A recent study published in Psychological Science revealed that environmental disorder – aka ‘mess and clutter’ – could actually aid the creative process. Reading this was something of an epiphany for me. Modern wisdom is full of the idea that we ought to declutter our lives – that hanging on to possessions and memories and living in chaos is universally bad for us, and that by tidying our environments we will also achieve a tidiness of thought.
But what if tidiness of thought doesn’t work for you? I recently tried to explain this to a friend on Facebook and came out with the following. It is, as you would expect, a very cluttered missive, albeit one which makes sense to me:
It’s almost like I need visual confirmation that I’m in the process of living life right now – a tidy, sterile environment makes me feel uneasy, like everything is on pause and I’m scared to make a move in case I mess everything up. And that sort of mirrors the creative process, because the blank page is terrifying, and you WILL make a mess because creativity is never tidy. There are some writers who have neat, ordered notebooks and plan their stories before they write them and that’s great if it works for them! But for me, it has to be a spontaneous thing, kind of like the difference between a tidy landscaped garden and a meadow full of wildflowers – they’re both great, but my brain is like the latter and I feel so much happier and more comfortable when my environment reflects that. I don’t know if that ramble made sense! It’s just so good to read something that isn’t telling me that if I declutter I’ll be a better ‘me’ for once
My mind is not a tidy mind. It’s not a landscaped zen garden – though I love those! It’s a wild meadow full of plants growing haphazard, and that’s how I write. I don’t wish to sound like one of those poncy ‘well, the stories just GROW darling, I am merely a vessel’ type writers, but I would say that there’s an organic-ness to the process, for me at least – an idea forms, and sprouts, and I’ve tried taming it through planning and plotting and notebooking but I find it always ultimately stifles what I’m trying to create. There has to be room for chaos. A clutter of ideas and plotlines and character traits lend themselves – in my hands, at least – t0 a smoother, more natural end result. (At least, I hope so!)
What does this have to do with environment? Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” Now, I’m not suggesting that my tidy/minimalist/uncluttered friends are empty headed! Far from it. I just baulk at the suggestion that in order to be happy and peaceful and ‘the best I can be’, I HAVE to be tidy (and as an aside, isn’t it a tad suspicious that this is the take-home message in an era where the ‘decluttering’ concept has grown into an $8billion a year (and growing) industry….?) There is no ‘right’ way to organise one’s living space, I think. If you take comfort in clutter, then that’s right for you. I love being surrounded by colour and prefer the comfort of smaller spaces, surrounded by interesting things, and that’s a better place for me – and I write better in these places, because I’m happier, more at ease, and perhaps because it’s in harmony with the way my brain fires at random.