What Does Your Messy Room Say About Your Personality?
Dec. 04, 2019
Do you ever dream of living in the perfectly clean and organized rooms of a home decor catalog? Or would you rather spend your time in a room cluttered with objects, souvenirs, books, art, and items that make up your daily life.
For some people, a tidy room can be soothing. An orderly retreat in an often disorderly world. For others, such rooms can be sterile, bland, and uninspiring. Some people feel anxious in a cluttered room while others feel their most creative amid the squalor.
Organization is big business these days. From books to seminars to organizational systems, everyone seems to want to find some way to perfectly arrange every aspect of their lives. Messiness has long been viewed as something of a character flaw or a sign of laziness. Cleanliness and organization are presented as the ideal—both a sign of and path to success.
But what about those that are a little bit messier or more cluttered? What does a messy room say about you? What exactly is behind messy room psychology?
So what makes tidy and messy people different? Are some people just born with personalities that prefer order while others thrive on chaos?
While some might suggest that a cluttered room is a sign of a cluttered mind, those who prefer this type of environment are not necessarily disorganized. Their desks might look like a jumbled mess, strewn with papers, envelopes, and files. Yet they always seem to know exactly where each and every item is when they need it. The famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was once attributed as saying, “Don’t clean up the mess. I know exactly where everything is.”
In fact, some people seem to thrive in this type of environment. Some of the most creative and productive people seem to be incurable slobs.
If having a perfectly neat and tidy room is what inspires you and helps you feel productive and creative, it might mean that you tend to have more of what is known as a Type A personality. People with this personality type tend to be perfectionists. Having everything in its place helps fulfill their need for order and control.
But if you tend to be more laid back in your approach to housework and tidying up, it might mean that you have more of a Type B personality type. People with this personality type are more relaxed than their Type A counterparts. Rather than focusing on achieving perfection, they are more attracted to ideas, experiences, and creativity.
Advantages of Messiness
And there is research that supports the idea that messiness also has an upside. Researchers found that while working in an orderly room encouraged behavior such as generosity and healthy eating, working in a messy environment actually led to greater creativity.
In the study, participants were asked to fill out questionnaires in a room. For some of the participants, the room was very clean and organized. For other subjects, they completed the questionnaire in a very messy, disorganized space.
As they left the room, participants were offered a few choices. First, they were asked if they wanted to donate money to a charity. Then they were offered a snack: either an apple or a candy bar. Those who completed the survey in a tidy room were more likely to donate more of their own money to a charity. They were also more likely to choose the apple over the candy bar.
The researchers believe that doing work in a clean and tidy space activates social norms encouraging people to do what is expected of them. Working in a messy space, on the other hand, relaxes that need and allows people to break free of social norms and expectations.
In a separate experiment, participants were again placed in either clean or messy rooms and then asked to complete a task, which involved finding new uses for ping-pong balls. The participants were in the messy room condition were rated by impartial judges as coming up with more creative and innovative ideas than those who are in the clean room condition.
Such findings may have implications when designing workspaces, particularly for professions that require a great deal of innovation and creativity. Employers might be encouraged to allow their workers to design and create workspaces that are more highly personalized, even if that means they might be less tidy.
Obviously, as the researchers explain, this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone who is exposed to a messy environment will become more creative. Some people tend to work better in highly organized spaces while others work better in less organized environments. Personality and preferences are things that come in to play in such situations.
Forcing a person who prefers a tidy space to work in a disorderly environment, for example, might actually result in less creativity and lower productivity. And jobs that are focused on efficiency and fast decision-making might be better geared toward tidy workspaces, while those that hinge on creativity might be better suited to less tidy spaces.
So while orderliness might be the most aspirational quality, research has also shown that there are some advantages to being messy. If you tend to have a messy room, here are some possible advantages backed by psychology research.
Increased Willingness to Try New Things
One study found that subjects in a messy room were capable of solving brainteasers more quickly than those seated in an organized room. The scientist Albert Einstein, famous for his genius and creative thinking, was known for having a messy desk. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” he once asked in response to comments on his workspace.
In another experiment by Vohs and her colleagues, participants were randomly assigned to either a messy or tidy room. They were then given a smoothie menu and told they were taking part in a consumer-choice study. They were told to select one of three smoothie options: a health, wellness, or vitamin boost.
Half of the menus referenced the health option as "classic." The other half of the menus described it as "new." The results revealed that people in the tidy room condition were twice as likely to choose the classic option, while those in the messy room were twice as likely to choose the option described as new.
The results suggest that people in neat and tidy environments are more likely to stick with the conventional, while people in messier environments are more likely to prefer novelty.
While minimalism might be trendy, it might also be crushing your creativity. If keeping a tidy desk or room is causing you more stress than the mess itself, trying relaxing for a while, live with the mess a little, and see if it helps open up your creative abilities.
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