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Zen and the Art of Keeping Socks Paired

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Youth contemplating socks
Does a sock have Buddha-nature or not?
– a paraphrase of part of a Zen koan

Hands up if you are wearing odd socks due to being unable to find the marrers1 to two pairs. You are not alone.

The challenge of keeping your socks together is much greater than many people would think. Simplicity is the most sure remedy: have no socks.

If you are going to dip your toe into the waters of sockhood, then the fewer the better. One pair is a very good number to have. As you take them off, wash them by hand and place them next to each other to dry and when they are dry put them on. Simple.

Zen is about being mindful of things and living in the moment. Randomly distributing your socks around your abode with no knowledge of where they are seems of little concern while you are doing it, but a real pain when you realise that you need a matching pair.

Managing Larger Numbers

The moment you go above one pair, stewardship becomes more complicated. Many people decide that having socks of the same colour no matter how many pairs you have will help solve the problem. This is all right up to a point, but you must buy the same style, length, stitching and material for this to work properly. Some people have many different types of socks even though they are notionally the same colour and the game they play is, 'Nobody will notice that my socks are odd if they are roughly the same colour.' And then, one day, you enter somewhere where you have to remove your shoes or roll up your trouser legs. 'Ooh look, one of his socks is ankle length and the other goes right up to his knee.' Disaster2.

What Can You Do?

A monk asked Zhaozhou to teach him.
Zhaozhou asked, 'Have you removed your socks?"
The monk replied, 'Yes, I have.'
'Then go wash them', said Zhaozhou.
At that moment, the monk was enlightened.
– a paraphrase of a Zen koan

The effort may seem beyond you, but you may think it all worthwhile when you are the only one to be perfectly presented in the above-mentioned scenario.

Rules of Balanced Sock Stewardship

  1. If (sounding like a lucky golfer) you have a hole in one, throw the pair away, not just the holey one.
  2. Before you put them in the dirty linen bin, partially roll them together at the cuff end leaving the foot loose for proper laundering3.
  3. Leave the socks joined at the cuff when you put them in the washer - there is a good chance that they will stay together in the machine.
  4. If you are hanging them on the clothes line, hang them next to each other or even pin them with the same clothes peg.
  5. When they are dry, immediately pair them and roll them together.
  6. Put them straight in your sock drawer or special sock receptacle.

You will be amazed when your socks remain together. But there are also some avoidances that you need to know:

  1. Don't share a laundry basket with someone who will not adhere to the rules.
  2. Do not allow anyone to borrow your socks.
  3. Don't wear them with sandals - treat the summer as a sock holiday.

You have now reduced your stress levels and saved yourself countless hours in the hunt for the perfect pair. Use this time well and you could become a wealthy, fit, perfectly balanced human being.

Teaching mindfulness to other, young family members is also a good thing to do.

Here is a sock-based activity that will help you sort socks when the odd sock bag is the size of Santa's Sack.

The Sockless Sock - Sock Pair Scramble

Gather together all the owners of the socks and sit in a circle. Randomly distribute the socks on a pre-cleared floor space in the middle of the circle. Try and avoid piles of socks where you cannot see what is beneath.

Decide who is going first by asking everyone to look for a matching pair. The first person to find one goes first and play moves around the circle to the left. The first person has another go to find a pair, but this time the others count down from 5. When they reach zero the turn passes to the next person, who if they are astute will have been looking for a pair him or herself. Any matched pairs (and they have to really match) are left in front of the finder.

The game ends when an agreed amount of time has elapsed or all the socks are paired.

The winner is the person with the most pairs. The socks are then distributed to their rightful owners. They then have to deal with any sock-based issues pertaining to their own socks. Too small - put in the charity bag. Hole in one - bin both. One has shrunk or faded - bin both or wear with pride: don't put them separated back in the sock bag!

1Partners or mates - this is North of England slang.2This would be no different on a woman.3Then you know that the pair is together when you fish them out to wash them.

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