In Favor of Mess Dave Freedman, co-author of A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder, and Kathy Waddill, an author and professional organizer, discuss whether the moderately messy are more efficient, more resilient and more creative.
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In Favor of Mess

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In Favor of Mess

In Favor of Mess

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

As the holiday season fades, leaving behind it a litter of Christmas cards, blister packs, dead batteries and leftover fruitcake, we turn with promise and hope to the New Year.

This will be the year when we resolve to be more organized. And as it happens, January, it turns out is get-organized month. So maybe it's the junk drawer in the kitchen that makes you wince, the backseat of your car barely visible between layers of fast-food wrappers and dry-cleaning, or your briefcase overflowing with receipts notes and further lists.

But here's a radical idea. What if your mess actually works for you? Maybe having things at your fingertips instead of filed away, actually, saves you time and creates the ideal environment to improvise and innovate.

Later in the program we're going to explore the latest frontier in online education, free podcasts on everything from basic math to macroeconomics.

But first, the hidden benefits of mess. We want to hear from you. What's the biggest mess in your life? Does it hold you back? Does it make you work better? Does it make you feel guilty?

Join the conversation. Our number 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us

And we begin with David Freedman, co-author of “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder.” He's at member station WBUR in Boston, Massachusetts.

Thanks very much for coming in today.

Mr. DAVID FREEDMAN (Writer): Hey, Neal. Pleasure.

CONAN: And your book is “How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place.” And I just wonder if you've just have written get-out-of-jail free card for slobs.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Well, it might be seen that way, but that's really not the point. We're not trying to say - my co-author Eric Abrahamson and I - we're not trying to say that people ought to be as messy as possible and that there's no reason to ever be need.

We're trying to say people ought to just take a more open mind look and recognize the fact, there are some benefits in some cases to being at least moderately messy and disorganized.

CONAN: Give us an example. How might a messy desk be an advantage?

Mr. FREEDMAN: Sure. A messy desk is a no-brainer. For one thing, most of us have it and it turns out it works quite well. And if you ask people how their messy desk works, they'll tell you, it's great. Instead of filing stuff away, where, sort of, out of sight and out of mind and you'll never see it again, you keep the important stuff at the top of the piles right near you.

And the stuff you don't need so much gets buried in the back, and that's fine because it's not an important stuff. And then when you're going through the piles, sometimes you stumble on papers that you're really glad you found. If you've filed them away, you would have forgotten about them. And now you can do something about them. And all kinds of great things can happen as you're going to through your piles.

CONAN: Yet, as you pointed out in the book, every picture you see of a successful CEO or a politician, there's a nice clean desk.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Yeah. Well, they cheat. For one thing, we have a tremendous bias towards neatness and order. So people who are photographed, for example, bringing a lot of visitors through, sure, they'll make a point of having a real neat desk.

Well, how do they it? CEOs of big companies will typically have a staff, not just one secretary, but sometimes two or three secretaries, administrative assistants who neaten up for them. So that really doesn't apply to most of us.

CONAN: And there is a very charming picture of Albert Einstein, sitting behind piles and piles of books and papers.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Well, if you walk through almost anywhere in academia, it almost seems that the more successful someone is, the more dangerously teetering their piles of clutter is. And I think that tells you something. In fact, surveys have shown that the more experienced someone is, the more responsibility they have, the higher their salary is, the more messier their office is likely to be.

CONAN: There's a great quote you did a survey in connection with the book, not necessarily a scientific survey, interesting nonetheless. But there's one respondent who said her boss came over and said your desk is a mess. She said but I know where everything is. And he looked at her and said but that doesn't make it right.

Mr. FREEDMAN: I've heard stories like that from all kinds of people, who face terrible pressures of work to not work in the very natural, slightly messy way that they feel comfortable. One person told me that her boss got so sick of looking at the mess on her desk that he actually made her move her desk so he wouldn't have to look at it.

CONAN: So beyond the messy desk, you argued that there is, in fact, whole companies, for example. We call them organizations. We call them organizations I guess for a reason. Yet, you point to several successful companies where there is less organization and more success, including one that you wouldn't think of at the top of your head, and that's the United States Marines.

Mr. FREEDMAN: The United States Marines are fascinating in terms of the way they've really embraced disorder in many ways and for a very, very good reason. It's really nice to have all kinds of routines and order in terms of how you train people.

