The Puttering Basket

The latest installment in an occasional series: how I unplugged over the weekend.

Wow. I haven’t been here for a month. And I kinda left everyone hanging in that last post about me and my unraveling sweater. What have I been up to? Well, knitting that new sweater. Which really means I’ve been doing lots and lots of thinking and planning and organizing about the coming year. And myohmy am I excited about what I’m cooking up (more to be revealed very soon).

My inspiration showed up in an urgent and compelling form. You know, when it’s almost like you aren’t choosing to work so hard to get it all down on paper, but that drive is coming from someplace else?

I’m deeply grateful for the inspiration, but making it real has been a lot of work – satisfying but exhausting (and apparently blogging-prohibitive) work. And by last Friday I was pooped. Pooped I tell you. I didn’t even bother to complete my what-do-I-need-to-finish-to-feel-good-about-this-week list. It felt better to just stop.

And I was so glad I gave myself permission to do so – then committed to doing absolutely nothing related to work for two whole days.

Basically, the past weekend was made up of lazy mornings and domestic chores and falling asleep watching movies like Young Frankenstein on TV. There’s nothing remarkable to report about it except the very experimental pear-grape crisp actually turned out to be pretty tasty – the grapes are like little plums. Oh, and we only had two trick-or-treaters, but they were the cutest little ninja and pirate you ever saw.

And what made it easier to not default to work-related tasks and keep my commitment was my growing Puttering Basket.

One of the trickiest things about unplugging is being so rusty at it. We are so much more practiced at doing our jobs. So, even when we give ourselves time to play and refill our professional wells, we don’t always know what to do with that time. And in the absence of something else compelling, we can find ourselves drifting back to work. Because it’s familiar and comfortable. Because this being-not-doing thing is awkward and weird. Which doesn’t make sense considering how much we crave it – which makes it that much more weird. Better just to go back to work where we know what we’re doing.

Except that’s hardly satisfying or sustainable.

So, in the spirit of creating a flotation device for myself that would support me in those awkward moments of not knowing what to do besides work, I made myself a Puttering Basket. Basically, my weekend rule is this: in a transitional moment when I’m not sure what I want to do next and I’m tempted to turn on the computer (which is off-limits), I have to go to the basket. I can do anything I like, so long as it’s in the basket. (Maybe that sounds confining and counter-intuitive, but having endless options is overwhelming and not helpful.)

So, obviously, it matters what’s in the basket. For the most part, it’s a toy box filled with fun stuff to do. So far, it holds:

  • magazines, crosswords, playing cards and coloring books
  • books to be read solely for pleasure and books for my soul
  • the latest knitting project (or other crafty goodness)
  • an iPod loaded with favorite music and podcasts (pairs nicely with the knitting), plus Leonie’s Dreaming Meditation in case a nap is what’s called for
  • cards and stationery for sending notes to people I love
  • blank paper for capturing random ideas

And here’s the most important thing I’ve learned: the puttering basket has to be stocked before the weekend. You can’t go looking for this stuff in that awkward moment of transition. You’ll just end up at your computer working. Or watching Very Bad TV. Trust me. You’re rusty, remember?

So part of my Friday closing-the-week ritual is stocking my Puttering Basket with all the fun little things I didn’t have time for during the week. The stuff I want to do, but never seem to get to.

In the end, my Puttering Basket is a good example of two of the basic organizing principles I live by:

  • everything is easier if you start with a container
  • everything needs two containers: storage + space on your calendar

Many of the fun little things that allow me to relax and refill my well now have a place to belong – in the basket and in my weekend. Which makes them much, much more likely to happen – and happen with ease.

What would you put in your Puttering Basket?

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4 Responses to “The Puttering Basket”


  1. 1 Liz November 3, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Love the puttering basket idea. It reminds me of the backpack full of amusements, diversions and snacks that is essential for travelling with a child. Oddly enough, your basket contains pretty much the same things I take with me when I travel: a book or three, my knitting project, some blank paper and colored pens and an ipod. In fact, one of my favorite things about travel is that enforced down-time.

    • 2 Cairene November 10, 2009 at 2:41 pm

      @Liz –
      doh! Of course, the Puttering Basket is like the Vacation Bag! In the class I taught last summer about taking back our weekends, one of the things we talked about was preparing for your weekend as you would a vacation – so this makes perfect sense! And gives me even more clues about what to include. Thank you! -C

  2. 3 Pauline Esson November 9, 2009 at 6:43 am

    Oh what a great idea and a great name too….puttering basket, it sounds so puttery and fun.
    And the lack of choice being a helpful thing, that really works. And it needing to be stocked up before puttering time…many a person’s puttering time you’ve saved there I think with that important point. Mmmmmm hmmmmmmw

    I’m going to have bits of fabric, including cut up old clothes and jumpers for making things. Cards, maybe a collage for the wall.
    And books for pleasure, fiction…oh heaven.


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