Clutter or Create?

From Jeff Goins:

Before beginning her career as a successful author and speaker, Patsy Clairmont did something unexpected. She washed the dishes.

She wanted to take her message to the world, but as she was readying herself, she felt nudged to start in an unusual way. She got out of bed and cleaned her house.

In other words, Patsy got rid of the mess. And it put her in a position to start living more creatively. We must do the same.

Bringing your message to the world does not begin on the main stage. It starts at home. In the kitchen. At your desk. Or on your cluttered computer.

You need to clear your life of distractions — not perfectly, but enough so that there’s room for you to create.

The relationship between clutter and creativity is inverse. The more you have of the former, the less you have of the latter. Mess creates stress. Which is far from an ideal environment for being brilliant.


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  • Why does have to be an either/or thing? Here’s a picture of Einstein’s desk. I’m pretty sure he was creative. I suspect many creative people just aren’t that stressed out by messiness. In fact, there are studies suggesting a link between messiness and creativity.

  • Totally agree. I have not the ability to create when there is a mess around me or elsewhere (and thus hanging over my head). Glad to be reminded of this as I begin the new year. Thanks!

  • DSO

    I have learned that sometimes the Lord gives us the latitude to clear the decks ourselves. Sometimes He does it for us. It’s disconcerting to have the Lord sweep out one’s life but it is reassuring to remember He knows what He is doing.

  • Jasmine

    What’s a mess to one person is also clean to another–it’s all about perspective. Check out a college dorm for an example of that. In my experience, creative people are also able to find everything they need in their own space, whether I would deem it as clean or not. Human personality is too varied for a box like this.

  • Do not show this to my husband!

    But in all seriousness, this is so true!

  • Bob G

    Sorry Scot, but you’ve defeated your own argument with the photo. It’s the place where The World Wide Web was INVENTED!

  • Sean LeRoy

    Couple of things I learned about Patsy…
    1. She likes colorful frogs
    2. She is an Apple fan – at least of their monitors
    3. She likes short haircuts
    4. She invented the internet

  • I don’t know if I believe this is true or not….but I’m going to pretend that I do and forward it to my kids. 🙂 Sheesh. Kids are MESSY!

    In all seriousness….I really don’t know about the necessity of order for “creativeness” to take place. I think some of the most creative and brilliant people are incredibly messy. They’re so busy creating, they can’t take time to keep order. Or maybe….what looks messy to others really isn’t. Usually the messy-but-creative one can tell you exactly where everything is. There are times that I’m sure the person with a pristine desk is soooo tied up in organizational skills (with color-coded index cards and labels and pretty binders) that they couldn’t have a truly creative thought if they tried.

  • JoeyS

    I think research would disagree or at least cast doubt on this claim:

    Though I would love to have a cleaner desk, the mess does not limit my creativity. I know people for whom the opposite is true. My college roommate was a very creative person, if the room was clean.

  • Thanks for the link, Scot. Great talking with you today. Interesting discussion here. I’ve heard the Einstein excuse a lot, and here’s where I land on that: Just because creative people have messy desks doesn’t mean the clutter is good.

    I’m not a very neat person myself. But I have to work thru the clutter — hover over the chaos — to create. The clutter itself doesn’t help my creativity (and I suspect the same for many others); it hurts it.

    So the issue is not whether creatives live with clutter; that much is obvious. The issue is whether the clutter helps or hinders our ability to make stuff that matters.

  • I think Jeff really makes a good point. I have also found that some of my most creative moments have come after I have dealt with some of the clutter in my office, in my desk, etc.

    (Glad you posted this. Jeff has a great blog and has written some great posts on writing and creativity.)

  • Dan Reid

    I suppose, Scot, that the photo is supposed to be an illustration of clutter. That’s all in the eye of the beholder. I’ll bet that chap could lay his hands on whatever he needs and the perceived clutter impedes his creativity by nil! I look at it and see organization. In some professions (editing being one of them)one is forced by sheer volume of paper etc. to *organize* by piles distributed around work surfaces and the floor. And those piles act like icons on a computer “desktop,” communicating the status of various ongoing projects.

  • Anne

    for #8, I think it takes a lot of creativity to get organized. There are so many ways to do it, administration is an industry full of creative ideas for better ways of doing things, like color coded index cards, labels and pretty binders.

  • Jon

    Have you seen a picture of Einstein or Steve Jobs’ desks? not at all decluttered, and they did pretty well for themselves.