Isabel Hwang ’20 Wins New York Times Editorial Contest
Eliza MacLean

Isabel Hwang ‘20 won the Sixth Annual New York Times Student Editorial Contest for her essay, “The Life Changing Magic of Being Messy.” A play on the title of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Isabel’s essay was one of only 12 selected from more than 10,000 submissions. It was published in the New York Times online Learning section on June 4, and an excerpt was published in the print New York Times on June 7.

In response to the contest’s prompt, “Write about an issue that matters to you,” Isabel challenged recent conventional wisdom on tidiness, especially that espoused by Kondo, by putting forth her own ideas about why being messy also has benefits. Inspired by research connecting clutter with creativity, and her desire to push back against stereotypes associated with her own habits, Isabel’s writing offers a new way of understanding messy spaces. “The piece is about how there’s scientific research that shows messy people aren’t necessarily lazy,” Isabel said, “and how we are more creative in certain ways.”

Isabel credits her English 3 teacher, Will Torrey, with helping her to find the confidence to use her voice to discuss what is important to her, to submit her work to The New York Times, and to keep writing. She plans to continue penning editorial pieces. “I am surprised that people actually want to listen to my opinion,” she added. “I’m surprised that I actually got heard and that it’s going to get heard by even more people around the world.” 

In a funny twist of fate, next year, Mr. Torrey will be Isabel’s dorm parent on K Dorm, where Isabel will serve as Residential Leader for a cohort of junior girls. One of her responsibilities will be to ensure the dorm common spaces stay tidy and that residents carry out their weekly cleaning jobs, while Mr. Torrey will be responsible for individual room inspections, including Isabel’s. Isabel notes she will definitely keep her floor clean next year. “But inside my desk drawers, my true colors will shine through,” she adds with a smile. 

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