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It’s not about neat, it’s about control

by Miki Saxon

When did it happen? The idea that neat and tidy was the only way to go.

It probably started the minimalist movement, increased as organizing became a full time profession, and was seriously enhanced with the embracing of Feng Shui.

Minimalist is fine—if you have a minimalist mindset. But if your mindset is Baroque, like mine, minimalist will drive you crazy—and vice versa.

For years I’ve tried to organize my office/work space the way “everyone” kept telling me it should be done, i.e., the only thing on your desk is that on which you’re currently working; put each thing away as you finish with it, etc. It never worked, because that’s not my mindset—for me, out-of-site is out-of-mind.

On top of that, I love stuff and own a lot of it (stuff is fine as long as you own it and it doesn’t own you).

The result of my mindset meant listening to every boss I had tell me how much more productive I’d be if I organized my work space and eliminated the clutter; and to my friends telling me how much happier I would be if I got rid of my stuff.

They believed it would work for me because it worked for them, but it didn’t. In the office it depressed me and ruined my productivity; personally, it cost me things that, years later, I still regret giving up because of someone elses perception that it was clutter.

Eventually, I made myself strong enough to stand up to the bosses who bugged me about my “messy” desk—I’d quote Albert Einstein at them, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk?” It’s been far more difficult to ignore my friends’ get-rid-of-it helpfulness.

Then, on December 21st, I was vindicated in an article on the anti-anticlutter movement, wherein, Jerrold Pollak, a neuropsychologist at Seacoast Mental Health Center in Portsmouth, N.H., whose work involves helping people tolerate the inherent disorder in their lives, says “Total organization is a futile attempt to deny and control the unpredictability of life.”

Make no mistake about it, it’s definitely a control issue, especially in the workplace. No matter how it’s dressed up—from impressing clients to Feng Shui energy flow—it’s really about the boss’ my-way-or-the-highway MAP.

So, if you truly want to goose innovation and productivity this coming year, instead of upping your turnover, whether you’re a neat freak or a slob, you need to stop forcing your mindset onto the organization and, instead, embrace the differences in your people while encouraging them to be themselves.

And if your receptionist has papers on her desk, remember the words of David H. Freedman, co-author of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, “Almost anything looks pretty neat if it’s shuffled into a pile.”

One Response to “It’s not about neat, it’s about control”
  1. MAPping Company Success Says:

    […] Late last year I wrote about clutter, neatness, and the control attitude implicit in bosses’ efforts to force Baroque-minded people to have minimalist personal workspaces. […]

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