Reader Tom submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:
I don’t buy it. I read “Clutter can kill creativity and innovation” and don’t believe a word of it. I can work if my desk is a mess. The “scientific research” is preposterous. I don’t need a minimalist workspace to be creative or innovative. Explain that.
Tom, you don’t need scientific research to prove what you already know to be true: Your surroundings influence the way you work and live, regardless of if you are aware of it or not.
Whenever my office or home are a mess I think about the drive from the Kansas City airport to my hometown to remind myself of how important my environment influences my work, life. It takes a little more than an hour to get from the airport to my mom’s house in Kansas, but the trek is more about transforming one’s perspective than ticking off minutes on a clock. The hectic, metropolitan energy carried through the airport gives way to a raw, rural world as the car travels west along Interstate-70.
Out there, trees are pruned by years of savage winds and spirited rains instead of manufactured gardening tools. Tall grasses wave from their chalky dirt, as if to welcome you to this barren, yet beautiful, golden landscape.
Evidence of man’s presence and dominance of the land appears on the rolling hills with water towers and grain silos every 15 or 20 miles. The smooth highways, road signage, and farm houses are less jarring reminders that people call this place home.
Life in my hometown feels heavier and more exposed than it does in the DC suburbs. You can feel callouses when you shake a person’s hand. People speak honestly and candidly, even to strangers. You can’t be anonymous, rather you have an obligation to carry your burdens and the burdens of your family and neighbors. Life isn’t better or worse or backward or calmer in Kansas — it’s simply different, unprotected. I’m different, less guarded, when I’m there.
When I talk to my Kansas family on the phone from my east coast suburban house with my suburban manicured lawn, I’m not instantly transformed into the person I am when I am there in person. My mind and body know I’m only a few blocks from a Starbucks and a Metro ride away from Congress. My perspective is heavily influenced by the concrete, steel, glass, and seemingly endless river of shopping centers, office buildings, and neighborhoods with their developments’ names carved into stone. To make the anticipated quip, it’s obvious I’m not in Kansas anymore.
If you think your environment doesn’t influence your perspective, imagine the experience of attending a game in a sports stadium. Being at the venue is vastly different than watching the game on your television at home. You’re immersed in the smell of the popcorn from the concession stand, experience the same temperature as the players on the field, and feel the cheers from the crowd.
There are other scientific studies different than the one referenced in “Clutter can kill creativity and innovation” supporting these same conclusions, but you don’t need to read them. You already know that you feel differently walking along a beach on a warm spring day looking out over the ocean than you do waiting in a crowded line at the DMV. An organized, comfortable room easily instills in you a sense of calm and clarity that takes longer to achieve (if at all) in a chaotic space. Without clutter, there are fewer things to distract you from focusing on what is important to you. It might not be impossible to be creative or innovative in a cluttered office — but, it certainly is more difficult. Why make things more difficult than they need to be?
Thank you, Tom, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column. I hope I was able to provide you with a sufficient response. Be sure to check the comments for even more insight into this issue from our readers.
Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.