Here's a somewhat humorous story I'm writing about how organizing things appears to defy my analytical reasoning. As an engineer I'm usually quite good at figuring things out. But my otherwise brilliant analytical mind fails me in this seemingly simple task.

Clutter Incapable
David Deley

I've been analyzing my room, which is a mess, trying to figure out how I organize things. My analytical mind, which is usually quite an advantage, appears to fail me when it comes to tidying up.

I've concluded that my basic storage system is what I call a "pile". I put stuff down, and then put other stuff down on top of that stuff, and continue ad infinitum. The "pile" has the advantage of being fast to add to, but the disadvantage of being slow to retrieve from.

The "pile" appears to be a basic result of gravity. Stuff naturally ends up on top of other stuff due to gravity. I don't really have any control over gravity, so "one thing on top of another" appears to be a basic tenet of the natural order of things.

I've discovered a variation on the "pile" is the "stack". This requires having a number of similar items. Apparently making a "pile" of similar things looks better and more organized. So one cleaning technique is to identify similar items and organize them using this "stack" technology.

A second organizing technique I've discovered is the "container". It uses "pile" technology, but confines the "pile" to the dimensions of the "container". One can also use "stack" technology inside a "container".

I thought due to gravity that the "pile" and "stack" were inevitable, with or without a "container". Then I discovered the pencil holder. It's definitely a form of "container" technology, but it doesn't use "pile" or "stack" technology within. Yet it still holds many items. I haven't figured out what to call this unusual storage technology which appears to defy the natural order of things being a "pile" or "stack". The guy who invented the pencil holder must have been a genius!

* * *

I quite like this "shelf" technology. It appears to be a way of making more floor space than you actually have. My wife frequently urges me to pick things up off the floor. Apparently one method of tidying up is elevating objects off the floor. However, some objects are not meant to be elevated off the floor. Bookcases, desks and chairs belong on the floor. Other objects, like pencils and books, do not belong on the floor. It appears that container type objects, objects which hold other objects, are OK to be on the floor, whereas the objects they contain do not belong on the floor. Books and pencils, which don't contain other objects, don't belong on the floor, whereas bookcases and desks, which can contain other objects, do belong on the floor.

But then why does the pencil holder not belong on the floor? It contains things, yet it doesn't belong on the floor. This pencil holder is complicating my analysis. I wish I could make the pencil holder disappear.

Speaking of making things disappear, I see "drawer" technology is pretty good at that. It starts off as a form of "container" technology, but then you slide this container into a slot, and voilà! It disappears! That's pretty neat! Philosophers may debate whether or not things continue to exist when you're not looking at them, but as far as I'm concerned, the drawer and its contents all cease to exist, until I decide to make them reappear again. What power! I'm going to put this pencil holder in my drawer and make it cease to exist.

 * * *

Also along these lines, my wife said she would like the kitchen counter to be neat and tidy. She said the bread shouldn't be on the counter next to the toaster oven. Really? That's odd. Isn't that the logical place to store the bread? I mean, it's right there, next to the toaster oven, so we can take out a piece of bread, and put it in the toaster oven to toast it. It makes perfect sense. But no, the bread, she says, does not go on the counter next to the toaster oven.

I tried to figure out the logic behind this. After all, I want to make the kitchen tidy so my wife will be happy. If bread doesn't belong on the counter, why does the coffee pot and toaster oven belong on the counter? I thought perhaps it's because bread is food, whereas coffee pot and toaster oven are appliances. So appliances belong on the counter, but food does not.

But then, why is there a bowl of fruit on the counter? Why is it OK for fruit to be on the counter, but not for bread? Perhaps there's a special exception for fruit. Food doesn't go on the counter, with the exception of fruit.

But then, what about tomatoes? Is tomato a fruit or a vegetable? Can tomatoes be out on the counter?

Usually when an analysis becomes complicated and you're forced to throw in a bunch of exceptions, it means you're barking up the wrong tree. There must be something else, something fundamental I'm missing.

"Perhaps," I thought, "it's because the fruit is in a bowl." You put the food in a bowl, then it's OK to be on the counter. Well then, there's your solution. Just put the bread in a bowl, then it's OK to leave it on the counter. I've never seen bread in a bowl before, but logically this should work.

I wondered, "Where did we used to keep the bread?" I thought way back. We used to keep it in a "bread box," right where the microwave oven is now. The "bread box" I recall was much larger than the loaf of bread. Seemed like an inefficient use of space to me. But apparently it was OK to have the bread on the counter as long as it was inside this "bread box." Well the name kind of says it all, doesn't it? It's a "bread box", so logically that's where you put the bread.

I think the bread box disappeared when we got the microwave oven. The microwave oven is kind of about the same size as the bread box. But I don't think we can store the bread in the microwave oven. Even though that would satisfy the "food in container makes it OK" criteria, it would also make it inconvenient to cook things in the microwave. We'd have to take the bread out of the microwave oven whenever we wanted to cook something, and where then would we put the bread?

I'm still not sure why fruit in a bowl is OK to leave on the counter, whereas bread in a bag isn't OK to leave on the counter. They're both food, and isn't a bag a container?

I know my wife likes to keep bread in the freezer. I guess this satisfies the "food in container makes it OK" criteria, but the bread is frozen! Have you ever tried eating frozen bread? It's just not edible. You have to thaw it out first, and that takes a long time.

