Clear Your Space, Clear Your Mind

I am definitely not a “neat freak.” Cleaning up my desk and bedside area today were proof enough of that.

A garbage bag was filled with old mail, flyers, documents I thought were too important to throw out (until I realized that I didn’t need three year old insurance mailers,) and probably every time slip and receipt I’ve gotten in the last two years. Some actually important stuff was moved elsewhere, and my desk now faces a wall rather than out into the room. The floor got vacuumed, the surfaces wiped down, and reorganized.

Yes, I am writing this from a corner table at Belmont Station with a short beer at my side (I did promise myself, after all, and rewards are important) but much like a kitchen, cleaning up your workspace (and keeping it that way!) may do more for your productivity and motivation than all the little quote calendars filling your waste bin.

See? Even an actual trash panda can clean.

“Cluttered Space, Cluttered Mind”

That was one of the single most important lessons I got from culinary school, right after mise en place– and the two work hand-in-hand.

My teacher at the time, Chef Chelius, would repeat this for students as she walked past our work tables. Any dirty dishes or spills were commented on. Piles of ingredients or tools were indicated with a gloved hand, and a look over the top of her eyeglasses- “Are you going to be using that in the next ten minutes? No? Then get it off your table. Cluttered space, cluttered mind.” If it was still there the net time she looked, points were taken off.

The philosophy was simple- your space reflects your mental state. Looking at confusion makes you confused. Looking at mess makes you feel messy (and like you can function in mess.) It’s distracting, disheartening, and frankly just kinda gross.

Later on at the casino, Karen would look on in frustration and confusion as I pulled everything I needed for the day’s tasks on to my table at once. “Look at this mess, Matt- look at yourself! This table is 25 square feet, but you’re stuck working in a tiny corner of it because of what- ingredients and tools you aren’t going to use for at least an hour? Get out of your own wayyou’ll work faster and happier.

There’s something to be said for being prepared and having all your ducks in a row, but at a certain point “preparation” mean taking up valuable real estate in your workspace- and your mind.


A Space You Can Function In

Let’s be real here- mess does not mean the same thing for everyone.

I used to use the line that I live in “well-organized chaos” pretty often, until I realized a couple things about myself:

  • My living space was objectively foul-smelling and gross (and so was my fresh-out-of-college bachelor ass.)
  • I was getting annoyed with my own mess.
  • I liked the way my space looked clean.
This is an improvement, I swear. No, I don’t know why the fork is there.

If we recall the Three Requirements for Change, then we can see that while I am able to happily tolerate some mess, the moment it becomes a distraction or burden for me, it has to go. As you can see, my new and improved workspace is hardly well-organized and squeaky clean- but it’s neat enough for my tastes. There’s even been research to suggest that being messy is an indicator of greater creativity, freeing your mind from uptight stricture.

In that regard, to each their own. My tidy-under-personal-duress self can’t pretend that what works for me will work for everyone. What I CAN guarantee, though, is that cleaning up messes fast and keeping your space tidy is just good for kitchenwork- it’s a necessity.


Mise en place means organizationand you can’t be organized if you are cooking in yesterdays mess. Every line cook I know that’s worth their apron wipes down their space compulsively. I wipe down my entire bench between tasks just to make sure I’m not rolling crust in stray butter or spilled filling. No “personal taste,” “to each their own” here- when peoples health, the time involved in getting plates out of the door, and your personal kitchen credibility are on the line, keeping yourself clean and organized is important to your safety AND your livelihood.

When it comes to writing though… well, that we can debate on.

When you crank out as many books as Stephen King, THEN you can comment on his office.

Stay Classy,

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s