Geetanjali Mukherjee

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Myth of the Messy Creative

We have all heard about how truly creative people are supposedly messy, and its a mark of a creative genius if they live in piles of clutter. I bought into this myth, or rather used it to justify being perennially disorganized and cluttered. Who am I kidding - I continue to use it to justify my being incredibly messy. But unlike before, I no longer buy into the myth. 

I’m not really sure whether there are studies that prove this myth one way or the other. And if you are a messy person who doesn’t want to change how you work, far be it for me to pass judgement. However, as someone who has struggled with being organized and corralling my clutter my whole life, I think there are a lot of benefits to working in a neat space. And this coming from someone who basically used a big plastic box in college to store my clothes in lieu of actually folding them or hanging them up when they came out of the wash. I dumped everything in the box, and rooted around in it every morning when looking for something to wear. Needless to say, that wasn’t a great system. 

And I used only a slightly better system for organizing important paperwork - the put-it-somewhere-and-forget-about-it method. I would dump unopened correspondence, flyers for events I wanted to attend, and even free vouchers for food that I wanted to eat in a pile on my desk, and when that pile grew larger, I would just gently push it all to the back to make more room, ignoring anything that mysteriously fell behind my desk, only to be retrieved months later when I was moving out. Its a miracle that I even managed to hand in anything important on time, and definitely missed out on a lot of great opportunities. I do not recommend this! 

In subsequent years, I have really tried hard to learn how to get better at being neat and organized. I have read books and looked up systems that promise that I will turn into Martha Stewart. While I haven’t become an expert at any of this, I have picked up tons of tips to help the organizationally challenged. 

Firstly, why even bother trying to be neater? Why not just embrace that this isn’t an area of strength and live with it? 
  • I often find that even if I let things slide while I am in the midst of a project or unusually busy with many things, neatening up helps me to close out a long and draining project, by putting away the detritus that accumulated while I was in the midst of working on it. 
  • I also find that when I’m feeling particularly challenged and a project isn’t going as well as I would like, organizing things helps to get me back on track. This might be because neatening things on the surface helps me achieve a calmer state inside me. Or it could have something to do with the energy or chi of my space. 
  • It helps reduce the distractions in my environment - seeing many different projects strewn around makes it harder to focus on the project at hand. 

So how exactly am I going to help you become more organized, at home or in your office? While I am not going to try and change you overnight into a neat freak, I will give you one huge tip that can help you in your organizational efforts: the rule of 80-20.

If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, its an economic term that basically describes a phenomena that often 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In simple English, things aren’t symmetrical or equal - a few people own a large proportion of the wealth, a few actresses get most of the Oscars and you use a few items in your home more often than the others. 

If you take the 80-20 rule and apply it to organizing your home or your office, you will realize that you wear some clothes more often than all the others combined, or some kitchen tools more than all the others, or some files in your office more often than everything else. 

How does knowing this help? It allows you to organize your space in such a way that everything you need regularly can be kept in an easy-to-access space, or kept close to hand. And the gadgets and files and handbags that you need only sometimes, can be put away - maybe in the cabinet that is harder to access, or in the top shelf of your cupboard that you need a step-ladder to get to. 

Ever since I had this epiphany of the 80-20 rule applying to organization, I realized that every room of my home violated it. I had the easiest to access drawers in my kitchen full of spices and utensils I almost never used. I kept files and papers I hadn’t touched in over six months on the table in my study. The most convenient hanging spaces in my cupboard were used for single-occasion dresses that I needed twice a year. No wonder I was disorganized - I hadn’t considered how I used my space. 

Faced with the challenge of keeping a neat dressing table, ask yourself: which items do you use most often? Put those on a pile to the side, and put everything else away. Voila! You’ve just made it easier to keep that dressing table neat. If you have a kitchen counter filled to bursting with gadgets, put away everything that is not used at least once a week. Stationery on your desk: do you really need six boxes of staples? Keep one and put the rest away. 

Why I love this method of keeping things neat - it doesn’t require you to remember complicated rules or buy special label-makers. You just ask yourself - what are my most easily accessed areas, and am I only using them to keep things I use most often?

I have been using this system myself and even converted my mum, who is much, much neater than me but still struggles with keeping everything contained. If you use this method and find it useful, email me or comment below and let me know. Better still, send me a photo! 

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