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What The President’s Messy Desk Really Means

An organizational expert says it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence

Donald Trump at his desk pre-presidency.

Though the debate between “cluttered desk, cluttered mind” and “clean desk, wasted life” may never be resolved, President Donald Trump is proud of his less-than-pristine desk in the Oval Office, recently boasting to Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “Look at my desk. Papers. You don't see presidents with that on their desk.”

Of course, we haven’t seen a president who causes as much chaos as Mr. Trump, either. So Town & Country magazine enlisted organizational expert Julie Morgenstern to analyze whether the state of the president’s workspace could be affecting how he governs (or vice versa).

It isn’t the first time that experts have explored the connection: A 2013 study found that those who have disorganized workstations can be “breaking free of tradition” and bringing “fresh insights,” while a similar study at Northwestern University revealed that “people in messy rooms drew more creativity and were quicker at solving creative problems.”

Einstein's desk just after he died. (Photo by Ralph Morse) Time & Life Images / Getty Images

Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein—two men with brilliantly “cluttered” minds—were known for their untidy desks. But, says Morgenstern, that doesn’t mean that everyone who’s messy is a genius. Instead, she tells Town and Country that this behavior likely indicates:

A work style of starting many things, (and) finishing none, with all of those stacks representing unfinished projects. The truth is that people have different styles, and some work extremely well with a messy desk, and other people don't work well at all. But (a messy desk) doesn't make a good impression on anybody—it doesn't inspire confidence.

Though many presidents kept orderly desks in the Oval Office, Morgenstern says the bulk of their work typically occurred in the study across the hall. Morgenstern compared the workspaces of past presidents reaching back to JFK with our current POTUS, annotating photographs with their likely behavioral ticks and personality traits. The only exceptionally unorganized spaces belonged to Presidents Trump and—perhaps unsurprisingly—Nixon.

Get the full details of Morgenstern’s analysis at Town and Country.

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