Copious amounts of “alone time”

bathroom reading

I really do read while brushing my teeth

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I spend at least twice as much time puttering as I do writing.

“Puttering,” as I define it, equals any non-hurried doing of any non-mission-critical activity. Tearing out serious articles in magazines to send to friends is puttering; reading them is not. (Unless you are reading just a snatch of something while brushing your teeth.)

Inserting photos in frames is puttering. Dusting them can be, too, I suppose, but by the time I get to dusting, it’s moved beyond mission-critical to “necessary for avoiding health setbacks.”

Cooking a little, but even more, rooting through your supplies to see what might be made. Labeling your file folders or your electronic cables. Sifting through a jewelry drawer or a box of DVDs to see what might be dispensed with. All of these are wonderful ways to putter.

Puttering is a way to burn off anxiety, to refuel creatively while still being just the tiniest bit creative. It is helpful if movement is involved, rearranging things is a favorite puttering activity, but not strictly necessary. All that is truly necessary is to create the environment one wants (quiet, soft music, singalong music; fans, breezes, incense) and solitude. Puttering alongside of someone else is possible, but it takes a very special someone. Mostly, puttering needs to happen alone.

It took a long, long time for me to realize how much alone time I need, or perhaps to give in to it. Since I have, I mostly wonder whether it will always be like this, or whether those needs will change. Whether I could change them myself, by becoming more productive, perhaps, and more structured in my doings, or by adding in meditation or upping my more aggressive physical activity.

For now, though, puttering it is. And copious amounts of alone time in which to do it.



  1. I CRAVE alone time. Quiet time. Though with three children and a chatty husband, it eludes me.
    And puttering is one of my all-time favorite things to do. Writing – actually put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard – is only a part of the process, which begins with quiet, puttering, meandering…

    1. Writing – actually put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard – is only a part of the process, which begins with quiet, puttering, meandering…

      SO true. Most of writing doesn’t look much like writing. Which is probably why there aren’t a lot of movies showing writers really doing their work. Much more dramatic to show how they destroy their abilities to do their work. :-)

  2. Funny that you read while brushing your teeth. I can’t imagine doing that. I cherish quiet, alone time, when all I hear is the refrigerator hum (even that is too loud). The internet is one of my major puttering arenas. And puttering alone is best, when the only conversation I have to keep going is the one inside my head.

    1. I don’t always, but I’ve found it keeps me brushing my teeth longer, which is a huge side benefit. (I have sort of problematic teeth and gums.)

      For most people, I’d say “use the tooth-brushing as a meditation.” But since both tooth-brushing and meditation are fraught for me, that doesn’t work. Yet.

      RE: the fridge, I swear, this brand-new fridge I got STILL makes too much noise for my taste. At least it doesn’t make it nonstop, like the old one did.

  3. There is never enough time alone…it is an addiction. My BEST experience with wallowing in time to myslef (in which to putter) was during our time in Ukraine (Peace Corps). I delighted in having whole days in a row in my little one room flat, sans Internet and any other diversions. I puttered and wrote and thoroughly enjoyed the isolation that was compounded by culture, language, proximity, etc. I have never been happier than I was during that 27 months on the eastermost tip of Crimea when I cold savor my days alone, but never lonely. (I re-read all the Russian authors during those years too!)
    In Sunny SC

    1. I *love* your stories, Ginn. Especially about your pilgrim’s walk in Spain. What a wonderful adventure, and kudos to you for living it full out, your way.

      You’ve had many, many interesting adventures, it seems, and much farther from home than I. Which I’m fine with—I have plenty to keep me busy with my interior journey right here. But someday, a long walk like that sounds interesting!

      1. Thank you for the kind words and warm response. These days I am happily-ever-aftering a bit – building a cozy nest with my spouse and living a simple life. (Nothing is ever simple!) I am striving to walk a writing path too…one word at a time…

        Oh – I also read while I brush my teeth! 8-)

        In Steamy SC

  4. I’ve coveted my alone time (of which I also require copious amounts) since I left college. The last few years have increased rather than decreased the amount I need, which is odd because I figured being alone more would lead to craving social interaction (not so). I do my everything in that alone time. I write, I collage, I read, I meditate, I cook, I care for myself. And it’s only if I get those things that I can connect with other people. Selfish? Maybe.

    1. There are waves to all of this, of course: times when you want/need more or less. But it’s good to have a sense of your baseline needs, just like knowing when you need food (for me, it’s every three or four hours, depending on how much of that food was carbs and how much fat/protein).

      I do not think it’s selfish to take care of yourself first. If we don’t, how can we bring our gifts fully to bear? And isn’t that what we’re here for?

      Of course, this assumes one has one’s head on straight and one’s heart in the right place. But I don’t think we need worry about that where you’re concerned. The things you choose to do with your puttering time speak to that.

  5. Lovely post on puttering. I’ve always kind of felt guilty for my time doing “non-productive” things, but somehow I think you’re right….it does help fuel some kind of creativity and refreshes the brain to tackle the next big thing. Thank you for the reminder.

    1. There’s a line where the puttering can cross over into destructive or really unproductive territory. The internet is not always your friend.

      But with physical puttering, I find that after a while, I’m naturally sated and ready to make something again, or put my brain in the harness again.

      The one thing I still need help with is naturally folding in physical activity. I mean *rigorous* physical activity. Even a walk can seem like too much on some days. Sundays, usually. What is UP with that? (I know, but it’s another post for another day.)

  6. Love the putter. And with baby learning how to nap, sometimes the most I can get in is a little putter here or there. It makes me feel like I’m getting something accomplished, no matter how small. Thanks for putting the putter into words.

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