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Non Sequitur Fridays

A Theory of Everything Organized Neatly

This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistia team member's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Joe Ringenberg is a designer at Wistia. His last Non Sequitur was about the best sketchbook of all time.

We recently updated the intro video in our Learning Center, and wanted a video thumbnail that showed off some of the gear and tools we use. Once we collected it all, we did the only natural thing: we organized it neatly.

Everyone likes things organized neatly. Setting up a little woodshop? Organize it neatly. Have a big collection? Organize it neatly. Got a backpack? Dump all your stuff out, organize it neatly, and Instagram it. If you search for posts tagged #thingsorganizedneatly, you'll see just how many people out there love organization and neatness. The answer: a lot of them. Maybe all of them.

Of course, much of the appeal of #thingsorganizedneatly is the same as anything we photograph with our phones. The objects we surround ourselves with are little reflections of our choices and tastes, and showing them off isn't just materialistic posturing, it's part of how we express our individuality to each other. But why organize them so neatly?

Human beings have been organizing things neatly basically forever. The ability to see patterns and recognize order was an early and (maybe?) species-defining trait. So it is no surprise that we homo sapiens are fond of the grid. Oh, the grid! Right angles! Efficient packing! Well-organized streets and avenues! Rationality! Humanity's imposition of structure on the entropy of nature!

Of course, there are practical considerations too. Neatly organized things are easy to scan, pick up, compare, and choose between. The godfather of the contemporary neatliness movement was Andrew Kromelow, a janitor in architect Frank Gehry's studio in the '80s. While cleaning up the shop in the evening, Kromelow would organize all the tools at perfect right angles, a process he called Knolling, a reference to the orthogonally-inclined furniture company, Knoll, that was engaging Gehry at the time. The term was carried forward by sculptor Tom Sachs, whose 2009 studio manual includes the injunction, "ALWAYS BE KNOLLING."

Staying organized helps our productivity, except when it turns out to be a particularly satisfying form of procrastination. Which brings us back to where we began, organizing things neatly for the sole purpose of seeing them lined up at tidy right angles. And so we knoll on, organizing a world borne ceaselessly into chaos.

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