A Little Vindication for People with Clutter

My favorite professor had a desk piled with scattered papers, books, and things. Hidden in the middle was a little plaque that said, “An empty desk is the sign of an empty mind”—probably a takeoff of a now famous quote by Albert Einstein: 

If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? 

Of course, most media messages today abhor the idea of clutter. And there’s good reason. Everyone knows from research that a tidy environment encourages good mental health, social responsibility, healthy eating, active lifestyles, and generosity. 

And, a Princeton University study in 2011 found that clutter hinders focus—it’s harder to manage attention and complete tasks. With clutter, the visual cortex—the part of the brain that receives, integrates, and processes information—easily becomes overwhelmed. 

Managing clutter is essential! But Einstein and my professor were also right when it comes to the value of clutter in creativity. 

Kathleen Vohs, PhD, of the University of Minnesota found a key to make your creative juices flow—working in a cluttered room helps people try new things and generate new ideas. 

Here’s a summary of two of her experiments: 

Experiment #1: 

Researchers asked 34 participants to fill out questionnaires—half in a tidy room, half in a cluttered room with books and papers strewn about. Afterward, they were each asked to voluntarily contribute to a charity and then, on the way out, they were offered a choice of an apple or a candy bar. 

  • 82% of neat-room participants donated to charity, versus only 47% of the clutter- room participants. 

  • 67% of neat-room participants chose the healthier apple over the chocolate, versus only 20% of the clutter-room participants. 
Experiment #2: 
Researchers asked 48 participants to come up with novel uses for a ping-pong ball— again half the participants were in a tidy room, half in a cluttered room. 

  • Participants in the two groups thought up the same number of ideas. 

  • But, based on a panel of independent raters, the ideas from the clutter-room 
participants were significantly more creative than those of the tidy-room participants. 
Voh’s research got a lot of attention. And she thinks she knows why: “I think it makes people feel vindicated. There’s a multibillion-dollar industry to help people de-clutter their lives.” But Voh concludes that even though everyone wants you to be neat, there may be times being messy is good, too. “I think messy people feel vindicated big time.” 

Top Mops has some creative-oriented clients that know the value of a cluttered desk or space. At the client’s request, we honor these creative spaces. In the client’s workorder, we’ll write: Don’t touch or don’t rearrange the client’s desk. 

Whether or not you think you’re creative, please contact us if you need home cleaning services. We can provide you with regular maintenance cleaning, single deep-cleaning, or seasonal cleaning. Let us take care of your least favorite chores so you can do the more important creative things on your list. To request a free estimate for professional house cleaning services in Lexington, KY, call us at