If your experience is anything like mine, the first few months of 2022 have been on a completely different level of busyness to the previous two years. Apart from still needing to wear the (dreaded) face mask in indoor public places, life has pretty much got back to normal. And then some. Even our recent local road trip holiday, although wonderful, felt a tad too busy.
In the past couple of weeks, though, I have been at home more than usual. It has been so good to slow down and just potter around the house without feeling rushed. This got me thinking about what ‘pottering’ is, why it is so enjoyable, and its benefits to our well-being and life in general.
What is pottering?
Pottering can be defined as ‘the leisurely carrying out of small tasks or activities without pressure’. I am defining it as a home-based activity, although one could also potter around the shops (i.e. leisurely browsing with no strict agenda or time). The emphasis is on taking one’s time, without the pressure of a to-do list.
Pottering is an enjoyable, relaxed and unhurried activity. It is not so much about what you are doing, as how you are doing it, and how it makes you feel.
Pottering activities can range from gardening, doing minor chores, DIY projects, creative activities or even researching your family history. There does seem to be more benefit if it involves movement, but even mental pottering is beneficial (e.g. reading up on topics of interest on the internet in a meandering and unrushed way). Pottering also tends to be a solitary activity where we are doing something, rather than talking and engaging with other people.
On a recent pottering day, I sorted the recycling, cut back my fading orchids, watered the pot plants, and went through my clothes, taking out some items that I no longer wear to donate to charity. For each of us pottering will take a different shape.
So why does pottering feel so good?
Pottering allows our minds to rest and recharge. Often pottering activities don’t involve complicated thinking or decision-making, allowing our minds to wander. During these times, our subconscious minds are given time to process what we have experienced during the busy week. In the process we may even resolve something that’s been troubling us, or come up with some new creative ideas.
Focusing on one thing at a time is good for our brains. Although we live in a multi-tasking age, it has been proved that our mind can only focus on one thing at time. Jumping from one thing to another tires our minds out. Single-minded focus can centre and settle us. We can even feel like we ‘go into another world’ for a while.
Slowing down but still being physically active is a good thing. When we are tired, we can be tempted to collapse on the couch and mindlessly watch a movie or scroll through our favourite social app. Although our body is stationery, our minds are not really resting. Gentle movement, especially if you’ve been sitting at a desk all week, is so much better than a stationery form of relaxing.
Movement generates more movement. Although pottering is not rushed, it can generate a kind of gentle momentum, so that we move quite easily from one small task to another.
We accomplish things without even realising it. Pottering is the least stressful way of getting things done. Since you have no agenda, there is no pressure. But nonetheless, we can still derive pleasure from getting some things done around the house that may have been neglected (if your pottering involves small chores).
Give pottering a try!
If you haven’t yet discovered the joys of pottering, why not give it a try? Set aside a morning or even the whole day if you can, and enjoy the experience.
[If you’d like to explore the topic of pottering further, Anna McGovern has written a book on the topic, Pottering: A Cure for Modern Life.]