I'm so messy that I'm cool

December 28, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND


Are you well-organized? Is your desk neat and crisp, with every pencil holder and every project in its proper place? If someone dropped by your home unannounced, would you be fine with it because not so much as a bobby pin is out of place? Are you well-disciplined, with every closet and every cupboard free of clutter?

Then you are a LOSER.

I take great satisfaction in telling you that. And I have documentation in the form of a New York Times story that, after a few paragraphs disparaging Dick Cheney, goes on to say that:

"An anti-anticlutter movement is afoot, one that says yes to mess and urges you to embrace your disorder. Studies are piling up that show that messy desks are the vivid signatures of people with creative, limber minds (who reap higher salaries than those with neat "office landscapes") and that messy closet owners are probably better parents and nicer and cooler than their tidier counterparts. It's a movement that confirms what you have known, deep down, all along: Really neat people are not avatars of the good life; they are humorless and inflexible prigs, and have way too much time on their hands."


Humorless and inflexible prig. Their words, not mine. My words would have included "insufferable" and "annoying."

The story even quotes an author as saying that "order can be profane and life-diminishing." At last, there is a reason that I find it too much trouble to pick up that empty coffee cup and throw it in the trash. It is not because I am a hog, it is because I am creative. Hot dog. This is license to litter. Heaven forbid I be life-diminished, whatever that is. I don't know what "office landscape" is either, unless it's the fact that my desk makes "Sanford and Son" look like an English garden.

But here is fuel and justification for the fact that my desk is scattered with millions of snips of paper scrawled with multiple phone numbers. Yes, I could dutifully copy them neatly into my computer's address book, but that would mean I'm a bad parent.

Besides, I'd never find them there. There is no more certain way for me to lose something than to put it away. That's especially true if I put it away in a "Very Safe Place" so I'll be sure to find it when needed. I might as well just burn the plane tickets and throw the ashes into the Dumpster because heaven knows they will never again see the light of day.

I have two reasons for not cleaning off my desk. First, I know I won't like what I find - like letters people have written me that I wanted to answer, but never got around to. The second is more philosophical. I didn't create this problem. The papers and the clutter have all been put there by someone else. Well, except for the coffee cups. All the other stuff has been tossed there by other people for some reason or another. I didn't create the disorder, and I'll be hanged if I'm going to take personal responsibility for it.

Home is a more difficult subject for mitigation, of course. If it's a mess, it's hard for me to blame someone else.

I know. Some people profess they like their homes to look "lived in," which is a euphemism for "oink." I can't bring myself to accepting disorder as an enviable lifestyle, but I can't bring myself do much about the disorder, either.

I don't even know how clutter happens. I can clean the entire place and then handcuff myself to the sofa and in two days stuff will still be all over the place. It just materializes, like someone's beaming it down from the Enterprise. If you clean the bedroom, Evil Forces are at work cluttering the kitchen. Clean the kitchen and they mess up the bedroom. You can't be everywhere at once, and they will get you when you're not looking.

I've even sworn off pack-raticism and thrown out everything that I haven't touched or looked at in the past three months. Doesn't matter. I think it's physics or something. The more you throw out the more you accumulate, exponentially. Energy = Mess times the speed of shelf-space squared.

And as much as I want to put stock in the Times story and believe that the stack of file folders in the sink means that I'm a genius, I can't do it. Socks in the hallway don't make you a poet. And no one's ever going to believe it anyway. "Hi there, sorry about the way the place looks and all, but I'm another Leonardo da Vinci, so it can't be helped."

One day, perhaps, it can be proved, but that does us no good now. If I could travel back in time and look in Aristotle's closet landscape and see an avalanche of grape leaves and wadded up togas, I would feel a lot better about it.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on

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