Messiness: The Key to Creativity

More often than not, cleanliness is associated with a certain quality of life. No one ever encourages another person to “be messier” or “less organized.” Often, when a person is messy, they are encouraged to “tidy up,” or “put their belongings in their place.” I am often a person who is told to be “neater,” but why? Who says messy is bad? I know where my items are located, I do not have an animal infestation in my room, and my roommate does not seem to be bothered by my mess. So why do I feel an obligation to apologize for not being incredibly neat and tidy?

Messiness, a proven indicator of creativity, merits just as much praise as being neat and orderly. While a messy room or workspace may not look as aesthetically pleasing as a clean one, that does not mean it cannot function just as well or even better. Accord-
ing to a report on an article from Monitor on Psychology, “while neatness seems to correlate with making socially-responsible decisions, it appears that messiness leads to higher levels of creative and innovative thinking.” The idea that messiness actually spurs creativity was often assumed to be a crutch used by messy people to explain their clutter, yet it is actually a concrete observation, supported by research. The chaos and muddle in a mess often leads one to see items in a manner they would not be able to in a tidier setting.

Additionally, messiness might be the product of other obligations. Cleaning can take a significant amount of time. So, while it may seem that a person who resides in a constant mess is simply lazy, perhaps it is the exact opposite. Maybe their mess is due to their commitment to some project; a person may simply have no time to clean their space due to their busy schedule. Also, a mess often occurs when one is deeply engrossed in their work; at the cusp of a great realization, papers tend to be scattered everywhere. Yet, Tim Harford, a British economist, explains that when a person finishes their work, they immediately feel the need to clean up their space. They completed their best work in the midst of a complete mess, so why do they feel the need to clean at the end? It is in these states of messiness that we often finish great work. Harford continues to explain, “people spend time and money organizing themselves for the sake of organizing, rather than actually looking at the end goal and usefulness of such an effort.”

Lastly, life is not neat, and a messy person is able to embrace that instead of attempt to tame it. While a neat and tidy person often tries to reign in chaos by organizing, a messy person accepts catastrophe, clutter, and disorder, which might actually lead to a less stressful life. Scholastic News recently published an article explaining that parents should allow their children to embrace messiness as it allows them to view life as “unstructured.” Messiness encourages children to make mistakes, and “encourages creative effort regardless of outcome.” While society often feels the necessity to stray away from mess, we must begin to take an alternate approach. I am not arguing that termites, bugs, and mold growing in a bedroom is ideal, but clothes strewn on a floor, papers cluttering a desk, and an unmade bed may point to an incredibly productive person. There is a line between being slovenly and messy. It is important to also see that, while a space may seem incredibly messy to one person, it can make complete sense to the person who lives there. Instead of constantly attempting to force a messy friend or family member to clean up their act, try to embrace their mess and perhaps your own mess as well.

Caroline Williams

Caroline Williams

Caroline Williams

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