If you are like most people, you probably imagine people who are organized are more productive compared to disorganized people. Can’t blame you for thinking that way—that’s what society has led us all to believe. But, an increasing number of experts are now saying that’s not really true.
Apparently, people who are disorganized and messy aren’t necessarily less productive or lazy. They’re just bold and more spontaneous. Actually, messy people are more imaginative. Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, authors of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, explain:
“Mess isn’t necessarily the absence of order. A messy desk can be a highly effective prioritizing and accessing system.
On a messy desk, the more important, urgent work tends to stay close by and near the top of the clutter, while the safely ignorable stuff tends to get buried to the bottom or near the back, which makes perfect sense.”
In other words, a messy desk can boost efficiency, depending on the person. A study by Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management seems to concur. According to the study, a cluttered environment helps increase not just efficiency, but also creativity.
In one experiment for the study, Vohs divided 48 participants into two groups and asked them to come up with new ways to use a ping pong ball. One half was placed in a messy room and the other half in a tidy room. Although both groups came up with the same number of ideas, a panel of independent judges determined the ideas produced by those in the messy room were far more innovative.
Vohs explained the finding thus:
“Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries and societies want more of: Creativity. Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights. Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”
So, why are we so obsessed with being orderly?
From a young age, we are taught (more like coerced) to clean up our rooms and clean up after ourselves always. When we grow up, society tells us a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind. We are made to feel bad about ourselves for being disorganized or messy.
Society expects us to maintain order, in every sense of the word. Disorganized people are labeled as lazy and ill-bred. But the neat, orderly world we strive for is all an illusion. Organization is a cheat we use to fool ourselves that life isn’t the random, unstructured, chaotic mess we secretly know it to be.
Think about it for a moment. In our attempts to establish order, we often create more disorder. When you buy new shoes and new clothes for every possible occasion and season in the year so that you appear socially appropriate or fashion conscious, your closet inevitably begins to overflow.
When you tidy up your desk so that you’re not accused of having an “uncluttered mind” at work, it slides into a mess. You clear out all those pesky piles of paperwork, pens, and clips so that your desk is tidy once again, and still, two weeks later the mess is back.
We’re all struggling to keep everything neat and orderly, and we’re all doomed to fail. No matter how hard we try to keep our space neat and tidy, everything will always fall back into disarray. You see, disorder has nothing to do with your organizing skills; it’s has to do with the universe’s tendencies.
Physicist Adam Frank explains:
“The hard truth is that the universe itself is dead-set against our long-term efforts to bring order to the chaos in our lives. That’s because the universe loves chaos.”
That chaos, that disorder, that messiness, that randomness—for physicists, it has a name: entropy.
The laws of entropy ensure disorder is restored
Scientists first discovered the laws of entropy back in the 1800s when they were trying to squeeze as much efficiency as possible from their shiny, new invention—the steam engine. They uncovered a radical, somewhat depressing cosmic principle: The universe always moves from order to disorder, from low entropy to higher entropy. That’s how it has always been and, in all likelihood, how it will always be.
So, while you might be able to reduce chaos and maintain a semblance of order in one small space you control, like your home, the activities you do to maintain that order create more mess for the rest of the universe. For example, that trash you throw away goes to a landfill and contributes to pollution. See?
Disorganized people might get a bad rap in society and be dubbed lazy, but they are not really lazy. They’ve just seen the light and decided to go with the flow instead of swimming against the current. They would rather fill the bulk of their limited time in this world with what they perceive as more meaningful tasks for them than spend time on tedious, recurring activities like tidying up.
Maybe we should all follow their lead and say “yes” to the messiness and the chaotic nature of the universe more often, instead of being dictated by properness. As Jim Morrison once said, “I am interested in anything about revolt, disorder, chaos… It seems to me to be the road toward freedom.”
Contrary to what conventional wisdom might tell us, the path toward creative freedom, freedom of the mind, is to embrace disorder. Once you embrace disorder, it can bring spontaneity and tremendous joy and satisfaction in your life because you are now living in harmony with the universe.
You might worry that you won’t be productive at work if you are messy and unorganized, but that is not necessarily true. Disorganization is often associated with genius. Many famous people, like JK Rowling, Roald Dahl, Alan Turing, and Albert Einstein, achieved greatness in spite of their messiness. We might even argue they achieved greatness because of their messiness.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being organized. It’s just that we also need to recognize there’s nothing wrong with being disorganized either. Being disorganized is the default state. It’s a beautiful thing.
Featured photo credit: melodramababs via flickr.com