One Patch of Earth at a Time

Chad and I have one-third of an acre of land around our little house. When we moved in, it was one-third of an acre of wilderness and overgrowth, but we’ve made some major improvements and subdued some of the craziness. It’s still very much a work in progress– large chunk of our property is wooded, but much of that area is covered in pachysandra or over ground covers. So we’re slowly, but surely taking out the invasive plants and making room for other plants.

Last summer, we were able to tackle the front yard and get it under control, along with a small side section in the back. Chad planted new grass to fill in sparse areas and we began our second garden terrace in the main part of the backyard. This summer, we’re hoping to tackle the area around where we keep our firewood and a small flower bed near our front steps. We have such grand plans, we want to finish all these things quickly, but it’s a slow, step by step, this-section-this-year-that-section-next-year process. 

The thing about the area behind the firewood rack is that it’s deceivingly big. When I picture it in my head, it doesn’t seem so bad at all, and then I go outside and it’s four times the size I thought it was. I’m already easily bored and discouraged by yard work, so this doesn’t help.

I went outside recently to do some weeding and raking in that area. I decided to work until I filled two brown lawn bags with weeds and debris and leaves. Two bags. I can do that, I said to myself.

But then I got out there and looked at this giant area and thought, where do I even begin?  One small patch of earth at a time. I started in one corner and slowly, but deliberately started clearing.

I have trouble with big projects because they can immediately overwhelm me. It happens at work, with craft or sewing projects, with cleaning, with exercising. If the task seems too big, I am instantly paralyzed and have to step back to catch my breath. And then I have to break it down into a smaller, more manageable piece.

One small patch of earth: this square foot, this section next to the steps, this area up to that rock. After I finish a little section, I often step back and look at the progress, thinking, it must look so different! Sometimes it does, but sometimes it doesn’t because it’s just one small patch of earth amidst an overgrown thicket. Sometimes I’m proud of the progress and feel motivated to keep going, but sometimes it looks like I barely touched anything and I have trouble continuing, because why bother?

This particular day, I felt a lot of why bother? But I told myself to fill two lawn bags, so I kept going. At least three times I thought, I’m done. Then I would step back and see another foot of space in one of my two bags and another patch of earth that I could clear. And I’d get back to it. I was only outside weeding and raking for maybe an hour and a half when I finished my two bags. By then, it finally did feel like progress. My small patches of earth added up to a pretty decent sized patch of earth. And I could actually see the earth— no weeds or ground cover or mean, thorny plants blocking my view of the rich, dark soil. 

What I’ve learned is that I really have to break all things down into “small patches of earth” and take them one at a time. I’m inclined to want to start and finish all my projects– work, crafting, writing, cleaning, everything– all in one fell swoop. I don’t want to wait for the slow progress, and that makes me put things off until I can devote enough time to finish something. But I get a whole lot more done when I break it up and do it piece by piece, even when the time between pieces is longer than expected. It keeps me motivated.

That’s one of the ideas behind our new routine: a half hour of cleaning per night, a half hour of exercise per night, a half hour or writing per night. We might not get everything cleaned, or write a whole blog post, or feel the same accomplishment as running four miles, but those half hours matter. And we get a whole lot more done in that half hour than we would if we put off cleaning the bedroom until a day when we could find the time to clean the entire bedroom.

So I’m going to keep clearing one patch of earth at a time and by the end of the summer, we’ll have the entire area behind the firewood all cleared and mulched and replanted.  And next summer, I’ll find a new patch to clear.

4 thoughts on “One Patch of Earth at a Time

  1. I find that I’m inclined to be all or nothing as well. I don’t get much done that way. As we’ve settled into the house, I’ve had to rehearse my priorities and tackle them one small project at a time, frequently stopping to feed or change Willow and learning that sometimes if it doesn’t get done in my time frame that it is okay, something more pressing came up. Tackling chores in 1/2 hour segments also means you have more quality time with friends and family because you finished the amount you could in your time frame so people come first rather than the chore. 🙂


    1. It is nice to have a set time frame that is small enough to be easily achieved, but long enough to get some things done. We’re still working at it, but it’s going pretty well so far! And you’re right, it keeps life a little more flexible because you’re not committed to getting things done, but rather committed to a small task and then you can move on to being with others or tackling a project you’ve been putting off, or whatever!


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