Living Un-Busy?

We live in a culture where “Being Busy” is glorified. But, it’s not really being… it’s doing and doing more. Doing more is perceived as being productive and worthy. A badge of honor – I’m important, so of course I’m busy! Try telling someone you’re Not Busy and watch his or her reaction. Obviously something is wrong with you. Are you sick? Lazy? Isn’t laziness a Cardinal Sin? (It’s sloth – same thing.) Aren’t you just a pariah/leach on society?

Busy is normal. It’s what’s expected. If I’m not busy, I am definitely “not enough”.

But in retirement, I’m trying to discard the “busy” mentality for being delightfully “un-busy”.  I recently found a whole counter-culture, complete with bloggers, of Un-Busy and Slow Living. Arising from the minimalist lifestyle arena, these lifestyle philosophies have some interesting elements for my retirement lifestyle.

First to note: Un-Busy and Slow-Living are philosophies, movements, or lifestyles. That said, there are many different realistic approaches (simple living, minimalism, off the-grid) among different individuals claiming to be living these philosophies.

One of the aha’s for me in exploring these movements was:

A Busy Life is not necessarily a Full Life!

When I was working I certainly had a busy life. I felt it challenging to find time for an exercise program, developing a hobby, or even reading for enjoyment. There were mind-numbing meetings, email at all hours awaiting immediate response, endless time spent creating networks for influencing, re-working reports/presentations to “perfection” with still another round of feedback, and the expectation to “put in the hours” as a symbol of productivity in a knowledge-based work culture. I worked in an organization where there was little to no priority setting and saying “no” to any work was not an option if you wanted to maintain a good rating (and continued employment in a constantly downsizing organization). I was a high-sense-of-responsibility, fear-of-failure, workaholic trying to reach perfection in my work – of course I felt busy! But I was often dissatisfied and unhappy with life.

In recent years, I can feel time-crunched because of time wasting behaviors like endless social media engagement (the abundance of blogs, podcasts, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Internet surfing, must-see TV shows, and movies), the fear of missing out (FOMO) and worrying about societal expectations creating endless to-do lists, and shifting the need for perfection in other aspects of life besides work.

But was I really busy then, and am I really busy now? Am I working multiple jobs just to pay the monthly bills while raising children and managing a household, maybe with aging parents caregiving tossed in, too? It’s more likely I am not making choices on the infinite possibilities and endless to-do lists, not making personal priority calls, and not managing my time-wasting behaviors!

Another aha:

There is a HUGE difference between being UN-BUSY and being IDLE.

As I explored the worlds of the Un-Busy and Slow-Living Movements, there was a backlash about being idle. Idleness is still considered “bad”. Idleness is nothing to do, low engagement in any activity, and can lead to anxiety, boredom and depression. In fact, to avoid idleness, many people will engage in destructive behaviors. And, there is still a biological need for physical activity; physical movement (versus a sedentary lifestyle) is necessary for health. And yes, to be happy and fulfilled, human’s still need a feeling of “purpose” – doing things that match your values and vision in life.


I created this framework to capture the concept of Idleness in relationship to Activity:


For me, Un-Busy is Choice-ful, Value-based Activity – choosing a blend of Active and Passive Leisure activities that are right for me. Finding my own personal blend of: creative expression, physical activity, intellectual stimulation, social interaction, solitary relaxation, spectator appreciation, and travel experiences!

Un-Busy and Slow-Living are really mindsets of time management! It is a choice to focus on fewer, critical, value-based activities; to allow time to just be; to savor the things you do, practicing mindfulness; to get rid of excess and non-essential things; to allow things to be “good enough”; and to say “no” to commitments that don’t fit into personal priorities (even if they are societal expectations). It’s moving from feeling time-starved and over-booked to feeling time-affluent.


Retirement is another time of time-affluence. Retirement is often called the time that “I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want”.   Some people like more planned, structured days, others like them to be more spontaneous. Everyone has a different balance desired between time doing and time being. But for many, retirement is the perfect time to be Un-Busy!

