08 February 2012

Step 7: Spend More Time Alone

A full list of the Simple Living Challenge steps can be found here.  

"All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." Blaise Pascal

Spending time alone has never been hard for me. I enjoy solitude and quiet. I love being by myself. But only in the past few years did the notion of constructive, creative solitude came to my mind.

Being able to spend hours by myself in the forest, or wandering at the beach, listening how the sea breathes has taught me to trust myself more, to listen to my inner voice more, to find my center and to elevate my thoughts to a level I never before fathomed.

Today I want to make sure you will do your best to spend more time by yourself.

Photo: kanelstrand

Why spending time alone is important
Undoubtedly, modern life is stressful in any given point of the world. While location plays a significant role in the level of stress you might experience on a daily basis, one thing is true - there is not much difference. Whether you live in New York City (population 8 million) or Oslo (population 600,000), you are as badly hooked on gadgets and keeping up with your neighbors, you shop in the similar retail chains, you read the same news and you watch the same ads again and again (except if you are brave enough like Julia). 

Has it occurred to you that a way to counteract is to free your mind? Decluttering and simplifying does exactly that - the whole challenge was designed to inspire you and pinpoint possibilities that you might have never heard of, or you might have considered but never got round to putting to action.

Spending time alone is one of the best ways to de-stress and take a moment to hear your heart. Consider it private time, a special moment in the day for you to recharge. While some people like me enjoy their alone time,  others feel uncomfortable in the quiet. If you are one of them, I challenge you to break the spell today. Because if you are unable to enjoy your own company, then no one else will ever be.

Photo: kanelstrand
How to free time to enjoy your company
Freeing up time to spend in peace and quiet with yourself wouldn't mean you are irresponsible, and you will not be letting anyone down but you need to implement some of the previous steps of our simplifying journey. If you do schedule, organize your home, craft and spend more time with your loved ones you will undoubtedly find time to spend with yourself too.

If you are unexperienced with spending time alone, I recommend you to schedule 30 minutes a day in which you will be by yourself. Those 30 minutes exclude:
  • watching TV,
  • listening to the radio,
  • browsing the web,
  • reading,
  • or crafting. 
You need to resist the urge of putting yourself to use or achieving something. In this exigent, demanding world, where 90% of what you do is adhering with someone else's needs, views and rules, you do deserve 30 minutes of your day, don't you think?

To make time for yourself you might want to consider reducing time spent on other activities at least for a month, until you get a nice feel of what it is to be with yourself. This might mean that you are going to get stricter with the time you spend on the Internet, or in front of the TV, or in your friends' company. You might have to give up pointless chatting, or reading the news. You might want to reevaluate the time you spend doing your chores. Surely you can find a way to reduce it. If you are not sure what to begin with you might want to check Leo Babauta's 15 ways to create an hour a day of extra time for solitude.

Photo: kanelstrand

What to do when you are alone
Instead of giving you advice on this one I would like to share what I do when I am alone.

I go out in Nature.

I spend at least an hour a day outside and since we live in the forest and at the beach, I have the chance to immediately dip myself into the bliss of raw nature. Depending on the season I take a different route but I always have my camera with me.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to do that too. Take a camera with you on your walks. It doesn't matter how good a photographer you are, this exercise doesn't have anything to do with judging your abilities. On the contrary, my aim is to help you learn more about yourself.

With a camera in hand your mind is alert to the beauty of nature around you. Whether you see it through your eyes or through the lens you become one with it. With time you will learn to respect and follow its moves. What does this have to do with your being alone? Everything! Nature is the teacher that can help you listen and accept. It can train your senses and perceptions.

Isn't it impressive that Henry David Thoreau phrased my own thoughts 158 years ago?:
"... I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again."

Preparing for this post I decided to go for a walk in the snowy woods. I chose the time right before sunset. At this time of the year the sunset is a shy thing. It is done and over with in less than 30 minutes. 

Photo: kanelstrand

While contemplating a gentle milky violet sky above a quiet and still light blue sea, behind my back the fiery sun is touching the low tops of the hills,making their outlines golden and the sky burning. I wonder how these completely opposite colors can exist at the same moment in the same sky. The beach on the violet side is humbly quiet while the one still lit by the late orange sun is alive with quiet footsteps of people just gone by.

Dry brown ferns are sticking out above the snow, curled and crumpled, round patches of ice are floating along their usual southward route, like a flock of thick graceful elephants. I am quiet. I often stop to listen to the sounds around me: the drops of melting snow, the squeaking ice in the sea, the cracking of branches. No birds are to be heard at this time of day but I know what it is having them around, in broad daylight. I wouldn't give that sound show for any TV program in the world.

I often take my camera out. I want to keep all these visual memories - moments that I can share later with you; that I can get back to and relive; that can help me remember my thoughts, recall the smells. I sometimes lie down on the ground. Like when I was taking photos of the mushrooms last autumn. The camera provokes me to change my point of view. And while I do that on the outside, the change happens inside too.

Once I have become one with nature miracles start happening; small but important miracles like getting the chance to see a family of swans floating soundlessly between the ice circles. And then another one, with a black swan at the end. Such close encounters are only possible when you are in peace with yourself, when you are calm. I am sure you know what I mean.

