Why does a messy room so quickly become a disaster?

It’s interesting how quickly a room can change from messy, just a few items strewn about, to a complete disaster. Common sense would dictate that the transition be much smoother than it is.

When a room is marginally messy, it’s strewn about with non-garbage items. Maybe some clothes and books on the floor. When we look at it, we immediately recognize that all these items are simply in the wrong place and it could be brought back to neat in a few seconds.

Garbage, which I define as anything that would be thrown away when cleaning up, eventually makes it into the disorganization of the room. With small amounts of garbage, it’s still visible that most items in the room are just misplaced and some of it can be thrown away. When garbage reaches a certain percentage of the items, say 20%, we can no longer glance at the room and differentiate non-garbage from garbage. The room looks like a disaster.

This theory sharpens the threshold by making the argument that increasing the small percentage of garbage from 15% to 20% “corrupts” the other 80% of non-garbage items in our mind. Without being able to glance at a room and determine which items can be quickly picked up and which can be thrown away, it looks like a confounding disaster.

The testable prediction this theory makes is that you can make your disaster of a room appear only slightly messy by simply indexing in your imagination the locations of all the garbage items. Or, if you’re especially ambitious, disposing of some of the garbage.

6 thoughts on “Why does a messy room so quickly become a disaster?

  1. Take a look at the Broken Window Syndrome for a larger scale scenario about what you described. Some researchers in urban planning noted that somehow slums and pristine neighbourhoods managed to live side-by-side with a very sharp dividing line.

    They did a study where they left a relatively expensive car outside of a bad neighbourhood for a while and observered what happened. I think several days went by without anything happening to the car. They then made a tiny hole in one of the rear windows and within a couple of hours, the car was completely totalled. The hypothesis is that a broken window left for a substantial period of time tells people in the neighbourhood that problems are being left unchecked and relieves them of personal responsibility to fix them. Suddenly, more broken windows, graffiti and crime start moving in and nobody stops it because they all think it’s someone else’s problem.

  2. That’d make a good addition to this essay. I didn’t address at all what ideas cause people to make more or less of a mess. This more applies to how we perceive snapshots of a room. The first derivative of these snapshots, which you address, is equally interesting. Where do you think the point of divergence is for a room?

  3. I think a lot also has to do with position of the garbage. That being, the greater proportion of the mess being on the floor, the messier the room looks. If all the mess is on, say, a desk, you have just a messy desk, not a messy room.

  4. In addition, if the mess in a room causes problems, for example causing you to lose things or obstructing things you need, you will feel it is more of a messy room than if it doesnt cause any problems. Typically i would say the main bulk of mess on floors is split into two catagories, most used and most un unsed. The most un used items are underneath the most used items which means a person has less chance of having trouble finding something they need which causes them to ignore the mess.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s