My house in Kolkata, India, is always a mess. Articles like a comb, a book, a newspaper, or a plastic lunch box (my daughter’s), or unfolded laundry (the whole family's) always stake their claim on beds and tables. When we hear of a likely visit by a guest, we start to stress. Who wants their house to be perceived as a pigsty?
De-cluttering the house or office of course has its advantages. The topic is now enjoying its moment in the sun as de-cluttering gurus are making a splash in the media. Take, for example, Marie Kondo, the Japanese tidying guru who has a Netflix program and a big following on social media. These gurus, of course, sing the praises of de-cluttering our desks, beds, racks, shelves, and rooms. A tidy place, they say, means a clean mind. Kondo, author of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying," recommends keeping only those things that spark joy in us.
"But is it really as simple as asking whether everything you own truly 'sparks joy' and then throwing away anything that doesn't?" wonders a BBC.com feature.
"We are living in this society where our wants become needs," another expert on tidying, Joseph Ferrari, says. "What we need to do is let go of things. I tell people, do not collect relics, collect relationships."
The tidying gurus have carved out a following. Inspired by them, even the millennials have taken to de-cluttering, saying they have realized the benefits of it.
But then, haven't we heard that geniuses thrive in clutter? I remember seeing a sign to that effect on a professor's door when I was a graduate student.
Despair not, I say to myself. I nod in recognition as the BBC story quotes an expert who advances the other kind of argument – the one that reassures me. Meet Tim Harford, columnist, radio presenter and author of "Messy: How To be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World."
Harford argues that a messy desk really isn't the end of the world. Compulsive de-cluttering is impractical and counterproductive. Furthermore, when we are doing creative work, things around us may become messy.
I am no creative genius, but I love Harford's thoughts. De-cluttering has never stayed with me. True, after tidying up a desk, I feel better and my mind becomes, perhaps, a bit clearer -- at least, I feel a sense of accomplishment. But the non-essential articles start returning soon to my desk and shelf. Before long, I find myself surrounded by a merry mess again.
Maybe I need to consult with Kondo, the Japanese tidying goddess. Or else, I need to invite guests more often.