Let’s say, hypothetically, that you had the whole day free today, and you could just call up any friends you wanted and they’d come over – or you can stay alone if you prefer. What would you do today?
Some people might list some sort of fun activity – maybe a solo activity, or maybe one with a group. Others might simply spend a day completely unwinding from life’s stresses. Others might spend it on a hobby. Still others might spend it working on a small home repair or getting their tax documents ready.
I’ve been asking people this very question a lot lately and the answers I’ve been getting almost always come down to two things.
One, people mostly just want to enjoy hobbies they already have that they feel like they don’t have time for. If you’re a reader, the thought of spending an afternoon curled up with a book without a worry in the world sounds like bliss. If you like home brewing, the idea of a few hours cooking up a pot of something interesting and getting it in the fermenter is a wonderful thought. Maybe you have the equipment for a new hobby you want to try but it’s just gathering dust in the closet (like the sous vide cooking tool I got for my birthday… I really want to do this, but it’s just sitting there).
Two, people feel like there is “important but not urgent” things in their life that have fallen through the cracks and they want to take care of them. This undone task is weighing on their mind a little bit, but they struggle to find a block of time that allows them to actually take care of it. Maybe it’s filing a bunch of old bills or drafting a will or fixing a broken doorknob or replacing the faucet on the bathroom sink. There’s just something that needs to be done, but since it’s not screamingly urgent or distracting, they put it off.
Interestingly, almost all of the things that people mentioned to me cost very little money; instead, they cost time.
The deep connections between time and money have fascinated me since the earliest days of The Simple Dollar. Much of what we do in our day to day lives is an exchange of time and money.
We go to work, exchanging a healthy chunk of our waking hours for the money in our paycheck.
We buy fast food, exchanging some cash for a little extra time in the evening.
We spend money on things we desire to spend time using, only to find that we don’t have as much time as we thought.
We have an extra appreciation for well-made handmade items and will often pay more for them, partly because of the time that a craftsman put into it.
Our homes are loaded with costly time-saving devices. Our furnace saves us the time invested in chopping wood. Our stovetop saves us the time of keeping a wood-burning or coal-burning stove going. Our washing machine saves us tons of hours rubbing clothes over a washboard. Our dryer saves us many hours of hanging clothes out to dry.
That deep connection between money and time pops up everywhere.
The thing is, the modern world devours our time. The biggest revolution in day to day living in the last hundred years or so is the absolute abundance of things to do and ways to burn time. Television, smartphones, the abundance of organized activities of all kinds – there’s so much around us to sap away at that time we have, leaving us often feeling as though we have little money (because we spent it all on student loans or on things that save us time that we end up wasting) and little time, too.
Not having the time to just curl up with a book or tinker on something out in the garage or make a huge batch of home-brewed beer or take care of some important task that’s nagging you in the back of your mind is a pretty large negative drain on one’s life. In fact, there’s a pretty significant amount of evidence that digital distractions and being overly busy makes us significantly unhappier.
We long for a lazy day to sit around and read a book, but we never have time for it, and when we do, we’re incessantly checking our cell phone, leaving us no time to genuinely unwind. Furthermore, people often spend money on hobbies that they don’t have enough time for – they’ll buy stuff for something they want to try out, only to find that there’s no time.
It’s an unhappy and expensive picture, isn’t it?
I’m going to propose a solution, one that you can try out yourself in the coming weeks. Many Americans have at least a day or two off during the period between roughly December 22 and January 2. Many of us have multiple days off in that period.
One day, during that stretch, let it be a truly lazy day, with no commitments. Do what you would like to do, with one caveat. Take your cell phone and any other digital distractions that aren’t a significant part of your day’s plans and stick them in a drawer somewhere with the power off. Check them only when it’s strictly relevant to your day; otherwise, just leave them off and go about your business.
Curl up with that book. Make that batch of homemade sauerkraut. Fix that doorbell. Take a long nap. Make that picture frame. Whatever it is you long to do on a true “day off,” do it.
You likely won’t spend any money that day. You’ll also find that, when you go to bed that night, you feel pretty refreshed and that sense of refreshment will stick around. You’ll feel like some silent burden has been lifted from your shoulder, and that feeling will persist for a while. Trust me – it happens to me every time I do this kind of thing.
Carry it further. Commit to doing this one Saturday a month. Block it off on your calendar and just do it. (I actually block off every single Sunday afternoon for this exact purpose of unwinding, myself, and I firmly believe that it’s one of the big reasons I stay sane and happy.)
Carry it even further. If you’re getting together with family for Christmas, give the gift of a day off like this to someone you love. Take on whatever burden they are carrying for a day and a night, whether it’s watching a baby or a toddler or caring for an ailing relative. Give them a letter telling that that you WILL do this and you want them to do it as soon as humanly possible. Try to schedule that day as you’re sitting there with them at a holiday event. It won’t cost you anything and it will be one of the most valuable and meaningful gifts you can possibly give to an overburdened person.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what I’d do if I had a full day free of responsibility like that? I’d spend a few hours getting stuff done, go on a mid-morning hike, spend the early afternoon reading, and then invite some friends over to play a board game or two.