When a new year rolls around, you make the same resolutions. You’re going to lose weight and keep the house clean. No more backpacks, coats and shoes sprawled across the living-room floor and any beds unmade or socks unmatched. The authors, Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, of the new book “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder” claim that if you’re the type of person who is moderately disorganized you’re probably more efficient, resilient, creative and in general more effective than someone who is highly organized. “The fact of the matter is there are a lot of things to like about being messy that have been hugely ignored,” Freedman wrote in his book.
Abrahamson is a professor of management at Columbia University’s School of Business who has written an academic paper on the benefits of messiness, and Freedman is a business and science journalist who has written for publications such as The Atlantic Monthly and Newsweek. Freedman says their book is based on hundreds of sources, including surveys and numerous interviews with people messy and neat.
The books most compelling argument for the benefits of messiness and disorder is that they save people time and make them more efficient. As for the office, a survey done by the authors found that people who say they keep a very neat desk at work spend an average of 36 percent more time looking for things than people who keep it a bit dirty. That’s because it takes time to put every paper in its place in order, whereas messy people tend to put things in surprisingly sophisticated piles that they can easily access. The authors also found that a messy house is more nurturing to children. Freedman says he interviewed many middle-aged people who grew up in antiseptic homes and who still remembered being screamed at for running across the carpet or leaving a glass someplace.
Freedman, who acknowledges that he and his wife are a bit on the messy side, says he first became interested in the benefits of disorder while writing a magazine article about a physics professor who discovered that certain kinds of scientific systems worked better if you made them messier. He wondered if this theory might apply to the home and office as well, and teamed up with Abrahamson to investigate the topic.
They found that messiness hasn’t always had a bad image. “They didn’t even know the word until the 19th century,” he says. That changed the Victorian Times, when people began to accumulate nice things and wanted to keep them clean. Then with the invention of appliances, cleanliness got really out of control. That led to the growth of today’s professional organizers.