I was looking through some old pictures the other day, and found a set that were taken in my grad-school lab, back in the mid-1980s. One thing struck me, because I'd always had a mental picture of my bench being an impossible mess: it wasn't that bad. "You call that clutter?" I thought. "I'll show you clutter!" My desk, on the other hand, was indeed a mess, and I haven't been able to surpass it. (Equal it, yeah, OK, every few months. But not surpass it).
I think one reason the bench didn't look so bad was because there just wasn't enough money for it to reach its full potential. After all, I only had a certain number of round-bottom flasks, with no more set to arrive, so I had to be vigilant about transferring things to vials and doing the dishes. When you have drawers full of the things, though, you can afford to cut loose a bit. The same goes for other lab supplies - I didn't have a lot of spare boxes of pipets and disposable test tubes sitting around back in the old lab, because we tried not to dispose of them so cavalierly.
The other thing that hit me about these shots was that I could easily do what I do now using that same equipment. I'd like a Biotage or Isco chromatography system, true, neither of which had been invented back then. But most of the equipment is exactly the same - round bottom flasks, Erlenmeyers, rota-vaps, sep funnels, TLC plates - everything you need. (Bet you didn't know you could buy some of that stuff at Amazon, eh? That sure hadn't been invented yet, either. . .)
I don't know whether to be happy that all the things I've learned have stood by me so well, or to be a little worried that my field isn't a bit more dynamic. It's a good thing I don't have any lab photos from the 1960s for comparison, because that might just tip the balance.