The virtue of messiness

To tell you the truth I love organized places. They give me peace of mind, they make me less worried and stressed out. I am relaxed and happy in an orderly environment. The good vibes for me are in a prim and uncluttered place.

I am not saying I can always keep my space in good order. That is an ideal to which I strive but am very aware I cannot attain with two three boys (4, 7 and 39) around. Reading this article though, I was encouraged.

I probably will not be inclined to healthy eating all the time and I might not feel very generous when being at home, but I sure will be creative. Who doesn’t want that? Well, if it helps me be more creative in getting my house organized, than I want it. HA!

The research

According to research working at a clean and organized desk may promote healthy eating, generosity and conventionality.

Participants in the research were asked to fill out some questionnaires in an office. Some completed the task in an orderly office while others did so in an unkempt one - papers were everywhere and the office supplies were cluttered here and there. Afterward, the participants were presented with the opportunity to donate to a charity and were allowed to take a snack of chocolate or an apple on their way out. The participants in the clean setting donated more of their money to charity and were more likely to choose the apple over the candy bar.

But the researchers wanted to see if messiness is of any value. And not surprisingly, they found out that yes, a messy desk is not so bad after all, that is if you’re not an accountant but say… a logo designer.

The value of messiness

Actually a messy desk has its own benefits promoting creative thinking and stimulating new ideas.

Messy Desk
Messy Desk

So Mrs. Kathleen Vohs and her fellow researchers at the University of Minnesota did another experiment in which they asked the participants to come up with new uses of ping pong balls.

About the same number of ideas were generated in both messy and clean rooms. But the ideas from the messy room were rated as more interesting and creative when evaluated by impartial judges. Also participants in the messy rooms were more likely to prefer the novel product when given a choice between a new product and an established one, a signal that being in a disorderly environment stimulates a release from conventionality.

The researchers also found that when participants were given a choice between a new product and an established one, those in the messy room were more likely to prefer the novel one - a signal that being in a disorderly environment stimulates a release from conventionality. Whereas participants in a tidy room preferred the established product over the new one.

"Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights," Vohs concludes. "Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

The researchers are continuing to investigate whether these effects might even transfer to a virtual environment: the Internet. Preliminary findings suggest that the tidiness of a webpage predicts the same kind of behaviors.

These preliminary data, coupled with the findings just published, are especially intriguing because of their broad relevance: "We are all exposed to various kinds of settings, such as in our office space, our homes, our cars, even on the Internet," Vohs observes. "Whether you have control over the tidiness of the environment or not, you are exposed to it and our research shows it can affect you.”