Over the past few years, I’ve read a lot of studies and articles about how creative people tend to be, well, slobs. At first, I dismissed those ideas. After all, cleanliness is next to godliness, or so I’ve been told since I was a kid. I always tried to be a ‘good’ person, so how could being sloppy equate to anything good?
But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve re-examined the notion that creative people need some clutter around them. And yes, that is a generalization. But I know for me, it’s definitely true.
It has taken me a long time to realize and to accept the fact that I’m on the ‘slob’ end of the spectrum. That doesn’t mean that I leave food sitting out or that I have piles of filth in my home. It means that at any given time, there is probably at least one room in my house that needs some attention. I’m not obsessed with keeping a perfectly spotless house. I don’t get up at four a.m. to clean toilets. I can put up with some mess around me.
When I was a kid, my room was hardly ever clean. It wasn’t that I was trying to be a messy kid. I just didn’t think about putting my toys away every time I was done with them. But I was reading books before kindergarten. And I was making up and performing plays before I started school. I can remember always making up stories and songs and talking to myself in my room while I played with my dolls.
I still do that. Not playing with dolls. But I talk to myself. A lot. My mind is constantly ‘on’. I play with characters in my head, that translate to characters in stories. I ‘write’ my blogs and short stories in my head while I’m walking or riding a horse or going through my day.
When I was married, my ex just didn’t understand my indifference to clutter. He grew up in a house that was too clean and too perfect. There was never a mess. Everything always had to look exactly ‘right’. I didn’t grow up that way. My childhood home was clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy. I love that saying and philosophy. Dirty toilets will wait. Sometimes, the characters in my head won’t.
But he would get upset if I left my dirty clothes on the floor of the bathroom. When I change my clothes, I leave a trail in my wake. It’s not something I think about; it’s just the way I am. Then I scoop everything up and throw it in the hamper. To me, it’s not a big deal.
He would get upset if I didn’t do the dishes every night. If I left them on the counter, or in the sink, for the next day, he would tell me I needed to do them. Same with the vacuuming. If I didn’t run the vacuum every day, he’d get upset about it. Interestingly, one time when he complained to a friend about my housekeeping, the friend asked him, ‘If it bothers you so much, why don’t you run the vacuum? Or do the dishes? Or run a load of laundry? Why is it always up to Jodi to do those things?’
You see, I wasn’t refusing to the housework. I just wasn’t necessarily going to do it when he thought I should. I had other things to do that took precedence. I didn’t expect him to do laundry or dishes or vacuum, but I also didn’t allow him to dictate to me when those things should be done.
And to be fair, my house was always clean when we had company. I don’t brag about my messy traits or expect other people to embrace them. When we were expecting friends or family for a visit, I always invested the time to clean up the house before they arrived. And I like having a clean house; it’s just not imperative that it be clean 24/7.
I once told him that my messiness wasn’t something I was consciously trying to maintain. It was just part of who I am. I didn’t leave a pile of papers on the counter to piss him off. I just got distracted by an idea that popped into my head. And that idea needed to be pursued. Right then.
And that’s where a lot of researchers have gone to. It’s been proven that allowing someone the freedom to be messy encourages creativity. It has something to do with less constraints on thinking processes. And that makes sense to me. If I worry about making sure every single thing in the house is where it should be, I don’t have time to write. Or paint. Or take pictures.
And I’ve seen that in my kids as well. My oldest son is a slob. And I say that lovingly. But he cannot keep his room, his car, or his apartment clean. I honestly don’t think it’s something he has control over. It’s just who he is. He’s also a very creative person. He’s studying film in college, and he definitely enjoys making up stories and films and taking pictures. He participated in drama when he was in high school and had talent for entertaining.
My youngest son has trouble maintaining order as well. His room usually looks like a tornado went through it. His sports bags are always full of dirty, wet socks. And his back pack is a nightmare. But I’ve found that when he’s allowed to be who he is, he does better on his homework and at his sports.
Don’t get me wrong, he has to clean up his room once a week and he helps me do some of the house work. He cleans his own bathroom each Sunday and he runs the vacuum. But I’ve never been a stickler on doing those things every day. Like making the bed.
I never made my bed as a kid. It wasn’t a priority for my mom. And I don’t make my bed now. My kids didn’t have to make their beds when they were growing up. It just wasn’t a necessity for me. It feels like an artificial way to try and appear superior.
And in recent years, studies have shown we’re better off NOT making our beds. Dead skin cells and microscopic bugs get trapped in the bedding while we sleep. By making our beds, those things stay in our sheets. By leaving our beds unmade, the sheets air out and have a chance to refresh.
So, I no longer apologize for a being a bit messy. Yes, clean clothes tend to sit in the laundry baskets for a few days before they get put away. And there will usually be a pile of papers I need to go through. Clean dishes may sit in the dishwasher until I am forced to put them away because I need to re-load it. For me, those things are minor. No one is harmed if the kitchen floor isn’t swept every morning. The earth will keep turning even if there is some dust on my furniture.
I could spend all day making sure my house was absolutely, perfectly clean. But I would never sit down at the computer or pick up a pen to work on new stories. Now, I embrace the slovenly part of my personality and acknowledge that I need some clutter around me to encourage all the little voices in my head to come out and play.
After all, it it’s too clean, they might get scared away. I like to think they are all a bit messy, just like me.