Order vs. clutter, or can it be both?

Order vs. clutter, or can it be both?

Situation: Does a messy home (or office) make you anxious and cranky, or is cleaning something you just do before company comes over?

Studies and Experiments

According to the study conducted by psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs and her fellow researchers of University of Minnesota in Psychological Science (2013), a journal of the Association for the Psychological Science,  there are benefits working both with a clean and messy environment. In their experiment, they had participants placed in an orderly setting and in a cluttered setting. Both groups were tasked to fill out questionnaires. After answering, both were asked if they wanted to donate to charity or not.  Another condition given was choosing between apples or chocolates as snacks. More participants from the clean room donated to charity (82%) and picked apple as their snack (67%), compared to those in the messy room who donated (47%) and chose apples (20%).

In another experiment, some participants were also challenged to think for new uses of ping pong balls and to choose between a new and existing product in the same settings. Surprisingly, those in the messy room thought more creatively than those in the clean room. The former also preferred the new product, while the latter chose the existing one.

Their conclusion was that “working in a tidy room encourages people to do socially responsible, normatively ‘good’ things like eat healthfully and give to charity. But working in a messy room seems to help them try new things and come up with creative ideas” (American Psychological Association, 2013). The effect of being in an orderly environment makes a person think and weigh decisions properly, while those in a cluttered environment tend to be more carefree and outside-the-box thinkers.

Personal Experience

In line with the question, a messy home or workplace makes me anxious and cranky. I prefer cleanliness over clutter.

When I was still working at the office, I felt more stress when I see my work desk full of papers, notes, markers, and pencils. My cluttered desk made me feel unproductive and non-progressive. I did not feel creative at all. However, I still tried to keep my desk clean and organized, somehow releasing me from stress.



Sometimes, when calm rises within the stress, I come to my reflections. I realize that my cluttered desk reflects my cluttered mind. These clutters are fear of failure, pride, doubts, disappointments, and unmet expectations. They prevent me to maximize my whole potential as a person. When I cannot contain the mess, I decided to fix my desk. I threw the unnecessary and reorganized. My desk did not become empty, but things were more orderly. It took time, but in the end, I felt my happy hormones released. This mirrors fighting my fears and doubts and replacing them with pleasing thoughts.

However, clutter will always be present in our lives, created by us and by others. In reality, we cannot avoid these clutters because we sometimes recreate them even if we hate them.


May I now present a macro view of what my situation allowed me to ponder deeply. In life, we always face the biggest mess and even if we try very hard, we cannot fix it on our own. This big mess is called sin. But what really is sin? According to James 4:17,

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

Going back to the study by Vohs, we might reason out that the person who can tolerate clutter is more creative while the opposite is more conventional. We use different excuses, such as creativity, for the mess we created because in reality, we do not know how to make things in order again. We can already feel anxiety, depression, and shame, but we try to cover them with our excuses. We hate to admit that we are stuck in clutter, even if we tried to get away with it, and we need someone to help us make things in order.


In life, we always justify our omission of good and our commission of wrong, resulting to sin. We need Someone powerful enough to take them away and save us from it. The only one who can do that is Jesus Christ. But why do we need to be saved from sins or from clutter if we can just live with it and tolerate it? According to Romans 6:23,

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We shall die twice, first our physical death and then our spiritual death or the eternal death. We should die an eternal death in hell because we sin and keep on sinning. Aside from death, we have a lot of guilt to bear. But thanks be to God because He gave Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. As a result, we can have eternal life in heaven (we will only die physically). Take note, this is a free gift and it will be only ours if we receive it. You might think you do not need it because you can do good and stop sinning. However, one single sin accounts for death and no amount of good we do can make our lives in real order because sin will always be present. As it is said in Ephesians 2:8-9,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godnot by works, so that no one can boast.

If we go back to the situation of clutter and order, is there a person willing to clean the mess of others for free? I guess no one. In comparison with our lives, only Jesus Christ is willing to take all our sins with His death for free. He did that out of His grace and out of love, which we do not deserve at all (because we deserve eternal death, remember). According to Romans 5:8,

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


He wants us to believe that His saving of our lives from eternal death is enough. Jesus is our only Savior. Our own collective efforts cannot equate what He did because we are not all powerful as He is. According to John 3:16,

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Asking someone to dive in our clutter and clean our mess illustrates Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, with Him taking our sins. However, the one who volunteered to fix our mess should recover because we are aware that we are prone to making a mess again that we cannot fix. It is the same that Jesus Christ did not just die; after three days, He resurrected from the dead. As said in Romans 10:9,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

So now that we believe that Jesus Christ died for us, will we still sin? If someone cleaned your mess, will you still create another one?

Our natural response would be keeping things in order because we do not want the efforts of others go to waste. This involves our choice to be consistent until it becomes a habit, and later on, a lifestyle. In this life, as Jesus Christ showed His love for us, our natural response should also be love by being faithful in doing what is right, even if it is small. This means we should let Him become the Lord of our lives. To make the right choice, we have three aspects to change:

  1. Heart – If our heart desires to do good, it will do good; if it desires to do evil, it will do evil. It is human nature to do whatever the heart desires. If we desire Jesus Christ, then our natural response to Him as our Savior should be pleasing to Him.

    For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

  2. Mind – Our minds should be rational enough to decide what’s right and wrong, even if our heart wants to do the unpleasing.

    Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

  3. Body – No matter how strong our minds and hearts to do the right thing, but if our body is weak, we cannot remain faithful to God.

    Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

Now that we have resolved to be faithful, there will still be times that we fail. We can still make small messes or commit sin unintentionally. Again, we cannot do things on our own. We cannot save ourselves from sin. We need someone to take away our clutter just as we always need Jesus Christ to forgive us of our sins. According to 1 John 1:9,

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Only Jesus Christ can turn our mess into a message. Only He can restore our chaotic lives to the life He wants us to have, which is eternal.

The Decision

Now that I have shared the Truth, are you willing to accept it? Do you believe that Jesus Christ lived, died for you, and resurrected? Do you believe He is your Savior? Do you want to make Him the Lord of your life? If yes, kindly share your thoughts by leaving your comments to also help others decide. If no, please share your thoughts so that I can make things clearer for you.



American Psychological Association. (2013, October). A messy desk encourages a creative mind, study finds. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/10/messy-desk.aspx

Association for Psychological Science. (2013, August 6). Tidy desk or messy desk? Each has its benefits – Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/tidy-desk-or-messy-desk-each-has-its-benefits.html#.WN34BjeLl0s


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