How Office Clutter Affects Your Creativity

A recent study by Kathleen Vohs at the University of Minnesota discovered that messiness may actually assist the creative process. Disordered spaces seem to encourage people to think outside the box. In direct contrast is author Marie Kondo’s recommendation that you throw out anything you don’t absolutely love – minimize to the max. Can your office find a middle ground between stifling tidiness and creative disorder?

Organizational expert Brooks Palmer says it comes down to definition: Clutter amounts to the things we keep on our desks that do not serve us – for example, papers or equipment we don’t currently need. He suggests that his clients assess whether each item is something positive. Is it something needed for the task at hand? Is it something for emotional uplift (a birthday party hat, a photograph)? Or is it something that’s been there so long it has become part of the background – negative, because it doesn’t serve the task at hand. If the item isn’t positive, then dispose of it. If it will be needed in the future, store it appropriately.

Palmer’s approach doesn’t advocate minimalism or arranging your books in alphabetical order. Messiness is fine, as long as everything in the mess serves you for the current task. Let the disorder spur your creativity, and talk to a consultant about a high-density storage system for all the “clutter” you need to save for the next task.


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Fashion Designers’ Workplace Storage: An Update

Last year’s post about fashion designers’ work spaces was a reader favorite; this year, a new book examines the topic in depth.

From conservative to outrageous, fashion designers incorporate whatever materials work best for their unique wearable designs. That same approach carries over into the design of their workspace, according to IA Interior Architects’ director of design John Capobianco.

Like many other professionals, fashion designers find that a mixture of private space and collaborative areas works best for them. Unlike some other businesses, however, fashion designers have a need to store objects that are irregular-shaped and bulky. For this, they turn to high-density storage systems with adjustable shelving, accommodating everything from boots to blouses.

Designers also need transformable modular storage that can display dresses one day and shoes the next. As Capobianco puts it in a recent blog post, “It has to be much more user customizable, where you don’t have to hire someone to facilitate the transition.” And when the designs go into production, designers use RFID to track the source materials and finished products, and create databases for their catalogues.

When it comes to practical storage solutions, these wildly imaginative fashion designers have a surprisingly down-to-earth point of view. As with their clothing designs, they find the right storage solutions for their needs and, in the words of fashion icon Tim Gunn, they “make it work.”

2016 update: If you want to see just how they make it work, writer/photographer Todd Selby’s newly published book, “The Creative Selby,” explores the interaction of creativity and work environment through fashion designers’ work spaces. This third installment in Selby’s acclaimed series is filled with photos of designers’ ateliers, along with commentary hand-written by the designers themselves.


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Is a Messy Desk the Secret to Creativity?

Are clean minimalist office designs actually stifling innovation? Famed organizational guru Barbara Hemphill said, “Clutter is nothing more than deferred decisions.” But Kathleen Vohs, a professor at the University of Minnesota, discovered that messiness may actually assist the creative process. She found that people who were seated in a tidy, orderly room made very conventional choices, while people seated in a messy room tended to make novel, innovative choices. She theorized that orderliness subtly conveys approval of safe, tidy thinking. Messiness, however, encourages people to think outside the box.

This has implications for the workplace, as Vohs points out in a New York Times article: The minimalist modern designs and shared workspaces common in today’s office interiors don’t really encourage messiness. Yet those designs are the ones most favored by creative professions such as IT and advertising. Are modern office designs actually suppressing creativity? What’s your opinion?


Got questions? We’ve got answers…


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