Making Peace With Your Inner Slob

It isn’t fair. Once again, circumstances have conspired against me. Once again, I fell victim to my own bad timing.

I am one of those people who are “organizationally challenged.” I don’t have a desk in my office, I have a horizontal paper storage facility. Said papers are filed by the stratigraphic method, with the oldest being the deepest.

Yesterday was one of those days when I had had it up to here—“here” being the height of the stack of papers on my desk. The last straw fell when I needed to write a check and realized that I didn’t have a level spot on my desk big enough for my signature.

It was time to clean. I stacked papers, organized papers, filed papers, and tossed papers. By the time I was done, I had excavated down to the surfaces of both my desk and the “credenza” (okay, the refinished closet door laid across two cheap metal file cabinets) behind it. Between the two pieces of furniture, I had created at least six square feet of bare wood. I even dusted.

Feeling wonderfully pleased with myself, I sat down to read the January 29 issue of Time magazine. And there it was, on page 136—an article by Jeremy Caplan entitled “Messy is the New Neat.” The story, citing a book called The Perfect Mess by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman, maintains that “neatness is overrated.”

Forget hiring an organizational expert to help you clean up. Instead, you should learn to “make peace with your clutter.” I guess that means I should become okay with the necessity, every time I want to write a check or sign a letter, of freeing up a couple inches of desk by moving three stacks of paper out of the way. Oops, I shoved a little too hard, and one of the piles went over the edge. So much for my stratigraphic filing system.

I should have put those papers in a filing cabinet, you say? Not according to Abrahamson and Freedman. Filing is so last century. Stacking stuff on your desk is more effective “intuitive organization.” This allows people to “stumble upon serendipitous connections between disparate documents.”

Oh, now I understand. I’ve stumbled upon just those connections. Usually by discovering “Oops! This bill was due last week. Oh, that one was, too. How delightfully serendipitous!”

Apparently, getting rid of clutter doesn’t increase your efficiency, it just destroys the personality of your space. Believe me, if my desk had any more personality, I wouldn’t be able to find it at all.

But why, oh why, didn’t I read this article before I cleaned my office? I wasted a whole 37 minutes filing and organizing. Minutes I could have used learning to accept my inner slob. Minutes I could have used being creative and intuitive. Maybe, if I were lucky, I’d even have been able to find a paper and pen to write down my creative, intuitive thoughts before I forgot them.

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