Thursday, June 25, 2015

Throwback Thursday: A Perfect Mess

A longer version of this post appeared on The Porch Swing Chronicles in January 2014. 

Not all books about organization are created equal. In fact, one of my favorites is a book that takes an entirely different perspective on not only the concept of organization, but also its importance.

I first heard of A Perfect Mess when I was taking an online course on how to be a professional organizer. Written by a management (business) professor and a technology columnist, this book provided a fascinating counterpoint to its neatnik cousins.

Subtitled "The Hidden Benefits of Disorder," the book describes ways in which (according to the jacket copy) "crammed closets, cluttered offices and on-the-fly planning make the world a better place."  Authors Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman assert that not only does messiness have benefits (including the discovery of penicillin), but that "there are often significant cost savings to be had by tolerating a certain amount of messiness and disorder." They dedicate an entire chapter to the benefits of  messiness, using anecdotes about successful people to illustrate concepts such as completeness, robustness and efficiency. But for me, the two benefits that hit home were creativity and flexibility, both of which (the authors attest) can be squelched by neatness.

So, if I'm being honest, do I really believe that the remaining stacks of paper on my floor are encouraging flexibility and creativity? Not really (unless you count the physical flexibility that's required to move around them to get to the top of the bookshelf or the bottom drawer.) But, knowing what's in those piles (and I do -- for the most part), I do believe that their contents will contribute to future projects. That, in fact, is how they have earned their keep thus far.

I also know that closing those piles off into boxes and stashing them out of sight will hinder any inspiration they contain because I know myself well enough to know that I'm an I need to see it kind of girl.

So, while sorting through those papers and finding them homes (a domino effect in my cramped work space) is an important task, stashing them away so that things look neat will serve only to replace physical clutter with the mental clutter of remembering what might have been in those piles and where the "safe place" I decided to stash them might be located. Hardly an efficient choice in terms of either organization or time management.

But sort them I will because they'll be much more useful to me once I've extracted the necessary from the unnecessary, put them in an order that makes sense to me and recaptured essential floor space. And, having written this blog today, I think it's a safe bet that some of that sorting will happen today.
And while I'm loving the clear spaces that have come with my attack on my office, I'll never be that stash-it-all-away in files, bins and boxes girl. My office will always be a space that pairs clear spaces with the visual busyness that reflects my taste and connection to the world around me. My tools of choice are color-coded files, open bins and open shelves. And, while it's unlikely that I'll ever make any ground-breaking medical discoveries, it's equally unlikely that you'll ever find a petri dish with mold growing in it in here.

But it's very likely that you'll find Abrahamson and Freedman's book in its place of honor on the bookshelf in my mud room, where I can readily grab it as I did just a few minutes ago. Because every once in a while, I need to be reminded that messiness can serve a purpose.

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