I bet that a lot of people reading this post are making resolutions for the new year, and I suspect that cleaning up messiness both literal and figurative in their life is on many of those lists.
Your parents have been telling you this since you were a kid. Your spouse, roommate, officemate and others may have been suggesting it. I am constantly trying – and failing – to achieve a state of orderliness that I can maintain.
The chaos of a house or room or closet, garage, basement, or even a desk drawer or desktop just seems wrong. I also think that achieving even a small feat of order – such as an empty inbox – gives us not only satisfaction but the hope that we can accomplish the same order in our larger areas. may even in our personal life.
People are writing books about how to clean and organize, and I wrote here about the combined joy and sadness of throwing things away. But that process (and those readings) can make you very anxious and just remind you of your failures to get rid of the mess.
A good amount of the rhetoric of the recent election was about cleaning up the mess in Washington D.C. and across the country. Donald Trump’s campaign was a mess. But he won.
But I have to thank podcast episode 53 of Hidden Brain for turning me on to the book Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives. For the New Year, I appreciate a book that celebrates the benefits that messiness has in our lives.
Embrace the messiness and chaos! It is important. Stop resisting.
The author, Tim Harford, is an economist, but he looks at research from neuroscience, psychology, social science, and examples of people who did extraordinary things in messy and chaotic ways.
Some qualities that we value – creativity, responsiveness, resilience – seem to require a degree of disorder, confusion, and disarray.
This messiness doesn’t have to be visible, like that pile of stuff on and around your desk. Think about how unexpected changes of plans and unplanned events can generate new ideas and opportunities. Yes, these things can also make you anxious and angry, but you need to let that part go.
The book (and the podcast for the not-lazy but more aural learners) can help you stop underestimating the value of disorder. I’m typing this on the couch surrounded by unread magazines and notes for things I want to write and the remains of breakfast – and I feel fine.