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KatawaGrey's avatar

Why are messy people considered less considerate or more disruptive than neat people?

Asked by KatawaGrey (21350 points ) October 20th, 2008

I am a messy person and I feel as if people think my messy habits are more disruptive than other people’s neat habits. I can understand that my messiness is very disconcerting to a very neat person, but someone’s extreme neatness can be very disconcerting to me as well. Yet, I am considered the disruptive, inconsiderate one even though I am just as undone by someone neatening up my clutter as someone else is by my cluttering up their neatness. What are the collective’s thoughts on this?

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12 Answers

richardhenry's avatar

It’s only really a problem if you live with someone. I’m a reasonably neat guy, and messy friends can be annoying if they stick around too long. But not that annoying. I just wouldn’t wanna’ live with them all the time.

If you came over to my house for a one-off party or dinner or whatever, and didn’t really clean up after yourself, I probably wouldn’t even take it in.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

As a messy person who had to overcome my natural tendencies with adulthood and children, I feel really qualified to answer this. Messiness within the confines of your own space- room, car, computer desktop, etc. affect only you. When you are messy in shared space, or when your messiness extends to not being able to keep track of other people’s items you’ve borrowed, or when your messiness creates damage or cost to things you do not pay for, then people will consider you inconsiderate and disruptive.

In short, the messiness of other people creates work for me, unplanned work. If, in order to spend an hour cleaning a room, I also have to spend 45 minutes picking up other peoples stuff and putting it away, everyone will hear about it. Likewise, coming home after work to find the clean kitchen I left in the morning trashed by after school eating, and having to spend 30 minutes cleaning before I can cook dinner, everyone will hear about it. Not being able to find enough glassware and having to go into my daughter’s room to retrieve glassware with moldy coke in them, she will hear about it. Finding out that her friends accidentally spilled food on the carpeting I haven’t finished paying for, and no one cleaned it up, everyone will hear about it.

jvgr's avatar

Certainly you can’t impose your messiness on common space; that would be unfair.

But you shouldn’t feel bad about your own messiness unless it is motivated by sloth, lack of self worth or creates a toxic environment.

There is a perception that messy people are less intelligent, less efficient, and generally less able than neatniks. Studies have shown (and I just saw a documentary about this) that “messy” people actually organize that way, particularly those who tend to be creative (not narrowly defined to only include art related activity). In this case the messiness is a result of ordering the information in a way that filing and categorizing can’t. It’s a more relational way of keeping things than the divisive way that cataloging does.

Tests (ability to locate things) showed that messy organizers were just as efficient at retrieving things as neatniks were.

So if your messiness is not anti-social, rejoice in it.

wundayatta's avatar

First: define your terms. Give us pictures!

Also, when do you have these interactions where messiness and neatness conflict? For me, the issue is courtesy. Everyone should be courteous. Both the neat and the messy people.

Messiness can be a style. But it can also be a sign of pathology. Normally, I would let things pile up on my desk for a few months, and then organize it all. But when I was manic, and then depressed, I stopped doing any organizing for more than a year. I simply couldn’t do it.

My wife is neat, and I have come to like things neat, especially with kids. We will never find anything if people don’t put stuff back where we think it should be stored.

I guess, to answer your question, messiness is more likely to lose things. My daughter just found 17 dollars she lost over a year ago. It had fallen into the couch. The clicker falls down there a lot. So when the next person comes in the room, and they can’t use the TV until they’ve found the clicker—that’s rude. Similarly, in the kitchen, if there’s no place to sit or eat because papers and packages are all over the place, that’s pretty rude, too.

It tends not to go the other way. Neatness and cleanliness gets praise. It is the sign of a well-organized person, with a life they can keep together. Messiness suggests mental illness and disorganization, and inability to cope. At least in my case, messiness was all three of those things. Anyone who knew the signs could have looked at my office and diagnosed me.

As to your own clutter: well, you should be the person to clean it up, when it must be cleaned. If you live with other people, the courteous thing to do is to keep your clutter to your space, but keep things neat in public space.

If you are messy due to creativity, you will know exactly where everything is. If you are messy due to illness, you won’t have a clue what’s in the mess. If it is a parent you have this fight with, you’re out of luck. If it is a roommate, you probably should strongly consider compromising, or keeping your mess to your room. If it is a spouse, I fear for the relationship. A couple can not be bothered by their partner every time they come home. It won’t last.

