BY: ROB HOFFMAN
If your parents ever forced you to clean your room, it turns out that they may be responsible for inadvertently robbing you of your creative talent, soiling your imagination and destroying your chances of ever achieving the status of child prodigy. The good news is, there’s still time to live in the unkempt pigsty you always dreamed of as a kid. It may take some work to break the routine of tidiness, but according to a study published in Psychological Science, it might be worth it if you wish to succeed in a creative field.
The purpose of the study, conducted by Psychologist Dr. Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota and her research team was to determine the impact of a chaotic environment on an individual’s psychology. Using 48 subjects, who were split up between messy and clean rooms, Vohs and the team asked the subjects to participate in a number of experiments.
In one experiment, the participants were asked to write down as many different uses for ping pong balls as they could come up with. Both control groups responded the same in terms of quality, but according to Psychology Today, “Those in the messy room were (on average) 28% more creative and were five times more likely to produce ‘highly creative’ ideas.” Another experiment had the participants of each room chose between two products—one being unorthodox and new, and the other being conventional and familiar. As you may have already guessed, the subjects in the messy room generally preferred the unfamiliar product, according to The Telegraph.
Still, according to Forbes, when offered, the clean-desk subjects also chose healthier foods, and donated to charity more often. As Vohs says, “Previous research has found that a clean setting leads people to do good things, such as not engaging in crime, not littering and showing more generosity.” She tells the Telegraph.
Vohs general conclusion of the experiment is that a clean room sets you on the path of responsible thinking and healthy choices, but at the expense of creativity. “If you have a big assignment for work that involves following the rules and not taking any chances—accounting, for example—then having a clean or tidy environment would be really conducive to reaching that goal.” On the other hand, “if your assignment is being creative and coming up with something bold and new, then messing up your environment would help you with that.” Vohs said to NY Daily News.
A messy desk may be the first domino in a procession of generally more careless decisions, but art isn’t clean nor is it meant to be responsible. A tidy room might make a great catalogue, but important stories are born from chaos. Maybe this is why some of the world’s greatest creative minds—like Albert Einstein and Mark Twain—and even a number of the world’s most powerful CEOs including Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, love em or hate em, had extremely messy desks.
The moral of the story is, if you want to succeed in life it’s important to give as little fucks as possible. And if you already have a messy desk—now you have an excuse.