In Defense of Doing Nothing

Doing something is cool, but doing nothing is an art.

Illustration by Lilli

I am pretty good at a couple of things, but I am REALLY good at nothing. In fact, I am kind of an expert. No matter how many things there are on my to-do list, I always like to spend at least one day off doing approximately none of them. Sure, I wake up thinking I will get a lot done, that I will get dressed and leave the house after I listen to this record, that this will be a short nap before grocery shopping, that I will be in a better state of mind to clean my room after watching every available episode of Bob’s Burgers on Hulu. But none of this is true. Laziness is my raison d’être. Doing something is cool, but doing nothing is an art.

It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade that I discovered the beautiful world of nothing. My mom finally let me stay home by myself. It was a very exciting development in my life and, except for the two times that some Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on the door and I froze with terror (why?!), I felt like I was truly the queen of my castle. I need to point out that this was before everyone had computers, so I had to try a lot harder in order to masterfully do nothing. (You don’t know how good you have it, being able to spend hours on Tumblr looking at pictures of One Direction, amiright?)

I would wake up between 11 AM and noon and eat a giant bowl of cereal while watching Whose Line Is It Anyway?, a British improv show that ran on Comedy Central pretty much all day, before switching to Saturday Night Live marathons all evening. These programs became the background noise for important non-tasks like reading magazines, sketching, and talking on the phone. I would bring all my “supplies” into the living room in the morning so that whenever I wanted to “change activities,” I didn’t need to stand up from the chair to do so. (This made my mom very mad when she came home from work, because everything was a mess.) I would spice things up by watching MTV or VH1–back then they played music videos–and when I talked on the phone with my best friend, it was important that we both watched the same thing so that we could talk about it, of course. Around four, I would get hungry and eat another bowl of cereal or my favorite snack ever, which is a piece of bologna or ham wrapped around a banana. It is important to note that at no point in the course of the day did I change into real clothes. Changing clothes is trying, and this is certainly not a piece about trying.

Then the summer Olympics started, and yeah, the Olympics are fun and whatever, but this particular year–1996, in Atlanta–was magical, because it was the year that the American gymnastics team, dubbed “The Magnificent Seven,” won everything, INCLUDING OUR HEARTS, when Kerri Strug earned the team gold even though she had screwed up her ankle real bad. (Watch the video, it is amazing.) I got to watch it unfold at the same time as everyone else, so I was participating in this WORLD event that was designed to bring us all together. This allowed me to feel like I was being lazy in my house without missing out on life. I was engaging in current events. What I’m saying is, the Olympics are happening this month! Watch them! Watch them at your house, in your pajamas, with an assortment of snacks at your disposal. It is your Earthling duty.

Snacks are essential to doing nothing all day. If you like to cook, that’s OK, because cooking for yourself counts more as “sustenance” than “activity.” During the summer when I was 14, I discovered Great Chefs, which aired on the Discovery Channel between four and five in the afternoon, so by dinnertime, I was ready to experiment in the kitchen. Not that I was cooking the things I saw on TV, because I am not some kind of kitchen savant. It would just make me look in my refrigerator to see what actual foods I could put together. This is how I acquired my no-fail fish-cooking skills (add a shit-ton of butter, some garlic, and maybe a lemon if you have one). I also recommend that you keep the kitchen stocked with ice cream, at least two different kinds of cereal (one of them blatantly unhealthy), cookies, cheese (string cheese if you want to minimize your effort), soda, and milk (for the cookies and the cereal). For special occasions, get one of those Sara Lee chocolate layer cakes that you find in the refrigerated section in the grocery store, and a special occasion is anything you want it to be, because it’s summer and you’re the boss of you.

In the midst of not doing anything, you can always do something you love, which shouldn’t really count. I mean stuff like reading your collection of comic books and old magazines from beginning to end, or watching an entire television series (I recommend X-Files). For instance, I recorded all my favorite music videos and live musical performances and then had to painstakingly update my records, which were loose pages of ruled binder paper stapled together detailing everything that was on each VHS tape. (OK, not that you would ever do this today, but I am just giving you A GLIMPSE INTO THE PAST!)

