Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Fine Art of Puttering Around

My Dad was a great putterer. My husband is pretty good at it too.  Me?  Not so much.  But I'm working on developing this skill.  Here is how Merriam Webster defines it:

To spend time in a relaxed way doing small jobs and other things that are not very important. 
There is an element of aimlessness in this activity.  That's probably why I've never been very good at it as I don't really do "aimless".  I'm a girl with a plan who likes to get things done. I'm a girl who likes to feel accomplished.  I'm a girl who has spent way too much of my life striving to stay busy. Now there are lots of people who are really busy these days. Of course there are the health care workers who are crushed. There are the teachers who are learning how to teach students remotely.  There are the parents who are working at home all the while trying to home school their children.  These folks are really busy.  But for many of us without the distractions of life and people and purpose, we are learning to putter around.
Here's what puttering looks like in my household.  I have a wonderful office that I love.  I look out the window at a beautiful Vermont landscape, complete with a gorgeous barn. I know.  Lucky, right?

I have lots of pictures and books and projects nearby.  I have a piano in the other room with stacks of music.  I have a ukelele that I have sworn to learn how to play.  I have a collection of percussion instruments from my days as a camp counselor and a music teacher.
I have a craft collection just waiting for me to jump into a project. Bead wind chimes anyone? Beaded handle salad servers? The supplies are there, I just need the will to actually do it.  I have stacks of books and plays just waiting to be read.  There are boxes of photos- a lifetime of photos of moments both precious and every day calling to be organized. The garden calls to me. The asparagus, strawberries, garlic, and raspberries are all doing their thing. I have big plans for a cutting garden this summer. 
Shockingly, it feels that some days I do none of these things.  The kitchen stays empty, the books unread, the photos in their storage box.
I need strategies to putter around?  Lose the to-do list.  Let go of the pressure and deadlines. Add music or not?  Is puttering better when there is smooth jazz or show tunes in the background? Is puttering better with a buddy?  I think not.  It's probably fine to putter alongside someone else but the point it to move slowly doing small jobs that are not important. The buddy system inevitably introduces the "honey do list".  Of course, the expectations from someone else about the things you should be doing aren't exactly in the spirit of puttering around. 
This will be a work in progress for sure. For the expert putterers out there- what are your pro tips? Sharing them will be a great gift to those of us who are GOING INSANE.
But for now, here's the vision I am holding onto.  One day soon It will be warm and sunny.  We'll be singing around the piano, creating fabulous garden art, talking about the wonderful books we have read, eating delicious tomatoes from the garden, scheming about our next theatrical adventure.  And we'll be doing it TOGETHER.  Dear God, I cannot wait.  Who's in? 


  1. I definitely am all in.... especially in your Thetord residence!!

  2. Perry, This is brilliant and so relatable. I confess, I have a sewing machine in one room, paints set up in the dining room, a stack of book and movies to watch but just cant seem to get to it. Keep these coming. I lost my first response- so here is take 2! Jane

  3. Puttering is how I clear my mind and I don’t have to think. It makes me feel I am getting stuff done (and I am, cue all the hair ties on various surfaces being gathered and put where they belong). It’s when I get in a mood to lift my spirits and better the space around me. I’ve never really been able to do it for creative projects. It’s kind of like when you get lost in an internet search (looking for X item, getting distanced by this other item, clicking onto a different link from there and twenty minutes later having to remind myself why I got on the internet in the first place) except that it’s around my house. My weeds get haphazardly weeded this way. I’m not sure it’s actually that productive. But I often end up with a better-looking space at the end of it.

  4. Nicely said, Perry! My puttering this past weekend included (finally) taking down our Christmas decorations (April 19th). . .we always delay taking these down because we like the extra light in the morning/evenings (on our fake tree), and with Covid-19 the delay came even later this year!

  5. Perry: thanks for the ruminations. I do believe I'm a self-appointed "master putterer". While puttering around last week, I dusted off a copy of Marie Condo's " The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up". And then, I spent several hours going through old photos, and ( gasp) throwing out the vast majority of them.I mean who wants to see a pic of me kissing a llama in Cusco , Peru in 1986?! Some of my most recent puttering includes going over the chess moves of grand masters; staring at a Ruffed Grouse who has taken up living quarters just outside my window; and singing wacky songs into your VM. I'll even go so far as to say that reading your Blog is a form of puttering around. Yes? No?

    1. sure why not? Those all sound like worthy puttering pursuits. :-)

  6. I love these thoughts and don't disagree about the definition. The reference to things that are not important is particularly problematic for me. But that's what Merriam Webster says so that's what I included. :-) Appreciate your pro tips for puttering around both in and outside.

  7. Hi Perry!! This post has stayed with me and I puttered excellently on Saturday after starting the day feeling pressure to “do stuff”. I have been thinking about puttering and talking about it and you’re on to something. I am going to continue to practice! It’s definitely a shift in thinking and a taking the foot off the gas. Miss you! ~ Graham

  8. I'm a putterer. With an intense and demanding job, my favorite way to unwind is to just do a little of this project, a little of that, and my absolute favorite weekends are the ones with no obligations or big things that NEED to get done. I can fill a weekend with a whole lotta nothing and feel very fulfilled in the end. I am not sure what the secret to success is, though. I mean, it is obviously important that the things you putter at are things that bring you joy or contentment: knitting, gardening, READING, certainly, but also I find non-goal-oriented random tidying or organizing can also be nice (and I am NOT a cleaner by any stretch of the imagination). It's okay to accomplish important things - it's the slow pace and no-pressure attitude that is key.