A Relaxier Life

It is said that Albert Einstein once asked, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, what are we to think of an empty desk?” While not famous for his quips—although E=mc2 is the soul of wit in its brevity—this neatly captures the perspective of a person who kept his desk almost confrontationally cluttered.

The human mind is an organizer, the greatest one we happen to know, the one that all of our tools and machines are built in an attempt to replicate its principles and imagined actions. Nature itself does not organize. Every organizing structure we come up with is an imposition on nature and is thus radically random, at least as far as nature is concerned: No method of organizing is more “correct” than any other.

Alphabetical order? Which alphabet? In “forward” or “reverse” order? Do we use “The” or its equivalent or no?

Chronological? Which calendar?

Size? I partly organize my bookshelf by the size of books (see above), the heavier ones on the bottom or on the floor (thus, not even on the bookshelf) because the current shelf needs reinforcing. (Jen wants me to replace it, yesterday.)

Or one could organize an argument by number of words used in each section, largest first. Juries would return verdicts of “confused.”

(Jen’s cat, AKA “Ángel, el gato de amor,” has one organizing principle and only one, and the work of perfecting her world with it occupies much of her day, many of her few waking hours:

“This thing, on this space that I want to occupy, must be removed. I must move it off this space. Then, when I move somewhere else, as I must—WHY DID YOU PUT SOMETHING THERE?! This must go, too.” And she pushes the offending pen or paper or book off the desk. I am awaiting the day I will see her use one object to move a second, larger, object off a space. That day, the day she has figured out that tools exist, will be commemorated henceforth by those of her breed.)

The human mind finds and makes connections between things and ideas, or the representations of ideas: words, papers, books. In an ideal sense, all ideas are equal. The work of organizing, re-cluttering, and finding new connections is a creative act. Thus, Einstein was right, as far as I am concerned, at least until I clean my desk, at which time I will change my mind about this: A cluttered work space is the same as an organized work space, it’s just that only one of them meets some person’s random aesthetic standards of ideal desk appearance.

* * * *
I have lived with hyper-organized spaces that I created for myself: Books separated by subject and then alphabetized within those subjects (left to right, by author last name). Subjects organized alphabetically, too. Multiple titles by the same author within a section arranged chronologically by publication date.

(The wife of a famous writer—Whitley Strieber—once tried to start a fight with me over how our bookstore organized its books. That was not fun. The store’s owners organized the store by subject and then alphabetically, but in two different ways, neither of which suited Mrs. S’s specific preference: That her husband’s name be prominent everywhere at all times for reasons of income. The majority of the store was alphabetical by author within the various sections, but the privileged section of new hardcovers, the shelves of new releases nearest the door, well, the books on those shelves were alphabetical by title. [The reasoning, which can be argued with but came out of the store owners’ experiences, went that most customers in search of a new book that they had heard about had heard the title of the book and not the author’s name, especially if it was a new author. Again, all organization is random. Back to the anecdote.] Thus, Mr. S’s newest title, which we indeed had on display, was on a lower shelf because it did not begin with A, and his paperbacks, with his last name starting with S, were not at that very moment at eye height. “Sometimes they are at eye height,” I pointlessly replied. After she and I stared at each other for a moment, the famous writer paid for his purchases, placed his arm around his wife’s shoulder, and they started out the door. But at the door he turned, looked at me over his wife’s head and said, “You’ll have to excuse my wife. She’s rather eccentric.”)

I have lived with virtual file folders inside virtual file folders on my computer. A clean computer desktop, with just the “C:” icon and the trash bin and maybe the couple of virtual folders that contained whatever I was working on at that moment.

(I had an officemate who used to photograph the real-life top of his desk and make that image of the desk’s top his computer screen’s desktop image, so when you were talking with him at his desk you were looking at a real-life version of Pink Floyd’s “Ummagumma” album cover. Desktop > desktop > desktop. He would regularly update the photo to reflect current changes on his 3-D “real” desktop like the content of his IN/OUT box or his children’s school pictures.)


I haven’t listened to Ummagumma in quite a while.

In the past, I have worked on organizing my kitchen, only to discover how inefficient that made me. I alphabetized the spices. I have arranged the clothes in my closet by color. My baseball card collections (many complete sets) were always divided into American and then National leagues, and then broken into teams, my favorites first, favorite players on each team towards the front.

Perhaps you have noticed that, in the past, I was kind of a rigid idiot.

Finally it occurred to me that the best, most efficient, kitchen organizing principle was “frequency of use near the areas of frequent use.” And that principle, which really is a just-barely controlled entropy, is what guides most of my organization now.

It’s a relaxier life.

* * * *
This post was started last year.