But the fact of the matter is, in the fog of war, all that goes out the window - the chain command gets broken, you can't reach your officer, all kinds of unexpected things happen. You'd better to be able to improvise. And so the Marines are really, really good about making sure that people can wing it and don't get stuck on doing the same thing all the time.

CONAN: And sticking to inflexible schedules and plans that may not apply once they get there?

Mr. FREEDMAN: That's right. And, in fact, people make a really big deal. Of course, there's a legion of professional organizers and gurus who want to tell you the right way to do it, to do less, and how to focus your life and get really effective habits.

In fact, some of the most effective people really make a point of never getting locked into habits, not having to-do lists and some cases, not even having appointment calendars because that really gives them a chance to be opportunistic, to change with the changing environment the world today is changing every second. And, really, I think you need to have that sort of attitude instead of thinking this is what I'm going to do every second of the day.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners in on this conversation. 800-989-8255, if you'd like to join us. 800-989-TALK. Email is

Our guest is David Freedman, co-author of “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder.”

Let's turn to Romez(ph). Am I pronouncing that correctly?

ROMEZ (Caller): Oh, that's correct.

CONAN: In Ann Arbor, Michigan. Go ahead please.

ROMEZ: Yeah. I tend to find when things are too organized that I feel uncomfortable and stifled and that it really inhibits my ability to work well. So I like to have things in, kind of, an orderly chaos.

CONAN: Orderly chaos. Give us an example, if you will, Romez.

ROMEZ: Well, so I'm a scientist and I'm reading anywhere between 10 and 20 papers at a time and I like to have them pseudo stacks on my desk. And have things like pens on my computer -

CONAN: Was that just a pile of paper falling over?

ROMEZ: No. I'm in my car now -

CONAN: Okay.

ROMEZ: Driving to campus. But - yeah, so I tend to work better when I have everything I need in front of me and when things are tucked the way, I usually end up (unintelligible) and wasting a lot more time.

CONAN: And do people yell at you for having a mess?

ROMEZ: Ah, I've had bosses in the past that were frustrated with my ways. But as long as I'm being productive, they kind of leave me alone.

CONAN: Romez, thanks very much and happy messy New Year.

ROMEZ: Thank you.

CONAN: And you, in your book, there's a scientist - the name escapes me, Dave Freedman. But he put a new strip of brown butcher paper over them, each level of mess on his desk.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Yeah. That was Leon Hapoel(ph) and, yup, when his mess got really bad, he just covered it and essentially created a new layer. And so he wouldn't actually have to excavate through his desk to get a document. And one day while doing that, he discovered one document in one layer and another document in another layer. And realized that there were letters from scientists who did - who weren't communicating and he realized they were describing opposite ends of the same cellular process. He put them in contact with one another, and one of them won a Nobel Prize out of it.

CONAN: Maybe he should have won the Nobel Prize for facilitation. But in any case, let's see if we can get Patience(ph) on the line. Patience with us from Paducah, Kentucky.

PATIENCE (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

PATIENCE: I'm the queen of mess.

CONAN: The queen of mess.

PATIENCE: We live in a historical old house in the art's district so I have to keep it - it's frequently on tours. I have to keep the downstairs clean. I have one little room, where I do my writing, and my selling. And my husband tells people they have to have their shots before they go in that room.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FREEDMAN: Okay. So there maybe some mess tension here between you and your spouse it sounds like.

PATIENCE: No, he's very - actually, he's so supportive that he sent me a link to The New York Times article of Penelope Green's that featured Mr. Freedman's book.

CONAN: And so -


CONAN: And so you found vindication.

PATIENCE: I found support. I don't have to be ashamed anymore. And for messy people, think of how organized people are deprived of the thrill of the hunt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FREEDMAN: Well, I couldn't agree more, and I can't tell you how it gladdens my heart to hear people say that. And I hear it all the time.

In fact, most of us are messy, and a lot of us at some level recognize intuitively that it really is not a bad thing. We get a lot out of it, and yet we've really been kind of beaten down by the neat-nicks, and I think it's time to take back the world.

