Wednesday, September 8, 2021


“The Dirty Sock Syndrome”

(I’ll get back to the title shortly.  Bear with me.)

Every now and again I’ll say “I have just got to tidy up my work area.” to which my wife usually responds with bit of a snort and “You spend as much time tidying up in there as you do working in there.”  Not quite true but close enough to be worthy of a snort.

I try to put tools and materials back where they belong as soon as I’m done with them (even for a minute) but I am not by nature a neat and orderly person.  As a consequence the cruft tends to build up – especially when I’m in the middle of, say, mounting and matting prints – until there isn’t enough vacant space on the work surface to put anything else down.  I guess the price of tidiness is eternal vigilance.  But that’s a short-term issue.

A longer-term issue is that of the dirty sock syndrome.  I read of it in (of all the unlikely places) a chapter on building maintenance in an excellent book on church governance*.  In it the author says that if you see a dirty sock on your bedroom floor you pick it up, put it in the laundry basket and forget about it.  Come laundry day it gets clean, you put it in a drawer and all is well.  If you don’t pick it up – leave it there for, say, three days, it becomes part of the d├ęcor and you stop seeing it.  It will stay there until your spouse (or whomever) picks it up.  Exasperated parents will instantly recognize this phenomenon in occasional visits to their child’s bedroom.  This, not seeing what is obvious to a stranger, is a longer-term issue.  Once in a while I have to spend some time picking up the dirty socks in my work area.  Looking around me as a write I see about eight – starting with an ink bottle containing maybe 2 ccs of ink standing proudly beside a full one and a small kitchen timer that stopped working even after I put a new battery in it.  I have no idea how long they’ve been there but now that I’ve noticed them they are gone.

Art on a wall works the same way.  After it’s been up for a while (a lot longer than three days) we stop seeing it.  Galleries and museums change their shows – why not our homes?  Chances are good that if you are reading this you have more artwork than wall space.  (If not, support your local artists, buy reproductions from museum shops, frame your own pieces.)

When we moved to our current house three years ago one of my smarter ideas was to put hanging rails on a lot of the walls, making it easy to change our “show”.  I walk past it 20 times a day and as soon as I don’t occasionally stop to smile and say to myself “George Tice certainly makes beautiful prints!” it’s time to change the show – roughly three months.  Only a few of our particular favorite pieces are on “permanent display” but even they move from place to place so they will stay fresh.  

The hanging rails are really helpful but it isn't that big a deal to add or subtract a few picture hooks.  With a bit of forethought the new piece will hide the pinhole left by the former hook.  In our previous house I kept a small jar of filler and another of touch-up paint at the ready.


* “Moving on from Church Folly Lane”, Robert Latham, Wheatmark Press 2006