Tidy up so you can make a useful mess

Last updated 2019-11-24

An underappreciated benefit of habitually tidying up is that it gives you more confidence to make useful messes. A few examples:

  • Knowing I’ll clear my email inbox every week makes me feel completely fine about signing up for new mailing lists. If I find I don’t enjoy the first few issues, I just unsubscribe.
  • Knowing I’ll clear out my Desktop folder every week gives me the confidence to use it as a convenient extension of my working memory when working through a problem.
  • Knowing I’ll clean the kitchen every evening allows me to spread ingredients and tools all over the place when cooking a meal.
  • Knowing I’ll only submit modular, well-tested code for pull requests gives me the freedom to muck around in a notebook and add tons of print statements when programming.

Many of these freedoms would feel gratuitous if I didn’t trust my future self to keep entropy in check. Counterintuitively, the better you are at tidying up, the more you can delight in chaos.

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