Documentary defends the clutter lifestyle

Journalist, author, and filmmaker, Josh Freed, directed and starred in My Messy Life. The film documents his messy lifestyle and defends his “cult of clutter.” From the CTV article:

“My Messy Life,” an original documentary directed by and starring Freed himself, takes a light-hearted look at clutter in a symbolic act of defiance against what Freed calls the “tyranny of the tidy.”

In the film, Freed turns the cameras on his home office, which he aptly calls his “messterpiece.”

Aside from his chair, not a single surface is visible in Freed’s office. Notes plaster walls, bins cover the floor and stacks of paper, files and books consume the desk.

Freed’s way of life is the antithesis of what we strive for here at Unclutterer, but this film looks interesting and entertaining. Freed seems to have a good sense of humor about his organizational skills, or lack there of, so the film seems to be a bit tongue-in-cheek.

Freed did need to have some outside organizing help while making the documentary.

During the making of “My Messy Life” Freed’s producers kept the details in check so he could focus on creating.

You can watch a news clip about the documentary here, but unfortunately we can’t seem to find the whole of the documentary online. Have any of our Canadian readers had the pleasure of viewing this documentary? It originally aired on CTV on May 17.

41 Comments for “Documentary defends the clutter lifestyle”

  1. posted by Simple Zack on

    My roommate was just like Freed and his side of the room was just like the picture. For the entire first semester he was a die hard fan of messiness, but during the second semester, he began to get more tidy. By the end of the second semester, he was making his bed and sweeping the floor everyday! He totally changed and now he loves clean, uncluttered rooms!

  2. posted by LivSimpl on

    I watched the clip – very interesting indeed! Please keep us posted if you find the full documentary online.

  3. posted by Melina D. on

    Being a huge fan of this site, and very anti-clutter, I was sure to watch Josh Freed’s doc on CBC. It was very entertaining and fun to see how he defended his clutter-prone ways, as did others, as conducive to creativity and free-thinking. They discussed how Nature is messy. They also discussed messy countries (India) vs. tidy countries (Holland.) Interesting, a little silly, and full of humor. (Made me think I could worry about clutter a little less, though.)

  4. posted by Sheryl on

    AGH!! I will admit, I have a hard time seeing anything positive about a mess like that, or as seeing it as just “different”.

    I have a friend who’s house is comparable to this guy’s office and my husband’s areas (desk and dresser top, desk at work) can get pretty bad, and both of them have a hard time finding things when they need to. Also, I can’t enter my friend’s house without having an asthma attack (she can’t clean with all of that crap laying around.)

    These people say that they can find things in their piles, but how many things do they miss (such as utility bills?)

    And it’s a safety and fire hazard; my mother-in-law had a kitchen fire that was a direct result of piles of papers around her stove. The whole house could have gone up like a tinderbox…

    OK…rant over…

  5. posted by Sheryl on

    OK…I know I’m preaching to the choir…just had to get it out of my system…

  6. posted by DrJ on

    Okay, I’m a natural messy person. I like my mess and enjoy it SO LONG AS NO ONE TOUCHES IT. The point he made in that clip about it being a different kind of order is true. I could find anything I needed within seconds because I KNEW where every single item was, what the piece of paper looked like etc etc. It was easy and worked for me.

    The reason I hang out here and read it regularly is because I now live with my husband and have no personal space, no seperate room for myself. My messy order doesn’t work when someone else gets his hands in there, moves things around and stuffs it all up. So I am having to be OVER tidy just to try and deal with that – labelling everything (and I mean EVERYTHING), organising systems and files and boxes and rules and regulations and and and. They work pretty well, and usually we seem to be a really organised household but honestly, it’s a foreign system which requires work, thought and effort to maintain and I run far less efficiently now than ever before. Because it isn’t MY natural sense of order.

  7. posted by Christopher Browne on

    I saw the documentary; it was quite entertaining, and seemed to have legitimate points, here and there.

    I think I agree that having ZERO “messiness” is antiproductive; it does not trouble me at all for the things *being worked on* to be out on the desk. “Work in progress” is, to my mind, Not A Mess.

    There was one of the interviewees who had a huge collection of entertainment memorabilia as part of his “office clutter.” The possibility of “unexpected discoveries” seems to be of non-zero value :-).

    But most of these people seemed to be a fair bit off the deep end in terms of how much clutter they had to manage. Way too many things didn’t have a proper place to be, and a whole lot of the stuff struck me as being garbage that should get Thrown Away.

