Clutter and Creativity: Does a Mess Actually Make us More Innovative?

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

Part of why I haven’t written much in the past few months is because I have convinced myself that if I just get my house thoroughly cleaned and organized, I’ll get more work done. The reality is this: my house is still a mess! and I’ve added fewer words to my novel then are in this blog post.

Currently, my system of organization is dependent on piles, loads of them. (Though, I can tell in which pile to find just about anything.) My journals are a collage of notes and scenes scribbled on scraps of paper and then taped into said journal in no particular order. Clutter is my best friend. And my worst enemy.

However being a Montessori teacher by day, I spend a good chunk of my life in a very organized environment. Montessori classrooms are warm and inviting, but they are also minimal, purposeful and organized. Clutter is not a part of the aesthetic.

The influence of being in such an environment made me eager to replicate that serenity in my home and writing space. I even went so far as to purchase the October 2015 issue of Real Simple, which promised loads of ideas for cutting down clutter. But how organized do you need in order to be creative and productive as a writer?

Aside from the decluttering tips in the magazines issue, there was also an article titled, The Well Workplace, about being productive at work. While the article listed many interesting and helpful ideas, the piece of advice that struck me the most was not cleaning up your workspace. Ok, now I just bought a copy of magazine boosting the art of tidying up only to be told not to tidy my workspace? What the What? But according Kathleen Vohs, Ph.D., “‘…[O]rder stimulates our instinct to follow cultural norms and rules, which is the opposite of creativity. In messier environments, our instinct is to deviate from norms. That rouses creativity.'”

So even if neatness makes me feel more serene, clutter supposedly will make me feel the need to be more innovative. The question is, will I have more moments of creative innovation in an organized setting or one of chaos? Honestly, I am not one hundred percent convinced I’ll be more creative working in a cluttered environment, but it would make an interesting experiment. I think I’m going to take the theory for a test drive. I’ll let you know in a few weeks what I find out.

5 responses to “Clutter and Creativity: Does a Mess Actually Make us More Innovative?

  1. I, too, struggle with the conviction that I will be more productive if I only had an organized workspace. I recently heard about another study linking clutter to increased levels of stress hormone, particularly in women, so I feel like I could work better if I weren’t stressed out an working around clutter, but I’m like you. If I wait to write until I have a perfectly organized space, I will never write. I think the trick might be to find a middle ground and spend some of my time organizing as I go, but to be sure to write, even in the midst of my chaos.

  2. Now I don’t feel so guilty about the clutter–I’m not a slob, I’m just stimulating my innovation!

  3. Naomi Hawkins-Rowe

    Hear, hear to both of your comments.

  4. Pingback: In the Name of Love | write owls

  5. Pingback: Organizing the Headache: Tips for Writing a Multi-POV Novel | write owls

Leave a comment. Your name and email address are not required.