Tidy vs. Messy

Thought for the week:   Tidy vs. Messy  

The Benefits of Clutter.

Years ago I had a friend who could easily be labeled a hoarder, although I didn’t realize it at the time.  I was too close to the situation and couldn’t see it objectively.  Walking into her home, one was immediately greeted with stacks of newspapers, magazines and mail.  There were duplicate stacks throughout the house, expanding into more specific piles of  bills, clothing, toys and random objects waiting for their final resting place, but never quite finding one.   Astoundingly, if an item needed to be located it was, within a matter of minutes.  What I perceived as disorder, was another’s order.

Are we born messy or neat?  (referring to the “disorganized” side of messy, not the “dirty” side).  Is it genetic or does it come from some part of our emotional health?  For some who suffer with anxiety, having a neat, clean, controlled environment can feel calming.   For others, perpetual tidiness and cleanliness are a coping mechanism for dealing with shame they feel.  Shame often lies hiding beneath the surface, camouflaged within a variety of reactions and responses to events in life.    

Perhaps the messy/neat degree in each of us is a reflection of how our individual brains operate within the environment.  In the scenario above, my friend felt organized.   Occasionally, after looking around, she would comment that she “should clean the place up”, but it was clear she had created an environment that functioned well for her, for the way her brain stored and processed information. 

I know that if my desk is a mess it is often a reflection of having too much going on in my head.  When I tidy up that desk, my thinking is more organized.  Perhaps the clutter made it feel as if there was more to “get done” then there really was.  Organizing that clutter relieved the perceived work load in my head and freed me up to get going on other projects.  For some, a messy surroundings can feel overstimulating, produce anxiety, and leave them feeling as if they always have work to do.  For others, clutter feels easy, random and freeing.   

Although society might have us believe that being organized is more presentable and therefore more acceptable, neither end of the spectrum is “good” or “bad”.  We have known for quite awhile now that tidiness promotes conventional thinking while a messy environment lends itself to more creativity.  Something to keep in mind when a task is waiting to be completed – choosing the appropriate environment for yourself will clearly have an impact on the outcome.  Even in city planning, there is a developing idea that the ideal city is not clean and beautiful but messy.  For decades cities have been sporting the grid design, destroying the complex ecology and structural diversity inherent in city life, and also perhaps diminishing our tolerance for disorder.