This is also a good time to start a variety of art projects, like making your own clothes, collaging, zines, etc. You might be thinking, wait, that’s doing SOMETHING, and you’d be right, except you are not going to be very diligent about doing this. You’ll roll out of bed at whatever hour and watch TV, and then take a long bath (because you’ve cut down bathing to twice a week), and then you’ll make yourself a sandwich while experimenting with a variety of toppings (mayo and ranch dressing, YES!), and then you’ll watch more TV, and then your parents will come home and be like, “What did you do?,” and you’ll say, “You know, stuff,” and then your parents go to sleep and you make yourself a midnight snack (ice cream), and THEN you start working on your art project, and you do this until, like, 3 AM, when you go to bed. But there’ll be other nights when you’re out with your friends or there’s a really good movie on TV or you have a crush that needs your undivided online attention, so by the end of the summer, your project probably won’t be done but, like, you could’ve finished it if you wanted to, you know?

I don’t get lazy summer days anymore. Now that I’m a grownup with a job, summer is just a time when I feel hotter as opposed to a time of freedom and fun. BUT I still get to enjoy my laziness one day a week and when I get home from work and when, say, I have to turn in a piece for Rookie but accidentally fall into a Wikipedia hole (sorry, editors). The thing is, and you knew this was coming: indulging in nothing can be fun, but don’t let The Nothing take over your life! The best thing about doing nothing is doing it after you’ve spent a lot of time doing everything that needs to be done, because the truth is that after a few of my doing-nothing days, I started feeling a little guilty and blue, and that’s no good. Although this helps light a fire under your butt, so it all works out, and thus is the magic of summer. You’ve worked SO hard all year, doing homework, writing papers, and putting up with other people’s rules, and now you finally get a chance to just do you. Lazy summer days are all about being your own Destiny’s Child and catering to you, ’cause you sure as hell deserve it. ♦


  • rosiesayrelax July 25th, 2012 3:03 PM

    ha! as i’m writing this i’m still in my pyjamas from last night and it’s 8.00pm. it seems as if all i’ve done this whole summer is dance to Vintage FM and sleep. roll on the Olympics!

    Escaping Jackie

  • old hands July 25th, 2012 3:16 PM

    or maybe whilst doing nothing you fall into a deep depression, realizing there is no point to life if this is what it all comes down to- food, tv, loneliness, death. but i don’t work hard during the school year because that’s pointless too. so i don’t feel like im entitled to doing nothing because im always doing nothing important or worthwhile. i am non-existant.

    • Summer July 25th, 2012 9:18 PM

      As long as you are happy and enjoying yourself, it is worthwhile — even if it’s “nothing.” If it’s important to you then that’s all that matters. I’ve been going through a lot of depression recently which has stemmed a lot from the fact that I’ve been on my summer vacation since April and haven’t done “anything worthwhile.” I would suggest talking to someone about this type of thing (I’m doing the same) and trying to find out what makes YOU happy because that’s the bottom line and the real meaning of life: enjoy it!

    • caro nation July 25th, 2012 9:31 PM

      Just pretend I reiterated that entire monologue. I hate doing nothing, because doing nothing entails crying in the shower and being deathly afraid of sunlight.

    • Laia July 27th, 2012 12:17 PM

      noooo! what about music and making things and friends and love and there’s so much! also if you are always doing something then at least you are doing something, plus its not important to who? to you or the rest of the world? just do you! school can be crazy but then youll finish it and then youll never have to go back and thats a good feeling.

  • Susann July 25th, 2012 3:17 PM

    So good! I have done a lot of nothing the past month and my mother even started to compare me to a jobless person that only lounges in bed all day with a laptop!

    Fashion in Pepperland

  • justtryingtodoit July 25th, 2012 3:45 PM

    Yes! I am so completely lazy during the summer. I recently realized this, and have been trying to stop. Ergo, many trips to Also: I have started obsessing over the Olympics. I’m so glad you mentioned them! (My favorite events are probably basketball, athletics, and swimming. Gymnastics scares me every time – I always think someone’s going to get hurt!)

  • Pearl July 25th, 2012 3:48 PM

    OMG! I’m the queen of doing nothing all day since I’ve finished college (we finish a year earlier) and between actually figuring out what to do with my life. Work or study more? But for the time-being I’m enjoying this state of completeness. Is this what Buddha was talking about? Maybe.

  • decemberbaby July 25th, 2012 3:55 PM

    Ugh, I wish my mom would let me do this more over the summer. I have a feeling, though, that the coming school year will be brutal, and I’ll have more than a few weekend days (or half-days) where I lock myself in my room and proclaim it a Sacred Pizza-and-Netflix-Filled Space of Nothing into which None Bearing Word of SATs or AP Courses May Enter.

