The gentle act of pottering can give the mental break we crave – Sydney Morning Herald

Posted: February 3, 2021 at 10:52 pm

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Six years ago, Anna McGovern was struggling. The mother of three was burning the candle at both ends, working full time as a digital producer while dealing with the grief of losing her father.

Anna needed things to be different. While she would have loved to pack her bags and travel, family commitments saw her unable to leave. Instead, she decided to take one day a week off work, during which she listened to the radio, flicked through magazines and slowly worked her way through minor DIY projects.

Anna soon realised how nourished she felt by this. In other words, she discovered the joys of pottering. She fell so head over heels with the practice that she wrote a book about it, Pottering: A Cure for Modern Life.

When our brains are busy, we stay in a stress response which leads to exhaustion and burnout and stifles creativity.Credit:Stocksy

Pottering was any kind of gentle activity that could be in the home, could be outside the home without a definite plan or purpose where you meander from one thing to another.

There are other key characteristics. It has to be something you enjoy. If hanging out washing is your cup of tea, go for it. But if doing laundry does nothing for you, its not pottering. Pottering also cant be done while youre on a phone or computer, Anna says. You cant frantically dash from one task to the next, either. Instead, it involves light, calm movement.

Another core part is with making do with what youve got. So if you fancy a snack, you should scrounge around to see what you have in your cupboard rather than bolt out to grab gourmet ingredients.


Despite these fundamentals, Annas quick to note that there are no hard and fast rules to pottering, meaning you cant do it the wrong or right way. And because no one can judge, she says, theres absolutely no pressure on you to get it right.

But while you cant fail or succeed at pottering, embracing the act can help you flourish says psychologist Lana Hall from Brisbane therapists Sage & Sound. She believes the practice gives our brains a break, allowing us to process and integrate our experiences in a way we cant when were on the go.

When our brains are busy, Hall says, we stay in a stress response which leads to exhaustion and burnout and stifles creativity.


Moments of inspiration tend to happen when our bodies are busy but our minds are not, she explains. Because pottering is ever so slightly useful, Anna says you never have to feel guilty about doing it. Hall agrees that you should feel good about prioritising this kind of gentle activity. Unless, that is, when youre doing it to avoid a task youre meant to be engaged in. Thats procrastinating, not pottering, Anna notes.

If you dont have whole days to dedicate to the practice, dont stress. Anna says that spending even a few minutes micro-pottering can offer you a moments peace.

After six months of taking one day a week off work to potter, Anna was ready to throw herself in to the task of hunting for a new job. She landed a wonderful position soon after and credits pottering with helping her achieve that goal.

That doesnt mean pottering will change your life, Anna notes. Instead, she says it was her way of recharging, one that allowed her the chance to also cultivate a more positive mind frame. My whole attitude shifted because Id been able to have a rest.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale January 31. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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The gentle act of pottering can give the mental break we crave - Sydney Morning Herald

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February 3rd, 2021 at 10:52 pm

Posted in Mental Attitude