“A cluttered room is a cluttered mind.”
This sounds like something a mom would say as she wags her finger at her child’s bedroom. It’s four in the afternoon, and there’re more books and laundry on the floor than there are filed alphabetically on the shelf or hanging in the closet. The remote is long gone and if it weren’t for Find My Phone, that iPhone would be lost for good, too. Is neatness the equivalent of productivity? Sure, it is. But it isn’t the only equivalent.
There’s order to the chaos
Oftentimes, someone living in a messy apartment or has a pile mounting on their desk will have a little voice echo in their heads saying, “I should clean my room.” It sounds like a great idea. Cleaning can be a great way to release some tension, stress, and ultimately, increase pleasant endorphins that may lead to even more productivity. But that’s when the problem comes up – where did I put that book? Or, I can’t find that letter, and where in the world did I put my wallet? Trying to find things that typically are not put in a specific place is like trying to find Carmen Sandiego – a long journey in futility.
Cleaning a mess takes time
When you’re a creative person, you might not have time to clean and organize everything. A creative spends much of their time doing just that: being creative. Neatness certainly has its benefits, but it also has its cons. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Eric Abrahamson, co-author of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, argued that “there’s an optimal level of mess and disorder. Since people think order is good they tend to overinvest in it. If you spend 20 hours cleaning up your desk, are you going to get 20 hours back of greater efficiency? If you don’t, maybe you only spend five hours and you get it to a decent state and that’s when you’re going to get a return.”
It’s not about being lazy
For creative people, it is not an issue of being lazy. Where someone puts their things is just a flicker in a moment in time. As random as it may seem to put your headphones on top of the microwave, that person is much more likely to remember where they put something last as opposed to where it’s always supposed to be. Who needs a bowl for keys by the door when they can just keep it in the pair of jeans they typically wear? Just remember to take the keys out from those jeans when you decide to wear your trousers or that sundress (whoo, pockets!) if you don’t want to be locked out of your messy apartment.
There’s organization in the mess, and it’s tied to our memory and the proximity of things. Abrahamson goes further into detail in his book, claiming that, “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.”
Neatness is great, but…
Neatness does have its conventions. It promotes positive social behavior, according to a report by Kathleen Vohs, a psychological scientist at University of Michigan. Her studies, published in Psychological Science (a journal for the Association for Psychological Science), dig deep into past research. “Prior work has found that a clean setting leads people to do good things: Not engage in crime, not litter, and show more generosity.” However, her conclusions are not without comparisons to the messy types. She explains that “disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights. Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”
Trying to find a place for all the material things in life is already taxing enough when you don’t even know where you belong in the world. Using a chaotic environment as a muse is a viable way to encourage creativity, free-thinking, and new ideas. Who knows, that pile of blouses could be the sight you need to cue inspiration for another painting to add to the collection already hanging on your walls.