“If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” ― Albert Einstein

This morning, as I was scanning the early bird Twitter stream, I came across a phrase that caught my eye: “Cluttered cubicle may make you more organized.”

A team at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands conducted a study on how people react to clutter. In the experiment, 49 college students were asked to sit at a cluttered cubicle, a neat cubicle, or one that was in-between.

After sitting at the desk, the students were asked to rate on a scale from 1-9 how well a series of statements fit them: “It upsets me to go into complicated situations,” “I would like to simplify my life as much as I can,” “I would like to keep things simple,” and “I am bothered by complicated things.”

When the results were in, it was clear that people sitting at messy desks came up with much simpler organizing principles. They were also the ones who scored high on questions like, “I would like to simplify my life as much as I can.”


  • Sometimes the mess sparks a desire for simplicity, making people think in a clearer, more organized fashion.
  • Someone else’s mess (a co-worker’s) may spark a need for simplicity.

Check out the full article in Life Inc. And just what is an empty desk a sign of? The jury’s still out on the verdict, but at the very least I found “the mess effect” to be a thought-provoking concept.