You might have a “messy” friend or family member. You can’t help but sigh at the chaos of their room — clean and dirty laundry mixed together. Odds are it’ll be difficult to walk two feet without encountering an empty chip bag. Gross? Yes. Bad? Not necessarily.
As a stereotypically “messy” person myself, I’ve received my own share of scorn. Living in a boarding school, I’m obligated to keep my room nice and tidy, ready for visitors and as a model to underclassmen. Monday room inspections are the norm, and faculty members have sometimes passively, sometimes aggressively, urged my roommate and me to clean up. For these purposes, I used to harbor a 24 x 24 x 24 cardboard box in which I’d stuff everything on Monday mornings and empty it out later that evening. Now, I just throw everything downstairs into the communal storage. Out of sight, out of mind.
As much judgment as we get for our clutter, research has shown that messiness can be a sign of creativity and openness. In the NYT article “It’s Not ‘Mess.’ It’s Creativity,” Kathleen D. Vohs’ study of messiness serves as a rare champion for us less-than-neat people. In her study, she gathered a group of subjects in a tidy room and another in a messy room. When each subject had to choose between a “classic” or “new” smoothie on a fake menu, the subjects in the tidy room chose “classic” while subjects in the messy room chose the “new” smoothies. This shows that “people greatly preferred convention in the tidy room and novelty in the messy room.” In addition, Vohs revealed that messy people were more creative. So, what does this mean?
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