EducationHabits of MindHumanities

Sometimes a Little Mess is Best

By December 17, 2015 No Comments

Throughout my childhood my father, a very neat person, would rage against the trail of shoes and socks I’d leave in my wake as I passed through the front door and down the stairs to my bedroom.

In my adult life, with my very neat husband, I continue to push the proverbial envelope when it comes to the clutter that I create by hanging on to many of the things that I acquire: magazines, letters, tea, scarves, shoes, and, especially, books. Our house is lined with them, our table surfaces stacked with them, our floors sometimes perilously mined with them.

Teddy Wayne’s recent New York Times essay, “Our (Bare) Shelves, Ourselves,” made me think about the value of a holding on to books. “Owning books in the home is one of the best things you can do for your children academically,” Wayne writes. “Libraries,” Wayne insists, “matter even more than money.”

In this case, he argues, digital isn’t the same as physical. “Digital media trains us to be high-bandwidth consumers rather than meditative thinkers. We download or stream a song, article, book or movie instantly, get through it (if we’re not waylaid by the infinite inventory also offered) and advance to the next immaterial thing.” Far better, he says, is to “poke through physical artifacts … to examine each object slowly, perhaps sample it and come across a serendipitous discovery.”

We all know that wonderful experience of sifting through things — sand, seashells, photographs, scarves, jewelry boxes belonging to our ancestors. In this age of decluttering and discarding, it’s a good idea to be intentional about what we choose to keep. However soothing neatness may be for some, to me, a little mess is definitely best.



Jessica is a doctoral candidate, education consultant, writer and editor. She is the founder of bookclique, a collaborative of English teachers and students working to promote book culture, and a co-founder of Well-Schooled, the site for educator storytelling, dedicated to sharing first-person educator stories. All Rights Reserved - What I Learned Today in School.