  8. posted by adora on

    I think the argument is pretty weak. Like Melina D. said, they claimed that nature is messy. What about Bees? Spiders? Da Vinci studied a lot on orders in nature. It is nature to be neat!

    In the film, he challenged messy people to find random items in their mess. The “Messy Professor” at McGill can find them in seconds, but I think he’s not really messy. His office is full of paper in stacks, much like Al Gore’s workspace only 100 times more. He can easily track the documents by date because he stack them as they come in. It is “organized” in a way that other people can’t understand immediately.

    There is one person on the show who has so much clutter that he bought 4 homes to house his procession. I guess I’m not rich enough to afford clutter lifestyle.

    The film mainly argues that time spent organizing is better spent on productivity and tidiness destroy creativity. It is very similar to “A Perfect Mess”.

  9. posted by Louise on

    As a “neat” person, when I visit “messy” homes I feel uncomfortable. The clutter and hidden dirt bother me.

    I wonder: when “messy” people visit “neat” homes, do they feel their creativity stifled? I tend to think they envy the calmness and order, but maybe that is just my bias.

  10. posted by Cindy Corlett on

    I was intrigued, so I emailed Josh Freed and asked about the chance of seeing the documentary in the states. He replied that it would be available on DVD within a week or two. Also, he has an international distributor lined up, but does not know if there are plans for it to be shown in the states.

  11. posted by Amy Addison on

    More power to him if he finds that office functional, but for me, just looking that office is bringing on an anxiety attack…

  12. posted by Russell on

    Unfortunately, I don’t own a television. But I highly doubt he’s more functional in his office than an uncluttered person. Still, if he’s happy with it, he can live with it. I would never, ever visit his house under any circumstances, though. 🙂

  13. posted by Cynthia Friedlob, The Thoughtful Consumer on

    Dirt, dust, mold, mildew, unwelcome critters of all kinds and sizes; fire hazards, tripping hazards, earthquake hazards; lost bills, lost receipts, lost special items like photographs or mementos, and lost minds of poor relatives and friends who have to deal with all his stuff when the guy ultimately keels over — I hope not into the middle of this mess where even he might be lost for awhile!

    No, there’s clutter and then there’s Clutter. IMHO, being articulate and jovial doesn’t make the case that this quantity of stuff maximizes functioning, even for Mr. Freed. It’s more interesting to me, and perhaps more revealing, that he finds it “comfortable” being in this kind of environment.

    I’ll be curious to see the film!

  14. posted by Curious Bunny on

    I used to date a clutterer and this thread is virtually bringing me out in a cold sweat! I should have known right then that it wasn’t going to work out … 😉

    I have a colleague whose office can become a bit like this, though she swears there’s a system in it (and I’ve certainly never known her fail to find anything). Kudos to this guy for making it seem acceptable (and if it works for him, great), but I’d rather run over red hot coals, thanks 😉

  15. posted by Ann - One Bag Nation on

    wow – I think that office goes beyond “clutter”.

    Interesting to hear that the producers “kept the details in check” for Josh – if someone kept an eye on the details for me I’m sure I could do amazing things!

  16. posted by Anne on

    I am very much trying to be kind, but is there not an invisable line when being messy to the extreme becomes a mental illness…
    as a spastic unclutter person, I know if I became uncluttered to the point of this man’s messiness, my family would have me in therapy!

    I would also love to hear the “other” side of cluttered people, how do they feel when they are at my home. do they feel lost?

  17. posted by Melissa on

    I am a clutterer at heart. I am working on the chaos because a) I live with a partner and b) I misplace too many things. That said, I prefer mess. Being messy and being dirty aren’t the same thing, although they often overlap. It’s interesting that the poster above spoke of feeling calmer in an organized home. It makes me feel anxious. Clean houses don’t feel lived in to me. Of course, mess can be extreme, in which case, it also makes me anxious, but a rumpled mess of a house feels like a big warm hug from a best friend where a uber-clean house feels like a tepid kiss on the cheek from that uptight relative.

  18. posted by DrJ on

    I’m going to respond to the comments asking for opinions from messy people – as I mentioned above I’m naturally messy, but am living an enforced organised lifestyle.

    (I’m not the extreme shown in the film on the messy side, nor is my decluttered existence the extreme that is often shown here).

