The Argument for a Messy Desk
by Crystal Zhao
I have been berated my entire life for being habitually messy. It is almost universally acknowledged that a disorderly workspace is unproductive, distracting, and frankly, unsightly. I am a product of this system, and have learned to keep a desk that is teetering between barely acceptable and chaos. This method has worked for me, but I’d rather not be doing it. For years, even as the adults around me have been disapproving, I have maintained the claim that I do have a system and I’m not affected negatively by the clutter. While there was no evidence of this feat until now, finally, my fellow slobs and I have solid scientific proof.
Last year, Psychological Science published a study by the University of Minnesota that found interesting benefits to working at a messy desk. Researchers conducted several experiments on participants split between a messy environment and a neat one. As expected, the people in the tidy room made more standard, generous, and healthy choices. In the workplace, this could play out as the tidy-desk people choosing not to procrastinate. The people in the messy environment outshined their counterparts in one important aspect, though. They were much more creative. A clean desk appears to influence its inhabitant to conform, and conformity while working is not necessarily a negative quality. However, an untidy desk helps drown out convention and leads to more diverse, original thoughts.
There is finally some merit to the messy desk lifestyle. Fostering creativity is undeniably important, but this research points to more than just a cease-fire in this long-running argument. We are more affected by our environments than we previously knew. The results of this study can be utilized for different purposes. Although innovation is important, I concede that it isn’t always applicable. If you’re really struggling with something that is purely analytical, like math homework, maybe a neater environment could help you. Conversely, if you’ve got a tough case of writer’s block, don’t be afraid to let some clutter pile up. Proof: I am writing this with the following things strewn across my desk: sheet music, textbooks, binders, a calculator, a mug, two cat figurines, a candle, a lint roller, pomegranate arils, a hair brush, and of course my laptop. The verdict? This article was written without any creative dry spells. Next time you find yourself struggling with an assignment, you might be able to cater your workspace to your advantage.