Thursday, May 9, 2013

Why your work is never done - it's just physics

Does it seem like no matter how hard you work to clean the house and feed everyone, it's always time to do it all over again? You're not imagining things.

You could blame the kids. Those little agents of chaos certainly mess up what you've tidied, devour what you've prepared, leave more mess than their entire body weight... But you're fighting a much bigger battle.

You cannot defy the laws of physics!

There's actually a physical law for mess. The second law of thermodynamics says the entropy (disorder) of the universe must always increase.

So the dirt is trying to take over your house. The toys on the shelves are trying to scramble themselves. The marbles simply love to roll to every corner of the room. And everything, absolutely everything wants to fall to the floor.

But humans are a complex species - we need order to exist. The only real work is our constant fight for that spot of order against this messy universe. And naturally, that is never done. Even while you are cleaning, more dust is settling.

Why bother?

You decide. Here are some abandoned houses, where nobody does what you do.
Photographer: Nathan Ross
See how important you are? You stand each day between your beloved home and natural disasters like these.

Even feeding everybody is part of the battle against impending chaos - as our bodies need fuel to renew the cells that are constantly dying. Creepy, but true. And you even have to prepare the food while it's still fresh - if you don't pay attention, the food wanders to the back of the refrigerator and forms a chaos puddle.

Thankless tasks

  • Cleaning
  • Organising
  • Growing, gathering, and preparing food
  • Teaching
  • Healing
  • ...

The payoff for these is not in completion, but in progress.

Work that can be defined with a beginning, middle, and end, with precise goals to be accomplished and therefore visibly finished and celebrated, is generally a modern invention with very little impact on the real world.

Woman's work?

"A man may work from sun til sun, but a woman's work is never done." This is not because men don't do real work. (No, really, they do.) But in traditional roles, women live in their workplace, and we are constantly faced with the undone work. Men's undone work is usually offsite.

What to do?

We can reduce our own chaos by reducing our belongings. But peace comes with the acceptance that undone work is universal. Literally.

And if anyone hassles you about the state of your house, you can now tell them about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. They will never bother you again.


  1. Thank you Jessica for this article which may just have prevented me from going insane! I especially like "The only real work is our constant fight for that spot of order against this messy universe".
    Entropy, huh? I never really understood it before but now I do.

    1. Hi Shirls! Very happy to have given you a lift :-)

      I think we have a real tendency to blame ourselves or get frustrated with the neverending cycle, and I wanted the reality spelled out and shared...