Quinte, On. real estate agent: Bless my Mess

Bless my Mess

"If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?"

- Albert Einstein


Albert Einstein was known for having a very messy desk. That much I have in common with him. I clean my desk off about once a week (whether it needs it or not), but stuff just continually piles up. By the end of the week my poor laptop is squeezed into a corner beside my phone. I sometimes catch the disparaging glances of other agents who walk by my office ( I have a prime location, right beside the bathroom - I know who the loud tinklers are), and sometimes feel a little ashamed.

I decided to handle this problem the North American way. Rather than address this problem head on, I decided to find a scientific study that justifies my shortcoming so that I can feel good about myself without actually having to work on my personal weakness. Allah be praised, there have been several such studies.

Did you know;

48: Percentage of people who are "pilers" - they organize paper by piling it on their desktops.

38: Percentage of people who are "filers" - they file rather than pile, and tend to have management titles.

14: Percentage of people who are "tossers" - they keep their desks spare and uncluttered.

Source: 2005 survey by Pendaflex, a New York-based company specializing in organizational solutions.

(I was quite relieved to discover that I wasn't a tosser.)

There has actually been a book written about this subject, a 2007 publication entitled A Perfect Mess, by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman. In this book they reveal why having a messy desk isn't really such a bad thing.

"Mess isn't necessarily the absence of order," Abrhamson and Freedman claim. "A messy desk can be a highly effective prioritizing and accessing system. In general, on a messy desk, the more important, urgent work tends to stay close by and near the top of the clutter, while the safely ignorable stuff tends to get buried to the bottom or near the back, which makes perfect sense. The various piles on a messy desk can represent a surprisingly sophisticated informal filing system that offer far more efficiency and flexibility than a filing cabinet could possibly provide."

 In other words, the time I save by not constantly cleaning off my desk almost compensates more than makes up for the time I spend cursing and looking for things.

I won't lie and claim that I have read the whole book, or even parts thereof ( I did read internet reviews though), it is not necessary. The mere knowledge that such a book exists validates my position and makes me proud of my messiness, after all, it's a personal filing system, not unsimilar to the one that Albert Einstein used. Next time anoher agent peers into my office on his way to the lavatory, I won't look down in shame. No, I will meet his gaze with a steely look of my own. "Tinkle away my chum, this office is the sign of a genius at work."

Comment balloon 22 commentsMalcolm Johnston • August 24 2010 08:17PM


Malcolm, I loved this post, my home office where I work out of has piles, I know where everything is....Einsteing Wow. I knew it:)))

Posted by Endre Barath, Jr., Realtor - Los Angeles Home Sales 310.486.1002 (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices) over 8 years ago

You know Malcolm.....this is not so bad.  My husband works out of our home and often suggests that we share the same workspace.  NOT HAPPENING!

Posted by Ann Allen Hoover, CDPE SRES ASP e-PRO Realtor - Homes for Sale - AL (RE/MAX Advantage South) over 8 years ago


All my life I have had a messy desk. I have run out of excuses. Actually, it's an ADD (ADHD) issue!

The interesting point, is how productive people become when they either:

1) are in the process of cleaning their desk,

2) just finished, and now have a clean desk.


Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) over 8 years ago

Malcolm, I'm a piler. then a filer.  I work on weekends to clean up the mess to start all over again.

Posted by Kay Van Kampen, RealtorĀ®, Springfield Mo Real Estate (RE/MAX Broker, RE/MAX) over 8 years ago

The study left out "spreaders".  If I had my way, I'd have about 30 feet of horizontal surface; I wouldn't have piles, instead each thing would be lined up side-by-side on the horizontal surface with nothing underneath and nothing on top of it.  A side benefit would be the physical exercise of walking back and forth to retrieve things from their spot on the surface.  :-)

Posted by Cheryl Johnson over 8 years ago

It takes a true genius to create such a perfectly logical rationalization!  I guess I have a split personality since I am a piler, filer, and a tosser.  I rarely have to spend time searching for lost items...only when I clean up, then I can't find anything.

Posted by Kristen Wheatley, Supporting Success - Best Job in the World! (Better Homes & Gardens | The Masiello Group) over 8 years ago

Malcolm, you have me thinking...I have 2 offices, one at home, one at my real estate office - and I carry files & piles back and forth. I developed a very organized system, where everything has a place, so readily available & easily found. BUT I don't want to throw anything away, so I have a couple file cabinets FULL of stuff that really should be sorted out & perhaps thrown away since it is just taking up space & will probably never be of use. I also have a sign that says "bless this mess", ha ha.

Posted by Carla Harbert, RE/MAX Omega: Lorain-Medina County Area (www.LorainCountyHomeSales.com) over 8 years ago

Hi Malcolm,

Sooooo, what does it mean if you don't even have a desk, but just scatter stuff all over the place, BUT know where everything is?

