Pottering by Anna McGovern

Do you feel twinges of guilt when you take a lazy day? Do you spend hours on your phone or computer and come away feeling dissatisfied with how you’ve spent your time? Did you use to have hobbies or household chores you enjoyed, but you’ve fallen out of the habit? Do you love British culture, especially cozy British voices? If your answer is yes to any of these, you may want to pick up Pottering: A Cure For Modern Life by Anna McGovern.

This slim volume, published in 2020, is a treatise and how-to guide on “pottering” (what we in the U.S. would probably call “puttering”). It’s the ultimate restful activity: moving around your home or community in a leisurely way, doing little tasks as they occur to you, savoring the process and not rushing or trying very hard at all. In the gentle chapters, McGovern describes the various aspects of pottering, including “Make Do With What You’ve Got”, “Don’t Try Very Hard”, “Movement”, “Keep It Local”, and so on, with lots of recommendations on how to make pottering work for you, both in terms of practical actions and mindset. It’s about being content and going with the flow, savoring the experience of taking your time and doing things you enjoy or are interested in, if not for long stretches at a time necessarily. Moreover, she’s very specific that phone scrolling and other digital activities are NOT pottering, as they take your attention away from the present time and place and keep you sitting still instead of moving around. As a whole, it brings to mind words like “self-care” and “mindfulness”, but is very grounded in everyday life and the physical reality of the home. It’s taking a rest and being kind to yourself — two things I think we could all do more of in life.

It reads with a hint of irony, of course, coming out of a year of pandemic, quarantine, and isolation in the home, but I think it puts a positive light on it, considering the long road left ahead before restrictions are fully lifted. As quarantine and isolation and being at home get extra stale, it doesn’t hurt to remember that being at home and taking our time can be a restful, enjoyable experience, a break from rushing and worrying and being over-scheduled. Even in small bursts, taking a step back to potter around the house can help reorder your thoughts, get a few little chores done, and just generally let you take a breather. I think one way I’d alter the definition of “pottering” to encompass our pandemic lives is to emphasize the “keep it local” and “movement” chapters, where she talked about the power of getting outside for a little walk. And, of course, never underestimate the value of taking a little while to sit and stare into space or out a window, maybe with a cup of something (which McGovern also recommends, occasionally). Pausing to be present and to reset helps to go into whatever’s next with a fresh perspective, and to process whatever emotion is going on – and crises both personal and global bring up a lot of emotions.

Whether pottering works for you in a moment of pandemic or not, the spirit of pottering is always good to remember: unplug from the digital sometimes and be kind to yourself, not obsessing and stressing over how productive you’re being, but trying to go with the flow and enjoy the moment you’re in.

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