You can do this
Rearrange your day today and make sure you leave 30 minutes for yourself. You may choose to stay quietly at home, or take a walk but do stay alone. Don't press yourself to think of anything. Just be. Look around, look at yourself. No pressure, no planning, no scheduling. Just simple existence for 30 minutes.

Share your experience: Do you regularly spend time alone without doing anything? Did you try this today? What was the feeling? Do you think you can challenge yourself and stick to that routine for a month?

See also:
Step 1: Embrace Your Imperfections
Step 2: Simple Living as Men's Trait
Step 3: The Rules of Simple Home Organization
Step 4: Simple Crafting for Happy People 
Step 5: Simple Scheduling and Planning Routines
Step 6: Spend More Time With the People You Love
Step 8: Connect to Your Inner Self 
Step 9: How to De-Stress 
Step 10: Learn to Live With Less and Enjoy it
Step 11: Start a Debt-Free Life
Step 12: How to Overcome Consumerism 
Step 13: Declutter Your Life 
Step 14: Get Rid of Toxic Cosmetics and Reclaim Your Natural Self  
Step 15: Wean Off Plastic  
Step 16: Celebrate Your Story  
The Final Step: Gratitude 

Make sure you stay up to date with the Simple Living Challenge and subscribe by email to receive each post straight to our Inbox or by RSS if you are using a Reader. 


  1. I have the opposite problem - I love to spend too much time alone. :)

    1. Maša, I too love spending time alone but I also know people who literally get out of themselves when they have to be alone. Thanks for reading!

  2. I spend 90% of my time away from work alone. I hate every second of being alone, but I also dislike people and will not go "out". People are jerks (I would like to use a stronger word). Occasionaly I see my parents or the people at the checkout counter when I get gas or booze. The majority of the people I see is when I got on the once-a-month shopping trip. Yes, 90% of the time I am alone I am also lonely, but thats just the way it is.

    1. Twyla, what is it that makes you hate being alone? Isn't there a single thing you can get yourself to like about it? I believe that if you set your mind to it you will find a way to enjoy yourself.

      I may have an idea for you. Like... how about coming to visit me and spending some alone time with me :) I bet we can make it a positive experience although I am sure I could also be a jerk sometimes :)))

  3. I am enjoying this series. Have to catch up on some of the earlier posts.

    1. Thanks for stopping by. You are welcome to share your opinion.

  4. I'm great at this one! I work from home and spend a majority of the day alone. Obviously I see my husband in the mornings and evenings, and I'll run into people when I'm out running errands, but for most of the workday I'm by myself.

    And I love it.

    To keep from turning into a total hermit (because I think that's my tendency), I find a reason to leave my house everyday, I schedule lunch with friends, and I make sure we socialize with other couples after work.

    1. You seem to be doing great, Paige! Scheduling regular meetups with friends and family is great and should be done though I sometimes go slightly beyond the line and forget that other people exist :)

  5. Am loving this series Sonya....yes, love time alone, doing nothing, but being in the present and appreciating life:) I see this as a nurturing of oneself, the sense of well-being and strength that comes from being in this space is immeasurable:)

    1. Thanks, Kala!

      Yes, there is a sense of strength coming out of truly enjoying your company.

  6. Oh coincidence! I was precisely pondering this today on my blog.

    I've always been able to spend days in solitude, in complete happiness. Yet I'm never more attuned to myself than when I'm in the forest, or somewhere out there in the country. As long as I'm removed from people...

    I guess I'm just a loner, at the end of the day. ;)

    1. Artists are all loners I think. But we sometimes do get lost and sometimes we do miss people (though I don't really remember when that was, haha). I think there is a kind of connection between the two.

      And indeed, what a lovely coincidence! Just the proof how close we are without even knowing each other. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  7. Haha, I was going to say I'm okay being alone...but then you said reading, listening to music, etc. don't count. And I thought...oh... (Of course, that's probably for the best. If my characters knew I considered writing their stories "being alone", they'd probably be offended. xD)

    However, I do sometimes go on photo-taking expeditions all on my own, so it's not like I'm not bad at being alone.

    And sometimes I do feel that listening to music can be extremely meaningful. Sometimes, I put in my headphones, turn on my iPod, and just sit on the couch or lay on my bed, listening and letting my mind wander. It's very relaxing. <3

    1. Haha, Taylor, I made it difficult, didn't I? That's the advantage of being a loner - you have had time to go through all stages :)

      When I was your age music defined me to a great extent and I can understand you. Music is great as long as it doesn't muffle your inner voice.

