What is Minimalist Fun?

My husband and I played in the park with our grandsons and a couple of balloons last weekend.  Batting those things around made for a surprisingly good workout, and the kiddos had so much fun for almost an hour.

We all want entertainment that distracts us from day-to-day life, something that makes an exciting or relaxing change.  But often we don't want to expend much energy – we just want to be amused.  So we turn to TV, movies, video games, theme parks, shopping, Disney cruises, concerts, parties, bars, or casinos for entertainment.  

red balloon

There's a problem with that.

Plenty of these activities have their merits (a good film is a work of art, travel broadens the mind, etc.), but for the most part they allow us to remain passive observers, simply soaking it in.

Some of these diversions are empty, or even harmful.  And if we're constantly looking for variety and excitement, we need to keep upping the ante.  We always need something new and different.  After all, we live in a culture that relies on keeping us in a constant state of desire.  At some point we can no longer tolerate a quiet evening or weekend, because it's "boring."

Maybe you've heard the term "stimulation junkies."  And I'm sure you've seen children and teens who are in constant need of entertainment and stimulation.  Here are some possible clues:  

  • Most of their waking hours are scheduled.
  • They play adult-organized sports or take classes almost every afternoon.  
  • They get constant snacks and new toys. 
  • They attend over-the-top birthday parties on many weekends.  
  • They spend hours with video games, TV, or on their cell phones.  
  • They complain of boredom and seem to hate to be at home.  
  • They have great difficulty finding something to do on their own.  

These kids have been entertained.  They're not lacking for distraction, amusement, playthings, or activities.  But they lack imagination.  They can't take the initiative.  They're dependent on outside stimulation.  They're constantly buying things, or nagging for things to be bought for them.  They have no patience for solving problems, and they absolutely cannot tolerate being thoughtful or alone.

I'm not suggesting that we should never watch TV or go to a theme park or go out with friends.  But constant passive entertainment makes us dull and incapable. 

The goal of leisure

I'm going to get just a bit philosophical here and share an idea of Aristotle's.  Entertainment (he called it "amusements") diverts the mind with something pleasant.  It may allow us to forget our cares, and so in that sense it's relaxing, and gives us a break from work or more serious matters.

But the goal of leisure, according to Aristotle, is meaningful activity.  It's not enough to spend time on passive distractions from work or daily cares.  True leisure allows for learning and creativity.  It's purposeful and enriching.  It fulfills and refreshes us.

Think about how you feel (or how your kids behave) after you've spent hours in front of the TV or on social media, at the mall, or in chitchat and gossip.  Do you feel energized, resourceful, satisfied, happy?

Now contrast that with your feelings after a day spent hiking, gardening, practicing an instrument, or crafting something.  Do you feel energized (even if you're physically tired), resourceful, pleased with your accomplishments, cheerful and in good spirits?

Too much passive distraction makes us bored and restless.  It's not all bad – we can certainly enjoy it sometimes.  But humans thrive when they are active, purposeful, and productive in ways that fulfill them.

Real fun

True leisure involves creation rather than consumption.  It lets you take the initiative, rather than watching someone else perform.  It happens in the real world rather than a virtual one.

Here are some examples of things I've done in the last week for fun:

  • Made things with Legos and played with a wooden train set with my grandsons.
  • Wrote three posts for my blog (writing is fun for me).
  • Crocheted while watching TV.
  • Started reading a new book and also read several informative articles online.
  • Went out to dinner with my husband.
  • Attended a small family get-together for my grandson's 5th birthday.
  • Completed several crossword puzzles.
  • Listened to classical music while balancing the checkbook and writing a letter to my aunt.
  • Observed and rejoiced in the beginnings of autumn weather on several short walks.
  • Watched an old favorite movie with my husband.
  • Helped my husband organize photos for my father-in-law's upcoming memorial service (it might not sound like fun, but it was enjoyable to look at old photos and reminisce).

Here are some examples of things we did for fun when my kids were young:

  • Played board games.
  • Played in the park.
  • Made up silly songs and poems.
  • Visited family.
  • Used binoculars for stargazing.
  • Attended the Draft Horse Classic at the fairgrounds.
  • Acted, sang, and otherwise participated in community theater.
  • Read aloud (favorites included the entire Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and Harry Potter sagas).
  • Went to lots of different museums in California and Oregon.
  • Saw several plays at the famous Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
  • Played chess.
  • Rode bikes.
  • Pursued arts and crafts like drawing, scrapbooking, beading, knitting, and more.
  • Camped and hiked in Yosemite and Lassen national parks.
  • Our son took ceramic classes at the community college.
  • Our kids made up their own language and fantasy country (inspired by Tolkien).
  • Our daughter played the piano.
  • Our son taught himself to sew using online video tutorials.

These are just a few examples, but you get the idea.  Now go have some fun!

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The No Money Weekend: 55 Fun No-Cost Activities

Updated May 2023


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