When I try to open the odds-and-ends drawer in my kitchen to get a paperclip or a rubber band and I can’t pull the damn thing open because there’s too much junk interfering with the smooth rolling motion that the drawer is supposed to exhibit, I feel rage.

There’s a simple lesson in a messy drawer, which is that things fall to waste when they’re not maintained. If the organization of a drawer is not upheld with careful persistence, there’s no reason to expect anything to transpire in there except chaos. But if I know this and accept this, why do I still feel the rage?

Five years ago, my drawer got cleaned as part of a larger house-wide decluttering effort. To this day, the memory of the beauty that was achieved on that special occasion shines bright. In that bright-shining memory, I see everything in its proper place. The spare change neatly sequestered. The batteries organized by size: D, AA, AAA. The pens collected and the dried-out ones expunged.

This once-in-a-blue-moon effort to clean the drawer, and the level of glistening tidiness achieved – these are easy to recall. But what is not easy to recall is my subsequent usage of the drawer. Why would I remember the routine activity of opening and closing the drawer to grab a roll of tape, and doing that same uneventful thing to put it back?

I feel as though I made the drawer beautiful and then I hardly used it in five years. I certainly didn’t do anything bad to it. I never said, “I’m going to jam a bunch of crap in there to conjure hell.”

But the drawer, to which I was so gentle, so kind, defied me nevertheless. It defied my hope, it defied my plan. It returned to chaos of its own accord. Rage!

But considering how often I would have needed to get those batteries and rubber bands and pens and paper clips over five years, reason says I would have used the drawer hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. And each time, I would have been in a rush, needing to quickly obtain an object to complete a pressing task. Which means that I wouldn’t have invested time in re-sorting the drawer then and there, upon each use. So although I never “did anything bad,” each access might have resulted in the disorder increasing by a tiny bit. 

“It’s Tuesday, the weather is cold and rainy, I have 5 minutes left in my lunch break, I’m going to tend to the drawer and see if I can make it a little neater.” Never would I have said that. Even if I had been desperately bored and searching for something to do, this option would not have come to mind – not even as an idea to be considered and rejected.

If you increase the disorder of something by a tiny bit, and you do this many hundreds of times over many years, and you take zero – precisely zero – steps to reverse this process, what do you get? 


The degradation accelerates because as the drawer becomes messier and messier, one finds it harder and harder to preserve whatever diminishing order still remains.

We talk about the decline of society. The decline of relationships. The decline of our natural environment. Right inside our own home, we can see how this happens. ■

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