Messy desk: evidence of the indomitable creativity of your soul

Messy desk: evidence of the indomitable creativity of your soul

The workplace for many people is a second home. For those that have the option of having a desk, work space, or cubical it’s a little place that transcends a bit of yourself. A grumpy cat poster slewing some remark about “Mondays” or a family picture on the desk corner to remind you of the little humans you couldn’t possibly forget in the 8 hours you are absent from home. A work space could also be a place in which one shows off that college diploma or certification that one hopes to hear praise for. Regardless of what’s on display in your area of productivity, one thing that reads true is how cleanliness in the work place may actually hinder your creative juices. That messy workplace may have some unsung virtues hiding there.

The science behind the mess

Three experiments were published recently in Psychological Science by a group of researchers from the University of Missouri. Two interpretations were to come of them. The first was that messy workspace brought on more creativity. The other was that people in orderly environments are more likely to make healthy choices and even donate money to charity.

In the first experiment, one group of students was place into a cluttered, messy office and asked to fill out a questionnaire. The second group received the same task but was placed in an immaculate office space. After the 10 minutes of questions, both groups were offered an apple or a chocolate bar. Lastly, they were given the option of whether or not to donate to charity.

The students that completed the study in the neat room were twice as likely to choose the apple over the chocolate and they gave more money on average to charity. The authors suggest that the organized climates brought about a sense of discipline and ethical uprightness.

Where it gets tricky?

After the questionnaires were filled out the students were all ushered into either immaculate or slovenly spaces and then told to come up with new used for the ping pong ball. Two independent judges after reviewing the ideas concluded that the students brainstorming amidst the messy workplaces generated more creative proposals. So, after the first experiment, cleaner areas promotes better health choices and after the second experiment, messier places harbor more creative ideas. What does the final experiment say?

The third experiment reveals the most about how work place cleanliness affects our thought processes. In this study, adults could add one of two healthy boosts to their lunchtime smoothie. They were the “classic boost” and the “new boost.” People that had spent time in the well-kept rooms were more likely to follow the crowd and pick the “classic” boost. Meanwhile, those in the messy areas more often chose the “new” boost. A thought on this is that those in the messy areas wanted a change from their current presence and therefore chose something new. While the people that were happy and content with the clean areas just wanted more of the same.

While these studies were designed to get a better insight into the mind of the messy vs. neat, I do not think they hold all the answers into people’s individual insight. I, for one, would be the neater work area that always went after chocolate in any form, and always feel the need to give to charity when prompted. What these studies do show is how what we do on the outside really does affect what’s going on in our minds and subconscious. I think a happy medium would go a long way. Pick up any trash and try to keep some order, but try your best not to hinder those creative juices!

Guest author Jamie Eller has mixed feelings about these findings. She appreciates the science behind the studies, but still prefers a tidy desk. In fact, Jamie helps maintain a site about the use of a desk caddy ( Naturally, all the office supplies on her desk are properly organized!


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