Originally created 03/10/02

Floor to ceiling, contestants have desks covered

The floor of Jim Winchester's office at Sherman & Hemstreet, Inc., is littered with everything from loose papers to old computer parts. Three file cabinets stand against the wall, with file folders and empty boxes teetering on the edge. An empty coffee cup rests in a file folder on the floor.

But it's his desk that has been judged Augusta's messiest, and won Mr. Winchester $50 in The Augusta Chronicle's messy-desk contest.

Old film processing envelopes, Post-it Notes and pieces of paper litter the top of his desk. On the corner, a pile of file folders stands a foot high, ready to fall over at any moment. His computer is barely visible through the clutter.

"It creates an ambiance, don't you think?" Mr. Winchester said with a laugh. "I've been working on this for years. I have a reputation to maintain."

It's a mess with a purpose.

"He knows where everything is," said his secretary and nominator, Angie Beacham. "I don't go in there. I'm a neat freak, though."

The Chronicle received six nominations for the contest. Of those six, four decided against participating, for fear of embarrassing themselves or the people they worked for.

Mr. Winchester has the standard answers for why his office looks more like a wasteland than a work space - his job as a residential appraiser keeps him out of the office more than it keeps him in it, and he needs more space.

But he also says that the messiness of his office is a bit of strategy.

"I've found that most people don't stay long," Mr. Winchester said. "People don't come in and bother me."

He says he's not really disturbed by the mess but knows others would be. When he deals with clients, he meets them at another location or in the conference room in the front of the building.

Mr. Winchester says his car, which he works out of most of the time, also is messy. But he draws the line at his house.

"I have a small desk at home that's a little cluttered," he said. "It's minor league compared to this. My wife has a hard time dealing with this. I try to discourage her from coming to the office."

Mr. Winchester and his wife have big plans for the $50 prize money.

"My wife keeps threatening to come clean it up," he said. "She'll do it after I take her out to a nice dinner."

RUNNER-UP: Frances Wilkinson, Nutrition Services director for the East Central Health District.

Mrs. Wilkinson says that she's a closet perfectionist. Her house is spotless and her checkbook is balanced to the penny. But her office is the one area of her life that she knew she had to let go.

Her first choice was her checkbook. But her accountant husband told her, in no uncertain terms, that she would have to find something else.

"I went to pay for our engagement photo and he saw my checkbook," she said. "He told me, 'This will never do."'

So, she chose her office.

Mrs. Wilkinson nominated herself for our contest at the "fervent suggestion" of co-workers.

"I can't imagine my desk being the biggest disaster in Augusta," she wrote.

Like Mr. Winchester's, her office is covered with file folders and loose papers. A chair by her desk, with a stack of papers more than two feet high, is her in-box. She has different bags, full of files and information, that are designated for different projects she's working on.

But she know's where everything is and the slightest touch can throw her off.

"Like this paper," she says, pointing to a piece of paper on the top of one of her many piles. "I know it's cockeyed, and if you turned it the least little bit, I couldn't find it."

Mrs. Wilkinson admits that the office takes most people by surprise. The maintenance staff has mistaken it for a storage room. She doesn't invite people into her work space very often.

"I usually don't bring people in here," she said. "I'd have to spend 15 minutes explaining the office."

Reach Jennifer Hilliard at (706) 823-3220 or jennifer.hilliard@augustachronicle.com


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