In Defense of Non-Productivity

by Katy on August 26, 2009 · 17 comments

The following is s reprint of a previously published column. Enjoy!


I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I could conceivably clean, cook, organize and generally work on my house every waking moment and never, ever run out of stuff to do.

Yes my house is big, but it’s not monstrous. There’s just one bathroom to clean, (this is the positive spin with which I choose to view the just one bathroom issue) and most of our everythings have a place to go.

But if I prioritized being productive over quality of life, I would never find the time to snuggle with my children or take a walk with a friend on a sunny day.

Which is why I value non-productivity.

Leaving the dinner dishes out so that I can watch a movie with the kids; allow the piano to grow a layer of dust so I can visit with a friend.

This may sound like I’m shirking my duties, but I’m really not. Everyone has clean clothes, food in their belly and money in the bank. I work two to three days per week as a labor and delivery nurse, and I stretch the dollars so that I can have time to goof off.

It may look from the outside like I’m just bone lazy.

But I hardly think I’ll lie on my deathbed and be thinking about my shiny kitchen floors and super-organized paperwork. No. I hope that I’ll feel I’ve spent my time on the people and activities I love.

I can certainly push my whirling dervish button and demonstrate a style of productivity to rival Martha Stewart’s. (And I do this about once a week.) But I have zero interest in maintaining this pace. I’d rather be the mom who walked slowly to the library and then snuggled up with a kid while watching a movie.

You can have your to-do lists, I’ll be upstairs. But shh . . . I may be taking a nap.

Five Things You Can Do Today To Support A Non-Productive Lifestyle

  1. Allow yourself to just say no to demands on your time. It’s perfectly okay to prioritize downtime.
  2. Accept a less than perfect house. Keeping your house clean at all times is not a natural state. My dining room is currently decorated by some half-finished art projects and a scattering of felt tips. This is okay, as it means actual people who engage in actual activities live here.
  3. Practice Conscious Frugality. The less money you spend, the less you need to earn. This frees up time and energy; and helps you from getting burned out at work.
  4. Join The Compact. (Buy nothing new.) By stepping away from autopilot consumerism, you free yourself from the unwinnable competition with the Joneses.
  5. Choose one day per week to dedicate to accomplishing as little as possible. This is not the day to finish projects or run errands. Sleep in, read novels and simply — relax.

Are you a go-go-go whirlwind of activity? Do you allow yourself time to do the things that give you pleasure? Do you wait for your one vacation per year to actually read a novel? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kristen@TheFrugalGirl August 27, 2009 at 2:38 am

Sunday is my day for this. While we go to church in the morning, in the afternoons, we relax. No one does any work that’s not necessary (we do lunch dishes, but no one scrubs the floor or cleans toilets!), so that we all can rest. I even cook minimally on Sundays (which is why we have breakfast for dinner).


Lisa August 27, 2009 at 6:37 am

My house is small, and I still could spend all of my time doing housework. I love it when it is clean, but it does have a cost.

Years ago I had a quote on my fridge that read something like “It isn’t true that you must do your best all the time. Somethings only deserve to be done in the most slovenly, half-hearted manner possible.”

Now, most days I strive for “clean enough”. When we are really busy it is more like “clean enough to keep the health department away” 😎


AJ in AZ August 27, 2009 at 7:50 am

At last, a woman after my own heart. I am so glad to have discovered this blog. Nearly every day what you write strikes a chord with me.


Patti August 27, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Hi Katy,
I’m a faithful daily reader and can’t thank you enough for the changes I’ve made in my life thanks to your writings. I’m surprised how over the course of the year or so I’ve been reading how many different habits I have aquired. I didn’t set out to make any changes originally, I was just inspired by your choice to follow your own path. Turns out that by reading about your path it resonated so closely with what I’ve wanted for myself that there was no way to resist the changes that started creeping into my life.

