Strategic Clutter– For Some, Clutter Equals Creativity; For Others, Clutter Equals Chaos: To Clutter, Or Not To Clutter?

Workplace ‘clutter’; is it a sign of creativity or chaos? Clutter is defined as– a collection of things lying about in an untidy mess or disorderly state… it’s sign of unorganized, irresponsible, incompetence… But for others, ‘clutter’ is a sign of creativity, high-achieving, inventiveness, genius… According to Katherine Trezise; workplace clutter is a tremendous waste of productivity… a little mess is OK, but the problem comes in when it affects other people…

Some people feel like they must have tidy workspace or they can’t get anything done, whereas others say– clutter is important for creativity, new ideas… for example; Albert Einstein was a known messaholic (i.e., just look at his hair)… Abraham Lincoln worked among piles of papers; he even reportedly kept a note on one stack that read; When you can’t find it anywhere else, look in this pileAlexander Fleming’s desk was so unorganized that one day he discovered penicillin on a forgotten petri dish…

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According to International Facility Management Association; average space allotted per worker has dropped as much as 21%, and storage space is shrinking too… and not everyone is keeping up with the push for paperless office… so, where do you put the piles of stuff? Just the sight of all the piles can stress out neat co-workers, distract them from work and even hurt their performance… According to Judith Bowman; pressuring mess-makers to clean up can be very tricky… the appearance of your desk or work area is hugely important, it’s very personal… and criticizing someone’s messy desk is like telling them that they are dressed sloppily…

According to Mark Hurst; everyone’s tolerance for clutter is different, e.g.; researchers found that certain people need a bit of a mess in their surroundings to feel inspired and get work done… whereas a clean desk is seen as a dormant area, and an indication that no thought or work is being done…

While clutter has been shown to negatively affect some people’s performance, it’s a person’s perception of clutter that really matters, not someone else’s. Clutter, whether physical or digital, is something you’ll always have to deal with, and it’s important to understand that clutter is not about things– it’s about people and their interactions with things… Hence, re-evaluating your belongings, throwing-out old and useless stuff, organizing things, giving things on your workstation a suitable home… will do wonders for your mental state, productivity… According to Albert Einstein; If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?

In the article Dangers Of A Messy Desk by Jenna Goudreau writes: Is your laptop screen framed with layers of post-it reminders? Is the top of your desk hidden under stacks of papers, or your guest chair buried under a pile of stuff…? Then, just be aware that your colleagues are judging you… According to a survey of over 1000 workers by Adecco; a majority of U.S. workers (57%) admit they judge coworkers by how clean or messy they keep workspace. Meanwhile, nearly half say they are ‘appalled’ by how messy their colleagues’ offices are, and most chalk it up to pure laziness...

According to Jennie Dede; with so many open-office plans today, more people can see into co-workers’ workspace and it can often get personal, e.g.; they may judge you as incompetent because your workspace is a mess, and therefore your work performance must be poor being consistent with your workspace… coworkers will associate a messy office with your organization skills and assume that your projects or proposal will get lost in the landfill of your desk… According to Peter Walsh; the issue isn’t space, it’s too much stuff… According to Laura Stack; digital clutter can be just as stressful and energy-sapping as physical clutter… most people spend at least 30 minutes to an hour a day looking for things

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In the article Why a Messy, Cluttered Store Is Good for Business by Brad Tuttle writes: Clutter is back in a big way in many retail stores all over the country; apparently when stuff is piled-up and thrown all over the store, shoppers tend to buy more stuff… Many discount and department stores are leading a pack of retailers that are restocking their shelves and cramming-in as much merchandise as possible– into, within, between aisles: Call it strategic clutter or mess by design…

The reason these retailers are untidy is because the overloaded appearance gives off distinctly strong impressions to shoppers. Some may think ‘clutter’, yet for others (many, many others), a messy and random pile of goods connotes ‘bargain’. A source quoted in the NY Times offers some insight; historically, the more a store is packed, the more people think of it as value…

What’s interesting is that whether shoppers are aware or not, they are making pretty big assumptions based on a store’s appearance. And you all know assumptions can prove costly for consumers. In this instance, the assumption is that– if goods are thrown, here and there or piled-up semi-randomly in a store, the prices must be cheap. The customer gets the impression that the store isn’t spending money to tidy its appearance or design, so presumably the customer isn’t paying for those things either… On the other hand, when entering a store where the options are few, and everything is neat and meticulously organized, the shopper might get the impression that the stuff sold there must be high-end merchandise…

Retailers are constantly trying to catch shoppers’ eyes– to make them pause and consider a completely unplanned purchase. These ‘speed bumps’ get in your way physically, attempting to prevent the quick, impulse-free-shopping escape. The speed bumps add to the overall overloaded, messy appearance– an appearance retailers are striving for… Another interesting quote from the NY Times; messiness, or pallets in the middle of an aisle are also a cue for value… there are many cues that shopper’s picks-up on in stores…

None of these ideas are new; thrift stores, flea markets, bazaars… the world over have been offering customers– a cluttered, messy, overwhelming, treasure-hunt-like shopping experience… But now, it’s local retailers copying the presentation and design of the shabby second-hand stores and the strategy is very simple; whatever it takes to keep the consumer shopping…

An MIT study seems to find a correlation between smart and messiness, but then it’s MIT and it’s probably filled with messy-desks people who might be skewing the results in their favor… Anyway they say that– messiness is often associated with people who are artistic, creative, scientific, mathematical, genius, and spontaneity… but also with carelessness, eccentricity, madness, unreliability… For example; the messy desks of– Einstein, Lincoln, Freud, Jobs, Twain, Bacon, Fleming, Turing… were all more than a bit unorganized… A study published in the Psychological Science magazine found that– a desk overflowing with piles of papers, empty coffee mugs, and various objects– stimulates creativity, promotes positive emotions, encourages a problem-solving attitude…

Whereas, a study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute found that– the negative impact of clutter can influence colleagues’ perception of one’s competence based on the looks of his/her desk… According to David Freedman; some people claim that having a messy desk is a sign of being a more creative person… On the other hand, people who have a very neat desk are not necessarily uncreative, e.g.; there are many accountants, bankers… with very messy desks; and there are many artists,  scientists.. with extremely neat desks…

For most people it’s hard to clear out all the clutter, and it’s also hard to keep life clutter-free, because ‘nature abhors a vacuum’… however, by understanding the deeper meaning and cost of clutter, then saying that you will declutter is one thing but understanding what you might lose if you don’t is another thing, entirely… According to Kristen Fischer; some people like the clutter… the mess aids them… it stimulates them… and for many, it’s damn inspiring… On the other hand, some creative people have enough stuff swirling in their artistic minds, and then looking at more crap around their workspace just makes them even more anxious, frustrated…

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Some researchers say; orderly environments promotes better decision-making, which can improve business performance… but they also say; disorderly environments stimulate creativity, which also has widespread importance for business performance… So bottom-line, if you love clutter, go for it– but it may be more than just clutter that makes you a creative genius…

According to Dann Albright; everyone has an optimal working environment; for some people– it’s spotless desk with– laptop, smart phone… For others– it’s a kitchen table covered in books, handouts, printouts, files, newspapers, magazines, reports, tablet, phone, laptop, cup of coffee, water bottle…

Hence, some people feel better when everything is very clean and orderly, while others find it a bit sterile… It’s important to find the best balance for yourself that limits stress, but also doesn’t make you feel like you are working in a hospital clean room, unless that’s what you prefer!