On Puttering

This piece was first posted in February of 2003.

Alarm Clock I’ve been working myself pretty hard over the last month, and Friday evening things pretty much came to a halt. This wasn’t particularly opportune, as we had a big party for David’s birthday Saturday morning, but Jane was understanding about it; in fact, when I came home and sat down and said, “I’m wiped,” she looked at me and said, “Yes, you are.” So except for necessary activities involving the party, I took it as easy as I could all day Saturday and Sunday (hence the minimal posting). And this morning I find that I’m feeling pretty good.

We’d determined that today would be low-key as well (the kids are still tired from the festivities, David still has new toys from his friends that he hasn’t gotten to yet, and all of them are fighting off colds, successfully so far), so after breakfast I hooked up my jukebox to the radio in my study and settled in with my laptop to rip a few more CDs and do a few little things that had been hanging fire.

And that brings me to the subject of puttering.

Puttering is a sublimely peaceful activity. Puttering cannot be done on a deadline; puttering cannot be done in haste. When you putter, you are intimately engaged in something you love. When you putter, you drift from one little task to another. You inspect everything with a lover’s eye. You do a little of this, and a little of that. You’ll likely accomplish nothing that’s big by itself, but bit by bit your world is
improved.

Puttering is usually associated with a place: a garden, a kitchen, a workshop, a garage, or (as in my case) a study. The exact place doesn’t matter. The point of all true puttering is that you’re doing things that need to be done–and you’re not doing them on a schedule or to achieve some larger goal. You’re doing them because doing them satisfies your soul, because they are worth doing for their own sake, and mostly because you’ve been able to let go of the rush to achieve, step back, and contemplate your special place in peace.

Puttering is how people got things done before clocks were invented. Children putter naturally; only in their case we call it playing.

Over time I’ve been accumulating a list of touchstones to tell me when my life is getting too stressful and I need to cultivate a little peace. If I’m tempted to eat breakfast in the car on the way to work, then I’m rushing too much. If I get irritated by the traffic on the freeway, I need to relax. If I’m always grumpy, I need to lighten up. And if I’ve not been puttering, I need to slow down.

Life’s too short not to putter.

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