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The Glorification of Busy-ness and Having Too Much Time on Our Hands

This past week I was at a small camping festival in rural Minnesota.

The event featured several speakers throughout the week, including myself.

I did two workshops. One was on beer and one was on tiny houses, two of my favorite subjects.

Matt and David enjoying cocktails during our camping trip. Photo by Cara Schulz.

Matt and David enjoying cocktails during our camping trip. Photo by Cara Schulz.

In my tiny house workshop I mentioned my problem with the way our culture has glorified the act of being busy. We aren’t socially allowed to have “too much time on our hands” or else we are judged by our peers or our community. I talked about how disturbing I find this trend and how slowing our lives down can create more satisfaction and peacefulness in our lives.

I encourage you to scroll/click below to read more about my thoughts on busy-ness.

When I returned, I discovered this op-ed from the New York Times on this very topic.

“Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

When I quit my conventional job to write full time I realized that my life would be very different. As a self-employed person I was no longer guaranteed two weeks’ vacation a year. I probably wouldn’t get sick time either. And yet, this was something I needed to do for myself. I knew I would be busy but I could change the way in which I was busy and reclaim much of my life. For me, it is important that my work and my life be integrated. My new tiny life allowed me the flexibility and freedom to do this.

finished house

As I prepared to travel to Minnesota, I wanted to be able to stay away from the internet as much as possible. I wanted to enjoy time with my friends in our campsite. I made arrangements to complete all my assignments for the week prior to leaving and was able to connect for about 15 to 20 minutes a day to tie up any loose ends and submit anything essential. I was able to disconnect and be present in the moment. I wasn’t at all busy while I was camping, but I was engaged.

What do you think of our culture’s glorification of busy-ness? Do you think that some people have “too much time on their hands?”

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Laura LaVoie

Contributor and Tiny House Owner at 120SquareFeet.com
Laura M. LaVoie is a professional writer living in the mountains of North Carolina in a 120 Square Foot house with her partner and their hairless cat, Piglet. Laura graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in Anthropology. She has been published in magazines and anthologies on the subjects of mythology and culture. She spent nearly 15 years in the temporary staffing industry before deciding to become a full time writer. Laura works closely with the Zulu Orphan Alliance volunteering her time and the skills she's learned building her own small house to build a shelter for orphans and other vulnerable children living near Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Laura also enjoys simple living, brewing and drinking craft beer, and popular culture.
{ 19 comments… add one }
  • David Ridge
    August 15, 2013, 3:17 pm

    I’ve been telling workaholics for years that they deserve time off to themselves that is not productive and not feel guilty about it. Well there is one productive thing about time off, it gives the body time to rebuild, restore, and do an humongous amount of recovery of personal health issues and its bodily functions. Reducing to a tiny house facilitates this.

    • di
      September 16, 2013, 11:52 am

      Simple living facilitates this as well. When my girls were young, I allowed one event per week. I’ve always chosen inexpensive, money-saving crafts, such as sewing my own clothes. I’ve always taken the time to take really good care of everything I have to prevent repurchase.

  • LaMar
    August 15, 2013, 3:28 pm

    I have been self employed for over 20 years and before that I was an independent contractor with very little oversight so I have learned how to schedule my own time to be productive but also allow for lots of “me” time that is necessary and vital for my mental health.

    I am also a writer, videographer, and musician songwriter and I get bored very fast if I have long term projects so I always have two or 3 short term projects going all at once and when I get bored with one I just take time off to work on another project until my inspiration returns.

    I also have to get away from my homes base and have mini-adventures to be inspired so my travel is also part of my work inspiration and meeting people and talking about ideas is where I get my best inspirations.


    • RevW
      August 15, 2013, 3:49 pm

      I live with a “busy” person. That’s very different from a more Zen approach in which you are rarely idle, but in which routine activities – watering the garden for example – are full of the opposite of “busyness”. If you’re kneading bread, you may not be “busy”, or you may be being actively overextended. It depends on the individual mindset.

      • August 15, 2013, 3:55 pm

        I love this perspective. This is precisely my experience. To slow down my self-imposed busy-ness I started to engage more with my own life. I started doing dishes rather than rushing to shove them all in the dishwasher. Now my chores slow me down and keep me mindful so I am ready to do the other things in my day.

      • LaMar
        August 15, 2013, 5:19 pm

        My lifestyle is much different than most and I have been semi-retired since I was 45. I have no house payments and no utility bills so my monetary needs are few so I don’t have that pressure.

