If clutter drives you nuts, you’re in good company. There’s been a burst of excitement recently about neatness, propelled by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo’s best-selling guide that urges us to toss out anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” If we can succeed at decluttering, Kondo says, we will feel pure bliss. “The lives of those who tidy thoroughly and completely,” she writes, “in a single shot, are without exception dramatically altered.” As the biggest neatnik and picker-upper in my casually messy family, I thrill to this idea.
But one kink, though. A strand of recent research suggests that mess can, counterintuitively, sometimes be useful.
This is particularly true at work. In one study, Kathleen Vohs, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, took 48 subjects individually into two types of rooms—one messy (with loose papers and pens strewn around the desk and floor) and one that was spic-and-span. She had the subjects do a classic test of creativity: Generate new uses for a Ping-Pong ball. When her team scored the results, the subjects who’d worked at a messy desk in a messy room were 28 percent more creative than those in the tidy environment. “When things are tidy, people adhere more to what’s expected of them,” Vohs says. “When things are messier, they break free from norms.”
What’s more, you may perceive colleagues’ messy desks as wrecks—but from their perspective, they’re perfectly organized. In The Myth of the Paperless Office, Abigail Sellen and Richard Harper documented a worker with an epically cluttered lab who could find any document he needed in no time. For pack rats, mess is an organizational strategy.
It also creates serendipity. An old report sitting on the corner of your desk can spark a useful idea when you glance at it. I suspect this is why thinkers and writers often work amid teetering piles of books. A random spine becomes a delicious mnemonic trigger, bringing back a favorite passage or teleporting me to the first time I read it.
Link to the rest at Wired