PATIENCE: Well, it's so wonderful to hear that because it's very threatening to organized people and it's very easy to feel ashamed.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Yes, it certainly is, and most of us do. And in our society we tend to make heroes out of the neat-nicks and cast messy people as villains or else as hapless victims of their bad habits.

CONAN: Absentminded professors, as well, but go ahead.

Mr. FREEDMAN: That's right, exactly. And yet those -

PATIENCE: Well, do I not - I no longer have to call myself organizationally challenged?

Mr. FREEDMAN: No, you absolutely do not. You should call yourself - I would say organizationally blessed - disorganizationally blessed.

PATIENCE: Thank you so much, and have a wonderful New Year. Mine is much better now.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Thank you, and make sure you keep getting organized off of your New Year's resolution list.


(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Patience, thanks very much for the call.

PATIENCE: Thank you.

CONAN: And Happy New Year to you.


CONAN: You do point out, though, that there is considerable tension in a lot of relationships, between one spouse who might be messy and one who might not be.

Mr. FREEDMAN: It tends to be the rule rather than the exception, and in fact in our survey, one out of 12 people said that this sort of tension was a factor in a breakup or a divorce.

And we hear it all the time, and parents fight sometimes all the time and very seriously with their children over this. And the fact of the matter is there's really no need for it. Sometimes it's really tiny differences in how people look at mess that creates these terrible tensions, and it's really easy to compromise.

So we tend to think of terms of, well, how do we make the messy person live up to the standards of the neat person. That's not the right way to look at it. We should really be talking about compromising and trying to work things out, and it's easy to do.

CONAN: And there's a wonderful story that you tell in the book about a teacher who had a rule everyday that all of the students needed to put whatever it was that they had on their desk during the day in their desks at night, and there was one student who just couldn't fit the stuff in.

Mr. FREEDMAN: That's right, and I asked the teacher about that. And she said, yes, she had struggled with him for weeks, and finally she realized, geez, the reason this kid had extra stuff was because he was just a little more curious.

And he had puzzles, he had artwork, he had books that he hadn't finished, and he just loved working with the stuff. And she said, you know, what is this about? Is this about really stimulating children, or is this about teaching them to be rigidly neat? So she let the keep a small pile by his desk.

CONAN: OK, stay with us if you will, Dave Freedman.

When we come back from a short break, we'll continue sorting these surprising rewards of mess. And we will speak with a professional organizer to get the other point of view. Stay with us.

If you'd like to join the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us:

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

This hour we're challenging the idea that a messy desk is a sign of failure or laziness. Sometimes our passion for organization can become an obsession. Take John Cusack's character Rob in the 2000 film “High Fidelity,” based on Nick Hornby's book of the same name.

(Soundbite of movie, “High Fidelity”)

Unidentified Man: I guess it looks as if you're reorganizing your records -

Mr. JOHN CUSACK (Actor): (As Rob Gordon) Organizing the records, yeah.

Unidentified Man: Is this chronological?


Unidentified Man: Not alphabetical.

Mr. CUSACK: Nope.

Unidentified Man: What?

Mr. CUSACK: Autobiographical. Yep, I can tell you how I got from Deep Purple to Howlin' Wolf in just 25 moves. And if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac, I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile but didn't give it to them for personal reasons.

Unidentified Man: That sounds...

Mr. CUSACK: Comforting.

CONAN: Still with us is Dave Freedman, he and co-author Eric Abramson of a new book out called “Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder.” It comes out next week. And as we've just heard, organization can be comforting. And to get that comfort, some people turn to a professional.

Joining us now is personal organizer Kathy Waddill. She runs the Untangled Web, an organizing consulting firm. She's also the author of “The Organizing Source Book: Nine Strategies for Simplifying Your Life.”

She joins us now from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco. Happy New Year. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

Ms. KATHY WADDILL (Writer): Thank you.

CONAN: And what point do people turn to you? Why do they turn to a professional organizer?

Ms. WADDILL: They don't call me because they have a mess. They call me because the mess is causing them a problem. I think one of the biggest fallacies that we have going in our culture - and it's just been repeated through the broadcast so far is that neat is the same as organized and that messy is the same as disorganized.

In my 13 years of organizing, I've really come to believe and see with all my clients that you can be messy and be very well organized. How many people do we know who have the piles - as the academic example from earlier in the show - the piles of papers and if you ask them where's the Tompkins(ph) report, they can dive in and grab it?

