What is Woolgathering?

Mary McMahon

When someone appears lost in his or her own thoughts or engages in a daydream, this is known as woolgathering. Woolgathering is indulged in by people all over the world, in situations ranging from dull offices to crowded commuter trains. While woolgathering can be an excellent way to relax, it is unfortunately necessary for most people to return to the real world at some point.

While daydreaming can be unproductive, it can also be put to good use.
While daydreaming can be unproductive, it can also be put to good use.

The term comes from the practice of gathering small scraps of wool left behind on bushes and shrubs by sheep. People could occupy themselves with woolgathering when they were bored or evading other work, and it probably provided ample opportunities for pondering and day dreaming. Some members of the lower classes engaged in gathering wool more seriously, in the hopes of collecting enough to sell or spin into yarn which could be used to make a garment. In the end, the net harvest of a wool gathering expedition could be rather small and unproductive, as combing and carding the wool might be more work than it was worth.

Woolgathering is another term for daydreaming.
Woolgathering is another term for daydreaming.

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People have been using “woolgathering” to refer to daydreaming since the mid-1500s, when sheep were a pervasive part of life for many people. In its original use, it implied a sense of wandering aimlessly and without any real purpose, and suggested that the woolgatherer could perhaps be better occupied with something more productive.

While daydreaming can be unproductive, it can also be turned to good use. Some writers like to woolgather before they start work, for example, by collecting various ideas and clearing their heads for the work they intend to do. Allowing your thoughts to wander can be beneficial for your subconscious, which will take advantage of your lapsed attention to rise to the surface. Woolgathering might net a name you can't remember, or the inspiration for a brilliant idea.

If you plan on a little woolgathering, it can help to plan ahead if you plan to do it in the presence of other people. No matter how boring people on committees and in classrooms can be, they generally get offended when people noticeably daydream. You may want to consider sitting near the rear of the room to avoid notice, and holding a pen or pencil can be useful, as it suggests that you are paying attention to the proceedings and preparing to take notes. On public trains and other public locations, make sure that possessions are secured before you start daydreaming, as a thief might see your lack of attentiveness as a golden opportunity.

Woolgathering is often indulged in by people in dull office environments.
Woolgathering is often indulged in by people in dull office environments.

Discussion Comments


Thank you for defining this wonderful term. I have always done my best work after a brief episode of daydreaming, Woolgathering,(to use this term), together with doodling, have brought me many wonderful inspirations, and accomplishments in some of my landscapes, plus some of my doodles turn out to be some wonderful desings.



nice article --yvonne


I love this term; thanks for sharing it! I now have a new word in my life. I am actively practicing woolgathering literally and figuratively, as my husband and I fulfill our dream of having a farm upon which I will raise alpacas. Woolgathering simply for relaxing and fun is an activity that I am consciously integrating into my life, so it "knits" (couldn't resist the pun!)perfectly with my life at this time. Thanks again!


1Its nice to know Woolgathering. Every human gets into this whether knowingly or unknowingly in each day of his/her life and mainly when he/she is free and alone. This helps all to develop certain things which can be achieved in near future even though it may not be timely. Everyone daydreams, irrespective of sex for certain things which they cannot express to others or which they want to achieve or enjoy but without letting others know about it. It is a must that everyone should have woolgathering to enjoy and have self motivation since it is the best medicine in the form of motivation to develop oneself.

I am the one who has posted this. If any comments come let me know

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