7 How Many Things Is That?
(How “Things with Parts” Can Make the WHAT Question Tricky)

How many things is a jigsaw puzzle?
The dictionary defines a jigsaw puzzle as “a picture printed on cardboard or wood and cut into various pieces of different shapes that have to be fitted together.”
  • A “picture” is one thing
  • “Pieces of different shapes” are many things

So this is a harder question to answer that it seemed at first.

A master organizer understands that things composed of parts or pieces raise questions about their “thingness” that affects how we organize them.   When you are putting a puzzle together, you think of it a collection of pieces, and you study each piece to determine how to put them together.  But when you put away the puzzle box on a shelf or in a bookcase, you think of it as just one thing.
Expert organizers call this question of “thingness” the question of “granularity.” That’s a big word but when you think about a sandy beach, is it one thing, or made up of millions of grains of sand?   Can you can see “grain” as the root word inside of granularity?
Sometimes you need to think of something as one thing and as many things at the same time!   Like a lot of kids, you probably play with Legos.  You  started with a small box with fewer than a hundred pieces.  You then moved on to Lego sets for building a particular design — like the alligator in the picture.   When you were finished playing with the Legos, you would put all the pieces back into the boxes and put the boxes away.  This means you were thinking of each Lego set as one thing.

But after you had played with Legos for a few years,  you began to think of them differently.  You began to use the color, shape, and size of Lego pieces as organizing principles so you could build new things, not just the boxed set things.  So while you still had some boxed Lego sets, you now had many hundreds of Lego pieces you organized into much smaller categories.   You probably had storage boxes like these:

Why does this question of thingness or granularity matter?   It matters because sometimes two people will not answer the question the same way.  If a parent wants a kid to organize his Legos, they might buy a bookcase and tell the kid to store the boxes  there.  But if the kid is an expert who wants to organize the pieces into many categories, the bookcase isn’t going to help at all.

This question is very important when we think about organizing time, because “pieces of time” come in very different sizes.   You will see this in an upcoming chapter.


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"The Discipline of Organizing" for Kids Copyright © 2022 by Robert J Glushko is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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