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Clean vs. Chaos: What Does Your Desk Say About You?

The desk – it’s the center of our personal and professional lives and often the heart of our homes. It’s a place to sit, to use computers and to daydream (when we just can’t get started with what we really need to do). So what does the state of our desk say about us?

Society is quick to say a messy desk is indicative of a creative or disorderly brain. The messier the desk, the more frazzled the human. And that a neat desk is the sign of someone who has life in order with everything in check. Over a decade of experience as a home organization coach has shown me that this is not always the case. I shared my thoughts on this topic recently in this article Decoding Your Desk: What Does It Say About You? for HowStuffWorks. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.

Right Brained, Left Brained or Both?

Are you more right-brained, or left-brained? If you’re not sure, you can take this test. Or, just check in with yourself. It’s true, many right-brained creative types do have bulging desks. Part of the reason for this is the right-brained mentality. Right-brained, creative people tend to think in images and words. They prefer to see the tools of their trade spread out before them, or at least within easy view. For them a pile with ‘this that and the other’ is not messy but building blocks to a creative endeavor. Left-brained people experience things differently. Their more logic-centric brains look for linear and analytic solutions to life. For them, visual clutter can be a daunting, distracting them from the task at hand.

The thing is, while most of us are dominant one way, we shouldn’t disregard the traits of one at the expense of the other. For example, I consider myself a right-brained individual. I’m a left-handed, musician with an astrological Leo heart. By these standards I should test right-brain dominant. But the test above has me scoring 60% left-brain inclined. Why? For one, right now I’m in a business-focused stage of my life, so those traits are shining through. And the other? Truth told, on a half dozen questions I wished there were an answer in the middle. Meaning, don’t let anyone pigeon hole you into a brain personality box. Our brain personality inclinations are on a spectrum, and can shift over time. And we can be more than one thing at once.

Clean Canvas vs. Chaos

So how does this affect our desks? Well, not clearly at all. The truth is, more than a few left-brained ‘creative types’ perform better when greeted daily by a clean desk. A brand new palette providing their brains freedom to begin anew and think outside the box. An artist client once described to me her first approach to her desk in the morning as, “like facing a fresh canvas at the start of each day.” When she worked things got messy. But she cleaned down her desk each night so she could create chaos once again the next day.

Similarly, a busy cluttered desk can free the mind of someone seeking logical answers. A tiny bit of chaos helping the linear brain to identify simple answers to complicated questions. Think of Albert Einstein, a genius famously known for his cluttered desk. Many things about him defied logic, including his ambidexterity (the state of being equally adapted in the use of both the left and the right hand). Did he have books piled high on his workspace and still develop the theory of relativity? You betcha.

Do You

Simply put, when it comes to your desk, at the end of the day, do you. A desk is a place to both place and store the items connected to the projects of our lives, as well as a location to get stuff done. As an organization coach I advise my clients to worry less about preconceived notions of how they think their desk should look, and instead follow their intuition and land a middle ground that works for them.

Feeling a creative streak? Gather some inspiring tools about you (like pens, craft supplies or paper) and have them handy for when an idea strikes, while also leaving yourself ample workspace to complete the tasks of life. Feeling like a stuff-free environment will open your mind? Clear down your desk and let the creative juices flow. Just like people, a desk can take on ‘messy’ and ‘neat’ characteristics without needing a label.

Where do you fall on the left-brain, right-brain spectrum? Sound off in the comments below.

Photo Credits: Unsplash, Fancy Crave, Kaboompics

Maeve Richmond is the founder and head coach of Maeve's Method, a home organization system based in New York City. She specializes in parents & kids, couples, small space solutions, space planning and decorative elements for the home. Contact her at or @MaeveRichmond.

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