Secret Marketer: Clutter is messy but being untidy leads to some of the best ideas

Decluttering might be all the rage but sometimes being messy can lead to inspiration.

I’m feeling the pressure to change my ways and conform to the new frenzy of decluttering and simplifying my stuff. It started when my wife read ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo, but its insidious influence has been felt in the workplace. Our CEO is organised and neat – two adjectives never associated with me.

I have started optimising. I have read productivity books, made spreadsheets to track my progress, cleared my desk each night, ensured I’m on top of my ‘to do’ lists, and got more focused. The problem is that I am a ‘piler’ not a ‘filer’. I clutter up places with piles of work, notes, books – together with lots of ‘stuff’. Everything active, and a lot more inactive, is in a stack on the table or floor.

I find myself having to defend my mess. Of course, we all need to get more and better work out of ourselves and our teams, but with me, it involves methods that Kondo would find sub-optimal. I’m always messing around with different shelving, drawers, file spaces, both in the office and at home. But I know where everything is, so if I move it, I forget where I moved it to. Frustration ensues all round.

Being messy can foster inspiration. I have not planned it this way but I keep it this way, as it helps me. An old report can spark unexpected ideas. The title of a book can serve as insight or a psychological trigger. You can’t get this if your notes and half-baked ideas are locked inside a computer, or ‘in the cloud’. Nothing can leap out at you that way.

I have a theory on this based on something I learned at a time management course years ago. Popular ideas such as decluttering are typically taken up by people who are already good at that particular thing, and who don’t need it. These obsessives, in turn, try to foist these ideas on other poor unfortunates like me.

Yes, clutter is messy. Yes, it can drain willpower. Yes, I might run the risk of turning up on the TV show Hoarders. But the popularity of an idea does not mean it’s a good idea. Popularity is not proof of value or that the idea will work. The trouble with dogma is that it does not allow you to figure out what works best for you. Getting performance from yourself and your team is a messy business at the best of times, not a one-size-fits-all thing that must be force-fit. Working in marketing is not the same as being an airline pilot, with the necessity of rigid rules and checklists.

My untidy desk may be the sign of a messy, unproductive thought process. But clean up too much and I might accidentally clean out my mind. In any case, my approach has worked to achieve the modicum of success that I have so far. Just remember, folks, success can be cooked up in a messy kitchen.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here