On Thursday, The New York Times published a story entitled “The Unbearable Heaviness of Clutter,” and I feel personally attacked. The piece cites several studies, one of them new, about the negative psychological and emotional effects of a cluttered or messy space. This is all part of the propaganda machine that says having a messy desk means (or at least makes people think) you’re “cranky” and “neurotic.” When did we as a society designate neat-freak levels of organization and cleanliness the only socially acceptable predilection?
Personally, I’ve tried Muji-esque routines and created pristinely clean environments, and all it did was make me sad. My apartment looked like the front of a brochure for a new high-rise condominium, but I felt irritable—maybe even a little unhinged. I can’t remember where anything is and I spend an insane amount of time rifling through little boxes, attempting to remember which is supposed to contain the shoes I’m looking for.
It just also seems like I could be doing so many other things in the time it would take to work Marie Kondo’s magic on my home. My inclination toward organized chaos is the reason I’ve had time to read and to teach myself embroidery. Growing up with four siblings in a seven-person household, if I had spend all my time tidying, I wouldn’t have had time to do anything else.
Personal spaces should look and feel lived-in and say something about your personality. My home pretty accurately reflects that I am, in some ways, like George Costanza (especially the frantic, shirtless, block-of-cheese eating, goggles-clad “Summer of George” version). I aspire to live in an apartment that tells as much about my personality as Eloise’s ransacked-but-still-sort-of-chic bedroom says about hers.
I bring the same level of comfort to my office workspace. Yes, my desk is messy, but the mess is mine. I will never be one of those people who disappears without a trace. If tomorrow I am abducted by aliens, I hope all of the seemingly random shit on my desk will remind people that I was once there and that they should definitely be looking for me.
The organized chaos is also beneficial because it functions as a sort of physical version of a word association game. Everything is not exactly where it “should” be, but it is where it should be instinctually. Conventional organizational wisdom will tell you that my Madonna-inspired cross earrings should live in a jewelry bowl or something of the sort. Instead, they are in the Q-tip box in my bathroom because that’s where I’d take them off when I wash the makeup off my face but also because they’re the last thing I’d put on when I get dressed.
So thank you for the joy you’ve brought to others, Marie Kondo, but I’ll stick to my instinctual approach to organization.
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