What does a cluttered desk say about a person?
This is an age-old discussion with two distinct sides and little middle ground.
A cluttered desk is a cluttered mind, the saying goes.
Yet when I look around my home, my office and my vehicle, I notice something: there’s always a little clutter, or “mess.”
On every horizontal surface in my house, there are books stacked three, four, and five high. I left each one there each with the intention read it next. There are Christmas cards and photos haphazardly placed through the house, often having found their place due to where they were opened.
This is why I have three bookshelves and endless end tables.
My bed isn’t made and there’s a pillow on the ground. My rug has a fold in it. The Kleenex box on my nightstand lays on its side. My work clothes are stacked, somewhat neatly, in the corner where I always take them off. My walls are covered in notes and sketches on sticky notes, ideas jotted down as they come—a decision made just so I could have less paper on my desk.
And yet my desk is still covered in random items. It seems like the spaces that are the messiest are the ones that I use most: my desk, my kitchen, my bed.
What does this say about me? That I’m scattered? That I live a messy life?
Well, I do.
I don’t always take the time to put things back just as they were. I don’t always wrap the cord back up when I know I’ll just use the coffee grinder again tomorrow. A used knife and cutting board often occupy the same spot in my kitchen for days at a time, simply because I know I’ll use them again in about five hours. My coffee cup sits on my desk, emptied with the grinds of tea or coffee in the bottom, until tomorrow morning when I need it again.
What I believe this says about me relates to my train of thought.
When I see the unwrapped cord, just the concept of putting it away seems completely inappropriate and out of line with my current project or creative flow. This also goes for consolidating my collection of sticky notes, or putting shoes away, or cleaning the kitchen.
I leave them because I have something to do in this moment that is worlds more important to me than the state of affairs in my closet or the potential bacteria growth in my kitchen.
I don’t believe I live in a state of clutter, only that there are elements of clutter throughout my life. My house is not (noticeably) a mess, but I do tend to leave things as they are for longer than many people for the sake of accomplishing the things that are at the top of my list.
Right now, looking around my desk, I see chaos. And yet, I know exactly where everything is. I could trace my actions to the place I last used something and find it sitting there, as if I had vanished mid-action.
This is somewhat like my life. There are always more projects on the shelf than space on the drafting table. I can’t commit to all of them or I’ll never complete one of them.
Is this an excuse to live messily?
Moreso, it’s a correlation between unimportant tasks left unfinished and important ones being accomplished. I don’t disagree with those who feel that making your bed first thing in the morning is a primer for success—in fact, that’s one thing I sometimes do consistently and actually hope to make a part of my routine.
Doing the small stuff can be meditative and encouraging—they’re little wins. But distracting ourselves from the most important things in life with a lot of unimportant tasks is resistance in its most boring form: busyness.
Checking the inbox, responding to (relatively) unimportant emails, leaving product reviews, hanging decorations, dusting the knick-knacks…the list of things we ought to do goes on and on.
But meanwhile, there’s that book we’ve been trying to write for three years that lives solely in our hearts and minds. There’s a business we aren’t running to our highest faculty, a family trip that needs bad-ass planning, or an exercise regimen that deserves our time.
Distraction is the comforter of the mundane.
So maybe I will clean up. Maybe I’ll get to returning that box of air filters to Amazon today. Maybe I’ll look into that ticking noise my truck is making.
But then again, I’ve two got two more important things on the list next to me that are screaming for attention.
They say, “I matter! I’m you! I’m everything you ever dreamed of! I could change your life forever, if you’d just give me the time you give the things that one day you won’t even remember doing!”
Let’s not let the compulsion to tidy-up burn through our time and energy. We can replace energy, but that takes time. And time…well, we can never replace time. If we absolutely cannot be okay with incomplete peripheral projects, we should leave them null by getting rid of them. If we have a hell of a lot less things to do, we have a hell of a lot more time to do those things we actually care about.
Let the dirty clothes pile high so that you can sit down to that quilt you’ve been trying to complete. Let the dog walk himself while you build that table with the unused tools your father-in-law gave you two Christmases ago. Write your story, sing your song, choreograph your dance, design your product. Because none of us were ever meant to be servants of the insignificant.
Are the little things in our lives serving us? Are our tools and books and clothes and accessories appropriated how they should? Are they existing to better our lives, to allow us more time—that one flighty element whose absence or abundance determines our true wealth? Or do they pull us away from that which we were born to do, that which may give us lives worth remembering when we’re old and grey?
Let’s drop our brooms and grocery lists, leave the kids’ shoes where they lay, and let the litter box be full.
A messy life might just be the sign of an important one.
Author: Will Hearn
Editor: Callie Rushton