When I read Marie Kondo’s hit book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I thought it was terrific — but not quite right. She argues that cleaning up will leave you with your mind and spirit clear, which is correct; but it can also leave you with your mind empty. That’s because, as I’d found in reading years of social science about the way we organize our desks, sometimes mess can be useful for sparking new ideas.
So I wrote my latest Wired column about this. Several friends emailed me in horror after reading it. “I’m never going to let my kids read this story,” they said, “because then they’ll use it as an excuse not to clean their rooms.”
Put Down the Broom: Why Tidying Up Can Hamper Creativity
by Clive Thompson
If clutter drives you nuts, you’re in good company. There’s been a burst of excitement recently about neatness, propelled by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo’s best-selling guide that urges us to toss out anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” If we can succeed at decluttering, Kondo says, we will feel pure bliss. “The lives of those who tidy thoroughly and completely,” she writes, “in a single shot, are without exception dramatically altered.” As the biggest neatnik and picker-upper in my casually messy family, I thrill to this idea.
But one kink, though. A strand of recent research suggests that mess can, counterintuitively, sometimes be useful.