Sunday, March 08, 2009

A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson & David H. Freedman

I've never been an organized person, and this has never caused me more problems than it did in my first year of teaching, when I was constantly misplacing stacks of papers (graded, ungraded, not handed out yet, things to run off, etc.). After that first year though, I managed to iron out enough kinks that my classroom ran pretty smoothly. And I've never been the person who minded having a messy desk, though it drove my mom (and my super-organized sister of the eight-page wedding day itinerary) a little crazy.

I suppose, then, that it was only natural that I was drawn to A Perfect Mess, which encourages embracing (or adding) bits of disorganization in our days.

To clarify: A Perfect Mess does not encourage hoarding or complete chaos or unsanitary living conditions. Instead, Abrahamson and Freedman have researched ways in which being a little messy about how you do things can be helpful in your life (at home, in offices or science labs, etc.). The book is full of stories of how being hyperorganized can be detrimental and how serendipity tends to fall to those of us who allow ourselves room to be messy. I especially appreciated their narative illustrations, and also how often bookstores were used as examples (and I have added a new bookstore to my must-visit list).

But though they do poke fun at the billions of dollars people spend (usually futilely) trying to get organized (and this includes hiring professional organizers to come to your house to unmess it), Abrahamson and Freedman don't discourage organization. What they encourage is a happy medium. And they want people to quit apologizing for the messy states of their homes; stacks of mail on dining room tables, kids' toys on the floor, piles of to-be-filed papers on your desk--these are all perfectly normal and we shouldn't be made to feel by the hyper-organized (who are outnumbered by the rest of us, I'd like to point out) that these things make us some kind of failure.

Abrahamson and Freedman also explore messiness in other, sometimes unexpected, areas--music (did you know improvisation used to be expected in Baroque music?), computers, search engines, hospitals, law offices, machine design, traffic patterns, jaywalking, schools, and lots more. Sometimes these other areas felt like overkill, and sometimes they seemed redundant (subjects did tend to overlap between chapters here and there), but overall, this book offered a pleasing tour through various aspects of organization and mess.

I highly recommend A Perfect Mess. It would make a great counterweighted perspective to books like the forthcoming Throw Out Fifty Things (which provokes a challenge being undertaken this weekend and being documented in a series of posts over at Devourer of Books).

Many thanks to Little, Brown & Co. for the review copy!


bermudaonion said...

Hey, this gives me some hope!

Ali said...

I think I need both books! Once I get rid of some of the clutter, I can let the other exist as it may, without getting stressed out by the way it increases exponentially.

Em said...

Ohh, that sounds like a perfect book for me. I'm a little disorganized. :)

And thanks for all the great suggestions on my Operation Teen Book Drop post. I hadn't thought about gyms, but that's a really great idea. Thanks!