I recently read the tidying book that was so popular a couple of years ago (yeah, I’m always behind with the best sellers), “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I have always been quite tidy, but I wanted to see if I could learn anything new. I decided against some of the suggestions: (emptying out your purse every day and putting it inside another purse, only to take it out and fill it again in the morning – no thanks!), but, despite my initial skepticism, adopted some others, like rolling my socks up and storing them in vertical rolls rather than rolling them into balls and storing them haphazardly. I decided to do the sock thing because I realized that by rolling the socks into drawer-height rolls, which uses the vertical space of the drawer completely, it’s possible to use the full volume of a drawer. An exciting life I live.
I’m still deciding whether I want to do a full KonMari on my house but in the meantime I donated some nice career jackets to Dress for Success and gave some fancy career shoes to my career-minded niece. I did actually ask myself if those items “sparked joy” if by “spark joy” one means “serve a useful purpose in my current life.”
But anyway, the reason I’m thinking about all this is that I have been thinking about the myth of the chaotic creative and how order can actually aid creativity in a way that perhaps chaos does not.
I don’t lose things very often, because I keep my house tidy, but occasionally my keys will wind up under the newspaper, or my phone winds up in the laundry basket. When this happens, I’m always amazed at how long it takes to find the object again. I’m tidy because visual chaos stresses me out, and I’m almost constitutionally incapable of finding things if they’re lurking under other things.
So, that’s one case for being organized to spark creativity. It takes more time to be chaotic, and that time could be used for creative pursuits.
There’s another, less literal reason as well. Creativity, for me at least, requires white space – I need to have a certain amount of fallow time, time spent not thinking of anything in particular, before the creative stuff really starts to flow. And for me, the white space can’t happen in visual chaos. There’s something about being able to look at empty spaces and surfaces that contributes to the sense of calm that allows my brain to rest enough to start brewing new ideas.
Lastly, working within boundaries can force creativity in order to fashion solutions. A while ago I wrote about my likely ADD and how I have found creative ways to work around it. In a similar way, I think that working within boundaries, working in an organized fashion, can spur creativity because it’s harder to find a solution when you’re working with constraints, than when you have unlimited resources. Kind of like that cooking show where they get a completely weird list of ingredients and have to figure out how to make something good out of it. Isn’t that more creative than cooking with a fully stocked pantry and refrigerator at your disposal?
I’m willing to allow that my way isn’t the only way. Some people can have newspapers and books and coffee cups and cereal bowls piled everywhere, intermixed with copious amounts of pet hair, and can still get stuff done, and in fact, are creatively motivated by the mess. To this I say, more power to them. But, I will defend the people like me, whose desks are bare, whose closets are spare and organized, and who put the laundry away as soon as it’s dry – I’m not boring, and I certainly don’t lack creativity – I’ve just learned how to curate my environment to match my creative style.
Now if I could just figure out where I left the motivation to finish my current book …