For me, retirement is having time to play tourist in our town, to go for long walks, to visit with neighbors, to watch a sunset, or have a 2-hour lunch. I can spend a whole hot summer afternoon on the porch reading and responding to blogs.   I can spend time with my hubby shopping at our favorite foodie stores on un-crowded, mid-week days.   I can spend more time taking care of me – daily movement (most days), doing all my routine health checks, taking care of my mental and emotional health, and getting plenty of sleep.

In retirement, you have the time to make choices and pursue activities like personal growth, personal connections, and a higher level of wellbeing. The fit with the Un-busy Philosophy is great!

How can you be Un-Busy in retirement?

  • Choose an un-busy mind-set. Do not over schedule yourself, so there is no pressure to be somewhere every hour of the day. Balance doing and being.
  • Intentionally choose and pursue activities that align to your personal values. Make priority calls and say no to things that are not aligned to your personal values and vision.   [Be prepared to defend your choices against societal or cultural implicit and explicit expectations!]
  • Appreciate the quiet times you fit into your daily life. Invest in solitude – yoga, meditation, journaling, artist dates.
  • Connect with nature and notice the sounds, smells, sights, and textures. Appreciate the moment versus capturing it to post online!
  • Appreciate what you are doing when you are doing it and with whom you are doing it. Practice gratitude.
  • Practice healthy living. Take care of your body, mind and spirit.
  • Consider aspects of modern minimalism, simplicity and/or de-cluttering to create an environment/space that’s filled with what you love and value, what brings you joy. Get rid of the rest.


What’s your reaction to this Un-busy Life Philosophy for retirement?

38 thoughts on “Living Un-Busy?

  1. I love this post. It will be an adjustment transitioning to retirement from a career/work environment where “are you busy?” is a customary greeting and “not busy” is the equivalent of sloth, laziness, lack of worth, not being enough. But I relish the opportunity. The idea of being “time affluent” resonates as does the distinction between positive solitude and being lonely. This post also pairs nicely with the next post about wellness. Using downtime to rebuild the body and renew the mind is a critical part of wellness for me. I expect to return repeatedly to both posts and the thoughtful comments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Liz, I completely understand about the lazy/sloth reaction. I’ve decided to try using the “I am delightfully un-busy these days” as a response. It makes it sound both a choice and a happy place to be. I love the fact I can have a 2-hour lunch, go for a long walk & talk with a friend, stop and chat with a neighbor, or find time on a cloudy afternoon to respond to blog comments. I like your “rebuild the body and renew the mind” focus as you transition into retirement!


  2. Hi Pat, For today, I don’t want to retire. I love blogging, writing for publications, and facilitating workshops. I don’t do as much in Tucson’s hot summers, but pick up the pace when the weather cools down. Do enjoy many of the things you do in retirement in my healthy active life. Maybe in a few years, I’ll consider cutting back even more during the rest of the year. Happy day, whatever you do and wishing you a wonderful transition. Will re-share as I’m visiting you from #MLSTL.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Pat, Your title immediately reminds me how one of my words of the year is “space.” I try to keep “space” open for the unexpected and often truly important times and people in my life. Like you say, “Un-busy and slow living” is a lifestyle philosophy. I can relate to the busyness of our work schedule. And I also have to be careful and aware of time wasting behaviours in my personal life. I like how your post incorporates the word “value” and “value-based.” It is a good reminder on how we spend our precious gift of time. A great post, Pat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Erica, I came onto the value-based activities thinking about a year ago and it really helped me feel more satisfied in my life … as well as drop some things/activities I was doing. I do have to watch out on time-wasters. I love doing puzzles and word games, and while it can be mentally stimulating, if I overdo, it becomes a time wasting behavior.