  8. Sonya,
    You are speaking my language on this one...I love my alone time...and I too have regular dates with my camera...it is amazing what one focuses on through the small patch of space of the viewfinder. Exploring my world though the lens teaches me so many lessons. Focus, interest, perspective, balance, 'noise', and the ability to presence myself moment by moment...because...as you know with photos...everything is constantly changing...and to catch that perfect shot, with the perfect light, at the exact moment of magic is sometimes a miracle...sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I viewed my whole day from the point of view of framing a photograph...what would i focus on? What points of interest and beauty? How would I frame the picture? What mood would I want to capture? But I digress...Every day I walk at lunch...I step outside the building and take long deep breaths of air and feel the sun on my face and walk quickly to the one little patch of beach that is within the compound where I work...there is usually a large flock of pelicans taking an afternoon rest and I delight in seeing them as the waves lick the shore...That walk everyday helps keep my sanity at a desk job where I feel caged like a veal unable to move...me, the computer and spreadsheets...what would I do without the outlets of photography, art, writing and wonderful blogs like yours?

    1. Julia, you are a lucky lady, to have a beach with pelicans close to your work! I bet you spend many a refreshing moments with them or any other beach dwellers and get back to work energized and calmed.

      Photography is an art beyond comparison, isn't it? It allows you to be a painter and although it requires much technical thought it lets you paint your works with just a click, thus allowing your mind to wander and collaborate with nature for your own well-being...

      Thanks for another intriguing insight!

  9. Ah, Sonya. The beauty of your words and your images always invokes so many thoughts, that I don't know where to begin!

    Suffice it to say that I crave being alone! I am thrilled to have extraordinary relationships with my husband and four children but, you can imagine, I am rarely alone and there is rarely silence around me.

    The ocean is the place where I find the most peace and I keep the dream of living on a beach alive. We will have two weeks this summer in a cottage right on the shore! I can't wait!

    In the meantime, I will try, one hour may be impossible, but I will try! I also love knitting something simple (like squares, wink, wink) that I don't have to think about. It's meditative for me!

    1. Ah,a cottage on the shore... are sure you're not visiting us? Today mu husband and I went cross-country skiing on the beach and I thought of you and your lovely proposal story. I so want to share my alone time with you sitting quietly on the beach.

      Talking about squares, I have another date tomorrow determined for knitting (wink, wink) :)

    2. It would be so wonderful to share your peaceful world with you! We will have to add that to our long term to do list!

      Remember, there is no pressure for the squares!! :)

  10. Ahhh, alone/quiet time is a wonderfully refreshing thing! :) I meditate for at least 30 minutes each day and it keeps me renewed and balanced. I realized that the farther I come on my journey the more I enjoy myself. Homeschooling doesn't often allow me much quiet time, but when I get it, or more often create it, I cherish it deeply. I also walk most every day, and since we live in the country it is a most peaceful thing. I'm not always alone there though, Jordan shares my love of walking and often joins me. She can appreciate silence however, and often our walks are completely silent as we move along. I liked this post a lot Sonya, and think most everyone could benefit from alone time. Nice work. :)

    1. It is so interesting that by walking one can calm their mind and let it roam. They are seemingly opposite actions but Nature does the trick when it calls us back where we belong.

      I am glad that there are people who are able to hear Nature's call and thrive in it. You are doing such a great job with your daughters!

  11. Great post!! I love to spend time by myself..I'm my best friend ;)

  12. This is a beautiful post and gorgeous photos! I'm sure you know me well enough to know I have no problem being alone. :) But I do need to schedule more time to just be without doing anything. I used to just let my mind wander all the time as a child, then at some point I got the message that that's "wasting time," and I needed to keep my mind focused on some task or other all the time. It took me years to realize that's not true! I know that if I schedule 30 minutes of doing nothing in my day I would be much more relaxed and probably more creative too.

    Also, I got your email and I will check later today. xo, Mary

    1. Yes, Mary, you reminded me of childhood. I had quite the same experience! Is it possible?? Now, after succumbing to society's requirements and going on the side of the grown-ups I can see that everybody is advising me to do things I already did as a kid! Is this evolution or our attitude to children should be different?

  13. I am a total loner. I could spend hours at a time by myself. Well, most of that time is me and "art" so I am not technically alone. I do sit on my back porch quite often - it is quiet there.

    You are such a great writer. This article is actually making me feel calm and restful. I think the photos are just as beautiful and relaxing.

    So glad to have met you,

  14. What beautiful words spoken here today. Time alone is crucial if we are to hear our true voice and inner callings. It is only through this time that we know what path is ours. It's how we develop and deepen faith in ourselves and GOD. Nature is there for all of us as a place to go and just be. Our homeschooling journey by nature is isolating, but only as much as we allow it to be. We could fill the day with people to see and places to go, but often our now teenaged children prefer what we call " at home days " and time alone to nurture their creative callings which are both in music. As I type here today I am listening to our daughters newest original piano composition in progress. This challenge has inspired me to look deeper in to how homeschooling opened the door to a more simplified life for us. I know it has instilled a quiet confidence in our children that being alone is a valuable tool for a happy and balanced life. Sonya, thank you for this look into the way you see the beautiful simplicity of life today!
    Here's one of my favorite quotes : Just because all the birds are flying in one direction, doesn't mean they are flying in the right direction...

  15. I love my quite time alone!
    I spend most of my day alone, and I have learned to sit outside on my deck doing nothing with my eyes closed listening to nature often. It's my favorite time of day! This is a great tip.
    Everyday Inspired

    PS - Sonya you are an amazing writer. Your description of your walk made me want to be there too!