Is Tidying Up Really a Joy?

I read a funny, but also kind of defensive, article by Jennifer McCartney, the author of a book entitled, “The Joy of Leaving Your Sh-t All Over the Place.” She feels that the bestseller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” is ruining us by commanding that we maintain impossible standards of minimalism. 

McCartney feels that being messy is humans’ organic state and that by honoring our true nature, we actually enjoy more benefits than we would achieve by struggling to preserve a perfect, zen-like order. 

There is some research that confirms messy people are more creative. People in a white, sterile environment were more likely to order familiar menu items, while people in a disorderly environment were more likely to be adventurous and try something new. Similarly, when asked to come up with ways to use ping pong balls, people in an uncluttered room listed conventional uses, while people in a messy space came up with more ingenious ideas (like using them as ice cube trays, or on the bottoms of chair legs to protect floors).

McCartney also asserts that disorderly people are actually more organized than they appear. According to David Freedman’s “A Perfect Mess,” the piles of things we have lying around can be a pretty efficient storage system. They have a chronologic order to them—we know how far down we have to dig to find just what we’re looking for.

And perhaps most importantly, being a bit messy is just more authentic. Is it sustainable to keep everything photo-ready at all times? Or, does trying to keep everything impeccably tidy add stress to already stressful lives?

I think for most of us, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I had a friend who used to justify her, um, “authentically comfortable” home, and say, “Well, it’s all right—the photographers from ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ aren’t coming today.”

And it’s true, no one’s home needs to be “picture perfect” all the time. If minimalism isn’t your thing and it doesn’t bring you joy, isn’t it OK to let go of trying to achieve that particular life-changing magic?

Having said that, I can admit that I am a pile maker, and it doesn’t always serve me well. I do file some stuff and store things in an orderly fashion when I can, but there’s a lot of junk that I’m not sure what to do with—piles of it. Each pile is temporary, but whenever one is resolved, another pops up to take its place. I set things down to deal with “later,” and they stay there somewhat indefinitely. Sometimes I can put my finger on what I need immediately, but I have to confess that I waste way too much time searching for things because I can’t remember where I put them.

What McCarthy doesn’t mention in her article is that there are benefits to being tidy, too. Those folks who were in a clean room were almost twice as generous in giving money to charity, and they were more than THREE TIMES as likely to choose an apple for a snack over a chocolate bar. And while a messy environment might help us feel creative, a tidy environment might help us do tasks that require “adherence to rules and a conservative approach,” such as filling out an expense report. In that way, experts think we might be able to “engineer” our productivity by creating the right setting.

I also believe that our individual preference is pretty deep-seated in our basic personality profile—whether we’re more visual or more tactile; whether our Chinese element is earth, water, fire, wood or metal; where we fall on the DISC or Meyers Briggs Assessment tools. I hired a consultant to do a color analysis for me years ago. It was fascinating! I learned that I’m a “winter.” I was in her home looking around at all the accessories and layers of curtains and fabric and decorations she had everywhere. She saw me scanning and she said, “This room is probably too busy for you, isn’t it? Winters don’t like having this much stuff around.” And it was true! It almost made me a little bit uncomfortable. The room seemed “fussy” to me.

But for her it was perfect. For some of us, simplicity is bliss. For others, a having our sh-t all over the place is the good life. I say, to each his own! One person’s mess is another one’s magic.

Sources: https://www.architecturaldigest.com/story/why-minimalism-is-bs

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/heres-something-neat-being-messy-has-its-benefits/article14485250/

Category : Blog &Personal Growth Posted on May 9, 2018

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