ORGANIZE IT! Orderly Solutions for Everyday Life
In The News       

  bullet  Home

  bullet  About Us

  bullet  Client Testimonials

  bullet  Photo Gallery

  bullet  Getting Started

  bullet  Dorothy Madden

  bullet  In The News

  bullet  Resources

  bullet  Contact Us






NAPO - National Association of Professional Organizers

 NAPO Golden Circle


A Neat Idea:
Two authors say that being messy may foster creativity - now, where's that book?

Democrat & Chronicle, 2/10/07
Lisa Hutchurson, Staff Writer

Suzanne Pilon's mom always wanted her to be neater.

"She washed the walls every other day," says Pilon, 44. "She tried to mold me into that person. It was really difficult."

Her neighbors probably want her to be neater, too.

"The sunflower house for the kids is hanging over the fence," says the Hilton woman. "The duck is running around. The chicken is running around, cock-a-doodle-dooing. I had an old full-sized school bus someone gave me, and was going to make it into something beautiful for the kids. They called the town on me, because it was in the driveway."

And at the QUEST Elementary School of Choice, where she teaches in Hilton, a supervisor wanted to know why her classroom couldn't be more like that of a colleague who organized even the tissue boxes.

"I've had a parent say, 'I didn't think my child would do well in your classroom,'" recalls Pilon. "A lot of people make assumptions about you."

A new take on mess
Now, however, there's praise for her kind, in A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder (Little, Brown & Co., $25). The book, by David Freedman and Eric Abrahamson, is actually a tome to the undeniable benefits of randomness in the universe. Only as a last thought in their research did the authors begin to look at the effect of random versus nonrandom clutter in people's homes or on their desks. When they looked into it, they found that "creativity and mess are inextricably intertwined." Other unrecognized benefits from mess, they claim, include inventiveness, flexibility, efficiency and the ability to be a more nurturing parent.

More importantly, claim the authors, we pay a price for organization in terms of time and resources. At home, the price of order may be time spent nagging the kids or money spent on a housekeeping service. Meanwhile, a refrigerator door covered with sports schedules and party invitations can be more efficient than a filing system where obligations may quickly be not only out of sight, but out of mind.

Pilon, who bought a copy of the book, says it applauds what she has always secretly prized in herself.

She believes, for instance, that her creativity and inventiveness make her a better teacher. With her artistic eye, for instance, she can see the potential in every little scrap. So she saves it for hands-on or more visual learning. Her flexible nature, she adds, allows her to quickly adapt. "You can have the best plans in your plan book, but if Johnny doesn't give you the answer you want, you need to improvise."

She maintains that her messiness also carries a certain efficiency, and that gives her time for what's really important.

"We both believe time spent with the kids far outweighs any cleaning task we used to do," she says of herself and her husband, Carl. "Your house is either your showplace for your things, or a place where you play with and love your kids." At school, "printing is the last thing I worry about with the kids. The content is the important thing — the heart-and-soul writing. It's about taking that energy and applying it toward something else, instead of organizing your tissue boxes."

Critics weigh in
Freedman and Abrahamson say you're either messy or you're not. And while the prevailing belief is that messy people can change their lives and get organized, the truth, says Freedman, is they "are the biggest recidivists. They almost always fail."

Tara Russow, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Brighton, disagrees.

"You can teach an old dog new tricks if they have the motivation and ability to learn," she argues. "Many people retain psychological flexibility well into their later years and can alter their patterns and lifestyles."

People often feel helpless to change certain tendencies and that can become the real barrier, she says.

But messiness is not necessarily hard-wired into the core of one's being. Life management skills — organizing one's time and space and following through with various tasks such as paying bills — are for the most part, learned behaviors.

"The authors' definition of mess is based on function — that functional messes are beneficial and save time," observes Dorothy Madden, a professional organizer and owner of Organize It! in Penfield. "My definition of organization is also based on function — that functional organization is beneficial and saves time. Whether you call it mess or organization, if it works for you and you like your space, feel free to call yourself messy or organized, whichever you prefer."

Perhaps that's the lesson to be learned, if any. If organizing your tissue boxes works for you, go for it.

But if piles work for you, well ... stick with the piles.

That's what Pilon intends to do, anyway: "My new thing to say is it's part of my charm. If you don't get it, too bad."

Includes reporting by McClatchy Newspapers and the Hartford Courant.
Reprinted with the permission of the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY