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Don’t stress your mess -clutter is best

The overabundance of holidays is mind-boggling.

It’s easy to understand all the major ones, including Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but did you know he shares his holiday with “Appreciate a Dragon Day” and “National Nothing Day?” So, now that it is quite clear every imagined reason gets its own day or month, consider one of my least favorite: Get Organized Month.

It is no surprise that January would have such a theme. A quick glance at the Sunday ads shows that plastic totes, Post-It Notes and folders come in all sizes, colors and purposes. To quantify this obsession with neatness, the New York Times has reported the sale of home-organizing products was $5.9 billion in 2005 and is expected to reach $7.6 billion by 2009.

But is the obsession with order really necessary? While it can be conceded that extreme forms of clutter may be indicative of treatable disorders, the level of organization the National Association of Professional Organizers would like everyone to maintain is excessive. While its members are apparently organized enough in their own lives to stand ready to give advice to the rest of us, they fail to realize that sterilized order isn’t for everyone.

In fact, college students are perhaps the most often chided for their organizational skills. Sessions are available to get them to make “things-to-do lists” and make those messy piles into neat ones. Thankfully, a growing movement, of which I am a part, is providing pushback against these views of patterned order being inherently good.

There’s actually an anti-anti-clutter movement that is armed with its own evidence showing messiness to be a potentially good thing. A survey conducted last year by Ajilon Professional Staffing found that messy desks were linked to higher salaries. Creative and analytic problem solvers may not leave workspaces easy on the eyes, but are a highly prized commodity in corporate America.

But there are other reasons why being messy might not be all bad. As authors David H. Freedman and Eric Abramson state in A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefit of Disorder, “It takes extra effort to neaten up a system.” In other words, think of clutter as a time-saver that allows, for example, college students to focus on more creative and intellectual pursuits.

I wasn’t always of this mindset. Previous year’s calendars were meticulously kept up with pending assignments, lists of books that were read and even an idea of when bills were due. But the truth is that the quest for order just didn’t pay off for me.

As The Container Store, and probably many parents, would like college students to believe, a messy dorm or car is inherently bad. But there is resiliency in the best clutter-gatherers among us to be able to find that term paper at the bottom of our bag or even spare change when the munchies strike.

Messiness isn’t some bad genetic trait or acquired phenomenon as much as it is a reflection of everyday life. College students’ time is increasingly pulled among many different activities, both on and off campus. Part-time jobs, internships and other obligations make college a much different experience today than merely a few hours in the lecture hall.

The key would seem to be not necessarily cleaning a desk or organizing the shoe collection on the back of the door, but accepting a level of clutter while being able to prioritize. After all, college really is a huge final exam in time management and prioritization skills. Luckily, both can be achieved without being caught up in the drive to get organized in January.

Like Albert Einstein once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?”

Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics.