The Joy of Puzzles

[read time: 5 minutes]

This is the second instalment in a series called “The Joy Of…”, where I reflect on various mindful, meditative activities, and how engaging in these projects/ hobbies can help you too. 

Confession: I have never been a big fan of puzzles. I used to find them boring, time-consuming, and annoying because they took up so much space. I usually gravitate towards projects I can put away easily, such as colouring or drawing: I dislike clutter. Plus, Stuff and Things need to be out of the way, or else they might become cat toys. 

I think, deep down, we are all intrigued by what we cannot have or what we do not know. So, during the Great Puzzle Shortage of 2020, my sudden interest in completing a puzzle was piqued. 

When my daughter began preschool for the first time this September, I suddenly had eight hours free to myself, three days a week: a luxury I had not enjoyed for years. 

I decided to look online for a puzzle that might interest me. There is a puzzle out there for everyone, guaranteed. It is not only the image itself you have to consider, but the amount of pieces (300? 3000?), the shape of pieces (uniform? random?), the format of it (flat? 3D?) – the options are endless. Because I had not looked at nor had the desire to complete a puzzle in years, I had to choose carefully – not too difficult, not too big, and a picture that appealed to me. This was my choice. 

Because I have a toddler, two cats, and only one space big enough for the puzzle – the kitchen table – I also purchased this puzzle mat to be able to roll up the puzzle and spirit it away when needed. Spoiler: the mat did more harm than good. I’ll reveal what below. 

So – why the appeal of puzzles? It is a mindful activity. It is something that can be done alone or with someone else. It is easy to pass the time alone or with my partner, not saying anything, simply concentrating on the task at hand. Time slips away. Worries on my mind cease momentarily. With being focused on what is in front of me (/us), nothing else matters. For a bit, anyway.

When doing a puzzle, you have to slow yourself down. There is no such thing as rushing a puzzle to its completion, nor is it a competition to finish it in a set amount of time. 

You cannot just try every random puzzle piece and hope it fits. This is a task of leisure: look at the pieces, study them, see the image broken apart and how it would look back together. 

Complete the border first – that’s the easy part. What about the interior? Organize your pieces by colour. As more and more click into place, the easier it becomes to differentiate a pattern on one part of the image from another. 

Sometimes the easier way to complete a section is by seeing how the shape of the pieces will fit. Sometimes it is easier to go by pattern. Which ever way you do it does not matter. Enjoy the process. Be mindful. Be present. Listen to a podcast

But, things can happen. 

So: I am about 3/4 complete, and want to roll the puzzle up because I need to get it out of the way. As I do, it breaks as it rolls, even though I am following the instructions. Apparently, this happens to everyone often. Fine. But I do not like it, so I unroll it and leave it as is. 

Fast forward about half an hour, and I am busy working on my laptop, at my desk, mere feet away from the puzzle. Then: crash! I hear it fall to the floor behind me. 

Apparently, the six-month old kitten jumped onto the mat, and when he jumped off, the mat either got caught in his claws, or he kicked it out from under him, and it ended up on the floor. 

Yep. Puzzle pieces everywhere. 

I had never come across this situation before, and I was sort of devastated, because “it’s the one mindful thing I’m doing for myself and now it’s turned into a legit pile of stress.” 

I had a decision to make: give up and put the pieces away, or try to salvage what I could and continue. 

I chose the latter. It was heartbreaking, but at the same time, THAT – the dropped puzzle on the floor – was, for once, my biggest worry; not something else, not something dumb, not something from my past, not the state our climate/ world/ etc is in, not the future. Just the dang pieces on the floor. 

So, I continued, and I surprisingly put the pieces back together quickly. I was familiar enough with what I completed that it was not too big an issue to put them back. Lesson: if you drop your puzzle, pick it up and continue on best you can. Don’t give up! On reflection, it would have taken longer if I had cleaned it up, put it away and attempted to restart it some time in the future – I would have to start all over. 

Wondering what to do when you’re complete? I recommend one of two things. 

Pass the puzzle on. Break it apart, put it back in the box, give it to someone else to do, and let them enjoy it. Obviously, some people will not feel comfortable with this step during covid. You do you. 

My favourite way of finishing a puzzle is to mount it. (Yes, I see where your mind went, lol, but not that kind of mount.) I lightly tape down the completed puzzle with painter’s tape, place a piece of cardboard large enough to cover the entire puzzle over that, and then – very carefully, with the mat underneath – I flip it. There’s been a few broken pieces here and there, but it is fixable.

After flipping it, I adhere these sticky sheets to the back, pop on the plastic hooks that came with them, and voila! A new piece of artwork for your walls. Also – gently peel the painter’s tape off after flipping. 

Once it was complete and up on the wall, I knew I was addicted. Sure, there were some upsets in the road to completion, but that is a part of life no matter what you do. 

So – what about you? Do you enjoy doing puzzles? What is your favourite kind? Leave a comment below!

Note: I do not receive commission if you click on the links and buy anything. I’m only sharing them because I truly like them 🙂 

Published by Erica Black

Erica was born with a rare disease called an arteriovenous malformation in her right leg. She is now an advocate for those with disabilities. She left the corporate world in 2016 to pursue a career as a high school English teacher and began to blog along the way. She has a BA in English Lit and minor in Creative Writing. Her writing has been featured in The Martlet, The Globe and Mail, Heroica, and more. She enjoys cats, reading, and her daughter.

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