alexa Tell me! Is clutter a sign of genius really? - Daily Nation

Tell me! Is clutter a sign of genius really?

Sunday February 9 2020


A cluttered office. Apparently, numerous studies reveal that a cluttered environment helps increase creativity. How now? PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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I recently visited an interviewee’s office only to emerge a few minutes later with a throbbing headache.

Never had I seen such a big mess concentrated in one area at a go. There were mountains of paper everywhere I looked, including the floor, with heaps and heaps of more paper stacked on the two metal cabinets in the office.

The two visitor chairs by either side of his desk were not spared either, they groaned under a mountain of more paper.

Totally astonished (my mouth was agape), I stood there, undecided what to do with myself until, unperturbed, he stooped and scooped the ones on one of the chairs and dropped them by the door, such that you couldn’t close it.

The mess was so bad, he had propped his thermos of tea, cup and box of tea leaves on the edge of another seat with more paper propped against the wall.

It was so chaotic; my head was reeling within a few seconds of getting into the disorderly office.



I tell you it was such a circus in there; I dared not move for fear of sending the mountain of paper on his desk crashing down – there were even some right where my feet were. I honestly wondered how he found anything.

Interestingly, this man did not notice my discomfort, nor did he seem uncomfortable or embarrassed himself, an indicator that he lived with his mess every day and was completely at ease in the disorienting environment.

As much as I tried to ignore the mess, however, after all, the owner was fully embracing it, and concentrate on the job at hand, I just couldn’t, which is why I was immensely relieved when he informed me that we would conduct the interview in the boardroom, since his colleague would be joining us.

If you’re wondering, this individual is a lawyer, a brilliant mind, so I had been told by the person that introduced him to me.

And he was a sharp mind, as I would discover for myself later as I conducted the interview in the pristine boardroom.

But for the life of me, I simply could not understand how such an articulate mind could co-exist with such mess.


That was until, still perturbed, I googled “messy geniuses”. Turns out that brilliant minds such as Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Mark Twain and Steve Jobs also had messy desks.

Apparently, numerous studies reveal that a cluttered environment helps increase creativity. How now?

And just so you know, if you’re one of those people that pride themselves on being orderly, Albert Einstein once quipped, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

I am a neat person, but I am embarrassed to say that the neatness is only on the surface. Untidiness embarrasses me.

I am the kind of person that runs around the living room feverishly putting things away when a neighbour unexpectedly knocks on the door.

I will even hide, under the sofa pillow, items that my children have left lying around.


I also tend to hide the same untidiness from myself, and will pick clothes off the floor or bed and stuff them into a wardrobe and close the door.

As long as I can’t see it, it doesn’t bother me. And if you came by my desk, chances are that it will be clutter-free, but only because the mess, which includes newspapers from the 1980s and tissues and cutlery, is hidden in my draws.

I wonder what that makes me: a closet genius?

The writer is Editor, Society & Magazines, Daily Nation; [email protected]; @cnjerius