  • saramarit July 25th, 2012 4:20 PM

    It’s sad that when you start working full time your do nothing days only come about when you’re sick or hungover. A lot of my friends like to fill every moment of their free time with activities, I like to watch box sets and eat ice cream in bed.

    • stephaniesays July 25th, 2012 6:22 PM

      yes, this. I get home from work/school, crawl in bed, usually eat a pint of ice cream, and watch marathon hours of netflix. I’m on season three of felicity. not even ashamed. it sucks feeling physically exhausted at the end of the day, I’m seriously excited to get my wisdom teeth out so I can have maybe two days off in a row where I don’t have to be at school or work.

  • mayacolor July 25th, 2012 4:29 PM

    I feel bad now for changeing into real clothes today. I don’t live in london but we go there often and i might see some stuf fon a big screen :D

  • missblack July 25th, 2012 4:34 PM

    haha this is my manifesto.


  • ANA3ANA July 25th, 2012 4:44 PM

    This is an awesome post, which made me very nostalgic of when I used to spend my summers this way. It was the best!

    Now I also have a job and I am sort of an adult but I absolutely take time here and there to spend a day doing N O T H I N G. It’s just healthy.

    Rock on! xo

  • llamalina July 25th, 2012 5:03 PM

    I think the best kind of doing nothing is doing nothing outside. I like to go to the park and listen to music or read a book or just sit under the shade and watch my dog run around, because at least I can say that I went to the park if someone asks. But I do so much during the school year. Summer is for doing nothing.

  • emilyelizabeth July 25th, 2012 5:27 PM

    i think i’ve mastered the art of nothing this summer. as i write this i’m in my pajamas and watching old episodes of Friends.

  • Harley July 25th, 2012 5:32 PM

    I love summer days of doing nothing! Alas, I don’t have that luxury this summer, as I have summer reading assignments for an AP Lit course. But I do use night time for making clothes, so I think I’ve found a nice balance :)

  • yourenotfunny July 25th, 2012 5:40 PM

    God, I wish I could just do nothing and get paid, then I would be SO LOADED. Unfortunately my part-time job and the summer reading assignments i’ve been putting off are seriously cutting into my “me” time. life is hard.

    ps screw the olympics, I’m getting pumped for SHARK WEEK

  • secretjamie July 25th, 2012 6:17 PM

    Uh, I’m currently doing nothing, I have so much work to do because I’ve been doing nothing for about 3 months now ever since exam period was over for me. I feel like a slob.

  • Mags July 25th, 2012 9:11 PM

    Thank you for this. Doing nothing is my favorite thing in the world to do. Just yesterday I spent about 3 hours just staring at photos on pinterest. It was glorious.

  • bethleeroth July 25th, 2012 9:31 PM

    MAKING AND CATALOGING VHS TAPES! This was a true art form back in 1996. Had to catch Jewel on Letterman or else.

    • Esmee July 26th, 2012 9:03 AM

      I used to do this with all my cartoons when I was sick.

      I love all old things, but I truely dislike VHS tapes. They’re bulky, take up a lot of space and you have to rewind.
      But reading this makes get a video recorder, put on VH1 and VH1 Classic(fudge you “M”tv)and record all of my fav songs(especially those that remind me of my teenage years)

    • Laia July 27th, 2012 12:18 PM

      SO IMPORTANT. yes. late night performances were the WHOLE point of this event. also bits of House of Style esp when Gwen Stefani was being interviewed haha.

  • yelshA July 25th, 2012 9:35 PM

    hi, i’m leaving a comment on this post while i am in my pjs. i watched the olympics and UK skins while eating loads of cereal.. bowl after bowl after bowl.
    therefore, i have done nothing today.

    thank you.

  • LeatherStuddedFae July 26th, 2012 12:23 AM

    Ahah. It’s not such a lazy summer if you do art and such. It’s a productive summer at home. My mom always think I do nothing but nooo, I actually painted, read books, wrote short stories, blogged and crafted every time she’s away. <3

  • necroticbird July 26th, 2012 1:25 AM

    I feel like this was written by my soul sister! SO many connections!

  • ivoire July 26th, 2012 2:06 AM

    Woops I let nothing take over my life for a while. I am TRYING to light a fire under my butt though!

