Those of us who defend our messy desks, living spaces and roll our eyes at people who fret over a little dust got a Christmas present from the NYT on Thursday (I was shoveling). From an obviously sane Penelope Green Saying Yes to Mess
Green covers several individuals who are now coming forth with studies that support our inherent messiness. And it’s usefulness.
To a professional organizer brandishing colored files and stackable trays, cluttered horizontal surfaces are a horror; to cognitive psychologists like Jay Brand, who works in the Ideation Group of Haworth Inc., the huge office furniture company, their peaks and valleys glow with intellectual intent and showcase a mind whirring away: sorting, linking, producing. (By extension, a clean desk can be seen as a dormant area, an indication that no thought or work is being undertaken.)
His studies and others, like a survey conducted last year by Ajilon Professional Staffing, in Saddle Brook, N.J., which linked messy desks to higher salaries (and neat ones to salaries under $35,000), answer Einstein’s oft-quoted remark, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?”
I’ve always considered desk tops a true form of filing. It has nothing to do with the alphabet. It often has everything to do with the piles on either side of it. And the only reason I get upset about it is too many people would be insulted if invited to a messy house.
“It’s chasing an illusion to think that any organization — be it a family unit or a corporation — can be completely rid of disorder on any consistent basis,” said Jerrold Pollak, a neuropsychologist at Seacoast Mental Health Center in Portsmouth, N.H., whose work involves helping people tolerate the inherent disorder in their lives. “And if it could, should it be? Total organization is a futile attempt to deny and control the unpredictability of life. I live in a world of total clutter, advising on cases where you’d think from all the paper it’s the F.B.I. files on the Unabomber,” when, in fact, he said, it’s only “a person with a stiff neck.”
Having spent over a decade going into other peoples houses as a home care nurse, I am firmly in the ‘prefers messy’ camp. They were the most interesting people, had more insight into their (true) illness and led full lives. I prefered a lot less mess than my kids did, but the motto was “Clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy”. They ususally admit they were pretty happy growing up.
Stop feeling bad, say the mess apologists. There are more urgent things to worry about. Irwin Kula is a rabbi based in Manhattan and author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life,” which was published by Hyperion in September. “Order can be profane and life-diminishing,” he said the other day. “It’s a flippant remark, but if you’ve never had a messy kitchen, you’ve probably never had a home-cooked meal. Real life is very messy, but we need to have models about how that messiness works.”
His favorite example? His 15-year-old daughter Talia’s bedroom, a picture of utter disorder — and individuality, he said.
“One day I’m standing in front of the door,” he said, “and it’s out of control and my wife, Dana, is freaking out, and suddenly I see in all the piles the dress she wore to her first dance and an earring she wore to her bat mitzvah. She’s so trusting her journal is wide open on the floor, and there are photo-booth pictures of her friends strewn everywhere. I said, ‘Omigod, her cup overflows!’ And we started to laugh.”
The room was an invitation, he said, to search for a deeper meaning under the scurf.
I do get a little frustrated from time to time and clean up an area enough – to make room for a new project. But the cartoon at the top of that article is similar to my house. There’s no other people but me, there is no cat or bird. But there are still a few mice who know how to evade the traps… The book stacks are much higher and I now have some new titles to put in my Amazon cart.
Have a Merry Messy Christmas! You can clean it up later. It will still be there. Trust me.