Permission to putter

Posted on June 12, 2013
Filed under Events & news | 11 Comments | Email This Post

“There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.” — Bill Watterson

yellow curtainLast Friday, I had oral surgery to remove part of an infected bone in my lower jaw, under my tongue. The ordeal wasn’t quite as grisly as I’d anticipated — but I felt out of sorts for a few days while the anesthesia wore off and the surgical wound began to heal.

I’d been advised in the home-care instructions to “avoid over-exertion” through the following week, which, to me, was a pink permission slip to indulge in guilt-free puttering.

Cheaper than air fare or psychotherapy, puttering lets your mind wander while your body hangs out around the house. And unlike housecleaning, which involves physical energy and high-powered appliances, puttering puts you in a Zen-like state of bliss.

Not to be confused with slacking, procrastinating, fidgeting, or fiddling, puttering is good for mental health. But sadly, ours is a goal-directed, work-till-you-drop culture in which “putter” isn’t recognized as an empowering verb. Most of us prefer to boast about how terribly busy we are, so puttering is rarely easy to pull off.

For those who practice on the sly — or following a doctor’s orders — puttering styles are varied and highly personal. Puttering can be the act of sorting through a box of college textbooks in the basement; tinkering under the hood of an old Chevy; or rearranging things on a shelf while you listen to jazz on public radio. In other words, puttering is a way of clarifying life’s myriad details, especially when it’s done with reverence for the objects at hand. It’s an opportunity to reconsider what we most enjoy in our homes, and to make a mental list of what we’d like to edit later.

If puttering still sounds like a chore you’ve postponed, it’s only because you haven’t found a method that cheers or relaxes you. One man’s notion of drudgery, after all, can be another’s idea of soul craft.

“I can’t explain it, but I enjoy doing dishes,” writes Thomas Moore, a former Catholic monk and author of the best-selling Care of the Soul. “I’ve had an automatic dishwasher in my home for over a year, and I have never used it. What appeals to me, I think, is the reverie induced by going through the ritual of washing, rinsing, and drying.”  Thomas Moore can come over to my house and wash dishes any time he visits Detroit (especially if his visit coincides with another power failure). Meanwhile, I’ll keep loading my dishwasher.

Still, there’s merit in savoring the ordinary tasks of daily living.

A lot of us spend our lives reaching for lofty goals, or at least trying to look productive 24/7. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if so many of us weren’t scratching our heads and feeling as if something’s missing — even after we’ve won all the trophies.

“My life has no purpose, no direction, no aim, no meaning, and yet I’m happy. I can’t figure it out. What am I doing right?” observed Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts.

Charlie Brown, after all, was pretty good at puttering.

–Top illustration: a painting by my husband, Douglas La Ferle.

Comments

11 Responses to “Permission to putter”

  1. Sharon on June 12th, 2013 10:21 am

    I love this post, Cindy. You have succinctly and accurately described how I have been getting my house in order, literally and metaphorically. I hope you continue to feel better with a steady dose of puttering:)

  2. Cindy La Ferle on June 12th, 2013 6:21 pm

    Thanks, Sharon! I got a chance to catch up with you through your own blog, and was glad I did — thanks for the uplifting message today!

  3. Lynne on June 13th, 2013 9:03 am

    Love this, Cindy. Puttering is soothing to the soul – and productive, too! Sending healing hugs!

  4. Cindy La Ferle on June 13th, 2013 5:16 pm

    Thanks so much, Lynne! Always great to hear from you too.

  5. Jane Kelley on June 13th, 2013 6:27 pm

    Great message. I hope you heal quickly.

  6. Cindy La Ferle on June 13th, 2013 6:29 pm

    Thank you, Jane!

  7. Sandra Joy on June 14th, 2013 8:21 am

    May you enjoy your pass to putter while your body mends. I have found I’m pretty good at puttering even without a pass, :)
    p.s. glad I found your link again! Miss you on FB but completely get it. I’m almost there myself.

  8. Cindy La Ferle on June 14th, 2013 9:00 am

    I miss you, Sandi! Hope to see you and Nancy this summer! Thanks for leaving a comment, and I’m glad to know you’re a fellow putterer!

  9. Karen on June 14th, 2013 10:48 am

    Cindy – love this! Love your writing, and I hope you feel better!

  10. Cindy La Ferle on June 14th, 2013 2:39 pm

    Thanks, Karen — happy to hear from you!

  11. Tina on June 19th, 2013 7:56 am

    I have spent quite a bit of time “puttering” lately…although I’ve been trying to tell people I’m “cleaning”! I move things and sort things and rarely get rid of things but it’s therapeutic all the same. “Care of the Soul” has been in my reading stack for (admittedly) years. It’s going to the top now. I hope you are mending Cindy. This was a wonderful piece to read right now.

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