    A lot of what gets shown here, such as the fully empty desks, cubicles etc upset me. They look worse than a train station waiting room and I couldn’t imagine ever being comfortable in it or having an inspired thought. I could imagine cranking out a boring, non-inspired job in it, but that’s about it. Going into a real neat-freak home (I have several friends who are) is unpleasant because I can never relax. In these extremes it is as if I’m in a hotel room, a temporary place without feeling, emotion or homeliness attached.

    I can’t speak for others, but for me neatness extremes are sterile. Note that I’m talking extreme decluttered, not just tidy.

  19. posted by sue on

    If you look at 2nd photo of the article (“could you work in this messy…?”) there is no floor! You’d have to dig a path before you could “be productive” which seems counterproductive.

    Not my lifestyle, but then, I am not his poor secretary, God help her!

  20. posted by Patti on

    I’m also naturally messy, but nowhere near to the extreme of any of the folks in this documentary. My floor is pretty much free of clutter, while any other flat surface is usually covered with stuff, albeit only one layer deep! I watched about two thirds of the show and even I got stressed out by the thought of all that clutter!

    I read that the filmmaker had a difficult time finding people willing to let the world see their messy spaces. That right there tells you something. Even the people who DID appear on the show seemed rather sheepish about it.

    I think the level of clutter and messiness portrayed in that documentary just has to be counter-productive to a much greater extent than any of those portrayed were willing to admit. Then again, I dislike perfectly uncluttered spaces. They’re sterile, uninteresting and, to me, the sign of someone who’s a bit obsessive-compulsive. To me, the perfectly uncluttered, sterile home or office is the equivalent of someone with anorexia.

  21. posted by A on

    Torrent, or it did not happen!

  22. posted by Alison on

    I used to be extremely messy. It turns out I didn’t know HOW to be neat. Flylady was a turning point for me by providing the two keys to cleaning up my act: 1. THROW STUFF OUT and 2. Have cleaning routines. For some reason these things had never occurred to me! I used to think that clutter made a place more homey and had more personality, but now I see no clutter as freedom, freedom to pick up and go, freedom to let people into my home, freedom to let go of the past and live in the present…I could go on and on. But I do agree with what he said here:

    “If it makes you sad, if you can’t work in your mess, if you feel your life is overwhelming, then you are too messy,” Freed said.”

    While I was naturally messy, I did find it depressing and embarrassing. Finally changing my ways has been a huge load off of my mind.

  23. posted by Suze on

    I am naturally messy but am trying to reform because I have a husband (who prefers things neat, although he has relaxed his standards – we’re meeting in the middle) and children who I would like to grow up as tidier than I did. I was interested in my kids’ reactions to the documentary, because although the documentary shares arguments for messiness (as mentioned above) I was relieved that my kids were motivated to be tidier after seeing it (but will they act on it?). I guess the extreme that this documentary showed (which is far messier than our worse day) scared them.

    What I got from the documentary is rather than feeling like a failure for never living up to the uncluttered ideal, I feel that I shouldn’t kick myself so much on those off days (weeks) where things pile up.

    I can’t say that I am happily messy though like the people in this documentary. Some of them seemed organized in their mess. I don’t know where everything is. I waste time looking for things when I don’t put them away. I don’t like the way mess looks, but I agree with the comment about the amount of time it would take me to perfectly file everything. I will stop kicking myself for the few piles I have and spend my time on more meaningful activities.

    I loved what Melissa’s comment: “a rumpled mess of a house feels like a big warm hug from a best friend where a uber-clean house feels like a tepid kiss on the cheek from that uptight relative”. I hope you don’t mind. I will write that down to remind myself that I shouldn’t be striving for uber-clean (although I want it tidy enough to happily receive unexpected guests…warmly).

    I also love what Alison said: “I see no clutter as freedom, freedom to pick up and go, freedom to let people into my home, freedom to let go of the past and live in the present.”

    I am striving for somewhere in between (leaning to the unclutterer side), hence my loving this site.

  24. posted by Louise on

    Thank you to those who answered my question about how messy people view neat homes. Very interesting.

  25. posted by /m on

    I used to be messy and its a problem.
    I can find what i want but it take hours to do it, and most of important stuff remains hidden for years. Bills that i only realized to pay after receiving a warning letter, i sketched and collects tons of stuff as a reference for my work which i totally forgotten about, most of it becomes a junk.