If it's working, then it's organized. Organization is not about neatness; it's about function. And so if you can do what you have to do and what you want to do without wasting time and energy, then you're organized and whether it's neat or not is completely irrelevant, unless that's important to you.

I think the book actually sort of perpetuates the very myth that neatness and organized are the same, and yet that seems to be what the author is trying to debunk.

CONAN: Yet I think it's beyond dispute that there are some people who try to impose neatness on others, including a lot of bosses.

Ms. WADDILL: I think one of the things that organizers do is educate bosses about the efficacy of having someone work in a style and system that works for them. Whether it looks neat is not as important as how it works. And that's one of the things that we do when we're working with people; we educate them about the benefits of having a system that's tailored to a person and helps them do what they have to do and what they need to do.

CONAN: Well, Dave Freedman, let's get a response from you. You have a chapter in your book about professional organizers, about whom I think it's safe to say you are scathing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FREEDMAN: Well, I don't blame professional organizers for the problem. Professional organizers answer calls for help. They don't stir up this kind of bias against messiness and disorganization. They help people who come to them for help. It's really hard to get angry at them for that. However, I do think they sort of tap into this really unnecessary vein of stress.

I'm familiar with Kathy's very novel theory about the difference between messiness and disorganization. And professional organizers are forever trying to tell people what sort of messiness is OK and what sort of disorganization is OK and which types aren't.

Well, I think part of the point of being messy and disorganized - and I do very much believe they're very related - is that it tends to happen the way people naturally work and think. People are messy and disorganized in their own way.

And although professional organizers love to say that they come in and they give everybody their own unique plan about how to get organized, the fact of the matter is they work from a very standard, very simply playbook, and it's really not good for everybody, whereas people are messy in the way that's right for them.

Ms. WADDILL: But that's why people actually hire a professional organizer is so that they can get someone to come in and set up a system that works for them. The standard system that people assume everyone needs - for instance, a file cabinet for papers - doesn't work for lots of people because they like to have their work out where they can see it. They're visual.

If I have a client who thinks in a certain way, I'm setting up structures to help them find what they need and get things done. I don't think there's anything wrong with if you're not naturally organized - and again, I don't mean necessarily neat - if you are not naturally able to sort of see how to set things up so that they are supportive of you, there's nothing wrong with hiring an organizer.

When your car is broken, you hire someone with mechanical skills. When you want to learn about your tax returns, you hire someone who knows the tax code. Why can't a person who doesn't necessarily have natural organizing skills hire someone who does have them when there's a mess that's actually causing problems?

CONAN: And well, just let me say, Dave Freedman, you do say you are advocating moderate messes, and it's also safe to say that a lot of professional organizers say, again, they're approached by people who are overwhelmed by messiness.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Absolutely. And first of all, let me say there are some people that I think ought to call professional organizers and that is people who have money to burn and feel that they're messy and want to have someone come in, just the way if you don't have time to cook meals and you can afford it, have someone in and cook for you. Why not? I don't tell people how to spend their money.

However - I mean for the vast majority of Americans who couldn't afford the thousands of dollars, and in some cases tens of thousands of dollars, that professional organizers will charge to come in, totally clean out your house to a pristine condition, set up your systems, and then keep coming back, because of course messy people almost always revert back to their original state, so the professional organizer has to keep coming back.

If you don't have those thousands of dollars, let me tell you something, you don't need a professional organizer.

First of all, your messiness probably isn't really causing you problems. You probably think it does, but if you took a little more open-minded look at it, you'd probably realize that it doesn't cause a lot of problems.

And if it's really seriously dysfunctional mess, if you can't navigate your way through your house, for example, if you can't get normal tasks done during the day, then I suggest you do have a problem, and I would recommend that you talk to a therapist, you talk to a very close friend, and probably the last person you need to come in is a professional organizer. You probably have deeper problems.

CONAN: There's another solution, which I adopted, which was to sell the house. But anyway, Kathy Waddill, I'll give you a chance to respond.

Ms. WADDILL: Well, I think to say that, you know, to sort of make a general statement about one group of people's problems and to say that you can only need an organizer if you have a lot of money is not particularly helpful.

