It’s Natural to Be Messy, Studies Show

A few days ago I asked the question, “what is better, a messy desk or a clean desk?” Well, that depends on who you ask. A new book called “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder” claims that mess is a natural part of being human and represents our flexibility and creativity. Trying to perpetually fight our tendency to be messy is a waste of time with few real benefits, say authors Freedman and Abrahamson.

Embrace the Clutter (NYT)


An anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that says yes to mess and urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat “office landscapes”) and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts. It’s a movement that confirms what you have known, deep down, all along: Really neat people are not avatars of the good life; they are humorless and inflexible prigs and have way too much time on their hands.

Freedman is co-author, with Eric Abrahamson, of “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder.” The book is a meandering, engaging tour of beneficial mess and the systems and individuals reaping those benefits, like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose mess-for-success tips include never making a daily schedule.

Perfect Mess

As a corollary, the book’s authors examine the high cost of neatness — measured in shame, mostly, and family fights, as well as wasted dollars — and generally have a fine time tipping over orthodoxies and poking fun at clutter busters and their ilk, and at the self-help tips they live or die by. They wonder: Why is it better to pack more activities into one day? By whose standards are procrastinators less effective than their well-scheduled peers?

Mess is also natural, as Freedman and Abrahamson point out, and a real time-saver. “It takes extra effort to neaten up a system,” they write. “Things don’t generally neaten themselves.”