dave ainsworth
san francisco, CA

husband, father,
christian pastor,
human being

Clutter or Clear? It Depends


My desk is typically a mess. (See the embarrassing picture above.) So, I appreciated the article "Put Down the Broom: Tidying Up Can Hamper Creativity" in this month's WIRED magazine. Apparently, being surrounded by stacks of books and articles and sticky-notes is inspiring. By contrast, we are hesitant to mess up a clean desk, even if that means limiting our creativity.

By the second paragraph of the article, I was feeling pretty good about myself. But then, there came this line: "Messy surroundings can be spiritually draining." 

A study by Temple University marketing professor Grace Chae found that when people worked in a clean office, they were far more likely to persist on a difficult task than those who worked in a messy one. Vohs, too, found that people behaved slightly better in a neat room: They gave more to charity (when offered a chance to do so) and ate more healthily (choosing apples over chocolate). Mess, Chae tells me, saps our willpower: The disorder gets into our soul, reducing our grit. I often find I can’t do certain types of draining work—like filing my taxes—until I’ve cleaned my home office. Mess may help us create ideas, but tidiness helps us act on them.

That last line is one to dwell on and apply: "Mess may help us create ideas, but tidiness helps us act on them." I love working on sermons surrounded by books and magazines, but I struggle with big projects, especially administrative ones, when my desk is cluttered. 

Right now, I'm in a rhythm of cleaning my desk every Friday or Monday. Maybe it's helped me find a balance between these two extremes. What do you think?


Addiction and Virtue

But Did He Really Mean It?