Fieryspoon's avatar

It’s more mentally taxing to be in a chaotic environment than it is to be in a serene environment. The mess is distracting because it has more “noise”, and therefore requires more mental energy to parse and process, especially for someone who is normally tidy, orderly, and organized.

I feel like it’s like smoking in public. Non smokers don’t affect smokers, but smokers affect non snokers. Similarly, messy people can work fine in both environments, but tidy people can only work in tidy environments.

Dorkgirl's avatar

I’m a tidier, but I try to refrain in areas that are not my own. I would not presume to come into your space and move your things around or neaten your area. I agree, that’s rude.
The other posters have covered this pretty well, but my 2 cents is that messiness or being untidy can cost time, energy and in some cases money.
I work in a building where we share a kitchen with another office. Some people make their food, leave crumbs on the counters, food in the sink, exploded yuck in the microwave, etc. UGH! I don’t want to come into that when I want to make my lunch.
Also, if someone’s untidy habits impact others—who does the dishes in a shared space (in a home or office environment)? Who’ll wash the towels that were used to wipe coffee off the floor? Who will clean the hair out of the tub?
A person can be gross on their own or messy or untidy, but when we share spaces we need to have some level of understanding about how we’ll all behave.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@ fiery spoon: I think the smoker vs. nonsmoker analogy is inappropriate. I am not unhygienic and my messy area is not a health risk to anyone. Also, you may consider a clean area to be “serene” whereas I find it mentally taxing because I always have to put everything back exactly where it belongs and if something is moved then it throws off the whole organization of the space. Also, you’re assuming that as a messy person, I have no sense of organization. I do have a sense of organization it’s just not the same kind as a neat person. This is exactly the idea that I am talking about. Neat people don’t affect messy people. A neat environment is compatible for both. The answer, for me at least, is no. As I said, I am very uncomfortable in a neat environment. My direct roommate is a neat freak, and it does bother me. I can’t put things where I want to because she’s in the room. If I ask her to borrow something, I can’t simply put it on her desk, I have to put it back exactly where she got it from. When she cleans the room, sometimes she organizes my stuff that is in a “common area” ie, on the floor or the communal shelf the runs between our beds. I keep everything on my side of the room, even pressed up against my desk because there are simply no other places to put things (I keep some shoes out of my closet because my closet squeaks and I don’t want to wake her up in the morning). Her neatness and the neatness of other people affects me negatively, just as my messiness affects other people negatively.

gimmedat's avatar

When I think of the mess makers in my life, I don’t think that in general they are more inconsiderate than the tidy. One thing I have noticed, however, is that the mess makers in my life like drama, and mess in general. You know the kind of person who can’t just be OK or work to make things OK? In my world those people are mess makers. Messy living=messy life. Broad generalization? Yep. But not totally inaccurate I don’t think.

KatawaGrey's avatar

@ gimmedat: I know what you mean, but I have also seen something similar in overly neat people. I’ve noticed that overly neat people need to be in absolute control at all times of their environment and everything in it. This is not a good thing or a bad thing, but I believe it is on par with messy living = messy life.

gimmedat's avatar

Yup yup. There has to be a good balance somewhere. I am a neat freak, I don’t like mess in my world or for my space, and I am learning not to be such a control freak!

cookieman's avatar

Examples of my clean-freak ways going too far:

Spraying the kitchen counter near food.

Organizing my wife’s closet/desktop/eMail/car then being perplexed why she’s annoyed instead of thanking me.

I know, I know. My wife’s a saint. I’m working on it.

That being said, I take great pride in my personal spaces being neat, clean and organized.

wundayatta's avatar

OCD vs Bipolar. Well, it doesn’t have to be a fight. It could be a cooperation. You just have to negotiate it clearly. OCD gets to clean shared space, when he or she wants. However, must put bipolar’s stuff in an agreed on place. Bipolar can ask for OCD’s help anytime he or she wants to organize his or her stuff.

I’m exagerating, of course, in my labels, but I think the principle is sound. There are people who have to be organized, and people who organize in a more abstract way. They can fight, if they want to. It’s sometimes more salutary to be in high dudgeon than to be cooperative.

Or they can be really creative, and find a way to capitalize on both people’s strengths. The messy person is probably better able to imagine a good solution here.

As I say, these are gross exagerations, with tongue stuck firmly in cheek, but the operating principles are sound, I believe.

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