Organizers can do - can make a huge change in a very small period of time just because they have a different perspective, they have knowledge and understanding of organizing principles.

And again, I agree those are not rocket science, but not everybody gets how they work because not everybody is naturally organized. That doesn't mean they're bad people. It just means they could use a little help.

Sometimes with just a $200 consultation, an organizer can make a huge difference in how a whole family and a whole system approaches the way they handle their space and their things. It doesn't cost a lot of money to get organized, and it doesn't require redoing your whole house, and it doesn't mean that everything has to be put away all the time.

People are always saying to me, you're an organizer; is your house perfectly neat? And I say no, because there are five us living there. We have a dog. We get things out. We use them. When we want to make it neat, we can, but we don't have to have it that way all the time because life is messy.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners back in on the conversation. Sean(ph) joins us. Sean is in Anchorage, Alaska.

SEAN (Caller): Hi.


SEAN: I'm a physician in private practice, and I find the discussion interesting. But I guess I would like to put in a plug that I think in certain circumstances disorganization just cannot, you know, it's not acceptable and can't be tolerated.

I read in one of my practice management journals that, you know, like a typical office staff for a small office will spend up to two hours per week looking for lost items, such as lab reports, x-ray reports, you know, other important documents for patient care. And it's - you know, in our office every piece of paper has to have its place, and I think there are certain circumstances where disorganization just does not work.

CONAN: Dave Freedman, I think Sean has a point.

Mr. FREEDMAN: I love hearing about people telling me about the hours that people spend in a day or a week looking for things in their office or at home or as parents. Well, I was really curious about that because when I asked people about it, they typically say, gee, I spend a couple of minutes a day looking for things.

So in our survey we asked people about that, and it turns out the average was nine minutes a day looking for things at home or at the office. And it turned out there was one class of people that spend a lot more time than that looking for things: It was very neat people.

Very neat people do often spend a lot of time looking for things, and this notion that if you're looking for things it's because you're disorganized actually seems to be totally backwards.

CONAN: Kathy Waddill?

Ms. WADDILL: Well, it seems to me I read in the book that the survey included something like 268 people and was not a random sample, so I'm not sure that the questions that you asked - you know, again, it's not a scientific survey.

But I would say, what is the value of being able to park in your garage instead of the driveway when it's pouring rain and you have 10 bags of groceries in the back? What's the value of being able to find your bills instantly when you need to pay them? What's it like to have kids who can get out and put away their own toys and clothes without your participation? When you have things at your fingertips and you sit down to work on a project, you can actually let your creativity flow and actually have your resources focused on the work that you're doing.

The whole idea that it really only takes a minute to find things - maybe that was the 268 people in the survey. But lots of people have to move things out of their way in order to just function and do the basic tasks of daily life. I don't think we have to have everything perfectly neat and organized, again, but I do think - sorry, we don't need to have everything perfectly neat, but having things reasonably organized so that we can function just makes life work better.

CONAN: And Sean, let's get a reality check. From your experience in your office, how much time do you guys spend looking for stuff?

SEAN: Well, it depends. There was a time where we had some temporary employees and where - I don't even want to add up the hours for salary that -

CONAN: But temporary employee might be the operative phrase there.

SEAN: Right. Well, one of them being, you know, a nurse, two other office staff and sometimes one or two physicians looking around the office for things and spending 15 minutes, you know, for five people, and some of them highly paid professionals is - I mean it just doesn't work. Plus, you know, it really is a patient care issue.

CONAN: Sean, thanks very much. We appreciate the phone call.

SEAN: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

And let's thank also Kathy Waddill for her time today. We appreciate your coming in.

Ms. WADDILL: My pleasure.

CONAN: Kathy Waddill is a professional organizer, owner of the Untangled Web in California and author of “The Organizing Source Book: Nine Strategies for Simplifying Your Life.” And she joined us today from the studios of our member station in San Francisco, KQED.

We're speaking with Dave Freedman, co-author of “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” which comes out just after January, just after the start of January, if you'd like to get a copy.

And if you'd like to join the conversation, our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK and the e-mail address is

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Donald, Donald with us from Boerne, Texas.

DONALD (Caller): Good afternoon. Great conversation.

CONAN: Thank you.