  26. posted by Frank on

    “As a “neat” person, when I visit “messy” homes I feel uncomfortable. The clutter and hidden dirt bother me.

    I wonder: when “messy” people visit “neat” homes, do they feel their creativity stifled? I tend to think they envy the calmness and order, but maybe that is just my bias.”

    When I visit a “neat” home, I feel cramped and constrained. I can not stand things like aligned magazines and the likes. If nothing is “out of place”, a home feels sterile to me, not lived in.

    I have lived in total disarray, with everything everywhere. I have lived reasonably neat (my dad likes things that way ^^). To be honest, neither extremes feel good to me, I like things in the middle. Some mess, and some order.

    If you want to compare it to nature, Balance is nature’s way. Balance is the key to everything.

  27. posted by John on

    Let us know if you find the documentary online. I still cannot imagine living like that!!

  28. posted by Alison on

    More from a former messy: When I was in my earlier 20’s I house sat for a coworker whose wife had a _very_ high paying job. I remember going to their extremely uncluttered house (probably cost near a million) and being appalled that they had all this money and yet they didn’t use any of it to “show some personality.” Like I was actually scornful of the fact that they didn’t have a single magnet on their fridge, haha. And I remember in the bathroom they had a pretty big storage cupboard but she had ONE facial wash and maybe ONE moisturizer in it, and that was it. SHOCKING! I felt that they lacked creativity for living in a home that looked like a page from a Pottery Barn catalog. But you know what, now she’s my HERO. I realize now that they had it right! What had I been thinking?

  29. posted by Hayden Tompkins on

    The Clutter-as-Freedom mentality drives me CRAZY.

    First of all, YOUR freedom impacts the people who have to live with you. Unfortunately, kids don’t have a choice.

    Secondly, YOUR freedom violates fire codes.

    Thirdly, YOUR freedom is also a pest magnet. Even if you don’t have roaches or rats, you will definitely end up with silverfish and spiders.

    I’m sorry, it’s just selfish.

  30. posted by Dream Mom DBA on

    I have to agree with Louise. I feel a lot of stress if I visit someone with a messy home, like I am not supposed to be there. It certainly doesn’t feel welcoming. Maybe I just get caught up in what it “could be”. I can visualize how nice things can be and it’s hard to sit still.

    As for living in that home office-I don’t think you could pay me enough money to live there. It would be enormously stressful and I don’t think I could tolerate not being able to find things, not being able to find a clear place to work, not being able to see my to do list with all of the distractions of the messy papers. There is no way that I could be creative and write my blog posts in there.

  31. posted by Jessica on

    I’d like to comment on “neatness” seeming “sterile.” I’m a former messy person, and I paid the price: getting a thumbtack stuck in my foot, losing bills and paying late fees, etc etc. Messy is bad! But neatness does not have to look “sterile.” What about art and decorating with color? My tidy living room includes a sock monkey and a unicycle. And when my friends come over, there’s always somewhere to sit and room for potluck dishes on my dining table.

  32. posted by John on

    I watched the documentary with my mother, who is a unclutter fanatic (to the point of OCD). And myself, who is also an unclutter faithful. The main point was that being clean and uncluttered was not conducive to being creative and free. It was as if he assumed that clutter was the norm, and people who were neat were forcing themselves to be so. It was obviously agenda driven, and not objective. I found it fascinating from a psychological standpoint on how human beings cling to so much stuff as if to attempt to bring permanence and importance to that stuff (junk – stuff people have to throw away after you die…) in an impermanent life. Its amazing how much of a persons self constructed environment is an extension of their own mind and its workings.

  33. posted by :::::::::::: wife mom maniac :::::::::::: on

    I’m working towards uncluttering my life and having a simpler home because I live in a small simple bungalow with soon to be three children, clutter happens easily here anyways but it’s easier to clean up when there’s less things. However, I love being in fun cluttered houses if the clutter is made up out of interesting things, collections, cool books and magazines, wierd objects, travel knick knacks etc. I can enjoy uncluttered and cluttered homes, depending on what kind of stuff there is in them either way. I look forward to seeing this documentary!

  34. posted by MB on

    I have a friend who lives a pretty cluttered life but not as extreme as what was shown. I do feel uncomfortable at times when I first enter her home but once we find, or clear, a space for me to sit and we start talking the clutter disappears and only my friend remains.

  35. posted by Miranda on

    There were a couple of things I found amazing about the documentary.