I'm not sure where my wife puts the bread when she thaws it out. I've never seen frozen bread anywhere but in the freezer. Does she put it in the refrigerator? I don't recall ever seeing bread in the refrigerator. Sometimes I think we just have this loaf of bread in the freezer, and it's been there forever. When we go to the store and buy bread, I put the fresh bread on the counter next to the toaster oven. Maybe that loaf of bread in the freezer was an experiment gone awry, and no one has ever thrown it away. It's always been there as long as I can remember. Maybe we got it for Y2K.

Then I got an idea. A "crazy" idea, but according to my analysis it ought to be worth a try. I'll take that tray out of the toaster oven, put it on the counter next to the toaster oven, and put the bread on the tray. I'm not sure if "tray" counts as "container". It's rather shallow. The edges are only 2 centimeters high. Plus in the past whenever I've left that tray out on the counter my wife always puts it away. I conclude "tray" doesn't belong on "counter". However, "bowl of fruit" does belong on counter.

But get this, "empty bowl of fruit" does not belong on counter! ("Empty bowl of fruit". Hmm, how do we know fruit is in the bowl if the bowl is empty? What if I had -1 fruit in the bowl? How can I create a bowl so devoid of fruit that when I toss in a fruit the bowl becomes empty? -1 is such an imaginary number.) Anyway, perhaps the tray gets put away because it's "empty". All I have to do is put the bread on it, making the tray "not empty", and it will then be OK then to leave the combination of "tray" and "bread" on the counter. It's a long shot, but worth a try.

 * * *

My wife wants us to go through the house and throw away anything we can. Apparently you clean up by throwing away stuff. It gives her a sense of peace. But the idea gives me a sense of dread, because then all my stuff is gone. I would have to go out and rebuy all that stuff.

I decided to go to the store and shop for some "containers." Then it dawned on me, this doesn't make any sense. You clean up by removing things from the room. The less stuff the better. Yet here I am at the store looking for things to actually add to the room. How can you clean up a room by adding more stuff to it?

Perhaps some things are good to have in a room, while others are not. But how do I tell which is which? Perhaps "things which hold other things" are good. Things like containers, bookcases, desks, and shelves are good things to have in a room because you can put stuff on them, whereas the actual things you put on the shelf or bookcase or desk are bad things which should be removed. Containers are good, things which go in containers are bad.

But then what about that pencil holder on the desk? It's a container, so it's good, but it's on the desk, so it's bad. And it doesn't belong on the floor either. I'm glad I made that pencil holder cease to exist by placing it in the drawer.

What would a tidy room look like anyway? Would it be a room containing only empty bookcases and shelves and desks and chairs? Perhaps a well organized room has a lot of order to it, whereas a cluttered room has a lot of disorder to it. Perhaps the object of tidying up is to decrease the entropy of the room. But if that was the case, I could just get a bulldozer and shove everything in the room over to one corner. That would really decrease the entropy quite a bit, but that would not be a suitable solution. So decreasing the entropy alone is not the answer. There must be something else.

* * *

The store has some really nice leather containers. They cost quite a lot, but I think they're nice enough that I could leave them out, and put stuff in them.

I'm also looking for storage solutions for the end table. It has a compartment where you can store things. A lot of storage area there not being well utilized. But how can I keep things neat within the storage area?

I wonder if I should put the really nice leather container in the end table? The container would help organize things in that compartment. But it seems kind of a waste, because no one will ever see the really nice leather container if I put it inside the end table compartment and close the door. We'd have to leave the door to the end table open just so people could look in and admire the nice leather container within. That doesn't seem to make sense to me. But none of this makes sense to me.1

The coffee table in front of the couch has a storage compartment in the middle. However, when I'm sitting on the couch I can't access this storage area because the sliding door to the compartment is on the other side, facing away from the couch. That's pretty easy to solve. All I need to do is turn the coffee table around so the sliding door is on the couch side. Then when I sit on the couch I can put stuff in that compartment.

The problem though, it occurs to me, is perhaps the reason the door is currently on the other side, is so people walking around the room can see it and admire it. It is a rather nice door, worthy of admiration. If I turn the coffee table around, then people will just see the back, which is just flat, whereas the door side has texture and pretty handles. Maybe I could arrange some mirrors so people could see the nice door from both sides. But then how do I hide the mirrors themselves? Magicians use mirrors, don't they? Maybe I could consult a magician. Perhaps I could decorate the mirrors to make them nice too.

Or I could buy another door, a fake door, we'll call it a faux door because that sounds French, and I'll put the fake door on the back. If done right my wife will never even notice that I turned the coffee table around!

* * *

My wife said, "David, your logic is impeccable.  Actually, I think just keeping the bread on that oblong metal tray next to the toaster oven will satisfy my desire for keeping things neat and tidy."


Wow! My analysis actually worked! This is awesome! I am so smart.


1 I wonder why our university doesn't have a Department of Tidy? Seems like there's a lot here worthy of study. Perhaps I should ask someone in the English department. Maybe savoring Shakespeare also gives you the ability to keep a room tidy. I should go over there sometime and have a look at their offices.

(The sad part is, although this story is somewhat farcical and humorous, this is actually how I think! This is how my brain works!—D.D.)

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