I think puttering is grossly underrated.

Puttering is





Children spends years puttering. Exploring, tinkering, experimenting, finding out what works, what fits and what doesn’t, engrossed with no result in mind until the next thing comes along to tug their curiosity elsewhere, just bumping along through life…

Adults don’t seem to approach things that way. They usually have a goal in mind. They don’t putter much, but I think that perhaps they should putter more.

Puttering involves no commitment, just a smigen of interest. You can hover on the fringes and shuffle around out there for awhile before sidling into something with nothing but vagaries, foggy notions, and seeing where it leads you. And because you expect practically nothing, the results are rarely displeasing.

I think that there’s a quite a bit of puttering involved in teaching. You start with a little of this, a dose of that, a portion of this, and then see what sticks. It’s never exact and it’s never the same. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to come up with an iron-clad recipe for success. Certainly, intuition is a huge part of it; it’s not good to be strictly by the book when dealing with actual human beings, especially small ones. Somehow it seems to come out just right every time.

In retrospect, I think our whole house was decorated by puttering. There never was a goal, or vision. A thrift shop chair, and estate sale rug, an antique vase, a big mirror from a brownstone sale in the city. Just a little of this and a little of that thrown together over time.

It’s been that way with our garden, too. It started with a small parcel of grass and a donation of remnant bluestone from my sister’s place, and it just evolved from there, through the years. A rock wall over there, a trellis here, some hammock swings and few fruit trees to add something nice and attract more critters.

Puttering is deceiving in the most agreeable way possible. If there is something enormous to be done, puttering is the easiest way to think about it – if you want to think about it at all. There are those who don’t want to think about things of this magnitude, and that’s when this notion of easy proximity is perfect. It comes in handy because it is so non-threatening; it lets you come in sideways through the back door instead of head on.

When you putter, you just dabble on the fringes – that’s all. Just fish around and see what happens. Maybe you’ll start with one easy swipe, one stitch, one stroke, one shovelful, one bolt, one note, one push, and then suddenly there’s a chance and Whoosh! and –

to your great surprise – you may arrive at something that sounds like…

“Oh, my! I finished the room!”

“Holy Cow! I have a scarf!”

“Wow! I made a painting!”

“OMG. It’s a flower patch!”

“Well, whattaya know!? I got it started.”

“I played the whole song!”

“They passed!”

The next time you are daunted by a task – haunted by a task,

don’t don’t dive in head first,

and don’t think about what you wish to happen. Just loiter around the edges and poke one part, tinker one portion.

If the spirit moves, things might loosen and begin to flow and you might just slide your way through the whole darn thing despite you best efforts not to, and you will have done something really terrific.

But that was never the goal.


it never was.

Puttering is its own reward.

6 thoughts on “Puttering

  1. Puttering is grossly underrated!! I did a lot of puttering over the Easter break. In fact, I think I putter more than I think because sometimes I think I am going to get so much finished in a day, but get sidelined! Thank you for putting a word to it!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this! In a world full of prescribed and telegraphed outcomes (especially in education) we lose sight of the power of exploration and delving to enrich and enhance our growth and our experience. Your words are truly eloquent—and powerfully relevant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Paul. I am trying to putter more and it is very nice, I must admit. I hope that we adults can afford our children the same opportunity. It’s ironic that unstructured time has turned into a coveted luxury and it’s free and easy ! Go figure!


  3. A perfect post for today! I did a great deal of puttering with my grandson at the park today. He being two and half requested we plan follow the leader and he of course was the leader. A perfect way to putter. Follow a 2 year old. Thanks for this post.


  4. Love this – so true, “puttering is its own reward.” I think we do not do this so much as adults because of time constraints and obligations…we lose a lot of things that we need to regain. Puttering leads to such pleasant discoveries, as you illustrate so well! “Just loiter around the edges and poke one part, tinker one portion” – a sure recipe for problem-solving or creating, if one is just patient enough…


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