* * * *
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  1. The Reluctant Scribbler · August 4, 2015

    I think your bookcase would drive me crazy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Relax · August 4, 2015

    LOL! There’s a special place prepared for those who carefully count tiles, mentally rearrange doorways, and avoid opening certain kitchen cabinets ever — we’ll know it when we see it. Until then, maybe you should teach “Relaxier Living.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. lifelessons · August 4, 2015

    I love your comments on Angel’s organizational system! Gems like this interspersed with practical matters and information are what make your posts so readable. My cat wants to be on whatever is newest in the room–be it animate or inanimate! http://judydykstrabrown.com/2015/08/04/fitting-in/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. wscottling · August 4, 2015

    My life has always been organized chaos. I have the tendencies to be organized, but prefer the “relaxier” way. Whenever I worked in an office long enough to call a desk “mine” my coworkers would get used to me saying in a strangled voice, “There’s too much stuff on my desk!” about once every other week. And there would follow a frenzy of organizing and cleaning. They thought it was highly amusing. I thought it bordered on compulsive. ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · August 4, 2015

      My workdesks were always clean. I didn’t want work progress to be tracked or track-able or the lack of progress to be …

      My work here is not nearly as organized as it would be if I was getting paid to do it. That’s something I ought to change.


  5. Martha Kennedy · August 4, 2015

    One of my favorite professors, Michael J. Preston, knew his marriage was over when he came home and found his wife had organized his books according to color.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · August 4, 2015

      I’m sorry for him, but that’s very funny.

      Jen hates my bookshelf. (It even leans forward like an anxious waiter, so I think she fears coming over and finding my arms and legs sticking out from under it.)

      I cleaned up my bookshelf today before I saw the “prompt”–which even though it was old it was new to me–and I’d written something last year that didn’t fit the prompt question that had prompted it. It truly needed re-thinking, anyway.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Martha Kennedy · August 4, 2015

        Oh, Mr. Preston was just waiting for the second shoe to fall as far as his first wife was concerned. Her arranging his books was it. He later found the perfect woman for him. 🙂 When I moved, I got rid of more than 1/2 my books and I hope to keep it that way. I thought I couldn’t live without tons of books but it’s actually pretty easy.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mark Aldrich · August 4, 2015

          I have far fewer books than I once had, too. Storage unit rental companies enjoy receiving rent. A decade in a bookstore meant I had lots of first edition/first printings plus collectibles. (Upstate New York has some great used bookstores.) In one apartment I’d turned a closet into a bookshelf. No longer. That photo at top is my library. The middle shelf is all 12-step recovery materials.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. LRose · August 4, 2015

    My cat eats offending objects. She’s oddly like an infant that way; during that stage in their very young lives when everything goes in the mouth. If it is too large to be consumed, it is sat on. Or aggressively meowed at.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Aldrich · August 4, 2015

      Ángel, el gato de amor, chews paper any chance she can manufacture. Especially Jen’s tissues, which present the paper in such an enticing, chewable, manner, with the paper standing proud out of the box. But this desire to chew sometimes conflicts with the need for the tissue box to not be where it is. A cat-istential dilemma.

      She is not a meower. She greets me with a head-butt when I visit, and apparently I am the one who introduced that to her world–when we met, I do what I do with pets and got down to her level and she gave me a tap on the head, like a knighthood–and now it’s a forehead-to-forehead tap. (I’ve never owned a pet, and this is the closest I have come to owning one, so behaviors that all of you who own animals know oh, so well, are news to me.) Now she tries to head-butt her daily hellos to all the humans with whom she lives. Only Jen (her human) (well, mine, too) reciprocates.

      Liked by 1 person

      • LRose · August 4, 2015

        The particular favorite of Iona-Cat-Named-Skipper (I call her kitty. of course) is anything plant based. None is digestible. All is regurgitated. Can’t let her out on the deck because she’ll eat the plants. Yesterday I caught her on the kitchen counter in the food compost pail digging out corn husks to get at the corn silk. And she has a fondness for my bare feet that borders on the perverse. They are bizarre creatures.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Mark Aldrich · August 4, 2015

          Angel answers, well, to no one and nothing, but Kitty gets her attention. She is a purely indoors cat, and anything behind a cabinet door is invisible to her (garbage containers). She gets her human’s attention with property destruction and occasional vandalism.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: My style is mine | Willow's Corner
  8. katespencer17 · August 5, 2015

    I like my piles, I collect piles and then I clear them out only to start all over again. Mark, another engaging post and I do enjoy reading your work. I even dared to mention it in my latest blog post http://katespencer17.com/2015/08/04/lovely-blog-award/ . Thanks. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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