I moved to Sellwood from New Jersey a year ago and have been taking neighborhood walks. I can’t get over how many rotting pears, etc. I’m seeing out on the sidewalks. Did I read on your blog about the PDX group that forages for such fruit and gets it to food banks? I can’t seem to remember where I saw that and I was hoping for some contact info. I would like to print up some friendly notes to leave on the houses with rotting fruit, inviting them to have the win-win of fruit being eaten and less rotting fruit and swarming flies around their property.

Also, thanks for the specificity you use in writing your blog. Thanks to you I have been able to find a lot of resources for simple living in Portland that I have not come across anywhere else. Special thanks for every time you mention the exact location of various thrift stores. I’ve been taking full advantage of the second hand world in Portland and love it when you reveal your favorite locations.

Thanks so much for your writing and for the positive contributions you’ve made in my family’s life.

Patti Michaels


fern August 27, 2009 at 1:34 pm

one whole day a week to be unproductive? Wow, my world would fall into chaos very quickly if i did that. I spend far too much time on work and to-do lists and barely fel like i can keep up. My house is usually a mess, and i’m single.

So i soldier on, mowing my own 1.5 acres weekly (shoveling the driveway in winter), working a 12-hour day that has me leaving ta 7:10 am and getting home at 6:30 pm, growing my own vegetables, doing my own cooking and some home improvement projects. It’s exhausting. Love my house, not so much the job.


Tonya August 27, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Wow, what a good blog entry today. I often get trapped in the thinking that the house and to-do list have to be done, when in reality, even if I worked all my non-job hours on those tasks, they would still never be done.

It’s a good reminder to let some stuff go, and to relax and be with the people I love. Thanks, Katie!


ksmedgirl August 27, 2009 at 5:36 pm

I agree! You wrote recently that you had a lot of free time and that resonated with me also. I thought it was just me who isn’t “busy”. I like to say that “I refuse to buy into the cultural ideal that busyness equals status”. I spend my time on the important stuff: friends, family, & health. All the rest is just extra.


Cheryl August 27, 2009 at 8:20 pm

I have a magnet on my fridge that says “I cleaned my house yesterday, wish you could have seen it!”

My house is not “dirty” but becomes cluttered in an instant…

I do hate it when others downsize and don’t ask you if you want things but leave them on your front porch…” I feel the same about unthoughtful gifts…If you want to get us something and don’t feel you have a good, applicable idea then please ASK…I am not trying to sound ungrateful but we have recycled and donated so much that someone’s good money went to…

I too believe that if I am capable of thinking about anything close to the end of my life it will be this: “Did I do a good enough job making sure the people I loved knew how much?” I already think that daily…


jenn baron August 28, 2009 at 7:31 am

My partner and I just chill on Sundays. I may walk the dogs and enjoy the quiet morning and then we’ll each have our morning beverage of choice and look through the NY Times and watch West Wing reruns and other shows we DVRed that week.

I used to be a go, go, goer and realized that I was “doing and going” to feel more worthwhile. It’s been lovely to make that realization and slowly change that belief.


Erin August 28, 2009 at 9:50 am

This conscious use of non-productivity is what I’m missing in my life.

I am so inspired by your decision to follow your path and to read about how it is manifesting in your daily life. Until I can get out from some constraints and let go of some of my own fear of needing financial security, I’ll have to just use this blog as an example.

Thanks Katy!


Angel August 28, 2009 at 10:46 am

Though I totally agree with you, unfortunately my significant other believes in doing a lot of cleaning and is always getting up to put away the dinner dishes the minute dinner is over. It’s a blessing to be married to someone who helps so much with the housework but sometimes I would love to just let the dishes sit, go for a walk, lie around and read a book all day…..


Barb McMahon August 30, 2009 at 8:16 am

I love this post!

I’m definitely an advocate of non-productivity – though I often feel guilty when I take a day all to myself – I think I’m getting better at it as time goes on.

Thanks for the inspiration!


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