The Messiest Room

The Messiest Room

On the radio, on my way to work, I heard some interesting comments from listeners who had emailed their thoughts after the host of the show began talking about his messy car and spontaneously invited the audience to share their own experience.

This reminded me of the legendary kitchen drawer. I suspect everyone has one. At first, it is the designated receptacle for scissors, twine, nails and an array of tools we may need in the course of living on the premises. Before too long, it contains random notes, old pens and batteries, jar lids, Christmas cards from three years ago and so on.

Interesting topic for a Blog post, I thought, as I proceeded in search of information regarding the psychology behind our messes and clutter. The very first item that popped on screen was a Video produced by Ikea following a Messiest Room Contest they launched in 2009. A New York Daily News announcement, inviting New Yorkers to submit a picture of their child’s messy room, began with these words, “Is your kid’s room a disaster?” The answer was yes, of course, at least in most cases.

I wonder if parents whose child seems organized to a fault from a very early age might not have the same interrogations as the parents of an especially messy child, wondering, is this normal and how do I deal with it?

Next, I came across a March 2009 Psychology Today article that provided a detailed analysis of the messy room. This explanation caught my attention: “A function of personal disorganization brought on by more growth change than the young person can easily manage, this state of internal confusion and external disarray quickly attracts parental attention.”

More change than one can manage, internal confusion and external disarray. Now, that puts things in perspective. It is true that our lives and circumstances change faster than we realize. We become caught up in projects and dreams and suddenly it makes more sense to throw little things in the corner drawer and ignore the clothes that have piled up at the end of the bed.

Denver-based psychologist Elizabeth Robinson believes the reason it is so difficult for us to avoid or reduce clutter lies in, “A great fear of making a decision that could be wrong, of feeling something like regret or loss or guilt about getting rid of things.”

Regina Leeds, author of “One Year to an Organized Life”, sees another side to our tendency toward helter-skelter accumulation. She notices that, “People turn physical objects into magic talismans that connect them to memories and better times in their lives.” Hmmm! I am not certain this applies to the sort of “items” we accumulate in the kitchen drawer, but it does make a lot of sense.

The mere act of getting organize, if and when we choose to indulge a few moments of our precious time pursuing this activity, can feel quite liberating whether we actually get rid of things or not. The process of reviewing our things, thus bringing their significance to mind, can be as important as removing them from our lives altogether. At least this is my conclusion after delving into this on a sunny afternoon in Vermont.


New York Daily News

Denver Post – The Psychology of Clutter – Jan 2008

Psychology Today Blog – The Messy Room: Symbol of the Adolescent Age

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