We all know someone who is messy. Their home or workspace is cluttered and disorganized. Dirty dishes pile up in the sink, laundry piles up on the floor, and papers are scattered everywhere. Being messy seems like a trivial personality quirk, but research shows it can actually reveal deeper insights into a person’s character. So what does being messy say about your personality? Keep reading to find out.
Are messy people more creative?
One common stereotype is that messy people tend to be more creative. The idea is that their cluttered surroundings reflect their cluttered minds brimming with ideas. Research suggests there could be some truth to this.
A 2013 study published in Psychological Science found that messy workspaces can promote creative thinking. Participants who completed tasks in a messy room came up with more creative solutions than those in an organized room. The researchers theorized that clutter makes people more distracted, which leads them to think in a more abstract manner conducive to creativity.
So if you’re messy, it could be a sign that you have an artistic or innovative personality. However, it’s an overgeneralization to equate messiness with creativity. Plenty of meticulously neat people are highly creative too. Messiness may encourage novel thinking, but it’s not a prerequisite for a creative mind.
Are messy people more intelligent?
Another assumption people often make is that messy people are more intelligent. The idea is their mental energy goes towards intellectual pursuits, not cleaning and organizing. Albert Einstein’s famously messy office is sometimes used as anecdotal evidence of this link.
A number of studies have attempted to test the correlation between intelligence and messiness. The findings have been mixed. A 2016 study published in Psychological Reports did find a modest correlation between childhood messy bedrooms and higher professional achievement and creative thinking in adulthood.
However, other studies have found weak or nonexistent relationships between messiness and intelligence. Overall, the link is inconclusive. While messiness doesn’t preclude intelligence, you can’t assume someone is smart just because they are messy. Plenty of brilliant people keep neat, tidy spaces.
Do messy people have a different moral compass?
Messiness has also been linked to less ethical behavior. A 2016 study in Psychological Science found that people in messy rooms were more likely to cheat on a game and take unethical actions like lying and stealing money.
Researchers speculated that cluttered environments promote moral chaos just as they do creative chaos. When surrounded by mess, people become more comfortable with rulebreaking and disregard for order.
Of course, messy people aren’t inherently less ethical than neat people. Just because someone’s home is messy doesn’t mean they are more likely to cheat and steal. However, this study does suggest messiness could nudge some individuals towards more questionable behavior.
Are messy people lazy?
Now we get to one of the less flattering traits associated with messiness – laziness. Messy people are often viewed as too lazy or undisciplined to clean up after themselves.
And in many cases, there is some truth to that perception. Maintaining an organized, tidy home does require effort. Chronic messiness often occurs when people can’t be bothered to put things back in their place. They don’t feel like making their bed, doing dishes, or decluttering, so messes accumulate.
Of course, laziness doesn’t account for all messiness. Some people want to be neater but struggle with organizational skills or chronic disorganization. Still, for many messy individuals, an unwillingness to put in the effort to clean plays a role.
Do messy people have a lower conscientiousness?
In psychology, conscientiousness refers to a personality trait reflecting diligence, organization, and discipline. Conscientious people tend to be neat, tidy, and detail-oriented.
It logically follows that less conscientious individuals find it harder to keep spaces clean and clutter-free. Multiple studies have found a link between low conscientiousness and messiness. People with low conscientiousness simply don’t mind messes as much and have less motivation to clean.
However, conscientiousness is a spectrum. Messy people aren’t necessarily lacking in all areas of diligence and discipline. They may still exercise, do work thoroughly, and show up on time. But when it comes to tidying habits, their conscientiousness lags.
Are messy people rebellious?
Not cleaning your room when your parents tell you to is practically a rite of passage for teenagers. Intentionally keeping a messy room can be an act of rebellion during adolescence. But the same doesn’t necessarily hold true for adults.
One possibility is that some messy individuals want to rebel against societal norms of cleanliness. However, for most adult messy people, their disorganized habits aren’t conscious acts of defiance. It simply reflects their personalities. They aren’t intentionally flouting rules or rejecting standards out of rebelliousness.
That said, the moral psychology study referenced earlier did find that messy people are also more likely to be contrary and oppose mainstream conventions. So while messiness itself may not be an act of rebellion, it correlates to some degree with a rebellious streak.
Do messy people have ADHD?
Extreme messiness and difficulty staying organized can also be symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with ADHD often struggle with clutter and messes due to impaired executive functioning skills.
Executive function allows people to plan organize, remember details, and control impulses – skills necessary for neatness. ADHD makes tasks like sorting papers, doing laundry, and washing dishes extremely challenging. Messy homes and offices are common among adults with undiagnosed or untreated ADHD.
So while not all messy individuals have ADHD, it’s worth considering if chronic disorganization could be tied to underlying attention deficits. Messiness on its own doesn’t signify any neurodevelopmental disorder. But paired with other ADHD symptoms, it may warrant evaluation by a psychiatrist.
Are messy people more open to new experiences?
Here’s a positive trait that correlates with messiness – openness to experience. Studies show that messy people tend to score higher on openness in personality tests.
Openness refers to an eagerness to try new things and appreciate diverse experiences. People high in openness enjoy exploring novel ideas, cultures, and perspectives. They are imaginative, unconventional, and intellectual.
Why would someone open to new experiences keep a messier home? One possibility is that highly open people derive less pleasure from the typical satisfying feeling of tidying up. Their curiosity-driven minds may also prioritize creativity and adventure over cleaning.
Messiness is just one small manifestation of openness to experience. But it provides hints about this broader personality orientation. So if you can’t resist picking up an interesting curiosity, even if it adds clutter, you likely have a strong sense of openness.
Does being messy mean you’re depressed or neurotic? The research says no. While clinical depression can cause messiness in severe cases, everyday messiness alone is not a symptom of mood disorders or neuroticism.
Messiness is not a reflection of poor mental health. It simply tells us about personality traits like openness, creativity, laziness, and difficulty with organization.
So don’t make snap judgments about messy people. You can’t conclude they are dysfunctional, unethical, or psychologically disturbed. But you can gather hints about their personality based on how they keep their spaces. Understanding the link between clutter and character can help improve relationships with the messy people in your life.
- Messy people may be more creative and open to new experiences, but not necessarily more intelligent
- Messiness could be a sign of mild rebelliousness and weaker ethics in some individuals
- Laziness and being less conscientious often contribute to messiness
- Extreme messiness can be a symptom of ADHD
- Messiness alone is not indicative of mental illness or psychological problems
Personality Traits Associated with Messiness
|Association with Messiness
|Messiness linked to more creative thinking, but not required for creativity
|No conclusive link between messiness and intelligence
|Messy people slightly more likely to resist rules and conventions
|Messiness correlated with more dishonesty in some studies
|Unwillingness to exert effort to clean up messes
|Messy people tend to be less diligent and disciplined with cleaning
|Chronic messiness can be a symptom of attention deficits
|Openness to experience
|Messy people score higher in openness personality tests