Wednesday 14 January 2015

Creativity v Domesticity: you won't find an orchid in a roller-striped lawn.

Families, like fairy tale bears, have their habitual seats. Mine is at one end of a 1930s sofa. Nicotine-yellowed, it soaked up the smoke that my grandma’s lungs did not. This sofa is actually my desk. One end is confettied with notes and stuff.
  In the surrounding room objects are not privileged or displayed, they are beached: old greetings cards, papery flowers on the mantel, the drift of ashes in the hearth; a dead bonsai’s wintry charm. Their outlines mingle like flotsam and seaweed. Webs thicken and droop like vines, and the dust, as Quentin Crisp said, gets no worse after three years. Things wait to be put away: a pop-up festival tent, the African-snail-that-didn’t-thrive’s plastic tank, a frisbee left by a visiting dog. Fortunately things are infinitely patient because they do not die. It’s just as well because given the choice of a pen or a duster I seize the pen. I don't do tidy - small, vinegar-mouthed word.
I am messy and I have no guilt. (Reminds me of the Patti Smith song: ‘my knees are open to the sun, I seek pleasure' etc. I doubt she straightened the antimacassars before she wrote it.)
If you do have guilt you must be female. Drop it. If you need convincing there are plenty of studies which show that messiness provokes creativity. Disorder can trigger creative solutions. Order is associated with rigid thinking. A disordered environment has depth and history, archaeological layers and surprises. Clutter is interesting. Dirt is a maligned character. It is as beneficial as it is pathological. It nourishes a strong immune system and a diverse biome. Air fresheners and cleaning chemicals lodge in the body with a half-life somewhere between plutonium-244 and a seaborne carrier bag.
I have visited homes as bland and minimal as the local Nationwide. Banks with their clear, clean surfaces don’t taste of anything. You could lick the glass, the wall, the carpet. The only difference would be the texture. I don’t want to live in a bank. I don’t think I could write in one. Einstein famously said: ‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?’
Of course there’s clutter and clutter. There’s the chaos of a Mumbai rubbish tip and there’s the ordered disorder of a non-linear mind; a sophisticated, highly individual filing system that cannot be reduced to algorithms. It nourishes the random, the providential, the serendipitous, the inspired.
Organic and organised have the same root. Ordered disorder is nature’s way. Ordered order is topiary, borders, selective planting. Ordered disorder is a meadow where everything finds its symphonic niche and somewhere in the grass is a single wild orchid. You won’t find an orchid in a roller-striped lawn.

Some of my ordered disorder, enhanced by a broken horn in the log basket and a part-lobotomised Gandalf on the hearth.


  1. You know, I've been pondering this post for a couple of days now. At first I thought "thank God, permission!" but then I wasn't sure if I agreed with you. I tell myself clutter's unimportant, and that I've better things to do than tidying (I definitely have) but I do find I think differently in clear space - not empty, but open. When I have a tidy house, which is rare, even my dreams are different - they're full of opportunity and openness and I swear my mind moves in a different way. And this evening I was really blocked with something, and just the slight difference of making a clear patch on my desk helped to move me on. My environment will never be anything close to sterile, but within my own personal boundaries, I'm reluctantly concluding that domestic order actually improves rather than detracts from my creativity (or at least, my ability to get anything concrete from that creativity).
    Thank you for making me think!

  2. You're right, we all have different tolerances when it comes to clutter. I like mine comically random. I feel creatively free among weird juxtapositions. I have a clear out when the mood takes me but I don't have the 'should' thought.