The logic is familiar to every seven-year-old: Why do I have to make my bed if it’s just going to get messy again?
Eventually we surrender. As we learn to make our beds and do our chores, we grow up to embrace, and even fetishize, the virtue of cleanliness. We’re taught slogans like “cluttered desk, cluttered mind.” We feel pangs of anxiety when our garage is too dirty. We dust. We fret that our life is too jumbled, so maybe we try a time management system that involves books, software, and iPhone apps. We use these tools for a few weeks, then we fall off the wagon, so we feel more anxiety, then we try them again— this time for real— and then they fail again, and then again, until we say, screw it. Then we try them again.
But what if, at the age of seven, we were totally right? What if obsessing over cleanliness and order, for some of us, is just a big fat waste of time? This is the argument of Eric Abrahamson, a professor at the Columbia Business School and the co-author of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder. His theory: When someone praises the merits of order, they rarely take into account the cost of that cleanup. Desks don’t clean themselves. Filing systems take work. (Cleanliness, just like booze, has a trade-off.)
When someone praises the merits of order, they rarely take into account the cost of that cleanup.
“There are often significant cost savings to be had by tolerating a certain level of messiness …