The Existential Satisfaction of Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things

When two objects that shouldn’t go together somehow click, they provide a serendipitous moment of order in a world that’s mostly chaos.

James Birkbeck

Oh! Why, hello. I didn't see you there. Come, come—sit down by the warm glow of the computer and let me spin you a yarn.

See, once upon a time, I had a raincoat. And I took this raincoat to Iceland. It's very rainy there, you see. And it turns out, they have different money. So I exchanged my money for theirs; I romped around; I had a grand old time. And when I got home, I ended up with this little ten kroner coin left in the pocket of my raincoat—which I discovered when I slipped my phone into my pocket the next time I wore it. My phone has a case on it, a case with a small, round hole on the back (because God forbid the Apple logo be covered up). And I'll be damned if that little coin didn't just snuggle its way right into the hole of my phone case. It was a perfect fit. And every time thereafter that I wore the coat, I'd slip my phone into my right pocket, put the coin where it belonged, and spin it in circles with my thumb. It was soothing, and a little bit addictive. Was it destiny? It was not. I lost the coat at a friend's wedding, and with it went my comfort for rainy days.

I was careless with my comfort; what comes unexpectedly can all too easily slip away. But there have been others who have found similar serendipitous unions of disparate objects, and there is a Tumblr dedicated to documenting them, fittingly titled “Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things.” There you can see such unlikelihoods as a wine glass held up diagonally by cookie packaging, a Macbook filling a baking tin to the brim, and, poetically, a woman’s wedding ring that fits right inside a man’s ring.

But why would it even be interesting—let alone soothing—that two random, unrelated items could be physically combined?

“I think it has to do with a new way of putting things together in a surprising, novel, and exciting way. An unexpected way,” says Johan Wagemans, a professor of experimental psychology at the University of Leuven in Belgium whose research focuses on perceptual organization. “Suddenly you see things in a different relationship and it challenges your expectations about how things relate to each other.”

The unusualness of the combination might grab the attention, but it’s also how extreme the coincidence of a perfect fit is. “If you look at it statistically, and in terms of how these objects are made, and how they came together, it’s almost too good to be coincidental,” Wagemans says. “If it would fit only 75 or 85 percent, it wouldn’t be fun.”

It’s the sort of little joy that can’t be forced, only discovered.

“I think in the times in which we live, we are so inundated with so many things, that to be able to bring order to things that don’t necessarily go together, to make them fit, provides some sort of comfort in a world where there’s all sorts of different things coming at you in all different ways,” says Gillian Roper, a psychologist based in Beltsville, Maryland.

In its bringing of order to randomness, “Things Fitting Perfectly Into Other Things” is a spiritual sibling to another popular Tumblr, “Things Organized Neatly,” which specializes in photos of objects arranged in patterns by size, color, type, or shape, laid out in tidy rows and columns.

Roper, who consults as a psychologist at nursing homes four days a week, has a side business as a professional organizer and is a member of the National Association of Professional Organizers.

“What I do is very intangible,” she says of her psychology work. “Part of the reason I enjoy organizing [is that] I enjoy the actual hands-on, being able to take a space that is total chaos and bring some order to it.” A physical counterpoint to a mental, abstract sort of labor.

Both Roper and Wagemans theorized that humans have an innate desire to put things in order. They both mentioned that people with autism have a tendency to line up and stack objects, saying that this may just be an extreme version of a normal human inclination.

The tactile component Roper talks about is part of it, Wagemans says, but also “the action component—making it fit, doing something to the world that makes the world more orderly. I think it is the pleasure of control.”

It seems likely that the pleasure of looking at these photos is a diluted version of the pleasure of doing the thing itself—be that organizing or finding a thing that fits perfectly into another thing. BuzzFeed, of course, as ever, is on it. Posts like “26 Pictures That Will Give You Some Peace For Once In Your Life,” “29 Photos That Will Make You Breathe Easy,” and “34 Photos That Will Satisfy All Perfectionists,” are compendiums of things fitting perfectly into other things, things organized neatly, and a couple of other categories I’ll call “things being removed smoothly” (an apple being peeled in a single spiral, for instance) and “things exhibiting unusually perfect shapes” (such as an impeccably spherical snowball). The jumbling together of these categories without distinguishing them suggests they evoke a similar sort of satisfaction in the viewer—judging by the millions of views on these posts.

As statistician David Hand demonstrates in his book The Improbability Principle, unlikely things happen all the time—whether it’s running into a high-school classmate in a city of millions of people, or just finding a coin that fits perfectly into your phone case. And whatever the math says, it still feels special when things that shouldn’t work somehow do. It’s the relief of finding ease where you expected struggle. And a thing that fits perfectly into another thing is a totem of order to hold onto as you weather the chaos of life.