The final two weeks at a job are a whirlwind of documenting everything, explaining what you did on a daily basis, and hoping that everything goes both smoothly and horribly when you’re gone. (After all, what if you leave and everyone realizes they’re just fine without you? That’d be devastating.)
The final two weeks are also a whirlwind of paperwork. And not just the paperwork involved with your exit, but also literal pieces of paper that you’ve been shoving into your desk since day one—training documents from that seminar, resumes from when you were hiring, flyers someone handed you on the street that you accepted because you’re bad at confrontation and couldn’t just say, “No thank you, I’m a lady and therefore not interested in a men’s suit sale.”
In fact, I’ve come to learn that cleaning out your desk is a reckoning of sorts, a time when you’re forced to come face-to-face with all your “I’ll figure out what to do with this later” choices.
I know this because it’s currently my life. In fact, I’m writing this article as a way to avoid finishing cleaning out my own desk.
And because of that, I can confidently tell you what you’ll find if you’re currently in the same situation.
1. Business Cards
How I want to respond when handed a business card: “It would skip me a step if you’d bypass my hand and put that straight into the recycling bin.”
How I actually respond: “Why yes my good sir, of course, I would love nothing more than for you to give me that tiny piece of paper that is both big enough to annoy me, yet small enough to get lost in the bottom of my bag.”
And because that’s how I respond, I have a ton of business cards that end up in my desk drawer. And going through them all in my last two weeks has been a trip down memory lane—but the kind of memory lane where everything’s far more fuzzy than nostalgic.
Chad from Marketing Corp. Huh. Perhaps I met him when I cut the cheese line at that event. Or no, maybe he was the guy on the elevator trying to sell me his services.
2. A Drugstore
Emergencies happen at work. And that’s why I’ve always made sure to always have a few necessities on hand. But what started as a Tide Stick and umbrella has morphed into an entire aisle of CVS.
Office too hot? I have deodorant!
Smelly lunch? I’ve got mints.
Client interaction gone wrong? I’ve not only got an entire change of clothes, but also a new identity ready-to-go.
And you know what, while some of these items might be overkill, I’ve got zero regrets about that. While it accumulated at a surprising rate, I also never panicked when I spilled something, or when it started pouring, or when I suddenly decided I hated my shoes and needed a new pair immediately.
3. A Grocery Store
You know what hoarders always say—you can’t open a drugstore in your desk without also opening a grocery store. And that’s why I have enough half-eaten, fully-stale snacks ready to go the second someone says “The apocalypse has arrived and you’re trapped in the office indefinitely.”
Unlike my drugstore advice, I will not pat myself on the back for this one. Instead, I’ll promise myself to stop acting like I’ll ever be in my office for more than a day at a time (and that means I will never need more than a granola bar).
4. Office Supplies
I was that kid who lived for back-to-school shopping. Nothing got me quite as jazzed as a fresh new set of binders did. And so, in an effort to recapture that feeling into adulthood, I’ve gotten into a horrible habit of saying yes to any office supplies that are offered to me—either directly or indirectly in the form of an unlocked supply closet.
That means, despite the fact 99% of my job involves a computer, I have a stapler, 19 packs of sticky notes, two kinds of tape, four colors of highlighters, and Lisa Frank herself tucked into my drawers.
In retrospect, I probably could’ve gotten the same satisfaction from opening up the supply closet every so often and just breathing in that scent of fresh file folders.
OK, fine, you caught me. I’m human, and I have emotions, and leaving a job is hard. Despite making the above list, I can’t part with anything! Everything I pick up and attempt to throw away feels meaningful.
You see a coupon for 5% off a $10 juice that I’ll never use, I see the time I grabbed a long lunch with a co-worker and was handed that on my way out. You see a “congrats” sign in messy handwriting, I see the time I got promoted and my team surprised me by decorating my desk. You see a children’s toy, I see accessories from a team Halloween costume that should’ve won first-place in the office costume contest (and I’m totally not at all bitter about it).
Don’t get me wrong—all of this needs to go in the trash. I live in New York City and I don’t have room in my apartment to hold all my memories.
But parting with it isn’t easy.
And that’s because saying goodbye to a job isn’t easy.
Even if we’re excited for our next chapter, even if we’re ready to go, and even if it’s our time to leave. For better or worse, we get attached to our jobs, we get attached to the projects we spend time on, and we get attached to the people we work with. Even if we don’t always like what we do and even if we don’t always like the people we do it with, we spend 40 (or more!) hours a week attaching ourselves to something that’s bigger than us.
That’s why, when it’s time to leave, it’s not just time to hand in our key cards and grab farewell drinks, but it’s also time to say goodbye to a part of ourselves. And sometimes, cleaning out our desks will remind us just how big a part of ourselves our jobs became.
To quote myself from just a few paragraph ago, saying goodbye to a job isn’t easy. (Nor is finding a rogue raisin in your desk drawer and knowing that you’ve never once eaten a raisin at work.)
So, if you’re in the process of doing it, know that it’s OK if you’re going through all the emotions. It’s OK if you’re having trouble throwing out stuff you forgot even existed. And it’s OK if you’re putting off even touching that bottom drawer until the very last second.
You have a new exciting adventure ahead of you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend a few moments thinking about all the moments—big and small, fun and challenging, scary and rewarding—that you’re leaving behind.