Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Creativity and Messiness Connection

Albert Einstein is alleged to have said, “If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, what is an empty desk a sign of?” I don't know if he said it or not but his desk was pretty cluttered and his mind was—well, anything I say about Einstein's mind would be laughable. But I understand his point. I read recently about a study by a psychological scientist named Kathleen Vohs from the University of Minnesota who did a study on the link between creativity and messiness. Her conclusion was that clutter and creativity are definitely linked for many people.

Does this mean that making a mess will make you more creative? No—at least not in my opinion. But the clutter that accrues while someone is creating is often inevitable. I see it in my house to a nearly embarrassing degree but there is a reason for it.

There is a small room off my kitchen that I use as my sewing room. It is, generally speaking, pretty messy. I have lots of storage bins and organizers but the thing is I have to have lots of stuff around me to get ideas. I tape pictures out of magazines to the wall. I pin pieces of ribbon and feathers and strings of beads and postcards and patterns to a corkboard over the sewing machine table. I stack folded fabric in piles according to color or texture or fiber. These things feed my creative soul.

In the room I use for writing I have books stacked all over the place. And magazines—many with post-it notes sticking out of them to mark something I don't want to forget. There are also books piled up around my bed. There is the book that I am reading plus lots of books I am using for research—I never know which one I am going to feel like reading. On the wall over my desk are lots of photographs of interesting looking people that I think might inspire characters. There are also a lot of rocks and crystals and little hand-sculpted figures of mermaids that people have given me because I have this peculiar notion that they bring me good luck. There is a stuffed doll next to my laptop of a bearded fellow in a Steelers uniform with the number 99 on his jersey because I think he is good karma. Plus there are bottles and jars of vitamins and herbs, empty tea cups, and candles. Because I need them.

See here is the thing—clutter does not inspire creativity. You can't mess up a room and then sit down and wait for inspiration. You have to start working on something and allow the clutter to accrue organically. Your clutter will be different from any other creative being's clutter. Your clutter reflects the way your mind wanders.

Even in the kitchen I tend to have too much on the counter at all times. I am very much an out-of-sight-out-of-mind cook. If I don't see something chances are good I'll forget it is there to be used. Just last night while cooking dinner I opened a cupboard door to search for something and I saw a jar I hadn't noticed in ages. It contained dried shallots and it was a very happy find for me but I had totally forgotten I had them.

I don't know if clutter is a good thing or a bad thing—I do know that for some of us it is an inevitable thing. Lucky for me I have only me to answer to—I'd hate to inflict my world on anyone else.

Thanks for reading.


  1. I get cluttered too! It's amazing the things that you can collect while you are in the process of making something. i let it accumulate for a bit but then I get to the point where I just can't stand it any more and then I start tossing and organizing and filtering. The clutter creep begins all over again.

    Jen - Pierced Wonderings

  2. I think a lot of us do that, Jen. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Fits me to a T, an apt description I should share with my family, but then they might lose hope it will change!


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