Periodic Maintenance

I’m planning to update this blog space more regularly, probably on Sunday evenings. I feel like I have fragments of writing and ideas floating around, and need to get them organized on “on paper.”   While this blog started out focused on lessons learned while in my wood shop, I can’t help but reflect on other learning/education issues as they arise.

A friend of mine just wrote a “why blog at all” post, and I realized blogging is an odd hybrid of personal journaling and public journalism. Most of what I write is stream-of-consciousness with very little editing. It’s not intended primarily for public consumption, but I’m glad interested others may be looking over my shoulder, too. On the other hand, the deeply personal stuff remains, well, deeply personal and private.

Onward to today’s topic.  This may be in the realm of “personal/embarrassing”. I’ve known for some time that I struggle with what I’ll call “periodic maintenance.”  House cleaning is a good example – I finally gave up a couple of years ago and hired cleaners to come in once a month, knowing that’s about how long it takes for me to lose yet another battle against domestic decay.  (I do manage to shower and brush my teeth regularly, though.)  And regular functions triggered by pain/pleasure responses (like eating and exercise) are no problem.

I tend to have problems with those aspects of life that are, for lack of better words, entropic – situations that naturally decay into a state of disorder.  Dust accumulates on surfaces.  Dirty dishes pile up.  The milk runs out and needs replenishing. What I noticed this weekend was a feeling of – hmmm – grumpiness? irritation? at going grocery shopping.  I mean, come on, my ancestors 10 or 20 thousand years ago spent their day hunting and gathering food, not being sure where their next meal was coming from.  I’m complaining about having to stop by a grocery store for milk and eggs, AGAIN, as if I should only have to buy these once and be set for life.  It’s amusing how the mind works when we stop to catch those little whispers and voices that run around like unsupervised children.

Plants. I haven’t ever kept plants around my house (at least none that I was personally responsible for). Even the simple act of periodic watering and paying attention to their growth is a… distraction?  Not sure. I remember helping my ex wife weed her garden many years ago, feeling good about the progress we’d made, and then being chagrined to discover that after a week or two, we needed to weed all over again. Again, that indignant feeling, like there was something fundamentally unfair about a universe that watches me spend an afternoon pulling weeds and then puts them right back into the garden again.

Animals. Again, when partnered I kept a couple of dogs. Now here I didn’t mind the routine maintenance; in fact I enjoyed it.  I liked the ritual of the morning feeding followed by a walk, even in the pouring rain. Trimming their nails was my particular job. Now that I’m living alone, though, I balk at taking on a dog, even though I love canine companionship (strictly speaking, that’s not a periodic maintenance issue – I’m worried about leaving an animal home alone for a long day).

Cleaning. I’m happy to report that after hearing a thousand times “a place for everything, and everything in its place,” I had a breakthrough this weekend in terms of cleaning clutter.  My problem had been that I didn’t have designated spaces/places for specific things.  I’d pick up something – a guitar tuner on the table – and think “where to put it?” Does it go in a guitar case? On a shelf? Remain on the table? Because it had no natural “home,” it tended to stay wherever I put it last.  Which leads in short order to a very cluttered coffee table.  This weekend I had the micro-enlightenment that a designated place for everything reduces the cognitive load of cleaning clutter. I no longer have to figure out where to put the tuner, the unopened mail, the extra keys, etc., and then move them.  If I designate a “home” for everything, all I have to do is bring the object home. That’s so much easier!  Let’s hope it’s a lasting change. I’m particularly looking forward to de-cluttering my wood shop bench (currently littered with tools and parts from 3 or 4 on-going projects).

Children. I’m guessing that people with children would be shaking their heads at reading this, as young children are all about creating disorder. 😉  I wonder how much this aversion to accelerated disorder has played into decisions to not have children?  It’s certainly a part. I recall commenting to a friend (after watching other people’s children run amok at a party) that I don’t do well with chaotic distractions. She gently suggested that if I viewed children as “chaotic distractions” then perhaps I was making a good decision to not have my own.

So this week I’m going to focus on becoming aware of the periodic maintenance opportunities in my life, and in particular listen for those whispers of old voices that have opinions about such tasks. Somewhere, deep down, I still have a block or an unhelpful attitude around maintenance, and I’d like to discover more about where that’s coming from.

Meanwhile, in the wood shop… two bowls are in progress, both gifts.  I’m still managing to make minor mistakes, and worse, REPEAT minor mistakes, but fortunately I haven’t had any “do-overs” yet.  I’m not sure what will come next – I’m attracted to continuing with more turning projects, perhaps designing a segmented vase next.  I’m also looking forward to trying my hand at “double-cross” pens. We’ll see.


2 thoughts on “Periodic Maintenance

  1. Hi Larry, oh you speak (write) my mind. I am struggling
    with this myself, no wonder, just after the turn of the year (every
    year, urgh). Great that you can micro-organize – I however find,
    that I have used up most of the space I want to use up, and that
    the thing to do would be to let go of some stuff. Nooo. I think the
    truly hard thing about cleaning is (as your solution points out)
    the huge number of decisions one has to do in such a short time.
    Every time you pick something up you have to decide again. And
    again. Maybe we could design an experiment of how many decisions we
    can make in lets say 15 minutes without getting an overload… Then
    we can figure out how to increase this number 🙂 Well, my
    real-world solution comes about in 1.75 years. I bought a flat
    (they are just doing the foundations), and there is a nice 12m²
    cellar coming with it. And more walls with bookcases 🙂 Cheers,


  2. Having a place for everything–so true that that helps with organization! I can’t seem to crack this nut with my desk, but with everything else in our house, we do pretty well. This is why moving is so hard–because it forces you to make decisions about where things should be, and what we really need.
    Good luck this week, and I look forward to a kindred spirit in the post-once-a-week effort!


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