As far as nonverbal communication goes, your environment provides observers with lots of cues they use to form impressions – and the state of your desk can be the basis for judgment from your colleagues and family members. But does the orderliness of your desk actually mean anything in real terms?

Yes, turns out it does.  The researchers at the University of Minnesota recently published data showing that physical order is associated with healthy choices, generosity, and rule following, whereas disorder seems to produce creativity.

Those in offices with messy desks were able to think more creatively, and generate more ‘out of the box’ thinking. Their neater office mates ate healthier snacks, donated more money, and preferred more traditional choices.

This data probably gives all of us a reason to reinforce our own choice as the best one.  We can all be defensive about our neatness, or lack thereof.  But maybe we should stop looking for reinforcement, and start looking for application.

Most interestingly, can this data provide any more insight into the impact of environment on our lives? Perhaps the lesson here is this – when you need to be more creative, find spaces that are more visually stimulating, and allow the clutter to build up a bit. Reducing our focus on maintaining order can allow our creative sides to flourish.

And for those of us with messy desks, when we need to improve our ability to exercise self-control (as in dieting, or other rule-following behavior) we might want to start with a clean up of our desk.

And as for me, perhaps I will suspend judgment when I see a desk that is the polar opposite of my own.

Source: Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota

Kathleen D. Vohs, University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management, 3-150 321 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN 55455 E-mail:

Messy or Clean – What the state of your desk says about your life