Posted by Not In Real Estate Any Longer over 8 years ago

Malcolm, I am a legendary keeper of a messy desk, office, car... etc.  Well actually my car is normally neat, tidy and washed.   The strange thing, for me, is that when my desk and office is messy or cluttered, I actually know where things are... when I "clean" it up, then I get frustrated because I cannot find anything...

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 8 years ago


I have the same problem. I have the misfortune of being a neat freak, pack rat.  So you can imagine the fights that go on inside of my header...lol.

Have a great day brother


Posted by Leander McClain, Cecil & Harford County Realtor over 8 years ago


I feel if you haven't moved a paper in a month, don't even look at it just throw it away.  More importantly, I like the idea of picking up a paper only once.  Upon reading it gets stored, or trashed.  I know. best laid plans and all...

Posted by Larry Lawfer, "I listen for a living." It's all about you. (YourStories Realty Group) over 8 years ago

Malcolm: I use file 13 a lot. It is a 45 gallon garbage container. All the best with the mess and being on the same brain wave as Einstein.


Posted by Ty Lacroix (Envelope Real Estate Brokerage Inc) over 8 years ago

THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Malcolm! I have always felt ashamed of my desk, even though, I know exactly where everything is...I am a piler....it's almost as if it is my 'to do' list! Thank you again for reminding me I AM A GENIUS!!

Posted by Al & Peggy Cunningham, Brokers, Our Family Wants To Help Your Family! (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage) over 8 years ago

Glad to know I'm a genius Malcolm ;) Thanks! LOL!

I have this rrrealy great pile of stuff on the end of my counter that drives my brother-in-law nuts every time he comes over LOL.

Posted by Janice Ankrett, Staging Professional (Janice Ankrett Home Staging) over 8 years ago

Yes Malcolm that would be me too.  Some how though if someone says where is, I can find it fast.  seems to me that it helps my brain stay sharp, for I have great recall where I place things.  Genius likely.

Posted by Connie Wilhelm Zulu (Peak Realty Ltd., Brokerage) over 8 years ago

I think tosser means something else to British people? lol

Posted by Garreth Wilcock, Homes at Mueller (Sherlock Homes Austin) over 8 years ago

Endre, I have piles everywhere too, sometimes on the floor.

Ann, There's no way anyone would want to share their workspace with me.

Brian, I do feel much better when my desk is clean, and maybe I am more productive then, I'll have to figure out a way to guage that.

Kay, that's not a fun way to spend weekends.

Cheryl, you would need one heck of a long counter top for that.

Kristen, a true genius can make a weakness look like a strength.


Posted by Malcolm Johnston, Trenton Real Estate (Century 21 Lanthorn Real Estate LTD., Trenton, Ontario) over 8 years ago

Carla, part of my problem is that I never know what to throw out too.

Pam, then you are a "scatterer", and therefore the exception that proves the rule.

Chris, my car is a mess too (unless I am driving clients - then it is hastily brought to order).

Leander, a neat feak combined with a pack rat would make an interesting mental tug-o-war.

Larry, I'm frightened to toss things in case it's the exact piece of paper that I will need in the future.

Ty, file 13 sounds like a great concept. Mybe I'll set one up beside my desk.

Al and Peggy, I never had any doubts that you were geniuses.

Janice, get your brother-in-law to stay on top of the paperwork then. Until he does that, he doesn't have a say in the matter.

Connie, I can usually find things too. No one else can figure my system out though.

Garreth, you're the first person who picked up on that. You must watch English movies.

Posted by Malcolm Johnston, Trenton Real Estate (Century 21 Lanthorn Real Estate LTD., Trenton, Ontario) over 8 years ago

Malcolm, I LOVE that Einstein quote! (And I identify with the desk picture, too, I'm sorry to say.) I'm reblogging this so more can enjoy it.

Posted by Lottie Kendall, Helping make your real estate dreams a reality (Compass) over 8 years ago

Malcolm, I pile and know almost exactly where every critical piece is.  Liz files, hardly anything on her desk.

and your desk is way too organized for me :)


Posted by Liz and Bill Spear, RE/MAX Elite Warren County OH (Cincinnati/Dayton) (RE/MAX Elite 513.520.5305 www.LizTour.com) over 8 years ago

Malcolm, I saw this post thank to Lottie.

It reminds me of another quote...."A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind."  Wonder what Einstein would think of that?

Posted by Mary Kay Hopkins, e-PRO,GRI,CRS (Mary Kay Hopkins, LLC e-PRO, GRI, CRS, CRB) over 8 years ago

I'm in the 48%  My desk resembles the picture except that my desk is bigger and the piles are higher  :-)

Posted by Bill Travis, Broker/Owner (Captain Bill Realty, LLC) over 8 years ago