“Potato Chipping”

By , February 10, 2017

Like every family, we use certain phrases as shorthand for common behavior. For instance, we use “stone boat” to describe doggedly persisting in a futile effort (see The Stone Boat and Other Irrational Behavior). We refer to a similar, but perhaps more positive activity as “potato chipping.”

When a Zeiger potato chips, that means continuing on a project beyond the point of current necessity. It comes from the observation, made into a famous marketing slogan by a food company, that it’s very hard to eat just one potato chip. It’s a common human activity to keep doing something that feels good, tastes good, or provides fun on some level.

My most common potato chipping occurs in the wood pile. I like to chop wood, and I love chopping kindling. When the grain is straight and the rhythm is right, the tension/release of cutting kindling can provide hours of hypnotic pleasure (see The Firewood Supply: Cutting Kindling). I could go on for hours, or at least until the wood runs out.

Potato chipping can occur in many other homestead chores: sifting dirt, knitting, other wood cutting chores like sawing rounds, and much more. So many of our tasks require the sort of repetition that can be soothing, contemplative, and hypnotic to the point where they become hard to stop and break away from.

Luckily, most of these jobs, if persisted in—”potato chipped”—create surpluses that can be used in the future; we may get caught up in the task, but overdoing it generally produces positive results. I don’t think we’ve ever found ourselves with “too much” firewood, for instance.

Mostly, potato chipping ensures that the task is well and thoroughly done for the time being. If we allow ourselves to potato chip a project, we know it won’t need to be re-addressed for a bit. A potato chipped job is a completed (perhaps over-completed) job.

It helps to fall into potato chipping especially when faced with large and urgent projects, like canning foods. Giving in to the repetition and rhythm carries us through the whole process, sometimes beyond the point when others might call a halt in favor of something else.

Potato chipping might be less benign were we more restricted and structured in our time use. We enjoy much less restrictions on time than most Americans. We have the luxury to get over-involved in a job. True, sometimes potato chipping one task pushes others to the next day. If that happens, we generally start the next day by potato chipping no the next project! Just about the only time potato chipping becomes problematic is when it interferes with meal preparation and/or eating. None of us have starved to death yet.

2 Responses to ““Potato Chipping””

  1. angie says:

    In my house, it’s called “OCD with a purpose.”

    Next to my woodstove I keep a tinder bucket full of newspaper and “shred,” i.e., anything fine you can remove from a piece of split wood before stacking it. Shred is the in-between combustable, atop the crumpled paper and under the actual kindling, and a handful of it is the perfect re-starter when a fire’s nearly out. There’s a zen to taking each piece of wood before stacking it, and peeling off anything toothpick- to pencil-sized that will peel. Even when the bucket is starting to overflow it’s hard to stop.

    By the way, if there’s a better way to unwind after a bad day than splitting firewood, I haven’t found it.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Angie, we do the same sort of collecting, but we save that for the hot water heater. You’re right, though, splitting is extremely therapeutic.

    Almost too much so . . . . In high school, when my older brother had a rough day, he would go out to chop wood to work off his anger and frustration. I would have had an excellent day, so I’d curl up in a chair to read a book, or do something else that was fun. Before long, Mom would sidle up to me and say, “David’s out there chopping wood, why don’t you go haul it to the porch for him?” EVERY time, I’d try to explain to her that he was out there blowing off steam, and really didn’t want or need his little brother hanging around. Then, she’d make it clear that while it may have sounded like she was asking, she really wasn’t.

    Next thing I knew, I was trudging through the snowy or rainy yard to the wood pile, where Dave would whip around and bite my head off for intruding! You can surely imagine my variations on the theme of “Don’t blame me, Mom sent me! I’ve got better things to do!”

    It took me a while to get into chopping wood myself after that . . . .

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