Clutter can be a sign of a creative mind at work. Clive Thompson writes that a person with pack rat behavior may have an effective “organizational strategy.” Call it, “serendipity.” (“Clutter Clash,” by Clive Thompson, Wired, March 2016, pg. 49.) When disparate items are put together, they create an opportunity for the mind to make new connections. By that measure, my mother is a genius because she’s a collector’s collector.
On occasion, I have followed in her footsteps. Inevitably, though, my father’s Germanic DNA kicks in and I throw out most of what I’ve gathered and super-organize the rest. Once, I was discovered dusting paper clips.
Needless to say, when I read clutter was an attribute of creativity, I was nonplussed. I had hoped to become a writer by the age of 90, but given my tidy habits, mine is a foolish hope. Still, a study is a study, and Clive Thompson has uncovered several that show people who “worked at a messy desk in a messy room were 28 percent more creative than those in a tidy environment.” (Ibid, pg. 40.) Messiness is equated with a defiance of norms, hence a willingness to break the mold. Tidiness reflects people who adhere to what’s expected of them.
If true, could it be that all those articles written about organizing our lives is a conspiracy? Would the ruling class rather we rabble cleaned out our closets than think? What do they fear? That we shall break out into iambic pentameter or rend the air with Wagoner’s Ride of the Valkyries?
The assumption seems to be that creative people can’t be trusted — which might be correct. I know a poet, fond of clutter, who hires a person to clean out her files from time to time. How sneaky is that?
Thompson admits there are benefits derived from being a neat freak. “People behave better in neat rooms.” (Ibid, pg 40.) That isn’t what I was going for, but it’s also good to learn that tidy people tend to have healthier diets than messy ones. That won’t help me sell a story to the New Yorker, but it might give me a little more time to try.
(First published 3/16/16)