Clutter Drives Creativity, Study Says

Clutter Drives Creativity, Study Says

Business September 12, 2013 / By Kristen Fischer
Clutter Drives Creativity, Study Says

Do creative people work better in a messy environment? A new study says "yes."

Last month, I dismanted my desk. I took the entire top shelving unit off, which was full to the brim with everything from bills and stamps to CDs and paper clips.Call it a feng shui movement or plain-old boredom, but all the clutter was driving me crazy. So I stripped the junk, put most of it away and went with the standard monitor on desk. (Okay, there's also a lamp, phone and picture of my dead cat.)

I am a neat person for the most part, but I know many creatives that thrive in their messes. Apparently, some people work better that way--and a new study confirms it.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” say researchers led by the University of Minnesota’s Kathleen Vohs. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

Woah, Vohs. I'm not quite sure about that. Being self-employed isn't playing it safe. Taking new risks with projects and types of writing definitely puts me out of my comfort zone.

If you read about her experiments, they don't involve actually working or running a creative business in a cluttered mess. She just proves in one of the studies, for example, that people with ping pong balls were more creative with them in a cluttered room. Makes sense.

Like most studies, I take this one with a grain of salt yet still thought it worthy of a blog post. Some of us like the clutter. The mess aids us. It stimulates us. For many, it's damn inspiring. (Think Sabrina Ward Harrison.)

On the other hand, some creative people have enough swirling in their artistic heads and are already a mess upstairs. If you're like me working as a self-employed copywriter from your home office, you know that all the different tasks, deadlines and interruptions create enough mental clutter. Looking at more crap around the room just makes us more anxious and frustrated. In my case, I find that it blocks my creativity.

“Orderly environments promote more convention and healthy choices, which could improve life by helping people follow social norms and boosting well-being,” the researchers say.

So I'm sticking with my simplfied desk for now. There is definitely less crap to distract and stress me, and  think it has made me more calm and productive. I haven't been playing it safe. There's nothing really conventional about following a dream and making a living off it. It's certainly not the norm. But if the researchers say my orderly work space makes me healthier, that's a plus.

"Disorderly environments stimulate creativity, which has widespread importance for culture, business and the arts," the researchers added.

I say that if you love the clutter, go for it. It may be more than just a mess--it may be the very thing that makes you a creative genius.

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