Confessions of a Messy Person

By Jamie Bussin

My office does not spark joy.  It is a chaotic space where all paper goes to die. It is messy. Very, very, very messy. To be clear, I’m not dirty. There’s no half-eaten meals or cold coffee mugs. The garbage can is emptied once a week. Nor am I a hoarder. Although to the untrained eye, the nuances are barely perceptible. I have no emotional attachment to the things I keep. And once in a blue moon, I get so frustrated with my space, I will undertake an epic clean-up. And I feel better when I do. But most of the time piles of mail, draft articles, old copies of magazines, files and boxes are everywhere.

It must be confusing for people who come to our house. The common areas are not in any way messy. The kitchen, dining room, tv room, living room, gym and the main bedroom are all neat, modern and uncluttered. But the areas I have control over -my office, the garage and basement storage?…not so much. 

My messy spaces are in many ways incongruous to my personality and my persona. My entire professional life consists of a series of projects that must be managed on a weekly and monthly basis. I’m a stickler for punctuality and I love to plan. But if you saw my desk,  you’d never believe it.

What does my messy space say about me? I suppose that if I were the type of person who was usually neat and orderly and then suddenly became messy, it might signify a mental health issue. If one doesn’t have the energy or can’t concentrate enough to clean their work area, it might be a sign that they’re suffering from depression. But I’ve been cramming stuff into desk drawers since my ‘paperwork’ consisted of Mad magazines and spelling tests. 

For the most part, the mess doesn’t bother me (…until it does). There is scientific evidence that clean, ordered and sterile environments actually foster conformity and that messy disordered space leads to more creative thought and innovation. Both Einstein and Freud were known to revel in their messy offices. “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?” Einstein once asked in response to comments on his workspace. 

Conversely, Hitler, was a germaphobe and certainly enjoyed his rules and order. Research suggests that those with messy offices tend to be non-conformists, anti-authoritarian and rule-breakers. This is absolutely in line with my world-view. 

Peak Performance Coach, and regular Tonic Talk Show guest, Hina Khan isn’t overly concerned with my messy office. She says; “I don’t think being messy or disorganized means anything unless it impedes your quality of life.  Meaning, we are always late because we can’t find our keys or wallet, we miss payments because our mail is strewn all over the place, it creates frustration in our relationships when you are leaving communal places messy.  I know many people that are living satisfying lives that have a messy desk.”

Even though my messiness is more benign than malignant, as a health and wellness expert, it does behoove me to deal with it more proactively than my bi-annual ‘mega-straightenings’. The question is how?

I inquired of Tonic Talk Show regular, Dr. Gordon Chang, as to whether there are any potential nutraceutical solutions. According to Gordon; “the tendency to be messy/disorganized in our own space is about maintaining energy/time for ourselves. So a routine and consistency in all segments of life including a supplement regime can help. Some people claim, B Vitamin Complex, EFA oils, proteins complex and ginseng can help.”

Marie Kondo, the author of ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, is famous for her philosophical and practical six step process to dealing with clutter (which must be carried out in   this precise order):

  • Commit yourself to tidying up. 
  • Imagine your ideal lifestyle. Write out what you want your life to be about.
  • Finish discarding first. 
  • Tidy by category, not by location. 
  • Follow the right order.
  • Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

I think my real problem is that I leave the mess until it becomes too daunting to deal with. With that in mind I reached out to Leanne Masellis of Dynamic Downsizers, and guest on the Tonic Talk Show, for some guidance on how to get started:

“Not all of us are created equal, know what you’re capable of. Although many suggest making piles; keep, donate, recycle, some clients may require a more simplified approach.  To start, focus small, instead of overwhelming yourself and having no visual results by the end of the day. Use the “one task wonder” approach. Whether it takes you one hour, one day or one week, focus only on one task. For example, start by removing the visible garbage. Grab a bag, fill it, and walk it to the bin. Don’t dumpster dive into the nooks and crannies looking for garbage, you’ll get caught in the rabbit hole and lose your focus, stay on track! Repeat the same process with donations and ensure you allot time to drop them off to complete the task. By focusing on only one task at a time and completing it, you’ll have a sense of accomplishment, you’ve produced a visual difference,  and you’ll hopefully have the desire to continue, or at the very least you’ve taken out the trash! “

Of course I could offload the problem and hire a professional. Leanne gets calls for help when people become overwhelmed and/or they don’t have the time or energy to commit. Her best advice:  set your budget and focus on the areas most important to you. She says that hiring someone to declutter is like having an extra set of hands, and by the end, you will feel liberated! 

So while my messiness might not be the most serious issue and I’ve been given a game plan to deal with it, it occurred to me in writing this article that my messiness might be a symptom of a larger problem, my tendency to procrastination. I should really look into that…perhaps in the November/December issue

Jamie Bussin is the Publisher of The Tonic Magazine and Host of The Tonic Talk Show and Podcast. He is also, most obviously, a work in progress.