I’ve interrupted my fiction jag to read the book A Perfect Mess : the hidden benefits of disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman. As a self-confessed right brainer, how could I not want to read a defense of messiness? It was intriguing; their thesis is that the obsession with orderliness and absolute organization is self-defeating, as in most cases the costs outweigh the benefits. Their arguments range widely, from filing systems to business systems. Being business writers, they give many examples of business structures (a few too many for this non-business reader), although one example of a wild & woolly Boston bookstore organized by publisher is enough to tempt any bookish person into a trip to Boston! I was especially interested to read the results of a study which showed that people who keep clean and tidy desks end up spending about 32% more time looking for documents than people who keep a moderately messy one. Vindication! They also mention a Japanese filing system developed by a man named Noguchi, who calls it hyper-organization. It seems to be essentially a vertical storage of desk piles. Works for me. They do make clear in the book that they are talking about moderate mess. Too much mess can shade into pathology (there is even a disorder called disposophobia), but they point out that too much order can also become pathological (ie: OCD).
The book wanders a bit between subjects, talking about messiness in relation to home organization, medical discoveries, boxing, corporate structures, and art & literature. They even talk about the conundrums of categorization, a topic dear to my heart. Part of their argument is that the randomness of mess allows for increased creativity, as connections can be made between dissimilar information in close proximity. The book itself is an example of this, as the plethora of examples can strike sparks in the reader’s mind which may seem unconnected to the text itself. However, I would have liked a more in-depth look at some of the topics they raise. Perhaps experts in some of the fields they look at will be inspired to produce a deeper study on this theme.
Nonetheless, it was an interesting read. It was refreshing to read a questioning of this current focus on "getting organized". I’ve been uncomfortable with the corporate feel of self-help, with its apparent recommendations that people should tidy their lives up and progress quick-march toward their Goal. To me this is a fear based approach to life; if we just get organized enough, we will be immune to the random nature of life, for good or ill. The climate may be collapsing, wars may be raging, but by god, my closet is tidy!
I say, leave room for serendipity and the vagaries of chance. Read this book for some reassurance that mess does not always equal disorder.