On Minimalism and Messy Desks

I’m always in search of a good book and very often, my choice depends on my mood or phase at the moment. After hearing about Marie Kondo’s second book release, it intrigued me and I decided to give her first success a try, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Some people are naturally tidy. Some people can’t sleep without everything being in its place. This, however, is not me. It took some effort to become as neat as I am today. I remember in being in high school, and I would go from class to class with a stack of papers ten inches thick, a mix of homework, tests, readings, doodles, you name it – but, of course, I knew where everything was.

At the same time, I also consider myself a minimalist, at least in some sense of the word. I enjoy the aesthetic and the lifestyle associated with not having too many things, or at least being attached to them to the detriment of my happiness. I even like the feeling of cleaning — I’m known to have bursts of desire to clean. Several times a year, at least, I get this strong urge to go through all my belongings, out with the old and in with the new.

In defense of messiness, however, a positive relationship has been found between clutter and creativity, the phenomenon being called the “organized mess.” Studies have shown that people with a higher degree of untidiness also exhibit greater imagination towards problem solving. In fact, geniuses like Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and Mark Zuckerberg had messy desks. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of empty desks?” said Einstein.

Albert Einstein’s office taken mere hours after Einstein died, Princeton, New Jersey, April 1955. Photo by Ralph Morse, Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images.

Although a sometimes messy desk may seem to contradict a minimalist lifestyle, I’ve come to conclude that our workspace is one thing and our living space, our home, another. When we’re in our heads, toiling away at our ideas, developing them, refining them, our desk may get messy, and perhaps it’s simply part of the creative process – it’s meant to be used. Our homes, on the other hand, are where we live, eat, relax, sleep, bathe and entertain – they’re meant to be enjoyed.

In a consumerist society like today, we often tend to have too many things. Worse, we may even begin to believe that we actually need these things, enslaving us to materialism and making us vulnerable to their loss. Kondo’s approach counters this, advocating that we only keep things that we love, that “spark joy” in our hearts and discard the rest. This may seem simplistic at first, but give it a try — it’s rather practical, palpable even, when put into action. The moment you hold an item in your hand, you just know.

Things are real, they’ve found their way into our lives for a reason, and this, we need to honour. By being mindful about what we allow into our homes, we’re better able to manage the clutter, inside and out, and live a life filled with more passion and purpose.