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Messy Desk vs. Clean Desk: Which Is Better?


Are you a clean-desk person or a messy-desk person? Before you sheepishly hide your files or borrow a neighbor’s desk toys, you should know that there are plusses and minuses to both styles.

messy desk 

(Photo Credit: sindesign/Flickr)

Researchers at the University of Minnesota designed a series of experiments to uncover any positive results from having a messy work environment. What they discovered was that there benefits to both conditions, and that the ideal office might just be composed of both types of people.

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Clean Desks

Subjects who worked in the test environment with clean desks chose healthier snacks, and donated more of their own money to charity. Previous studies have found that clean desks promote law-abiding behavior, and consideration for environments beyond the work area. (In other words, people with neat desks don’t tend to litter.)

Messy Desks

When the researchers put groups of subjects in messy and clean conference rooms and asked them to brainstorm, they found that while both groups came up with a similar number of ideas, the group in the messy presented more “highly creative” ideas. In addition, people in the messy room were more inclined to choose “new” products, perhaps demonstrating their openness to new ideas.

“If a clean environment is all about doing what’s expected, then what does it mean to be doing things people don’t expect of you?” says lead author Kathleen Vohs, in an interview with New York Daily News. “That sounded like a loose definition of innovation and creativity.”

So Which Is Better?

The answer, as with many academic questions, is, “both.” Ideally, according to this study, an office would have a mix of neat freaks and clutterbugs, clean spaces for precision-oriented tasks and comfortably messy spaces for creative thinking. The kind of mindset, by the way, that you’d find in the offices at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, where this study was conducted.

“My office is meticulously neat as I throw away anything that is less than one year old,” says study co-author Joseph Redden. “Kathleen’s office is more typical of an academic, which is messy by my crazy standards.”

Tell Us What You Think

Messy desk or clean? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Beth Taylor Recent comment authors
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Beth Taylor

My desk at home is a wreck, but I am extremely creative. Good to know there is something good to be said for being a bit of a slob, lol…

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