DONALD: I think we're missing the huge issue here. It's the sizable component of our gross domestic product, which you save by not cleaning up our mess. I've fallen back on this argument for quite a while, and the only drawback is that as I advance in age, the memory loss - those tend to slow me down when I'm forging through my piles.

CONAN: Senior moments?

DONALD: I'm sorry?

CONAN: Senior moments?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DONALD: Yes. Sure.

CONAN: Yeah. Nevertheless, cleaning up, as you point out, takes time and there's an interesting example you gave on the book, Dave Freedman, of people who say how easy is it to locate for specific cards in a deck of cards, while if they're organized king through ace through four suits, it's obviously a lot quicker. But you point out, it does take time to organize that deck in the first place.

Mr. FREEDMAN: It sure does. And Donald is raising an excellent point as well. One of the greatest things about being at least moderately messy and disordered is you save a lot of time resources. You don't have to be always ordering that deck, and you don't have to always be getting rid of all your piles, and you don't have to be organizing and re-organizing your office and your business, and you don't have to constantly be fighting with your kids to get them to put their toys away.

I mean Kathy raised the question, what's the value of having kids put away their own toys? I would say, what's the value of having a great relationship with your kids and letting him be a little messy? So I think we need to get our priority straight and yeah, there's a huge resource saving in being a little messy and disorganized.

CONAN: Well, to be fair, I think she said she does let her kids be a little messy and maybe just a distinction of where you draw the line.

Donald, thanks for the call.

DONALD: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Ryan(ph) in Holland, Michigan. As a teacher of gifted children in Holland, Michigan, I continually noticed the tendency toward clutter and mess displayed by my students. This can cause them to underachieve in regular classrooms. But we found that out of the clutter in our gifted and talented program, some of the most fascinating thinking occurs. And that gets back to your point about resilience and creativity as a byproduct of mess.

Mr. FREEDMAN: It's - the two are inextricably linked. You can't have one without the other. And in fact, there's some really interesting physics and information theory behind this that I won't bore you all to tears with, but that's true.

If you're going to have a lot of creativity, you're going to have mess. In fact, the more productive you are, the more of a mess you're going to create. And people who are forever trying to be neat and organized are either not doing much or else they're spending huge resources on trying to clean up the mess that they're very naturally making through their creativity and productivity.

CONAN: And let's go to Twila(ph). Twila joins us from Memphis, Tennessee.

TOILA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Twila.

TWILA: I have a question. My husband and I get along very well. We compromise pretty well. I'm the neat, organized person and he's the messy person. However, he has a wonderful collection upstairs in his office and I have my own office and - which I keep nice and neat. But his collection of Old West memorabilia, original Apache arrows and all sorts of things, wonderful collection, is perfectly neat.

And he will spend one whole day, maybe two or three times a year in the room just cleaning and dusting. So that if I go up and just move something one inch, he will know that. But it's interesting that he can keep that room perfectly neat, but the rest of his life is a mess.

Mr. FREEDMAN: That's a great point, Twila. I mean, I'm really glad you brought that up. And, in fact, people tend to think of couples as one being really neat and one being really messy. I found it's much more interesting than that. In fact, some people tend to be neat in some rooms, in some ways, and the other person is really neat in other rooms, in other ways.

And the couples that don't fight all the time over mess are the ones who accept each other in the way they are. And it sounds like you and your husband have worked it out pretty well. Maybe a little bit of tension there, but it doesn't sound like you're the kind of couple that's going to get divorced over this sort of thing as, apparently, many do.

TWILA: No, I certainly don't expect that. But it's just interesting to me and we've talked about it before, and neither of us understand it, but it's funny.

Mr. FREEDMAN: Hey, let's not try to understand it. Let's just appreciate it.

TWILA: Well, we do appreciate it very much and we both enjoy very much showing his collection. So - but thank you very much, interesting subject.

CONAN: And happy New Year to you, Twila.

TOILA: Thank you. The same to you. Bye-Bye.

CONAN: Dave Freedman, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. FREEMAN: My pleasure.

CONAN: Dave Freedman, co-author of the book “A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder,” and a contributing editor and technology columnist at Ink magazine. He joined us today from our studios of our member station, WBUR, in Boston, Massachusetts.

When we come back from a short break, we've got a solution for all of you who had to actually sit through lectures on macroeconomics.

A list of the best podcast lectures.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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