INTJs: the robot. The mastermind. Always in control of ourselves and, supposedly, our world — which should include our desks, right? And plenty of INTJs would agree. But, frankly, I’m an INTJ, and I’m kind of a mess. Turns out, I’m not the only one.
I’ve been a messy person my whole life. Not a disaster, but your classic “I’ve got a pile for that” kind of guy. As a kid, I explained to my mom that cleaning was pointless because everything will just get dirty again, so why bother? (She wasn’t impressed.) In school, I couldn’t handle study partners who wanted to highlight texts, use color-coded stickies, or color in a map like they were doing heart surgery. I actually looked down on them — although it turns out you achieve more academically if you do it their way.
As an adult, I accepted that some people need order, but I assumed this was the terrain of ISTJs, the INTJ’s much more reliable twin. It wasn’t until much later that I heard others of my type talking about how a well-organized space is “soothing” and “perfect.” I wondered if I was broken somehow — a sad little robot not optimizing enough. But, the more I talked to other INTJs, the more I realized we fall into two groups: the tidy ones and, well, the disasters.
What ‘Messy’ Means to INTJs
To start, I should be clear: you won’t meet an INTJ who is a total slob.
It’s just not in our wiring. We like order and we dislike disorder, although we can tolerate it on its own. What we really can’t stand is inefficiency, where something (like a mess) is standing in the way of something else (like finding my dang keys).
Plus, we have very clear goals. We are never not aware of our goals, and we are (almost) never not trying to accomplish them. That doesn’t mean they’re always good goals, or even particularly well-chosen. And it doesn’t mean that the way we try to accomplish them is always the best way. But, right or wrong, the inside of an INTJ is built around focus, like the inside of a telescope. This runs so deep that I’ve heard INTJs describe their inner monologue as a project manager keeping them on task (mine is the same).
This means that we are irredeemably organized people (sorry, INFPs!), and that sense of organization extends to our spaces. I’ve known people of other types who throw things everywhere, who have a left sock on the couch and a right sock by the back door, who find dog bone bits in their bed sheets and food in their bathroom. INTJs don’t get that messy.
But we’re not all tidy, either.
The INTJ ‘Are You Messy’ Poll
Several years ago, I joined a closed Facebook group for success-minded INTJs (you can get access as part of the INTJ seminar offered by our partner, Quistic). Recently, I decided to do a little poll. I asked people to choose one of two options:
- I keep my spaces organized and tidy, or
- I allow untidiness and my spaces may look messy.
I expected the tidy folks to be a majority. But the results were quite stunning: 46 out of 55 INTJs are messy! Only 1 in 6, or about 16 percent of the respondents, keep their spaces tidy.
Why? The answers are just as interesting:
- Many of the messy INTJs emphasized that, although their space may look messy to others, there is an order to it and they know where everything is (the “mad genius” approach).
- The tidy ones told me they dislike cleaning and find it annoying, but they do it anyway because organized spaces are calming and help them focus.
- INTJs tend to have high standards, and several said that although their spaces look messy to them, to others they seem fine.
This last point could mean the poll numbers are misleading — does it really count as being “messy” if you’re tidier than everyone else? Still, the takeaway is clear: INTJs have widely different views on tidiness, and may even skew messy.
But that’s just numbers. The fun part is why.
The Two Ways INTJs Approach Organization
Why are some INTJs so organized, and others kind of a mess? The answer goes back to all those goals we have — and our love of efficiency.
Every INTJ wants to do the most possible, as efficiently as possible. And all of us are good at the big-picture part of doing that. When it comes to little details, however, INTJs have two competing instincts:
- Get the little stuff out of the way. This could be summed up as, “If my workspace is clean and organized, I don’t have to think about it.” Everything will be easy to find and the space will work well.
- Don’t waste time on the little stuff. This weighs high-leverage activities against low-leverage activities. It could be summed up as, “Who cares what my desk looks like if I just cured HIV?” (Or, for my 10-year old self, “Who cares what my room looks like if I get to finish reading my book?”)
Both of these are valid ways to get things done, and both can lead to success. The tidy approach is extolled in none other than Stephen Covey’s hit, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which emphasizes organizing your life — including your environment. On the other hand, being messy often correlates with high intelligence (along with staying up late and swearing a lot, so I guess I’m three for motherflippin’ three).
So, as much as my INTJ brain wants to find a single, optimum solution, the real verdict is: it depends. It depends whether you’re more annoyed by a little cleaning now or a little mess later. Personally, if I see a mess that’s bothering me, I can usually find a rug to shove it under. Sorry, Mom.