How To Not Be Overly Organized


Is it possible to be too organized? Physics offers us an answer: it explains that the polhode rolls without slipping over the herpolhode. This sounds dirty. It really has something to do with the rotation of rigid bodies as they begin their nutation. This makes it sound unbelievably filthy. Physics reports now that it misheard the question and apologizes fiercely.

Now that we ask physics again, where it knows its mother is listening, we have a better answer. It would be too organized if all the mass and energy of the universe were piled into a single spot of extraordinarily high, by which we mean low, entropy, causing the expansion of space to restart with a new Big Bang and the formation of a different universe with physics that might be substantially different from those we know. Even the person who’s so orderly as to have a ten-point checklist for connecting the garden hose would agree this is too organized, given how long it would take for a new universe to expand and cool enough to support stars, life, limited-edition holiday-flavor candy corn, and the part of town where they’re always having ukulele festivals.

Most of us stop before that point anyway, because we are stymied by questions such as: does it count as a pair of socks if they are noticeably not alike, but they are each the only one of their kind, and you have two of them? This is the problem I posed to my advanced physics lab partner in college, when he said he was starting to organize his dorm room by dividing it into “pair of socks” and “not a pair of socks”. His answer was to look at me with sad despair. His dorm-room organization project ended in failure, and we were unable to show that the Inverse Zeeman Effect ever happened.

The Inverse Zeeman Effect is a physics thing you look for in advanced physics labs and it has nothing to do with polhodes as far as I know. It’s named for the Dutch physicist Pieter Zeeman, who was such the life of the party he was known in every physics lab as Pieter “The Man” Zeeman, only in Dutch. Eventually he got a sinecure working for the water-reclamation agency. This allowed him to be Pieter “Zie Man” Zeeman of the Zeiderzeewerken. For putting up with this all his life they gave him a Nobel Prize and asked him to say “sinecure” with a Dutch accent.

Even we who are not Nobel Prize-winning Dutch physicists find natural limits to organization. Most things enjoy a natural resting spot which doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be consistent. Which is why, in a boring anecdote I am not making up, I kept my toothpaste in the refrigerator for about four years when I was living in Singapore. It was probably an accident at first. But then it kept happening, and before you knew it, if somehow there were toothpaste in a more traditionally sensible place in my apartment, such as the bathroom, I’d never know it. Clearly the natural habitat of Singaporean toothpaste was in the refrigerator. I should have left a note for whoever got my apartment after I moved out. But if I had left one, would they have believed me? What might they have said about it? “This person writes too small to be legible”, most likely. I’ve left notes for people before.

The trouble is that organizing tries to put things where it makes sense for them to be, which is rarely were they want to be. The displaced things respond by going missing altogether. Who among us hasn’t tidied the office supplies on their desk and discovered the stapler can’t be found? Or organized the stuff in their medicine cabinet to find that not only is their toothpaste gone but there’s no evidence that they’ve ever had toothpaste? To tidy up the house so well that the guest room goes completely missing and there’s just a vacant spot on the wall is an unusual event. But it’s not unprecedented.

If there is one important thing to consider, it’s this: the Dutch have a municipality named “Urk”. It’s a former island, as the Zuiderzee’s been reclaimed all around it. Now it’s geographically part of the Noordoostpolder, which sounds like they’re doing physics over there. Somebody look into that. After knocking.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

8 thoughts on “How To Not Be Overly Organized”

  1. Brilliant article!

    I have found that the universe resists all my efforts to bring order out of chaos. I believe the Universe does this by pairing each neat-freak with no less than 5 people who thwart the neat-freak’s every move. I don’t want to actually call them slobs … but … well …. if the pile of shoes in the living room fits ….

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    1. My love and I have different areas of being neat-freaks, so we’re a pretty good match that way, except that neither of us gets things neat to our satisfaction really either. (I have a bad habit of making piles of things, including of smaller piles, until the habitable space in the room is greatly diminished and there’s no horizontal surfaces left empty.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I tend to be a “piler” too, though at least I know what is in the piles. However, I find that others’ (who shall remain nameless) organizational skills are a little more inscrutable. As in: why are there a pair of shoes in the oven? Or: Why is there a carton of milk in the bookshelf?

    Horizontal space is always at a premium and led to the axiom: Nature abhors a horizontal surface.

    And its corollary: Any horizontal surface will accumulate items until it is either obliterated or no longer horizontal.

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    1. No, no, I follow the shoes in the oven thing. You want them kept someplace they aren’t going to be wet. If they were in the sink that wouldn’t make sense, except under the hot water.

      But boy do I do too much of this. Best I can say is I eventually tidy the piles up and somehow there’s less stuff after I do that for some reason.

      Liked by 1 person

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