Is being a neat freak killing my creativity?

I found an article today on MSN.com that really peaked my interest – Neatness: A sign of godliness – or compulsion?  The article discussed and interviewed neat freaks.  I really felt for these people, as I can openly and honestly say that I am also a neat freak.  I was even telling one of my friends today how I spent the last two days cleaning my apartment; as if she really cared. 

I am one of those people who can’t handle clutter.  It makes me feel like I’m forgetting to do something.  I know it’s a cliché, but my apartment being cluttered makes my mind feel cluttered.  I completely agree with one of the people in the article when she says, “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t like this. But when I come in and everything is clean, I feel calmer. I think that’s why I do it.”  I never feel calmer or more at ease than when my apartment is clean.  I know it’s sad, but imagine how my boyfriend feels.  He learned early on not to try and put my clothes away in my closet as they are organized by type of garment and are colour coded from lightest to darkest.  And making the bed?!  Don’t even think about it!  He tried to put the pillowcases on the pillows with the tag side hanging out!  I know, I couldn’t believe it either. 

Ok, so you’re probably thinking I’m a little nuts, but I come by it honestly.  My mom is an obsessive cleaner, and come to think of it, my dad is too.  The article says that, “Our attitude toward neatness is likely shaped during childhood,”  and mine definitely was.  My mom was so proud of me when I was home visiting a few weekends ago when I said that I was happy to be at home for my first weekend off in months because I was forced to just relax and I couldn’t spend my whole weekend cleaning.  Pathetic, I know.

So now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with PR and why am I sharing all this crazy information about myself?  Well, I can see two ways in which it relates – one positive and one negative. 

The positive is that the crazy neat freak side of me helps me be the very organized person that I am.  Anyone who has seen the post-it notes around my computer and my massively large planner knows I am obsessed with writing things down.  It is the way I remember everything and keep myself organized.  This is obviously an important skill since many of our teachers have told us that being able to multi-task and keep organized will be a key skill to have in our upcoming PR jobs.  Project management is important.

The negative is a loss of creativity, as David H. Freedman, co-author of the book, “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” states in the article.  “If you make your environment very neat, you’re making everything predictable,” he says.  This is the downside to being a neat freak.  Creativity is a very important part of PR as well; we have to be creative with ideas for articles, events, media relations tactics, etc.  I’ve never thought of myself as a super creative person, so maybe now I know why. 

After reading this article I’m feeling a little more inclined to let the dishes in the sink sit and “do them tomorrow” as my boyfriend suggests.  You never know, maybe it will help my creativity!  But as Freedman says, “I’ve had hundreds of people tell me about neat freak habits, and not a single one has denied suspecting there is something a little wrong with them.  People who are neat are helpless to be otherwise — they’re prisoners of it.”  He’s right, this blog has taken me over  three hours to write… but the dishes are done (I couldn’t resist) and I’ve re-arranged my closet.  That’s creative, right? 🙂

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3 Comments »

  1. Hey Shauna,

    So I guess I can understand what Freedman is saying. Sure, maybe being such an obsessively clean person means that you make things predictable but I don’t necessarily think that means you’re not creative. I mean, I don’t know anybody else that colour codes their closet–if that’s not creativity I don’ t know what is!

    The whole organization thing you touched on is important though. Through this program I’ve really come to learn that there is so much more to public relations than I orginally thought. With so many different potential tasks, it’s easy to get lost if you aren’t organized. So really, your clean apartment is a reflection of the organization you have in your personal and professional life.

    My only question is this: if I’m the opposite of a neat-freak, does that mean I’m more creative than you? Because right now I’ve currently got two loads of clean laundry sitting on my floor ready to be put away and I have no intention of doing it tonight or even tomorrow! 😛

  2. I loved reading this, Shauna. I relate to it, and it was funny! : )

    I used to be a lot like you in this sense. The line about colour coding your closet really made me smile because it’s such a charmingly neurotic thing to do. I used to align the lip glosses I had in a rainbow-like order. When my friends visited, I knew every little thing they had touched or moved (and you’d better believe they tried to both get things past me and see how much they could mess with my head).

    I’m a little less clean and organized than I used to be. I don’t blame this on anything–it just sort of happened that way. But, I commend you on your organization. I’ve worked with you quite a bit, and I’ve seen your neat freak skills in play. They and you have been tremendously helpful. And, I love your perfect red day planner : )

    I don’t think creativity and neatness are opposites. They can definitely be a benefit to one another. For example, an artist’s canvas is very clean before any creativity is seen.

    Creative people are sometimes messy and sometimes clean. Clean people are sometimes creative and sometimes messy. Your neatness has come in handy for you over the years, I’m sure. And, I’ve no doubt it will continue to be.

  3. Rick Weiss Said:

    Hi Shauna,

    I think everybody has their creative side, their neat-freak side and their messy side. I’m sure if you dug deep enough, you’d find some clutter in your life… maybe I’m wrong?

    I’m one of those “organized clutter” people. I’ll have stacks around my desk and room. Books, papers, gadgets, etc. My desk right now does not have a space larger than 3×3 inches that I can actually see it’s wood veneer surface.

    *correction* I’ve tidied part of my desk. It looks nice.

    Anyways – creativity takes many forms. I wouldn’t fret about whether you’re creative of not creative. You probably do many creative things every day and pass them off yourself as mundane.


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