Puttering about is one of my favourite activities, one of the few things in my life I elevated to an art form. I first fell in love with the British word, “potter”, lovelier than its American counterpart which also carries a golfing connotation, golf being a sport I imagine as exciting as the proverbial drying paint.

Potter or putter both convey the idea of small movements, performed in random sequence, with not much purpose. One can imagine a small, elderly lady puttering about or me, on a day off work in which I purposefully do not schedule any activity. The dictionary definition of putter is to “busy or occupy oneself in a leisurely, casual or ineffective manner” and it’s the ineffectual part I am mostly enamored of.

There is an important difference between doing nothing, which implies laziness and an absolute lack of purpose, and doing something ineffectually. With the latter, I am still engaging my brain or my hands at leisure, completely unattached to the outcome. Hence the making of scrubbing salts today, done by mixing some old body oil and some Epsom salt and packaging them in a pretty jar never to be used again because the scrubbing lotion, in its  plastic tube, in the shower is 100% times more convenient.

Rain definitely inspires puttering. It pushes me to sit at the breakfast table longer than necessary, to let the dishes pile up while I invent meaningless activities that can range from leafing through a magazine that has been sitting on the coffee table for weeks to playing with Ottie on the (still un-vacuumed) floor or musing on what exercise routine to try to enforce today. The point being that maybe I will work out or maybe not, without slipping into my usual marching pattern, dictated by to do lists.

Puttering abhors lists and clocks. Brownies might be started and then forgotten in the oven until the chocolate aroma spreading through the house jolts me from stupor. Vacuuming can be started and then abandoned for an unrelated activity, manicuring for instance. Showering gets postponed to the last available moment or skipped altogether.

Puttering is also strictly done alone to better let random thoughts alight where they may, without having to engage in conversation or being forced to think about what some other human being is putting forward. Long discourses with the dog are allowed as dogs are the best companions in practicing the art of being leisurely or casual.

Old movies on tv, preferably in black and white and of a romantic nature, are a welcome break from puttering.


If there is no list to check, there is no possibility of ending the day feeling overwhelmed or under productive – you were starting from zero anyway. It’s a way of resetting the clock, to call for time-out without resorting to items that are sometimes put on the list just for that purpose (working out, meditating, yoga). I love being able to answer the question “ What did you do on Sunday?” “Oh, I just pottered around..” no other explanation needed.



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