        I may work in my garden, go for a long hike with the dogs nature watching, take off camping in the mountains or drive to a remote location to do photography. Just whatever hits me to do that day is what I do and then when the creative spirit hits me I might spend a week hunched over my computer researching and writing.

        My life has always been like that and it drives some women I have been with crazy because I have no schedule and no pressure but it is the way I stay sane.

        If something absolutely has to be done I get it done fast and move on and I get high just building a simple wood bird house and will spend several hours on projects like that.

        Everyone has to dance to their own music!


    • libertymen
      August 15, 2013, 8:39 pm

      Lamar is right,its a matter of efficiency and planning,Today you need to do X,You get the materials to doit ahead of time,
      My sister in law used 6 Emails to schedule a call.
      She could have used that time to address the issue,She is soooo busy,
      That is not efficient.

      • di
        September 16, 2013, 11:46 am

        I usually time everything, such as an hour for groceries, an hour for laundry, half an hour for dishes. I schedule one weekly chore per day and one annual chore per month. It all gets done over time with plenty of time to rest and relax. No stress.

  • jerryd
    August 15, 2013, 4:12 pm

    Most people work their asses off all their life, then die!!

    Why? Mostly they have been brainwashed and/or afraid of not being in the group so they work themselves to death.

    Luckily for me this thought process was forced on me by the gov so when I was 25 and retired ;^P

    Just working an average of 10 hrs/wk by living low cost but doing things like sailing to SA, etc because I wasn’t tied down to some job allow me many adventures that I was paid for ;^P.

    The future is going to get crazy as many lose their jobs to tech, productivity over the next 10 yrs by having a TH paid for will go a long ways to make this time fun instead of fighting for scraps in the declining workplace.

    If you are not spending on things like apartments, electricity, etc then you need little but food, clothes and fun. If you don’t have bills that doesn’t take much.

    But no one ever said on their deathbed, ‘Boy I wished I had worked more!!’

    • Joe3
      August 15, 2013, 4:53 pm

      Jerry, well stated, you have the right idea …

    • di
      September 16, 2013, 11:37 am

      With each raise at work, I began to work less. I went from 40 hours to 24 hours per week. Over time, I learned to budget carefully and keep my interests inexpensive. This gave me more time to take better care of the things I have along with my two girls and parents.

  • Koen Van Poucke
    August 15, 2013, 4:52 pm

    “I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter. “

    • LaMar
      August 16, 2013, 12:24 am

      Sometimes we find out how much we matter only when we stop doing what is expected of us.


  • alice h
    August 15, 2013, 9:20 pm

    I’ve been off on disability for 3 years which is hard on the finances and slows down house building big time but sure has been good for getting things into perspective. I like to be my version of busy, which is pretty much pursuing whatever project I can manage at whatever pace I damn well feel like. Rushing around like a headless chicken isn’t being busy it’s being insanely stressed. There are always chores that need to be done but you also need time to sit on the front porch (or equivalent) and chat with the neighbours, read whatever takes your fancy, play with your kids or grandkids, or just do bugger all without feeling guilty. If you really have to justify it you can say you’re solar powered and you’re recharging your batteries. That said, there seem to be a lot of politicians and the like with too much time on their hands that keep coming up with really whacky ideas. Might be a good idea to keep them busy with some practical functions and hopefully out of trouble.

    • LaMar
      August 16, 2013, 12:16 am

      ” you can say you’re solar powered and you’re recharging your batteries.”

      That is exactly how I feel Alice and I sit every morning on my porch just absorbing some rays and some days that is enough and who’s time is it anyway ?

      I am reminded of Thoreau:

      The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.
      Henry David Thoreau

    • di
      September 16, 2013, 11:31 am

      I’m disabled as well. Now, I can’t do what I used to and I have to plan very carefully about what I can do. Planning has saved time and energy. Should have been doing more of that in the first place.

  • Crissie
    August 16, 2013, 3:32 pm

    My dad used to always say, “Nobody on their death bed ever says they wished they had worked more” and not one person will wish they had been busier.

  • Shell
    August 17, 2013, 3:51 am

    Ah…lots of good advice I wholeheartedly agree with. I just actually and finally have been doing this for myself. My body finally really told me, actually. I was having all kinds of odd pains in my arm and shoulder. I couldn’t get them to stop for anything. Finally, it all hit me to stop all this extra crap I’m doing and give myself more alone time. Learn it’s okay to say no to people as well as not feel guilty about not doing a thousand things. Now sometimes I will spend all of my off days just in the house. Exercising, meditating, reading, doing laundry and hanging it out to dry, dishes, cleaning, etc…enjoying the quiet. Just being. It’s amazing. : )

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