A reader writes:
I wonder if you could say a few words about work offices/spaces. I’m the child of a hoarder and I fight the family DNA daily, but I usually have a messier office than most people. A previous boss with a minimalist office told me that “a messy desk is the sign of a disorganized mind.” In my opinion, her clean desk was a sign of having a really good secretary, and my messy office was a sign of growing up with a hoarder, and also perhaps of being a creative person — you know, like Einstein!
I’ve improved over the years, so the “clutter” isn’t permanent — it’s usually related projects that move from start to finish a bit too slowly for comfort but do eventually get dealt with, and there are a couple of out-of-the-way places that store “projects that have to wait until Jane is between projects” (and Jane is usually swamped). Still, I worry that other people will judge. If I’ve gotten behind, I’ll just laugh and say to someone who visits, “Can you tell I grew up with a hoarder?” I also worry that my boss will judge despite being messy herself.
The urge to purge always hits me after visiting my hoarder mother over the holidays, and things are slow at work. But the current boss who is messy also wants our weekly reports to show that we’ve spent our time our job duties. It’s hard to take a day “off” to do housekeeping.
Is it becoming more acceptable to be a bit messy? Please say yes!
I think it depends on how messy we’re talking about here. A bunch of piles that are reasonably contained? Not a big deal to most people. But an office that’s feels closer to a trash heap? A lot of people are going to judge that, and will think that it indicates disorganization or a lack of reasonable-to-expect discipline in your work habits.
If you’re not sure where on that spectrum you fall, you could always ask a trusted coworker or two to give it to you straight about whether your office has crossed over from pleasant disarray to alarming chaos.
If you determine you do need to tackle it (and at a minimum, I’d say there’s no downside to doing that, and there’s almost definitely an upside), I don’t think you need to spend a whole day cleaning up (although if you have a slow period where you can, that’s often the easiest way to do it — or even come in over the weekend and knock it out when no one else is around, if you’re exempt and willing to do it), but you could probably devote an hour a week to it and get through it pretty quickly … and then keep blocking off that hour a week going forward to keep the chaos from returning.
By the way, I’d actually avoid saying “Can you tell I grew up with a hoarder?” to people. It’s potentially going to put hoarding in their head when it wouldn’t have otherwise been there, and that’s not something you want to do.