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The science behind a cluttered home

By Nancy Harris, KSL.com Contributor  |  Posted Nov 6th, 2012 @ 7:35pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — You would think that someone with a biology degree would have a broad overall understanding of other fields of science — physics and chemistry and the like — especially if that someone might have also received a minor in one of those very fields.

But no. You would be thinking incorrectly because I am that someone, and I somehow managed to muddle my way through my physics and chemistry courses — titrating substances, figuring wavelengths, and even passing tests — without ever really knowing what I was doing or what on earth anyone was talking about.

From kinetic energy to ionic bonds, my confusion remained fairly constant. However, there was one concept that immediately clicked. The moment I heard the word entropy followed by something about things tending toward disorder and chaos, I knew something was finally going to make sense. … And that was even before I had several children and a home of my own to maintain.


Go ahead: clean and scrub, sort and organize, produce spectacular order in one area of your home; just understand and accept the fact that there will certainly be order decreasing, every bit as spectacularly, somewhere else in your home.

It was then, as I struggled to scrub a bathroom only to return to a sink full of dishes in a previously-clean kitchen; or as I folded a pile of laundry and, upon finishing, discovered an open box of cereal dumped across the living room floor, cereal bowls on the counter and a stack of papers scattered across the kitchen table, that I realized just how very relevant entropy was.

You see, entropy has to do with steady deterioration, measures of disorder and overall tendencies toward chaos. And it isn’t just a crazy theory. Heavens no. It is law. Big law — as in the Second Law of Thermodynamics big. And what is more, it doesn’t state that order must always decrease. Oh, you can produce order all right — highly elaborate order even — only in doing so, disorder will increase somewhere else.

And there’s the key. Go ahead: clean and scrub, sort and organize, produce spectacular order in one area of your home; just understand and accept the fact that there will certainly be order decreasing, every bit as spectacularly, somewhere else in your home — especially if you have children or pets, or maybe even a husband (bless his heart).

Online Poll

What's the messiest area in your home?
1. The kitchen. It's always the kitchen.
2. Not sure I've ever seen the floor in my kids' play room.
3. My room. Nobody sees it but me and my spouse anyway.
4. Can't clean a bathroom without turning around to find it disgusting once again.
5. The garage. It's pretty much a danger zone.
6. Other (please share on the comment board)
What's the messiest area in your home?
1. The kitchen. It's always the kitchen.
2. Not sure I've ever seen the floor in my kids' play room.
3. My room. Nobody sees it but me and my spouse anyway.
4. Can't clean a bathroom without turning around to find it disgusting once again.
5. The garage. It's pretty much a danger zone.
6. Other (please share on the comment board)

There are likely some of you out there reading this and thinking smart little thoughts like, “You didn’t explain this right at all,” and “It has nothing to do with clutter. This is about energy, for crying out loud! It’s about thermodynamics and closed systems!”

But the rest of you are surely thinking, as I have thought all these many years, “Finally! A purely scientific explanation for why my house cannot stay tidy!” Blame it on entropy. Blame it on science. You and your home are simply subject to a greater law — a law of messiness, if you will.

Comfort yourself in knowing that those friends and neighbors of yours who seem to have a home void of dust, clear of any sign of fingerprints on walls and windows, and completely lacking in piles of laundry and unsorted mail, certainly have chaos and disorder somewhere else. You might have to search under their beds or open every drawer in their kitchen, but that disorder is there. Somewhere. It has to be ….

Unless, of course, they are superheroes who can defy the very laws of nature. And if that is the case, well, there is no use comparing yourself to them anyway.

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Main image: Entropy is at work in this home. (Photo: Nancy Harris)


The 10th of 11 children, Nancy Harris is a graduate of Weber State University, a runner (when not dealing with foot problems), blogger, photography hobbyist, and mother to six. Visit her website at www.nancyaah.blogspot.com.

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