    One clutteree said (approximately): “I don’t see the point of dealing with each paper each day. I find that if I leave a piece a paper for a couple of years it is much easier to know if it is garbage or not. It’s just not worth my time to decide this every day.” [She is currently cleaning her office because the location is changing.]

    Another point was made by the film maker. He said (again approximately): “I am an artsy person. I keep all these papers because I am thinking about them. When I stumble across things while searching for something else, I see the connections between ideas better.”

    But the truly amazing part was when each clutteree was given a treasure to search for. The find times were very short (under 5 mins) except for the guy that had multiple apartments of memorabilia (who never found his item).

  36. posted by Oksoimnotperfect on

    I too saw the show – as they visited different messy places they would get them to try and find a specific item – some of the people were able to find the objects very quickly – others not so much – but definitely added to the interest of the show.

    I’m in the process of decluttering so I watched to see if they had any tips – not really but it was motivation for me to keep going!

  37. posted by Alioxen on

    I haven’t seen the show, but I think that it’s easy for messy people (like myself – not as bad as what’s pictured here though) to assume that it’s the natural state. I’m headed towards unclutterdom, but not without struggle. If something just happens to end up ‘there’ (i.e. under the table, middle of a pile, anywhere where it’s of no use at all) it seems like the will was its own and not mine. In that way the migration of objects has an organic pattern. I feel like an unhappy bird disassembling it’s nest when I throw away too much stuff. I’ve never seen a bird do that. Ah, but I’m learning…

    In answer to messy people in neat houses. That depends on the house. One friend had a house like a showroom. Well decorated, meticulous. It was gorgeous, but I didn’t want to participate with the environment at all, lest it become imperfect somehow, and more than that, I didn’t want her to be uncomfortable with me, having to follow behind and ensure that i had coasters, that there wasn’t any water droplets on the sink, that i didn’t knock any mud on the carpet when i took my shoes off. I thought ‘geez, all the things she’s missing out on by cleaning SO much.’ I felt sad for her, and would rather we went out so she didn’t have to be attentive, and I didn’t have to feel the proverbial bull in the china shop.

    My other friend, no worries. Always tidy, but not hyper-vigilant. I never felt uncomfortable at her place, because she would let us help her clean up after dinner, and wouldn’t worry if we missed a coaster (not that we did, because she’d leave them out for us), and she wouldn’t get up spontaneously mid-conversation to tidy up. So it’s about the atmosphere of the house, not it’s clutter!

    sorry bout the long post, but there’s my two cents!

  38. posted by HeatherCheryl on

    Eeeew, how can he even think in an office like that! He thinks he knows where everything is but I would challenge him on that; he knows where many things are…and I am sure there are also many lost things buried in there!

  39. posted by Ann on

    I’m neither excessively tidy nor neat, but I must say I feel more comfortable in a moderate amount of mess than in those neat-freaks’ homes that make you feel like tip-toeing or ceasing to breathe.

    Just about everything people have said so far (with the exception of Alioxen) about messiness could be said about obsessive neatness. Some neat freaks take tidiness to such extremes that their living spaces feel like museums. Such places make anyone but neat freaks feel like outsiders excluded from any participation in the living arrangement. Obsessive cleanliness and neatness is just as akin to a mental illness as complete and utter disorderliness and dirtiness.

    As for Nature’s “messiness”. Well, she IS messy! She drops stuff all over the place, has exploding volcanic fits, burns forests, floods and quakes land, splits trees apart with lightning bolts, erodes rock, turns everything upside-down with hurricanes and tornadoes, etc. And then calm returns and she grows back again until the next time.

    Just like my house . . .

  40. posted by jooly on

    Frank, when I visit other’s people home where they own a dog, I feel uncomfortable. I’m not scared, I’m just not a dog-person. Even if it’s a tidy home, the dog is everywhere, because of its size/dander/smell/toys/licking/barking. Does that mean these people have a problem? Does that mean they should change because I don’t like it? Nooooooooooooo. It’s their choice, so I let them be.
    I watched the doc and really enjoyed it. In one experiment, all of the guests were asked to find an important piece of paper. A few found it as quickly as a self-proclaimed neat person (under one minute if I recall correctly), another longer,and only one couldn’t find it. Well, turns out clutter is a problem for this one person only. So don’t make general assumptions please.
    And don’t worry, I’m doing my part to have less clutter.

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