The Messy Mind

Two bumper stickers on the 1970s-era wood paneling in my office.

Two bumper stickers on the 1970s-era wood paneling in my office.

New studies affirm that an untidy work environment can make people more creative. This is music to my ears.

In one study, people were put in a room and given some choices. People in a tidy room tended to make more conventional choices, while people in a messy room gravitated toward more novel choices.

In another study, people in these two different environments were asked to come up with unconventional uses for ping pong balls. The two groups came up with the same number of ideas, but the ideas from the messy-room people were deemed substantially more creative.

This sentence from an article helped explain how tidiness inhibits creativity: “If you keep all your tools in the tool shed and all your kitchen utensils in the kitchen, you might never think of using a kitchen utensil as a tool or vice-versa.”

My office is typically untidy, but there comes a point where even I can’t take it, and I spend much of a day cleaning up and pitching stuff. Like, three times a year. I consider this burst of orderliness more efficient than spending time every day maintaining order. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

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