spent her own money making her space attractive because “those smoky plastic letter trays put me over the edge.”

As for me, I wish I’d chucked my drab decor years ago. But now that I’ve experienced the joys of a pretty office, I want to save everyone else who may be slaving away in the dead zone. Just because “greige” is the official corporate color, doesn’t mean you should have to work in it.

Forward this column to the Czar of Corporate Decor at your company and let them know that cold, sterile surroundings make for flat, lifeless employees. And, if you work at home, improved productivity, motivated help and a cute, red Swingline stapler are only a mouse-click away.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of “Forget Perfect” and “Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear.” Contact her or join her interactive blog at .

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© Copyright 2007, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved.

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