What Does a Messy Room Say About Your Character?

by Scott Barry Kaufman, May 16, 2018 in Blog

“Clean up your room. That’s a good start.” — Jordan Peterson

One of Jordan Peterson’s main theories is that cleaning your room is related to lots of other positive characteristics. Now, obviously, he doesn’t mean literally cleaning your room. It’s a metaphor for getting your whole self in order first before you try to improve the world:

You start small… Your room is an externalization of your mind… To the degree that you are in your room, the room is you… Straighten up what you can straighten up and quit saying things that make you feel weak. And then you’ll know what to do next.”

This metaphor has been powerful to a lot of young men, like this guy, who genuinely remarked that “cleaning my room is changing my life.” So I can definitely see how this can be a very powerful and helpful metaphor for life. Nevertheless, the data nerd that I am, I was curious whether Jordan’s theory could also be true at the literal level. My friend and colleague Brandon Weiss had sent me some data to play around with for a different purpose, but I noticed that in the extensive personality battery there was the following item just sitting there:

“I leave a mess in my room.”

So naturally, I just had to do what I do best and peer into the deep unknown of reality. The sample included 437 participants, many of whom are really into LSD and other drugs (which was the original aim of the study), so take these findings for what you will. However, I think this data is a reasonable start to test this hypothesis (just like cleaning your room may be a reasonable start to changing the world).

First thing I noticed is that most people leaned toward not leaving a mess in their rooms. There were definitely more 1s and 2s (on a 5-point scale) than 4s and 5s:

Leave a Mess Graph

With that said, there was still enough variation in scores to warrant a full correlational analysis. So what did I find?

First the negative. Leaving a mess in your room predicted higher levels of depression (.34), immoderation (.33), anxiety (.26), anger (.26), vulnerability (.26), self-consciousness (.24), and emotionality (.12), and lower levels of self discipline (-.52), cautiousness (-.41), dutifulness (-.35), cooperation (-.30), morality (-.28), self-efficacy (-.27), cheerfulness (-.21), achievement striving (-.26), activity level (-.20), friendliness (-.17), and gregariousness (-.11) . So it seems that leaving a mess in your room really is related to higher levels of psychopathology and lower levels of drive, self-control, and good will toward others. Interestingly, leaving a mess in you room was totally uncorrelated with intellect or liberalism.

Now, the positive. Or the potential positive. There was just one correlation in the entire dataset that I think one could reasonably justify as a potential benefit of having a messy room. Leaving a mess in your room predicted higher levels of imagination. The effect was small, but statistically significant. I suppose if you’re in your messy room all day you have plenty of time to imagine what could be.

ff2

Either way, Jordan may be on to something.

Notes:

* This post is not a parody. Yes, I really am this nerdy and curious. This data is real, and hopefully is of interest to someone other than myself.

* You can download all of the specific items on the personality battery here.

* I left out mention of the extremely high correlation between having a messy room and orderliness, because this item was taken from that particular subscale.

* In case you’re just as curious as I am, here’s the full correlational data:

Correlations
Leave a mess in my room.
Anxiety Pearson Correlation .260**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Anger Pearson Correlation .263**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Depression Pearson Correlation .340**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Self Consiousness Pearson Correlation .240**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Immoderation Pearson Correlation .329**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Vulnerability Pearson Correlation .259**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Friendliness Pearson Correlation -.168**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Gregariousness Pearson Correlation -.106*
Sig. (2-tailed) .026
N 437
Assertiveness Pearson Correlation -.088
Sig. (2-tailed) .065
N 437
Activity Level Pearson Correlation -.198**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Excitement Seeking Pearson Correlation .012
Sig. (2-tailed) .799
N 437
Cheerfuless Pearson Correlation -.211**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Imagination Pearson Correlation .097*
Sig. (2-tailed) .043
N 437
Artistic Interests Pearson Correlation -.017
Sig. (2-tailed) .727
N 437
Emotionality Pearson Correlation .121*
Sig. (2-tailed) .012
N 437
Adventurousness Pearson Correlation -.090
Sig. (2-tailed) .061
N 437
Intellect Pearson Correlation -.042
Sig. (2-tailed) .379
N 437
Liberalism Pearson Correlation .065
Sig. (2-tailed) .175
N 437
Trust Pearson Correlation -.063
Sig. (2-tailed) .189
N 437
Morality Pearson Correlation -.280**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Altruism Pearson Correlation -.060
Sig. (2-tailed) .207
N 437
Cooperation Pearson Correlation -.300**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Modesty Pearson Correlation -.048
Sig. (2-tailed) .316
N 437
Sympathy Pearson Correlation .057
Sig. (2-tailed) .235
N 437
Self Efficacy Pearson Correlation -.270**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Oderliness Pearson Correlation -.919**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Dutifulness Pearson Correlation -.345**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Achievement Striving Pearson Correlation -.263**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Self Discipline Pearson Correlation -.519**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
Cautiousness Pearson Correlation -.409**
Sig. (2-tailed) .000
N 437
**. Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
*. Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed).

 

 


Join the Discussion

SBK Events View All

Sep 27, 2018 Ogden, Utah Families Alive Conference - Weber State University