N is for Nothing: A-Z of Simple Living

'N' is for Nothing: A-Z of Simple Living

This January, we’re taking an in-depth look at the why and how of simplicity with the A-Z of Simple Living. If you want to make 2015 the year you create a simpler, slower life, why not join us?


I am absolutely a dog person. Their playfulness, loyalty and capacity for love are characteristics that keep me firmly in the canine field.

That being said, there are certain personality traits of cats I can’t help but admire. Like their capacity for idleness – cats do nothing like it’s their job. And that’s something I dig a whole lot.

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing

Practicing nothingness is an important part of living a simpler life, and one that is overlooked constantly. Because no-one wants to be thought of as lazy and somewhere along the way – between the practice of productivity, efficiency and multi-tasking – doing nothing and laziness became one and the same.

Trust me – they’re not.

Doing nothing – for even five minutes a day – will help melt away stress, bring you back into the present and give you time to let noise and stimulus and information out rather than constantly cramming it in.

If you can manage to find 5-10 minutes of idle time most days, you will begin to feel the impact within a week.

How to Do Nothing

It seems ridiculous that we need instructions on how to be idle, but it truly is a lost art. We’re so afraid of being labelled lazy or unmotivated or unproductive, that we have become averse to nothingness.

1. Find time

First you need to find a block of time. Five to ten minutes is enough.

Ideally this time will be out of work hours and when you are less likely to be disrupted by the people you live with.

If you have little kids, maybe pop a show on the laptop or wait until they’re asleep (because we all know the capacity for interruption that little kids have.) If your kids are older, or if you live with housemates, just let them know you’d like to not be disturbed.

2. Find space

Pick a space that makes you comfortable. This could be your bedroom, the lounge, outside on the grass, the park outside your office or your front steps.

Choose an uncluttered space that won’t add to your stress. For example, if you choose to lay on your bed, make sure it’s made and free of clothes/toys/handbags.

3. Disconnect

Turn off your mobile, resolve not to answer the home phone, ensure the computer is not on (or ideally not even in the same room), switch off the TV and the radio.

You can’t truly be doing nothing if your mind is occupied by thoughts of work or friends or Facebook. So switch off. The world will not stop turning – I promise.

4. Breathe

Once you’re settled, take some deep, cleansing breaths.

Slow them down and focus on the air passing into your lungs and being pushed out again. Be mindful of the feel of your breath going in cold and coming out warmer. Make your breathing the one thing you are thinking about.

5. Stay focused

Your mind will wander. Unless you practice meditation already it will most likely wander immediately. Just keep bringing it back to your breath.

In and out. Cool and warm. Pull and push.

6. Float

As you get better at emptying your mind – and keeping it empty – you will be able to let thoughts float into your mind without really engaging them. Like noticing a butterfly in the garden, but doing no more. “There’s a butterfly. How nice.” And then it’s gone again.

7. Rest

Stay as long as you can, just soaking in the idleness, focusing on your breath, giving your mind a break from the constant flow of information and activity.

Ideas for Idleness

Once you’ve mastered the art of emptying your mind, you can start to get a little more creative with your idle time.

You could try:

  • Watching clouds
  • Wandering
  • Laying on the grass watching ants crawl around
  • Picking up a handful of sand or dirt and repeatedly letting it trickle out between your fingers
  • Laying on your bed watching the shadows
  • Studying your ceiling
  • Taking inventory of your body parts
  • Watching dust motes dance across the room.

Or, if you’re really stuck, there is actually an app that promotes this exact idea of embracing nothingness. Check it out – the wave sounds are truly beautiful.

Do you embrace idleness? Or does it make you feel guilty?

11 Responses to N is for Nothing: A-Z of Simple Living

  1. Ha! Just spent my lunch break doing nothing. Instead of reading a book, making plans, or calling home I sat in the sun staring at the ocean and did nothing. Sometimes you need to be fully present and enjoy the present moment.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

    • Dan, staring at the ocean sounds amazing. It’s cold and cloudy here in Wisconsin, and we are about to get slammed by a blizzard. And i totally agree with you on the need to be fully present to enjoy the present. Enjoy the sun and the waves!

  2. I’ve been struggling with having a daily meditation practice for years. I get wrapped up in the idea that I HAVE to sit for at least 30 min a day or it won’t do any good. So I periodically restart my meditation practice with the best of intentions, and then life gets in the way and I put my daily half-hour sit off, and then it never happen. This post reminded me that even 5 or 10 minutes is all I need, and that’s definitely manageable and better than nothing. Thanks for the reminder, I just made this my 2013 New Years Resolution, which I will be starting early (like right now). Happy Holidays!

    • I completely agree, Monique. 5-10 minutes is enough, even if you’d like to give more time, it’s often not possible. Let me know how you feel after a month of your new resolution! And Happy Holidays to you too. x

  3. Oh my goodness, this is a HUGE issue for me! I feel so incredibly lazy and guilty whenever I’m not doing something. I’ve certainly improved (it took me about a year to have a bubble bath without feeling guilty!) but I still have a long way to go. Thank you for the inspiring words!

  4. What a timely message this is. I think we all need to take just a little time out, so that we can truly appreciate all that we have!

  5. I recently started Buteyko breathing & it’s great for this – just focusing on breath. I’ve found it not only gives me a pause in the day to think of nothing but also helps in less calm moments as just thinking of how to breathe that way kind of centres me.

  6. Thank you for this post! One of my favorite things to do is lie on the bed in the late afternoon, watching the birds in the tree outside my window, or watching the sunset. I usually only get a chance to do this after a long run on the weekend. Sometimes my cat will join me, and it’s just the two of us while everyone else goes about their day. I especially like the summer when the windows are open, and I can hear children laughing and smell fresh cut grass and roses on the breeze. These times are some the most peaceful, restful, and happy moments of my life. Just being in that perfect moment and having the memory of it forever with me makes all the dreary winter days and boring work days a little better.

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