      Many folks would say that my planning and daily activities make me “busy”, but I am trying to embrace an un-busy philosophy. If I was still working, it would be much harder…so I give those who are still working many kudo’s for adopting the philosophy!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Pat,
    I found this post so enlightening. I’ve invested some time into minimalism, particularly in downsizing. There is nothing that so clarifies how little we really need than living on a sailboat or in a 640 sq ft house! And it is very freeing.
    This idea from your post, “Appreciate the quiet times you fit into your daily life. Invest in solitude – yoga, meditation, journaling, artist dates.” struck me as I just finished an article about Positive Solitude and its benefits, as opposed to loneliness, -which is another facet of being alone. Positive solitude provides calm and centering. Loneliness is crippling.
    Time is the great richness in retirement. You can choose how to spend it. But you need to be judicious and be able to say no. This includes to family and friends, as well, who think you have just been waiting to be available to them!
    Loved this article.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like your style of unbusy. We’ve been “glamping” over the weekend on a bush block about 40kms from the nearest town. There was no cell reception, no internet and no TV. No reason to be “busy” yet every day was full. That’s the sort of busy I like. #MLSTL

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Pat, as someone who used to wear ‘busy’ as a badge I’ve come to a crossroads in my life where things have to change. I quite like the idea of being ‘un-busy’ and taking off self-imposed pressure to validate my life. Thanks for sharing at #MLSTL and I think you and Leanne are on the same page this week. 🙂


  7. Hi Pat, I think that our mindset definitely makes a difference in how we approach a slower pace of living. Although I am not retired and the days are very full, I can still choose to slow down and savor the moment, whether I’m reading, praying, walking or just resting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Candi, It’s been helpful for me to recognize this as a “philosophy”… almost a justification that it’s okay to slow down, savor things, and just be. I’m still learning to let go of years of workaholic Type-A behaviors, so justification helps me!


  8. I’ve been writing about the un-busy retirement life for a while Pat. Probably because I felt initially that I had to justify not working. That I had to look productive and that I was contributing and filling my days gainfully. I’d read blog posts from retirees with Vision Boards, Bucket Lists, Seasonal to-do lists etc etc and I felt like I wasn’t able to meet that kind of intensity.

    Then I stopped and gave myself some grace. I’ve accepted that I like the Minimal, Slow Living, Un-Busy movements – where you discard the unnecessary and allow your time to centre on what’s really important. I read a great post on it today ( and I’ll be interested to see how you transition from your very purposeful retirement into something that feels like a good fit with these movements. We can leap in together (as I said the other week, I have a post on this topic scheduled for in a few weeks (great minds!)
    Thanks for linking up with us at MLSTL and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leanne, What I like best from that link is “live with intention” and the concept of guardrails. I’ve come to accept that I am a planner and I love lists. Without those things in my life I feel adrift. .. they are part of my life’s guardrails! I’m still a work in progress at letting go of my Type-A personality, and maybe ever will completely. But I am embracing elements of un-busy and that’s allowing me to make progress in enjoying the moment and not feeling stress to go-go-go.


  9. I am living the un-busy life Pat and loving it! I met with a friend just yesterday for a long lunch and told her about some of my un-busyness. She couldn’t cope with what she saw as my idle-ness. I’m taking far more time with being in the moment and enjoying the time, deciding how I spend each day. Some days I’m busy, others I’m not, but it’s up to me! It can be hard to let go of a lifetime of busyness though! #mlstl

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree Deb, it is hard to let go of a life time of busyness habit plus the “badge of honor” we feel busy gives us! Yesterday a friend told me she had a similar reaction from someone who actually told her she was being a leach on society for not continuing to be busy! Yes, told her that to her face! I would hope everyone at some point would learn the value of slowing down and enjoying life more.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I think I may be an Un-Busy poster child… except that I have been known to just be idle at times 🙂 (although, I wouldn’t say that I’m ever really bored). I worked hard to be able to enjoy my retirement in all its forms: activities, projects, travel, leisure, and wasting time. Thanks for those links to the un-busy blogs. I’ll check them out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Janis, I’m finding it’s helpful to have Un-Busy being a recognized philosophy/lifestyle. I can feel like I belong to a new tribe. I know, I should not look for external validation… but I’m still woking on that skill. I also think being idle at times is different than being idle. Just being, watching the world go by, quietly absorbing the silence… that’s not really idle – it’s meditative!


