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In defence of messiness

Josh Freed, a Montreal journalist and admitted slob, doesn't deny his documentary about being messy is somewhat self-serving.


Josh Freed, a Montreal journalist and admitted slob, doesn't deny his documentary about being messy is somewhat self-serving.

After all, "My Messy Life," an hour-long film airing Saturday, is an impassioned defence of a cluttered life and an attempt to prove that having a messed-up desk does not a messed-up person make.

And after hearing from grateful messy people on Thursday in Montreal during radio call-in shows about his documentary, the Montreal Gazette reporter with the astonishingly untidy office was feeling jubilant.

"The messes are feeling totally liberated, obviously," Freed, 58, said giddily from the CBC Radio newsroom. "And the neat are feeling quite defensive, much more so than I thought."

And yet Freed confesses he had an extremely difficult time finding similar slobs to appear on camera and show off their chaotic work and living spaces. One who braved the potential ridicule was Irwin Cotler, Canada's former justice minister, who is seen during the documentary negotiating mountains of papers and file folders in his cramped Ottawa office.

"I had interviewed him many years ago and walked into his office and said: 'Wow, this guy makes me feel like a blood brother.' In fact, he was even more chaotic than me," Freed recalls.

"After he became a cabinet minister, he always made sure he kept his front office clean and looking like a justice minister's, but his inner sanctum was still Irwin Cotler. He loves piles. He feels like piles are passion, and he's brilliant, and that works for him."

Sadly for Freed, however, Cotler was one of the few courageous slobs.

"The hard thing was convincing people to be in this film - I'd say one in 10 said yes. So many people, so many famous scientists, so many famous celebrities, they just wouldn't do it," he said, adding they backed out because those close to them urged them not to publicly air their dirty laundry.

"I just got so frustrated by the shame that the neat have imposed on the messy, but that the messy have never imposed on the neat. Do you see anybody ashamed of being neat? Is there a TV show out there that turns neat people into messy people and messes up their houses?"

Among other things, "My Messy Life" examines what happens when a neat freak marries a slob and attacks long-held notions that messy people are hopelessly unorganized and consequently unsuccessful. In fact, one messy social scientist insists, slobby people are among the world's most successful because they don't become overly consumed with being in control of their immediate surroundings.

Freed acknowledges he might be one of a dying breed since the dawn of the Internet means that journalists and other chroniclers don't often need to keep paper files - they can simply store files on their computers and Google when they need pertinent information.

And yet he still says he likes to have documents in hand - even if he doesn't know where to find them among the thousands of scraps, clippings, newspapers and other mementoes that clutter his office.

"It's a personal thing - my wife thinks I might be a paper fetishist, because I like the touch and the smell and the feel of paper, I like to touch and caress it," he said. "It's built for the human brain, paper is, and I'm not giving it up."

 
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