Tidiness and Creativity

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The Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, totally gets it.
The Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, totally gets it.

There’s a polarizing topic trending in my social media feeds these days, and I don’t mean Democrat vs. Republican, pro-gun vs. anti-gun or the Great Bathroom Debate of 2016.

I’m talking about tidy vs. messy.

Normally, I don’t care too much about whether someone is a tidy person or a messy person.

OK, that’s a lie, but I’m trying.

What kind of irks me about the topic is that there’s this idea that creative types are messy while non-creative types are tidy. That might be putting it too simply, but there have been studies done and articles written about how messiness is inherently tied to creativity.

I call bullshit on that idea.

I am a tidy person. I am also a creative person. I do not think those two things are mutually exclusive.

Yet the idea persists in our culture that you cannot be tidy and be creative at the same time.

Case in point – a couple of years ago I had a smallish party at my house. As sometimes happens, a guest will bring along a friend or two.

In this particular case, my guest’s friend happened to be a rather well-known musician of the rock star variety. Very interesting, cool and friendly guy. Obviously super-creative. Accomplished. It was humbling and exciting to have him at my house in my very un-posh neighborhood.

At one point during the evening, he noticed my little workspace. I have a tiny house, and I’ve cordoned off a corner of the living room and made it my “studio.” It is very tidy. Nobody is allowed in my space. Leaving something on my desk without my permission is a punishable offense. At that time, I had a tall set of drawers next to my desk. Each drawer had been labeled with a label maker with its contents and the drawers were alphabetized.

“What’s this?” he asked me, in his perfect rock-star British accent.

“It’s my supplies,” I answered. I mean, fuck, wasn’t it obvious? They’re labeled.

He looked at me incredulously and said, “But it’s so organized. I thought you were an artist.”

The tall set of drawers in question...
The tall set of drawers in question… It looks a little messy in this picture, but I assure you, in real life it’s quite tidy compared to the rest of the house.

I won’t lie. My heart sank a little. It’s hard enough being an artist without having other artists question your credibility. And it also kind of made me a little mad. He told me how he couldn’t create unless things around him were a little chaotic. And I get that sometimes you need a little upheaval to spark the imagination and see new connections.

My mind is constantly in motion. I am always thinking of the stories I’m creating, working out plot points, figuring out the characters. Or I’m thinking about what I’m going to make for dinner with the disparate bits of this and that in the kitchen. Or I’m thinking about how I want to paint the hallway. Or I’m thinking about a craft project I’d like to do.

I’ve always got creative ideas bubbling around in my mind.

And here’s the thing – if my environment is messy, it’s distracting. I can’t fully focus on my thoughts or feelings or what I’m trying to create. A messy studio makes deep and meaningful thought almost impossible. I tame my environment so that my mind and heart have the freedom they need to explore.

So yes – I am tidy and I am creative. I can be both.

What about you? Are you a tidy creative? Or do you thrive in a messy environment?

 

 

 

 

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