There is a famous Annie Leibovitz photograph of Karl Lagerfeld, taken in 2018, a year before he died. In a high-collared white shirt, his hair almost the same color, the designer appears as a small figure dwarfed by an ocean of papers, books, magazines, files, illustrations and invitations that rise almost to head height, the detritus of a career that never stopped. In the middle of this chaos is Choupette, his cat, looking out at us, somewhat bemused. Clutter is usually thought of as an obstacle to the creative life. Without order in the physical space, goes the thinking, it is difficult to have the kind of mental calm needed to come up with something new. Across different fields, the typical advice is to reduce distractions. Think of an architect’s large and ordered office, or the novelist Jonathan Franzen’s injunction to write on a computer disconnected from the internet, the better to focus on the task at This story is from Kinfolk Issue Forty-Nine Buy Now Related Stories Arts & Culture Issue 47 Correction: The Starving Artist Bad times don’t always make for good art. Arts & Culture Issue 45 Correction: Spontaneous Generation A curious theory about the origins of life. Arts & Culture Issue 44 Correction Wikipedia is good, actually. Arts & Culture Issue 40 Correction On the scary shortcomings of “fearless” philosophies. Arts & Culture Issue 39 Correction Teenagers aren't lazy, they're exhausted. Arts & Culture Issue 38 Correction Don’t be fooled by spurious data.