Say Yes To The Mess


If cleanliness is close to godliness, I am deeply submerged in the trenches of hell. Maybe that’s a little extreme. It’s not so much that I’m living in a pit of my own filth as I am just supremely OK with all of my clothes finding refuge on my floor for weeks on end. I tell myself I’ll get to it at the end of the day—because everyone is always incredibly energized when they get home from work—but I usually just take off everything I’m wearing as soon as possible and heave it onto the existing pile, repeating to myself that I’ll get to it when I’m super energized in the morning. And so begins the cycle of waiting to be awake enough to tidy up. And don’t think I limit this to solely clothing I've worn already. No—once, when I was a freshman in high school, my mother grounded me for three months because I had failed to put away my clean laundry. My excuse? I simply hadn’t seen it.

This has long been a struggle between my mother and myself—she's the neat one who fantasizes about getting a part-time gig at the Container Store, while I went to the Container Store once and saw Michelle Harper wearing Margiela and left because it just wasn’t going to get any better than that.

People in college like to say things along the lines of “I’m messy, not dirty,” but to me, as a messy (and sometimes dirty) person, it smacks of excuse. There’s a very fine line between disorganization and not knowing which socks are dirty and which socks are clean at the foot of your bed. It’s a line that’s often covered by dirty socks.

The line is clearer when it comes to people who are neat and people who are not—at least according to the internet. “Organized People Are Probably Better Than Disorganized People” claims a headline on Huffington Post (Canadian edition, so there’s that). People with tidy desk spaces may tend to be more ethical, better at time management, and more capable at dealing with unexpected roadblocks in their work—you know, the boring stuff—as well as are more likely to give to charity and eat a healthy diet. For the purpose of the rest of this essay, we will refer to these as “good habits.”

On the flip side of that, there’s loads of research that people with unorganized desks are generally more creative (I may or may not be blowing this out of proportion because I am an unethical slob). It makes sense when you think about it—the creative process is one that doesn’t lend itself to neat boxes or uncluttered countertops. It’s not even organized chaos; it’s just plain chaos. To back that up, researchers have found that test subjects left in messy rooms draw more creative pictures and devise more creative plans than their counterparts in clean spaces. Which isn’t to say I don’t feel a refreshingly uninhibited state of mind when my desk is totally cleared off—just don’t expect it to stay that way.

Every January, every spring, and every September I resolve to be neater. I'll get myself a planner, or a letter tray, or download some app that I promise to use religiously to instill some order in my life. Whatever I do, it never sticks, and I'm starting to worry—isn't the definition of craziness doing the same thing over and over, expecting a different result that never comes? So seeing that it's now spring, with spring-cleaning fever about to take hold in full force, I'd like to reintroduce myself: I'm Emily, and I'm a messy person. This is a fact that I'm generally OK with for now. Though I did lie earlier—that time I saw Michelle Harper at the Container Store, I ended up buying an acrylic lipstick riser. I am not kidding around when I say that it is literally the best thing in the entire world.

—Emily Ferber

Photographed by Emily Weiss.