The Joy of Doing Nothing

The Joy of Doing Nothing

This is a guest post from my friend Rachel. I was going to wait until next week to share it, but already get the sense that people are stressed with end-of-year commitments + the holidays. I hope her message helps. <3

I haven’t been bored since 2009. And that’s not a good thing. I’m a mother to three small kids, one of whom has special needs. My husband and I do our best to keep our life as simple as possible. We recently left the city for a small town so we could have more time for our kids and ourselves. We both work from home which gives us a lot of flexibility. And our kids aren’t signed up for lots of classes or teams. They have time for free unstructured play and we eat most of our meals together at the same time everyday.

But even with this idyllic on paper lifestyle, there’s often little time for me to simply sit and be still and quiet. And I need that time. I need to shirk off any worries, clear my brain and simply do nothing. You probably do too.

In 2010, I got excited about minimalism and spent three months ruthlessly decluttering my home. It was cathartic, exciting and fruitful. My husband and I got rid of things that were meant for someday (that never came) and unshackled ourselves from the belief that our possessions represented who we were. We saw that we really needed a lot less than we thought we did. And we sold a lot of things—my wedding dress, our car—and were able to pay off almost $80,000 in debt.

It was humbling and invigorating all at once. And it kicked off what I would later realize was a lifelong journey searching for simplicity in my life. Because once I got rid of the stuff, I found that yes, my life was easier in many ways. But it also made me see having less was great, wanting less was even better (nod to Joshua Becker for that idea). Another layer to this whole minimalist journey was revealed.

How do you make yourself want less? It’s a hard question to answer. I kept asking it of myself and kept finding that I wanted less, felt less concerned with conventional measures of success like deep and expensive wardrobes, new kitchens and impressive salaries, when I lived my values more. When I spent more time outside. When I worked on being a kinder person. When I put my phone and laptop away and spent more time offline. When I did those things that make me feel great: exercising, reading a good book, connecting with friends and cooking a nourishing meal at home.

When I tried something new, be it a sport or creative pursuit, I felt less focused on wanting stuff and felt more peace and connection with myself. Shutting out advertisements as much as possible has also helped me want less. I don’t keep tabs on trends or fads or what the latest gadgets can do. Wanting less has been a long, slow, and continual process built around making my life align with my values.

Of course, shifting your life to really align with your values takes time. It’s an ongoing process and there’s no quick solution. But there is one small quick way I have found to get that same peace and connection with myself daily. It doesn’t involve trying rock climbing for the first time or committing to a weekly volunteer shift at the library. It’s easy. It’s free. And you can do it anywhere. It’s doing nothing.

Doing nothing can sound lazy. This is not doing nothing as in “I’ve been sitting around in my pyjamas all Sunday watching television as a form of procrastination.” This is not doing nothing when you’re supposed to be doing something. This is an intentional quick break to reset and destress. Think, using that time on the bus not to distract yourself with a podcast and several flips through your social media accounts but rather, sitting on the bus, ears and eyes open, letting any worries or stresses go, and enjoying the scenery that flies by. It’s keeping the television dark after nine o’clock so you can take some deep breaths and calm your mind before you go to bed. It’s starting your day at a slow pace, and without distraction and noises, so you can have a clear head for the day to come. And sometimes it is even taking a quick break in the middle of your work day to walk outside, inhale some fresh air, and let go of whatever thoughts are cluttering your mind.

Doing nothing is a way to restart your brain. Escaping or blocking out the noise and thoughts of the day gives me a space to reboot myself. My oldest son is into all things ninja and he likes to do a pose where he stands on one leg and has his hands in front of him in prayer position with his eyes closed. He calls it being in the centre of peace. My centre of peace is sitting with a mug of peppermint tea and staring at a fire, letting any concerns or worries leave my brain. Sometimes my centre of peace is just a pause during the day, a few minutes for deep breaths and silence. Finding my “centre of peace” lets me empty out any negative thoughts or worries and reset.

It’s really hard to shut the noise out, these days. We are always connected. Information is always rolling at us. Now more than ever, we need to protect our mental real estate. We need to empty our brains of other people’s Instagram posts and our worries over the ‘what-ifs’ in our lives. Put the screens away. Sit in a quiet room. And simply do nothing.

If that sounds scary, if being without entertainment or worries sounds uncomfortable, start slowly. Try to make some of your activities quiet. Cook without music on or walk to work in silence. Work towards time, however brief, spent in silence without thinking about the next thing to do. Think of it as a luxury you gift yourself: the time to simply do nothing.

Rachel Jonat writes about living simply with kids at and is the author of Do Less: A Minimalist Guide to a Simplified, Organized and Happy Life and the upcoming The Joy of Doing Nothing.

  • I love this.

    These days, I find it really important to not jam-pack my agenda. I need to have a certain amount of “nothing” in my life, in order to fully relax and unwind my brain. It’s interesting to read your take on this!

    All the best!

  • Great post! I think the minimalist trend is a collective “we’ve had enough” reaction from the general populace to the speed and clutter of modern, 1st-world life. If you think about how much our daily routines have changed since the 1970’s and 80’s, it’s insane. Much of that comes from digital technology and virtual ‘connectedness’. I like these things, but they’re so double-edged. It’s really hard to dose them out properly. And it’s getting harder.

    I do a little experiment sometimes by counting dog-walkers while I’m driving. I try to find a dog-walker who is not either talking on their cellphone, or clicking away with their head down. Sometimes I get to 15 or 20 walkers before I find one. We can’t even walk our dogs these days without doing something else!

    You motivated me, I’m going to take at least 30 minutes today and try to do nothing.

    • So true – we multi-task just about everything these days. And life pre-mobile music + Internet was naturally single-tasked. What is that doing to our brains? I know for me I have to be so intentional about guarding my quiet time. Enjoy your half hour dedicated to just yourself :)

  • Is it weird that I felt calmer just reading this?

    I am a big believer in setting aside time to do nothing. Super helpful from a mental health perspective, which then feeds downstream into everything else that matters.

  • Thank you for this post. It brought back memories of sitting with my dad on the back porch sipping coffee/tea and watching the rain. He preferred sitting with me because we were “two peas in a pod” and both loved to sit without feeling the need to talk. One of my favorite apps is Rainy Mood, it’s like being back on the porch again whenever I need a break.

  • I was recently introduced to the idea of silence for 3 minutes. I found it is easiest when petting my dog. Just a few minutes sitting on the floor with the dog just letting my thoughts wander. A quick way to de-stress. So simple but rewarding (plus the dog enjoys it too).

  • I try to do this at red lights, in traffic. I used to grab my phone and check email or social media. Now I just sit, totally old-school, watching the other drivers, breathing, letting myself be ‘bored’ for a minute. I have noticed my drives are much less tense since I’ve begun this habit. Oh…and nobody has to honk at me because I’m about to miss the light. :)

  • I am an introvert and it doesn’t take much this time of year to take my energy. I work in a very busy gift shop and this time of year is almost unbearable to me. I have to work so hard to make sure I have time to re-energize, just for work. I love quiet times of doing nothing. I believe in being as unbusy as I am able. Through the holidays my family doesn’t understand my inner needs just to survive, so can be a little complicated. I just do the best I can to take care of myself. Happy Holidays! Jayme

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