Is Being Neat and Organized Overrated? Costco Wants to Know.

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Costco, a place that sells an enormous number of items you can spend time keeping organized (or not), is running a survey in their online magazine titled: "Is being neat and organized overrated?"

Now, it always drives organizers crazy to hear those two adjectives used together as if they mean the same thing. They don't. Why is that such a hard concept to grasp? My dad was one of those people who have tippy-looking stacks of paper all over the room. But he knew what was in the stacks. He was a writer and was inspired by having as much material as possible to look through when he was working.

If he had been a piler who was also disorganized, he might have discovered some really interesting things to write about in those piles, but he also would have missed his deadline. Being an organized piler meant that he could meet deadlines and have fun reading obscure articles about incunabula that could inspire future writing.

The Costco article quotes David Freedman, author of A Perfect Mess, who proposes that you have to be messy to be creative. He cites the discovery of penicillin in a messy, disorganized lab where mold had grown on some sample dishes.

That's nice, but the ancient Greeks, among others,  had already noticed that mold could inhibit bacterial growth, and there's been a steady, scientific study of the subject since then. At least two scientists discovered penicillin before Fleming did, in the traditional way of being curious about phenomena they noticed in the world around them. They did not have to wait until an accident occurred in their labs. (Mold picture courtesy of the PBS website.)

It's probably a safe bet that once Fleming made his accidental discovery, he applied the scientific method to it. That involves a lot of experimentation and analysis that has to be kept and presented in an organized fashion. It's hard to get published in a scientific journal if you've misplaced your lab results.

Bottom line: being organized is about finding stuff when you need to, but that doesn't mean it's labeled and shrink-wrapped and lined up on a shelf. It means you know where it is and can get to it without breaking your neck falling on that old guitar.

So, what's your vote?

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