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Does Clutter Inhibit Creativity?

Creativity coach Beth Ann Dailey provides top tips on the creative life.

Eric Maisel
Creativity Coaches on Creativity
Source: Eric Maisel

Do I prefer an orderly environment in which to work or a messy one? If I had to take a stab at my preference, I think I would say that my ideal work environment has a messy orderliness to it, or maybe an orderly messiness. What works best for you? In today’s post, creativity coach Beth Ann Dailey explores this theme.

Beth Ann explained:

Does clutter inhibit creativity? The answer appears to be: it depends. Visual clutter can distract us from our efforts, but it can also inspire creative work. It really depends on your personal preference. The trick is to find the balance that works for you.

Some clutter-clearing experts argue that when you live surrounded by clutter, it is harder to have clarity about what you are doing in your life—and that when you clear clutter, you can think more clearly and decisions become easier. For them, being clear of clutter is one of the greatest aids to manifesting the life you want.

Other experts argue that getting rid of the excess allows you to pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy. For the majority of the clients these experts work with, tidying causes them to become more passionately involved in their work. They do admit, however, that although people function better when they know where things are, an environment that is too neat, where everything is “just so,” can be as much of a problem as a place that is chaotic and cluttered.

Research from the University of Minnesota in 2013 found that a group brainstorming ideas around a messy table demonstrated greater creativity than a similar group performing the same task at a tidy table. The same number of ideas were generated by both groups, but the ideas generated by the messy-table group were rated as more interesting and creative when evaluated impartially.

Celebrated author and humorist Mark Twain famously chose to be photographed by his very messy desk. Dede Allen, the legendary film editor of Bonnie and Clyde and The Breakfast Club, worked in an editing room where the walls were covered with pieces of film she had taped up. To the outsider it looked like chaos, but it helped Allen try different creative solutions quickly.

Personally, I feel overwhelmed when surrounded by too much clutter. I know I feel happier and more relaxed and create more freely when I keep my clutter at bay. I thrive in a calm environment. While writing, I can be easily distracted by the dust balls on the floor below my feet and the stack of mail piled up beside me on my desk. When I prioritize decluttering, I am able to approach my work more willingly and with more ease and energy.

I would encourage you to take some time to consider how clutter impacts your creativity. You might discover that you create more freely at a messy desk or feel calmer in a less cluttered environment or fall somewhere in between. Wherever you are along the spectrum, I hope thinking about your optimal creative space inspires you to create your best work.