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.