In Defence of Clutter

2014-09-Einsteins-cluttered-desk

Recently my colleague and desk mate Lauren decided she had finally had enough of my desk clutter gradually creeping towards her border and declared war, giving it a thorough yet futile clean up. Shots were fired, words were exchanged and within five minutes I’d began to rebuild my empire of accumulated so-called crap.

“Don’t you feel better now your desk is nice and clean?” she asked in exasperation.

No I bloody don’t! It’s stifling and unnatural and I have (vague) scientific evidence that my clutter is conducive to my work, as pointed out in this article in The Telegraph

Professor Kathleen Vohs and fellow researchers at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis claim that after mapping the behaviour of people working on messy and clean desks with a series of experiments, those with messy desks are more creative.

For example, participants in the study were given a choice between a new product and an established one. Those in the messy room were more likely to prefer the latest-release one – a signal that being in a disorderly environment prompts a release from conventionality.

Professor Vohs said: “Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries, and societies want more of – creativity.”

Checkmate Lauren. Heck, even Google actively promotes a busy desk. As Business Insider explains in an interesting anecdote where former Google CEO Eric Schmidt attempted to clean the office and immediately received a pretty heated response from the now current Google CEO Larry Page. Schmidt realised he’d made a mistake by trying to alter the Google employees ability to express themselves in the workplace and quickly adapted to their ethos.

google-messy-desk

There’s a long list of exceptionally successful minds who had messy desks, from Albert Einstein to Mark Twain and Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg and it’s hard to imagine how different the world could have been if they had been forced to tidy their work place.

So next time someone tries to tidy your desk and asks how you can work like that, think back this list of geniuses, coolly laugh and carry on about your creative business.

To finish my argument I will end with a quote from Einstein:

einstein-quote-clutter

That is unless your clutter involves old food and dirty plates. Old food bring flies and not even Einstein had time for those, plus no one wants to be the office tramp. Clean it up!

1 Comment
  • Reply Ed

    15 May 2015, 8:19 am

    Hi Tom,

    Interesting piece-I’ve always wondered whether clutter was conducive or disruptive to creativity and until we moved into a bigger flat, clutter/mess was often the crux of any argument between my girlfriend and I. Given your argument, I wonder whether perhaps that clutter isn’t the source of the creative mind but merely the by-product of a creative person, too busy thinking about exciting connections to keep their space tidy. I am a painter and although I like to start work in a clean studio, if it has been a productive weekend-the space will end up untidy as I haven’t wasted time, procrastinated by tidying every surface. I haven’t read up sufficiently on the psychology behind it, but I wonder if a ‘creative’ person’s mess is not dissimilar to a child’s bedroom-where they are simply spending more time in their imagination than tidying up.
    My only personal defence of neatness-would be that I have my most vivid thoughts when my eyelids are closed or staring at a blank wall, i.e. in sensory deprivation your mind is given the opportunity to explore the subconscious and create new ideas which have up until that point have remained overlooked by other visual stimuli.

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