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The authors in “A Perfect Mess” extol the benefits of disorder, and suggest that organizing systems are somehow rigid, lacking in ingenuity, and inhibitive of creative potential. Having been on both sides of the “organizational” fence (both messy and neat nik), I have found that organizing is not about being inflexible, but rather about having only what you need, and possessing those things in a format that does not contribute to further clutter.

The authors’ premise begs the following question: why do you have so many things in the first place? Perhaps your accumulation is the result of requesting documents in a paper (as opposed to an electronic) format, a failure to prioritize, or an overabundance of what Gail Blanke (2010) refers to as “life plaque:” those things that are unnecessary, but which skulk about in our lives because we have not taken the time to eliminate them.

These items include committees that drain your energy, publications you rarely read, and toxic people who contribute nothing positive to your life. If you are a collector and a hoarder of the unwanted, your workspace (and subsequently, your life) will be a mess by default. Moreover, mess occupies mental real estate in that it takes that much more time to (1) keep track of what you have; and (2) think about where to locate what you want.

Organizing in my experience is a continual process that cycles around the dynamic nature of my work. Relatedly, St. John mentions the sage observation of a Buddhist monk (and former professor) who stated: “Half of life is cleaning” (St. John, 2009, p. 133). If you purge items of non-importance and meticulously sort the remainder, you will find that you don’t need more space, but that you can get by swimmingly with the space you have. According to Aslett (1994, p. 32), what a messy desk really costs the company is (among other things):

  • Work time (and salary) lost to slowness, inefficiency, and confusion caused by clutter and being distracted by our own junk.
  • Furnishing supplies and equipment ruined (warped, bent, broken, smashed, rusted, or rotted) because they were crowded by, crammed with, or in contact with clutter.

The above list does not take into account the mental frustration and spent energy which prevents you from focusing on more fruitful endeavors.



 Abrahamson, E., & Freedman, D. H. (2007). A perfect mess. New York: Bay Back Books.

 Aslett, D. (1994). The office clutter cure: How to get out from under it all. Pocatello, ID: Marsh Creek   Press.

Blanke, G. (2010). Throw out fifty things: Clear the clutter, find your life. New York: Hachette     Book Group.

St. John, N. (2009). The secret code of success: 7 hidden steps to more wealth and happiness. New  York: Harper Collins Publishers.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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