  • thelittlemole July 26th, 2012 4:12 AM

    it’s actually scary how much this relates to me. Yesterday I felt so bad about doing nothing but reading, watching and online communicating… but now I don’t feel guilty in the slightest :)

  • Astoria July 26th, 2012 7:20 AM

    “Doing something is cool, but doing nothing is an art.”
    You speak only the truth. Doing nothing is my best quality. I need it to relax, like, really. If I don’t get to practice Doing Nothing in a while, I get tetchy. I’m sure a lot of people feel that way.
    Anyway, this was fun to read! You’re awesome.

  • Esmee July 26th, 2012 8:58 AM

    This summer I try to do something instead of nothing.
    I made a list of stuff and I have to complete AT LEAST five things(Da Vinci-ism here: I also never finish anything)
    Even when I have all sorts of fun creative plans I want to do, nothing comes of it and I’m back at watching tv and surfing the web.

    But this morning I made a flower crown and I am going to make some clothes for my blythe doll(and after that a photoshoot)
    I also feel like now I have the time I better do it, because school starts over a month and there will be no time left for other creative endeavors.

  • sunshine July 26th, 2012 11:36 AM

    I’ve already watched the whole of Sherlock – the series…shame…

  • no_aloha July 26th, 2012 12:40 PM

    “I would wake up between 11 AM and noon and eat a giant bowl of cereal while watching Whose Line Is It Anyway?, a British improv show that ran on Comedy Central pretty much all day, before switching to Saturday Night Live marathons all evening.”

    It’s good to know that someone else was doing the same thing in the 90s!

  • TexTerror July 26th, 2012 3:42 PM

    ” For instance, I recorded all my favorite music videos and live musical performances and then had to painstakingly update my records, which were loose pages of ruled binder paper stapled together detailing everything that was on each VHS tape. ”

    i nearly screamed outloud at work. I used to do this and still have my favorite VHS’. I swear I used to think I was the only one.

  • cpq July 26th, 2012 7:00 PM

    Ditto the 90s nostalgia! Whose Line was the best background noise. But nothing was better than Great Chefs (and Great Chefs, Great Cities)…. I was obsessed in high school and can still sing the theme song (embarrassingly). Who needs Food Network? ;)

    • Laia July 27th, 2012 12:19 PM

      great chefs! great citiiiesssss great fooods! lovingly prepared by the best…

  • julalondon July 27th, 2012 9:16 AM

    Ok THIS IS MY LIFE because i had my last exam from University yesterday and now I’M FREE and just gonna do NOTHING AT ALL and FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT!!!!!

  • meels July 28th, 2012 7:15 AM

    This has literally been my life for the past two months, great article for those who need to learn to party like us!! Join the club

  • DE July 28th, 2012 8:42 PM

    It’s weird I don’t remember writing this but this article describes my summer. Do I have a secret life as a rookie writer?

    • Cutesycreator aka Monica October 30th, 2012 2:59 PM

      :D You’re awesome!

  • kudosfolks July 29th, 2012 9:26 PM

    THIS IS ME. Seriously. I’m a senior at high school, and for the past few months I’ve been extremely filled with assignments and responsibilities not only at school, but personally too. It really gets to you, and for once in my life I can’t handle it and count the days for vacations to come. They have finally arrived! But unfortunately I am still unable to disconnect from everything. I think I’m kind of an anti-social, I’ve been without Facebook for almost a month and it’s the best. So this weekend I turned off my phone, and avoided leaving my room at all. It has really been incredible, I watched the 18 episodes of “Freaks & Geeks” in 2 days and drank about 12 cups of coffee. Anyway, I love your writing, and this post made my day!

  • eliselbv July 30th, 2012 10:03 AM

    Doing nothing is the best thing you can do!!!!
    Thanks for this article Rookies

  • violetfairydust August 3rd, 2012 12:04 AM

    This has been me since last week because I finally finished school. I am very adept at doing nothing if I must say so myself lol but thanks for the tidbits :)

  • January August 5th, 2012 9:20 PM

    I like this article for many reasons, but most of all because it validated my vacation bathing practices.

  • Paulina August 10th, 2012 7:10 AM

    I love this ♥♥♥

  • Cutesycreator aka Monica October 30th, 2012 2:50 PM

    When this article was published I didn’t have a Rookie account yet, hence the three-month-late comment. But alas, I have stumbled upon it again (IT’S DESTINY), and while I’m here, it would be a crime not to mention how wonderful and awesome and fantastic and [insert more positive adjectives here] it is.

    This article is wonderful. And awesome. And fantastic. POSITIVE ADJECTIVES ET CETERA FOREVER.

    Doing nothing is my favorite hobby.