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Can Clutter Make You More Creative?

31 October 2022

Many people believe a disorganized work environment clutters the mind. The top claim is that it makes it hard for your thoughts to flow. And you know who's working (tirelessly) for this claim? An endless list of publications and blogs promoting minimalist workstations.

We are aware of the positive effects decluttering has on creativity. We don't deny that. BUT…a little mess can be as helpful–sometimes. I mean, even the laws of the universe are chaotic, and we leave many things to fate. Surrender unto the chaos!

Albert Einstein is famous for saying:

"If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"

For some people, disorganization is a key ingredient in their creative process. And today, we explore this unconventional idea to see if there are benefits to it, and to find out whether it works for everyone.

Does The Science Add Up?

According to Professor Kathleen D. Vohs, it does! She recently did a study to test whether messy environments encourage people to abandon convention and embrace innovation. The experiment put 48 students in either a neat or cluttered room.

The Assignment?

Come up with some new creative ideas for ways to use ping-pong balls. The most innovative idea was using ping-pong balls to create trays for round ice cubes. Or as protective chair leg covers to protect floors from damage. Less creative ones included using them for beer pong.

The Results

Both rooms generated an equal number of ideas. However, the messy room was about five times more creative than the occupants of the clean and tidy room.

To Paraphrase Professor Vohs' Findings:

"Everyone wants to declutter their work life, relationships and other aspects of their lives. There's even a multi-billion industry centered on that. However, being messy can be an advantage sometimes. So, we hope this study vindicates the clutter bugs among us – Big time!"

Professor Vohs also implies a stigma against clutter, especially in the office. Publications, TV, and radio shows encourage decluttering as "the only" desirable end goal.

This position is rooted firmly in many organizations' corporate DNA. We perceive clean workstations as hubs for the flow of clear ideas.

However, there's a significant number of employers that find solace in their clutter or creative piles. So, there's a possibility that such workers struggle to maintain neat desks out of the shame attached to being a little messy.

How Does Messiness Relate To Creativity?

Most of us can stand a little mess. However, some people need everything arranged meticulously–otherwise, they wouldn't be able to sit, let alone work at their desks.

But there's nothing odd about preferring a cluttered or messy desk.

And the difference can be as simple as how personality traits play into the creative process. Let's process that.

Creative Thinkers Creative thinkers use conventional tools and ideas to develop new ways to do things. This calls for challenging accepted processes and methods. That's why artistic people aren't afraid to get dirty and put stuff in creative clutters. The other half of the divide may fail to make sense of the mess because they lack creatives perspective.

1. Abstract Thinkers

Most people are perfectly fine with rolling with general concepts and ideas. However, not abstract thinkers! These individuals strive to create meaningful connections between various ideas. This means their workspaces can have piles of deconstructed documents and tools.

But unlike creative thinkers, you can notice some method or order to the madness. Their piles can stack high, but they tend to be more organized and easier to sift through.

2. Analytical Thinkers

Analytical thinkers strive to understand how parts of an idea contribute to a concept or process. This work requires a clear and step-by-step approach. It's hard to think straight when you have to search for a pencil or calculator under piles of irrelevant office supplies. That is why analytical thinkers thrive in clean and orderly work environments.

3. Convergent Thinkers

Convergent thinkers need to organize data carefully and systematically before understanding it. Consider how accountants must settle balances at each stage before compiling an entire expense account.

It's challenging to do this type of work in a cluttered environment. That's why most accounting firms you visit are picture-perfect–clean and minimalistic.

4. Divergent Thinkers

Divergent thinkers are analytical/convergent thinkers that use their creativity. These traits allow them to solve problems by seeing how ideas or procedures overlap. In essence, they look at how patterns evolve in the expansion of a concept.

These types of workers require order at times. But, their creative piles can expand beyond their workstations into the entire office whenever they spiral down the messy rabbit hole.

Why Is Creativity a Messy Process?

Have you ever tried baking a cake without making a mess in the kitchen? If you're a chef, then you can contain the mess. However, the mess may be harder to control if you're new to the kitchen or trying something new.

Graham Wallas' The Art of Thought tried to reduce the creative process to four stages. These stages include:





The study took three decades of impactful but messy work. It showed a method to the madness but showed no matter how clinical and patient we are, it's impossible to leave any creative endeavor without making our hands dirty.

Creativity is messy because you're trying new ways to approach a challenge. This opens loads of room for you to make mistakes. And sometimes, there is even some beauty in the mess you make. It only takes a change in perspective to see it.

To Clean Or Not To Clean?

Now, the tricky question is–should you continue to work amidst the clutter or pick up a broom and dustpan?

Sadly, there's no concise answer. Professor Voh's Study reveals that messy people have a more out-of-the-box approach to challenges–which is helpful in problem-solving and innovation.

But, it also revealed many positive aspects to people who clean their offices or rooms. For instance, organized people care more about the environment and have a charitable spirit. They are also more likely to make conventional choices like filing their returns on time or picking healthy foods over junk food.

But something to note is that our choices affect not just us but the environment we reside in. Cleaning up your mess could improve your standing with your workmates and clients. But, if you feel your creative clutter makes you better at your job, keep it. Only try and contain it to your desk and, at least, take out the trash to keep things sanitary.

Perhaps one day, the world will view messiness as integral to creativity. Until then, we're all bound to what is more commonly acceptable–and that is tidiness.

How to Tell if Clutter is Harming Your Creative Process

Some people can produce masterpieces even inside a landfill. But clutter can be a distracting minefield for a large part of the population. It can slow your process as you try to find your thoughts and tools among mountains of irrelevant items.

Here are three sure signs that clutter is killing your creativity:

1. Tasks take Longer than they Should

Do simple or non-essential tasks take longer every time? If yes, you need to organize your workstation to improve your productivity.

2. You are Constantly Distracted

If you find yourself building castles in the sky or reflecting on last night's game or telenovela, you need to declutter your workspace and mind.

3. You find it Hard to Locate Tools or Document

You're in danger if you spend more time looking for that expense report or memo instead of responding. It would be best if you decluttered your desk and schedule if it comes at the expense of your productivity.

How Can You Declutter and Preserve Your Genius

Creative cluttering works for visual thinkers by allowing them to see and access all their tools. It can seem chaotic to an outside observer, but for them, it is the picture of order and progress–or ordered chaos.

However, the mess can reach an unmanageable point that weighs heavily on your time and creativity. Here are some points to help ensure you can manage your creative pile:

Keep a separate uncluttered surface or space where you can escape if you need to clear your thoughts as you work

Go through the clutter quarterly or monthly to get rid of the trash

Declutter your thoughts by using a whiteboard or other visual aids

Organize your documents and use portable storage to see if it'll have a positive influence on your process


As you can see, cluttering can positively influence your creative process. However, it also limits your space and operational flexibility. Fortunately, we have the best office furniture and accessories, including visual aids and storage equipment, to help reduce or manage clutter. Visit our website to find out more and take advantage of our exclusive deals.