  11. I’m so glad you mentioned minimalism here, Pat. For so many of my working years I was accruing so much even if it wasn’t necessarily material possessions (thought it certainly was that). The ability to scale down in size is huge in retirement. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Pat! I really appreciate your break down and the accompanying chart to explain the slow living mentality. I agree that there is such a temptation to think that being unbusy is lazy and unproductive, but like you said by making it an active choice to embrace leisure is actually very SMART 🙂 The only thing I would suggest is that people realize that we CAN do this before retirement. In fact, by rightsizing our lives we can actually begin to focus on what really matters throughout our lives, not just after we retire. Sure it means prioritizing time, money, intentions, etc. But I consider myself extremely fortunate that I have been doing it for the vast majority of my life. And the rewards are enormous. As you say, being busy isn’t necessarily living a full life. Instead, living a simple, sustainable, and intention-filled life gives me all that and more. ~Kathy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kathy – Wow! You called it SMART! I’m smiling hugely over here.

      I agree that people can do this prior to retirement, and many of the bloggers in the space are in that camp. As I wrote some of the blog, I really wanted to sit down with a few of my working friends and say – look at this, listen to this! But I wouldn’t have heard the message when I was working – i was too caught up in the climb the ladder, competitive, judgmental working world. If you can start to live this way earlier in life, you are smarter than I was. 🙂 But at least I’m learning it now! I always was a late bloomer… I started to say slow learner, but it’s more about getting to mastery or making it habit. And I’m learning to love being un-busy with repetition and reinforcement.


  13. I concur with this philosophy, especially busy-ness is not necessarily a “full” life. I do think that busy-ness with many tasks and commitments lends to a sense of self-importance but it can also be a diversion from tending to self-reflection and personal growth. I have been greeted by people with the question, “Busy?” I do enjoy the look on their faces when I reply, “No.” My intention is to be proactive with my time, to do time so time doesn’t do me. There are many seasonal commitments in my life. I like to balance physical and non-physical activities; cerebral & non-cerebral tasks; have to’s and want to’s. I guess balance is the key.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mona, Yes, isn’t it crazy when you respond to the Busy question that way. I’m going to continue to say “No, I am delightfully Un-busy”. And you are so right – for me as well, balance is the key.


  14. If being un-busy and living slow is a movement, then I think I have found my tribe!

    My philosophy about retirement (early or not) is:

    If through planning and a bit of luck you have made it here, you owe nothing to anyone, anymore. Do what you want, when you want. Enjoy what time you have left. Your life/health can change in a heartbeat (it always could, actually) so make the most of doing what you want while you still can.


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Deb, Isn’t it great to find a tribe! I was really intrigued as I read through and actually started to follow a few of the bloggers. I still struggle with the living up to others expectations, and this gives me more confidence to say … no there’s a lot of us who are doing it different. I am not alone.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. This is my way of life. I am following every one of those seven bullet points (though we definitely need more work on the last one). I was “busy” for 30+ years with my career and helping to raise four children. I do not need to be that kind of busy anymore. I really try not to schedule multiple events in the same day if at all possible and I try to limit the number of events per week. Most of what I schedule are fun items, but there are some obligations to deal with as well. I am happy with the way life is proceeding at the moment. I will look to adjust if I start to get restless or bored, but so far, that has not happened.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bob, It was interesting to learn that this is really considered a counter-culture movement! I think many of us in retirement are learning to (trying to) live it. I’m going to continue to say “I am delightfully un-busy”.


  16. I love the Un-busy life still, although I still have trouble letting go to it. It is definitely a mind-set change. It is ok to relax, enjoy, or even have nothing to do. I’m still learning to enjoy having nothing to do. Quiet time. I worked hard. I deserve it. And now that I’m letting go to it I love it……Once in a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Candyse, I completely understand the trouble in letting go of busyness and meeting expectations. This past 2 weeks has definitely helped that learning curve of un-busy!


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