Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Habits 2

My shop is very tiny. I'm always bumping into things whenever I turn around and having to move this to get at that. But I don't really mind. Rather, I sort of relish the challenge of working in such a small realm. It feels a bit like I imagine a sailboat to be: It's a lot of living in a tightly confined space, but oh, what an elegant space.

The shop is probably the only place in my life where I am truly organized, and it is by necessity. There simply isn't any room for chaos. Chaos, in fact, is not only frustrating, it is dangerous when power tools are involved When I am in the shop, I try to move deliberately, and that won't work if things are disorganized. So over the years I've developed some habits to help me keep things squared away. Here are three that I've found particularly useful:

1) Each day I go into the shop to work, I spend the first few minutes cleaning up. I sweep the floors and tables, and put anything away left out from a previous work session (or from the general devolution that always seems to occur when I've been absent from the shop for long periods of time). Aside from the organizational benefits, I think of this time as a meditative warm-up to the day.

2) I put things away as I go along. Constantly. Sometimes it means I put a block plane back in its cubbyhole only to get it out again a few minutes later--and I do it over and over throughout the day. No matter. I know where it is at that moment I need it. Even so, it never fails that the second law of thermodynamics eventually kicks in and order starts to dissolve when a project is under way. Soon enough, the block plane doesn't get put away, the tape measure has walked off to the other side of the room, and my pencil is not to be found, even though I just had it in my hand. So about once every two hours, I stop working and put everything back in its respective place. Instead of being an interruption, it makes for a refreshing break in the action.

3) Finally, I do one thing each session to improve something about the shop. It might be as big and involved as making a jig for the table saw, or as small as cleaning the windows. The important thing is to keep myself in a maintenence frame of mind. Beside the obvious benefit of not getting so far behind in my chores that I never want to work on them, this daily maintenance is a form of giving back to the shop, which over the years has given so much to me. Today it was cleaning and re-sharpening a scratch awl:

In a disorderly world, this routine settles me.


  1. I find that the mundane task like cleaning up helps me to focus on the project at hand.
    My biggest problem is like when I start looking for my reading glasses only to find them pushed up on my forehead and this pointed out to me by my wife and hour later.

  2. You are an inspiration! I too love to sweep and see it as a good way to begin a new project. A meditation. I wish I could be more like you!!! It is too late for me! But I will chip away at the chaos bit by bit. ;>)

  3. When my world is crazy, I clean out drawers so I completely understand. I like the idea of it being a sailboat. I've always loved their sleek design and ability to put so much into such a small space.~~Dee

  4. Susan, As I was reading, I began wondering if it was possible for me, who is a right brained, easily distracted by shining things kind of person to try your techniques~We'll see... gail ps word verification~shines!

  5. David--That has never happened to me. ;-)

    Carol--It's never too late, Carol.

    Dee--I have some messy drawers down here, Dee, if you ever need a *real* stress buster. And I have thought of my shop as a sailboat for a long time. In fact, that's part of my book...

    Gail--I am both right brained and easily distractible, so yes, I do think it is possible. Start small.

  6. Fantastic post! I really needed this good talking to. Now I am motivated to go into my "studio" right here in the house and clean up the mess I left after my last session in there. I must confess I walked out of that room, closed the door firmly two days ago and have not ventured back in. I know what awaits me and it isn't pretty. Today it will get cleaned up. After all, it is impossible to even continue to work on my current project without first getting reorganized.

    Thank you, Susan for a most appropriate post at just the right time. :D



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.