The Clean vs. Messy Desk Debate

             They say that the outside environment is a good indicator of the internal environment, but how much of that is true?  New research finds that while it’s easy to say things are always off better organized and tidy, there’s hidden benefits to less organized spaces.

                When it comes to your working desk, less clutter on the desk is a sign of a better worker, right?  Researchers at the University of Minnesota may surprise you with the answers they found when investigating that theory!  Participants filled out questionnaires in different working environments (messy vs. tidy), were asked to come up with new ideas, and then they were asked behavioral questions that measured generosity.  Finally, they were offered the choice of a healthy snack (apple) or an indulgent snack (chocolate) to measure how the different environments impacted their willpower.

                Those people who were in the clean room seemed to follow overall unspoken societal structures more willingly by choosing to donate to charity, while also exhibiting more willpower when it came to choosing a snack.  The people who were working in the messy environment were equally as productive as those in the clean office by generating the same amount of ideas; but the quality of their ideas was more creative and interesting!

                The researchers were careful to mix it up when it came to exposing participants to the clean and messy rooms by changing the locations and types of the rooms.  The participants acted similarly despite being in different locations:  the only thing that mattered was the state of clutter.

                The coworker with the messy desk is being affected by their unkempt area, but the disorder in that environment might be benefiting them.  Psychologically, the people exposed to the disorder are able to take more risks and get past societal hang ups, making it easier for them to be innovative, while those that favor tidy areas are better at staying within the lines.

                To extrapolate these findings, the researchers are underway to find out if the same rules apply when it comes to viewing webpages.  One thing is for certain though—the environment does affect your inner state of being.  Depending on what you’re hoping to achieve, clean your desk, or mess it up!


Further Reading

K. D. Vohs, J. P. Redden, R. Rahinel. Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity. Psychological Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1177/0956797613480186

Photo by Robert Bye on Unsplash

Reviews (2 comments)

  • Larry G Trowbridge Sr On

    The next to the last paragraph describes me perfectly! I am ALWAYS getting in trouble with my coworkers (especially those on management positions) for being “messy and untidy” and yet, I’m most likely to be the one to come up with new and more efficient ways of doing things. If the clutter doesn’t pose a safety risk or hinder production rate, tidiness takes a very low priority for me; instead of wasting time keeping my area uncluttered, I can focus more on getting the job done quicker and more efficiently.

  • Alexx Daye On

    As I sit here in the midst of my own organized CHAOS! LOL!!! Now I’m pondering whether to clean my desk or not! LOL!

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