Just What Your Mother Always Told You To Do

When you're growing up your mother was probably a lot like mine, always emitting lots of rules and advice. From sage like words like "Son, never buy a woman a vacuum cleaner for her birthday." to the other end of the spectrum like, "If you don't stop playing with your belly button it's going to untie and your going to deflate." One of my mother's phrases, repeated over and over in a million different voices, was "Clean Your Room!"

I admit I was never very good at it as a kid, or as a young adult, and I definitely have my moments these days as well, but one place I try very hard to do a good job with is my shop. I really like a clean shop, with tools put in their places and the bench top and floor swept clean. I'm not sure if I'm in the minority on this, I don't think I necessarily am. It seems like an individual thing to me, clean shop vs. messy shop - the same as clean desk vs messy desk.

Now I'm not a saint or a martyr for cleanliness. I chew sunflower seeds while I'm working and I spit the shells on the floor, small offcuts fall on the floor and get kicked under the bench, hand plane shavings pile up on the floor on to get stomped flat under my size elevens (My ten year old admitted to me today that the crunching sounds shavings on the floor make as she steps on them is one of her favorite things about my shop). I'm not OCD about the place. But I do like to stop occasionally and give the place a once over. Usually between projects, but sometimes on longer hauls, I take a break in the middle to kind of reorganize and reload. Usually it helps the mind as much as the shop.

I find cleaning up the shop to be that little bit of Zen the soul needs from time to time. It helps me to reorganize my thoughts, to refocus my efforts, and to recharge my batteries a little. If I'm working on something that is frustrating me, or if I'm bringing some frustration from the outside world with me into the shop, I take fifteen minutes and do some clean up, usually by the time I'm done, I've readjusted my attitude and maybe rethought my plan of attack, and now I'm ready to work.

Still battling with some computer issues, earlier today I considered selling the thing, giving up the blog, Facebook, the twitter, the lumberjocks forum, and everything else I do on the computer everyday. Some simple time in the shop and those feelings have passed. There is a line from a very good movie "Bruce Almighty" that I do think of from time to time, and though I don't remember the exact line word for word, I remember the sentiment. God and Bruce spend a while mopping a floor, and when they're done Bruce feels better, and Morgan Freeman . . . I mean God, says to Bruce "Don't discount the power of physical labor, some of the happiest people in the world go home stinking to high heaven."

There is a part of the human mind and body that is still primal and ancient. Those memories of the past are still there inside us, maybe woven into our genetics, but when we have a chance to return to something simple and natural, like a little work involving some sweat, I find it helps right the balance in my life when I've reached too far off kilter. You can call it Zen, a sense of perspective, or just a good feeling, the point is, it's good. It's very good.




  1. I agree 100%, I find the same kind of balance in the sharpening process. Funny you should mention it because I was thinking about it as I was finishing writing this post, but I didn't want it to be the length of a novella just to drop a quick thought. I'm sure bringing up sharpening would have sent my keyboard off on another tangent and then who knows where it would have ended up. :)


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