Saturday, December 13, 2008

Method in Madness

I have always maintained that the mess on my desk has a perfect logic to it and in no way impairs my ability to locate what I need amidst the pile, though I do have to riffle-raffle a bit in the process. But my obdurate mother, who is obsessive about maintaining order, is always at me to have a defined place for each item and strictly adhere to this location protocol. Once, she cleaned up my desk while I was away celebrating with my friends after being liberated from the shackles of the half yearly exams; when I came back, it took me a day to locate the library book which I had been struggling to finish for months (yes, ‘months’ – considering how generous our librarians are!). I had stowed it away somewhere, and I knew that I would instinctively locate it when I got another bout of inspiration. “For Heaven’s sake!” my mother had remonstrated, “Why didn’t you look in the pile of novels which I had neatly stacked on the right hand corner of the desk?” How would she know that I always stow away unfinished novels behind the pencil jar next to the pile of toffee wrappers behind the previous year’s calendar on the left-hand far corner of the desk?


But I have been vindicated at last. Recently, I came across this article on the internet – which also prompted me to write this essay as now I knew that I was not alone – titled, “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder”. Its authors, Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman (who is no way related to either Thomas or Milton Friedman – notice the ‘ee’ instead of the ‘ie’) argue that neatness is overrated, costs money, wastes time and quashes creativity. Freedman says, “Most of us are messy, and most of us are messy at a level that works very, very well for us. In most cases, if we get a lot neater and more organized, we would be less effective.” They continue to add that many man-hours are lost when people obsess over organizing things, when the same time can be put to productive use. When I triumphantly showed this article to my mother and told her that it had prompted me to write a post on my blog on this topic, she retorted, “Hmph! I am sure the authors’ mothers feel otherwise. And mark my words, your post is not going to work. No use wasting your time. You would rather start early and study for your next semester.”


Effectiveness apart, the joys of mess are manifold. The wonderful thing about having a disordered pile on your desk is coming across a long-lost or forgotten thing when you are rummaging for something else. The other day I was delving into my pile for my favorite pen, when I encountered a half eaten bar of chocolate. It was the remnant of a packet that I had bought a week ago. Believe me, consuming that remaining bit was more delightful than crunching a new bar.

Till then...

Smart Alec said: "So Mr. Pietersen, would you like to play a match in Madras? Chen-nahhhiii!"