Mr Neat and Mr Tidy biggest villains of all

Skeletor, Captain Hook, the Great Train Robbers, The Child Catcher, Fagin, Margaret Thatcher.

Of all the villains that marked my childhood, there are two more sinister than all of these.

Mr Neat and Mr Tidy.

Do you remember them?

I'll just run their story by you.

Once upon a time there's this dude who feels peaceful enough with his life to leave his lawns long and go wandering in the woods all day with no particular outcome or goal or need to time his exercise schedule.

On the other side of the woods he meets this Tarantino-esque duo, complete in suits (one black, one white) and bowler hats.

They frogmarch him back home, clip his garden, fix his house up, make him bathe and comb his Mr Messiness so much out of recognition that the punchline is he needs to find a different name.

Mr Neat and Mr Tidy take this loveable pink scribble and turn him into a conformist blob.

Now I'm all for a little bit of order in the house and I'd be lying if I said the idea of men in suits coming over and doing the gardening isn't strangely attractive (though they could leave their hats at home).

But mess has its massive benefits.

It does.


There's even actual research to prove it, from the University of Minnesota.

People asked to do tasks in a messy room were 28% more creative than those in a tidy room.

Quite a tenuous and tangential statistic, perhaps?

Stronger proof, probably, can be found in these two words: Albert Einstein.

He even had hair a bit like Mr Messy's and this quote of his is almost as genius as all his theories: ''If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?''

Boom. You tell them, Albert Messy.

And note the important examples of opposites we've got going on here.

Cluttered as opposed to empty.

Messy as opposed to tidy.

Messy doesn't have to be dirty, as is so often thought.

You can be totally cluttered and also clean.

I choose to work in a room, a clean room, crowded with photos, pamphlets, a selection of hot-drink serving pots, four competing plants, a cluster of foamy pony stickers, an old Nick Cave ticket, drawings from my nephews, glass bottles with dried flowers, a big jar of mints, a toy ball globe gift from my daughter (so I can have the whole world in my hands), sofas, blankets, cushions and, oh yeah, a laptop and some tunes.

Minimalism might be the chart-topping trend of the moment, but a juxtaposition of disorder has always worked well for me.

There's something comfortingly communal about mess.

Think of the military mess where everyone eats together: that's the origin of the word and it only got transmuted to negative dirty messy meanings when used, historically, to describe sloppy animal feed.

I guess everyone has their optimum mess levels: porridge-caked breakfast bowls are beyond the mess pale for me, but I can live with weeks'-worth of papers, infinite knick-knacks and half-burned candles.

The Minnesota study also looked at the benefits of being tidy.

Apparently those exposed to a tidy environment were more likely to choose apples over chocolate and hugely more disposed towards making a charity donation when prompted.

Which means what?

The Tidy Diet?

That tidy rooms make obedient minds?

Orderly environments, orderly people?Sounds like a recipe for compliance to me.

Is that what it would it be like, a world where these two Neat and Tidy, Tidy and Neat order-restorers were allowed to run rampant?

Calm? Perfect? Boring.

And totally unreal.


However much you primp and cut and shear and fix and brush, there are things you can't control or change.

Even if you let the villains in suits re-engineer your garden, your household, your name, your hair, your life.

Liz Breslin

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