Notes on ‘The Art of Doing Nothing’ by Tom Hodgkinson

This post is for the Front Row gang (you know who you are). Since we were talking about the concept of Fun for Free at the last Front Row session, here is a rough-and-ready summary of the essay where I first heard of the concept, ‘The Art of Doing Nothing’ by Tom Hodgkinson. The essay appears in a book called ‘Do Good Lives Have to Cost the Earth’, edited by Andrew Simms and Joe Smith.

‘Don’t just do something, sit there’, is the phrase which summarises the way of life that Hodgkinson is suggesting, his observation being that the growth-centred economic system that we are part of depends on people doing stuff and spending money. Even the green movement is great for big business because it creates the opportunity for industry to make more stuff, he argues. At the start of the essay, Hodgkinson describes the good life as: one of ‘parties and dancing and beer and wine’; one that ‘tends to improve the common interest’ – one that is green. He argues that you can achieve this sort of ‘good life’ by doing a whole lot less, and taking your time over it. He suggests there are two barriers to this way of life: the fear that a life with massively reduced consumption would be dull; and the fear of not having enough money.

These two fears however seem to take care of each other, cancelling each other out. Consuming less means you need less disposable income, so you can spend less time at work, and spend more time doing things creatively. And of course you need to be more creative to do things on a tighter budget. You spend less when you are not running around. Your quality of life can be richer rather than poorer. Hodgkinson acknowledges of course that you need money for rent and food, but elsewhere huge savings can by making your own fun. He goes on to explain how at a time of financial crisis, he and his partner decided they didn’t need to spend money to have fun: they could make their own. They gave themselves two sweeteners: they allowed themselves to spend money on childcare and alcohol. And thus begins the hunt for fun for free.

He goes on to suggest ways in which he enjoys fun for free: going to Notting Hill Carnival; baking bread; putting a piano in the kitchen and inviting friends round for a party; and overdosing on seasonal fruit and veg. The more you think about it, the more you realise there is to do. And decommoditised fun can meet all the requirements of the good life: it’s sociable, stimulating, accessible, non-wasteful, bountiful, healthy…

In summary then: make your own fun; lead a richer life for less money; and do the environment a favour while your at it. I am certainly taken by the idea. Follow my posts under the category fun-for-free to see how I’m getting with my experiments (category link coming soon).