Tidiness and Maxwell’s Demon in My Workshop


Paradise lost?

I used to love hanging out in my workshop surrounded by my haphazardly organized clutter of stuff.  It was a calming retreat from the hassle of everyday life.  Just knowing that the tools and bins of nuts, screws, nails, bolts, and assorted unidentifiable hardware items were at hand assured me that all was well in the universe.  

bolts and screws

Some of my most joyful possessions.

I’m not sure why I became so infatuated with the world of tools and hardware.  My carpentry and mechanical skills are rudimentary to say the very least, although I did have a fling at building birdhouses a while back.   And my career as a sociologist definitely did not demand a cache of over 23 screw drivers on my workshop wall – not counting those in my tool box.  I do enjoy trying to fix things and tinkering in my workshop, sort of like my dad did, but most of our high tech gadgets nowadays do not allow tinkering. 


Then along came Marie Kondo and my days of serenity in my cluttered workshop were numbered.  If you’ve been on a desert island without Internet or TV for the last few years or have not read Ann’s part of this blog yet, you may not be aware that Marie Kondo is the latest media rage.  Her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has sold more than 10 million copies in over 40 countries and she has a wildly popular Netflix TV show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”   Her KonMari method of organizing involves:

gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, and then keeping only those things that “spark joy” (ときめく tokimeku, the word in Japanese, means “flutter, throb, palpitate”),  and choosing a place for everything from then on.

Shinto symbol

Shintoism symbol

She claims that her inspiration is from Shintoism, the traditional Japanese religion that emphasizes ritual and the spiritual essence those things around us.  So, is being disorderly a sacrilege – a sin that demands redemption? 

I wonder about all of this now when I gaze around my workshop.  Bliss has been replaced by a nagging feeling that I am not fully living up to my human potential.  Fortunately, my Unitarian background assures me that I won’t go to hell for untidiness, but nonetheless the social stigma of an unkempt workshop has become my purgatory.  Thank you Ms. Kondo!

James_Clerk_Maxwell (1)

Unitarians generally do not believe in the devil, but I do believe that a demon could have something to do with my state of untidiness and clutter.  More specifically, I am referring to the demon that the renowned physicist James Clerk Maxwell introduced to the world in 1867.  Maxwell used this demon to demonstrate the validity of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and the inevitability of “entropy.”  


Maxwell’s demon working in my workshop (so to speak) – image from Deskarati

To grossly simplify, let’s just say this law states that systems of gas molecules left to themselves will move from order to disorder or chaos – aka, entropy.  His demon, hypothetically situated in an enclosed chamber with randomly moving molecules, would redirect the faster moving ones to another chamber to create heat (order).  The kicker was that no matter how hard that demon tried, he (she?) was ultimately doomed to chaos and disorder – unless energy from outside that closed system could be imported.  For more details about Maxwell’s Demon and entropy, go to this site.  

screwdrivers etc.jpg

How would I ever get along without 23 screwdrivers (not counting the ones in my tool box)?

Although I’m not dealing with molecules of gas in a chamber, I can see how this applies to me and my workshop.  Having spent many hours arranging and rearranging the random stuff that defines my workshop, I definitely can empathize with that poor little demon working his butt off trying to keep order in his little chamber full of random molecules.  The harder I try to organize and downsize, the more my treasured objects seem to resist.  Sure, I don’t need 23 screwdrivers, but for me each one seems to have a “spiritual essence” that makes it hard to justify ditching it.

Our spice cupbord

Could our spice pantry be an inspiration for my workshop?

But it’s obvious that there has to be an upper limit to the amount of joy-sparking stuff we can accumulate.  It occurred to me that how we manage our spice-ladened pantry may apply to my workshop clutter dilemma.   It is true that our vast stock of exotic spices brings us many sparks of joy, but what keeps us from literally being buried in spices are those little messages on the jars and boxes that tell us that the product is”Best by” a specific date. This provides a justification to systematically cull our stash without guilt.

Why not similarly date nails, screws, bolts, and other hardware?  It just makes sense that if we have not used something after a certain amount of time we should be able to part with it. If there were an official label affixed with the expiration date it would be so much easier to let go of those potential sparks of joy and be one step closer to tidiness.   I wonder what Ms. Kondo would think.

dated nail box


  1. Helen Weaver says:

    And here I thought I was the only one who thumped you on the head. Well, I didn’t use one of mom’s thimbles. Guess I would have got in trouble if mom found out I had used one of her collected thimbles. Oh to be young & dumb again.


    • theRaggedys says:

      Makes me think of my mom’s assortment of thimbles which turned into a full blown collection. As an aside, the only time I recall her physically reprimanding me (as a child, obviously) was by thumping me on the head with a thimble on her finger. I think she did that only once, but the threat of a thump was quite an effective deterrent while growing up.


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