Good Mousekeeping

We’ve all been in this situation: you work hard doing whatever you do, and when it’s time to call it a day, there’s a mess you need to address. But you’re done — the mess can wait until tomorrow. And then, when you go back to your workstation the next day, as if by magic, almost everything is put away. 

Wait, that last part has never happened to you? Maybe, you need to rethink your pest control.

Rodney Holbrook, as of early 2024, was a 75-year-old retired postal worker who lived in Wales with his wife. Holbrook spent a lot of his time in his backyard shed, fixing what needed fixing and building whatever came to mind. Holbrook, who the New York Times described as “a passionate wildlife photographer,” also stored some birdseed in the shed, and one day, he noticed that some of the birdseed wasn’t where he left it — someone, or something, had gotten into the food and moved some into an old pair of shoes he also had in the shed. And then, he noticed that a lot of the small tools and random items he had left around the shed were, somehow, back in a small box he kept on a shelf. This went on for a few weeks, and ultimately, curiosity took over: Holbrook wanted to know who — or what — was cleaning up after him. As the Times jokes, he “had his suspicions over the identity of the meticulous helper — it certainly wasn’t his wife. To investigate, he set up a night-vision camera and caught the mysterious visitor.”

Here’s the video he captured:

Yes, that’s a mouse, grabbing the randomly scattered “bits and bobs,” as Holbrook described them, and placing them back in the box where they should have been left. At the bottom of the box are some peanuts, suggesting that the mouse had found some food it wanted to protect. According to the BBC, “experts say it is probably enjoying building a nest, dragging items back to somewhere it considers safe” — the mouse, being a mouse, wasn’t all that concerned with Holbrook’s organization goals or lack thereof. But it did want to make sure no one else ate its peanuts. Holbrook, for his part, didn’t care about the animal’s motivation; it was the results that mattered.

After making the discovery, Holbrook dubbed his resident janitor the “Welsh Tidy Mouse” and decided to let him stay. As he told the BBC, “I don’t bother to tidy up now, I leave things out of the box and they put it back in its place by the morning.” And sometimes, Holbrook leaves some challenges for his cleaning critter, telling the BBC “It’s been a bit of an experiment really, I’ve added different things to the desk to see if they can lift it.”

While some objects have proven too large for the mouse, the repetitive work, low pay (it literally works for peanuts!), and lack of a career path didn’t seem to perturb the rodent. As the New York Times observed, “Whatever its mission, Welsh Tidy Mouse is disciplined: The animal has rarely missed a night of reorganizing the workbench since Mr. Holbrook noticed the behavior in October. After it skipped one evening, it was back at it the next (perhaps it was a sick day?).” Hard work, if you’re a mouse, is its own reward.

Bonus fact: Chuck E. Cheese is a fictional rat and the mascot of the Chuck E. Cheese chain of video game centers/pizza places. (Here’s a picture if you’re not familiar with him.) It makes a lot of sense for a pizza place to have a mouse for a mascot given the myth that mice like cheese. (They don’t, actually.) But that’s not why Chuck E. Cheese is a mouse. As the Atlantic reported, founder Nolan Bushnell (who also founded Atari) wanted to call the chain “Coyote Pizza” and bought himself a large coyote costume, hoping to turn it into an animatronic mascot. But when his robotics team got to work on the costume, they realized Bushnell accidentally purchased a rat costume. Rather than find a workable coyote costume, Bushnell changed the name of the business.

Extra Bonus!: The “E” in “Chuck E. Cheese” stands for “Entertainment.”

From the Archives: When the Mouse is Away…: How Disneyland keep mice out (Mickey and Minnie notwithstanding).