If you're like me, you take your free time seriously. And by seriously, I mean you like it to actually be, well, free. Not full of a bunch of activities or commitments that cause just as much stress as your job, but easy, breezy, and enjoyable.
But now that I've reached the ripe old age of 27, I'm finding that there just isn't enough time in the day to accomplish everything on my to-do list if I blow every minute of my free time scrolling through social media. That's why now is the best time to start putting those lazy parts of the day to good use! Rather than turning your brain into mush, you could learn a new skill, discover new places, or give back to your community. Keep reading for 7 of the best ways to fill your free time (that are both fun and practical!).
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1. Master the Art of Cooking
Here's a secret:
Everybody eats, so everyone should know how to cook. I know that sounds harsh, but hear me out. Don't get scared; nobody is expecting some Pinterest-worthy dinner spread complete with dessert. But you should learn how to make at least a few simple and healthy dishes that will sustain you. Being able to feed yourself without resorting to frozen or restaurant food will make your body feel great, plus you'll feel like you are #adulting hard.
It's easy to get overwhelmed about starting to cook for yourself. Open up any random cookbook or online recipe and you'll be bombarded with tons of techniques, equipment, and ingredients. How do chefs remember it all?! To get started without pulling your hair out, try searching for “easy recipes” or “one-pot recipes” online. These usually have simple instructions and only a few (staple) ingredients. Perfect for beginners or gals who are crazy busy! After you've gotten the hang of it, try your hand at more challenging recipes to really knock the socks off party guests or a date. Let Gordon Ramsay show you the ropes with the video below.
2. Reconnect With Loved Ones
You already spend lots of time each day scrolling through social media. You probably hit “like” and occasionally comment on old friends' posts, but why not take it a step further? Take a few minutes to craft a nice message to a friend or family member you haven't connected with in awhile. Catching up with loved ones feels amazing! Whether it's your Grandma, a long-lost roommate, or your childhood BFF, her heart will swell when she sees that you want to have a real chat. Even better? Suggest meeting up for coffee or plan a Skype date if you live far apart. You can even write a good old-fashioned letter! February 7th is “Send a Card to a Friend Day,” so use the occasion as a way to kick-start a lifetime of better communication.
In a private conversation, you will get the real scoop on what's going on in their life instead of just the highlights they put on Instagram. I recently did a group video chat with my high school group of friends and it gave me the warm fuzzies. Talking about the struggles we're all facing as young adults made me feel less alone. It's easy to feel less-than when all you hear about only the milestones of someone's life. Sharing both the good and the bad made me feel closer to my friends and better about myself. Plus you will get to hear about all the little everyday things you'd never post about like her favorite new podcast or a weird thing she saw happen while grocery shopping. Of all my free time activities, I like this one the best. It's just so darn heartwarming!
3. Learn A New Language
There are so many reasons to learn a new language (or brush up on one you already kind of know) in your free time. Being bilingual is key if you work in customer service, retail, or another job where you communicate with the public. Even if you don't live in a place where there are a lot of non-English speakers, having another language under your belt is a definite resume boost. Knowing a 2nd language isn't just for public-facing jobs! This skill could help you interpret art and literature from other cultures, chat with business contacts from other countries, and broaden your work opportunities to other places in the world.
That's not all. Learning a new language has been shown to have major positive impacts on your brain. Studies show that because thinking in two different languages keeps your brain active, being bilingual could help reduce your risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Knowing another language also improves your memory, makes you more perceptive, and even helps you get better at English. Sounds like a pretty good way to spend your free time to me!
One way to make it hella easy is to invest in Rosetta Stone. This awesome program lets you listen to real native speakers instead of automated voices. That's the best way to learn what a language should sound like! With lessons on all levels, Rosetta Stone is perfect whether you're almost fluent or just starting out. They have tons of games and challenges to help you learn. Every feature is accessible on any device so you can learn at home, on the bus, or in the airport. Grab your Rosetta Stone here subscription here and start talking!
4. Volunteer For A Cause You Care About
It sounds cheesy, but giving back is really one of the best feelings in the world. You get to help others and you get some benefits too. According to Psychology Today, volunteering can give you a sense of purpose, boost your career, and help you form lasting friendships. The best part? You don't have to donate thousands of dollars to contribute to a cause you're passionate about. If you're like me, you probably don't have a ton of extra cash kicking around, so giving money to charity may be off the table. But you do have free time. That is often more valuable to charities than money anyway!
First, decide on your cause. Are you great with kids? Do you like animals more than people? Is there a medical condition that affected your family? These are all great starting points for choosing where to volunteer. If you don't feel very strongly about any certain cause, think about the kind of work you would like to do. Handywomen are a great fit for Habitat for Humanity or helping a community theater build sets. Social butterflies make awesome museum docents and can work booths at events. And basically every charity and nonprofit have administrative tasks they'd love to hand off! Do some research in your city and start giving back. You'll feel amazing, I promise.
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5. Catch Up On Your Reading
This is one I really need to work on, personally. As a kid, I read voraciously. I would read on weekends, after dinner, during my free period at school. I didn't find the work very hard so I always had time to fit some pleasure reading in. But then, in late high school, the internet got better and I got a cell phone. Soon I was filling my time chatting with my friends online or playing games instead of having my nose in a book. And it's only gotten harder for me! That's why one of my goals for the year is to get back into reading. I spend so much of my free time scrolling mindlessly through my phone when I could be in some awesome fictional universe or actually learning something.
Lots of people think they don't like to read, but I'm here to call you out on that. You just haven't found the right books! Not everyone is going to love the classics we were assigned in school or the titles on the best-sellers list. First, figure out your genre. Once you know what kind of books will keep your interest, browse the library or ask friends for suggestions. If pleasure reading feels like a waste of time to you, hit up the non-fiction section of the library or bookstore. Here you can find books on anything you want to learn more about. This is a great way to teach yourself a new skill, learn more about parts of history that interest you, or better yourself in some way.
If the idea of scouring rows and rows of books at the bookstore or library sounds daunting to you, let the Book of the Month Club help you out. Each month, you get to choose from 5 cool new titles, usually somehow related to the time of year. For example, February's selections highlight Black History Month. If you're a faster reader (or you can't choose just one!), you can grab additional books for a small extra fee. There's no easier way to keep up with hot new titles, plus the books are delivered right to your house. Get your Book of the Month subscription here.
6. Be A Tourist In Your Own City
A super fun way to spend a free afternoon is to play tourist in your own town. Whether you have lived there your whole life or just moved in, there is always something new to explore! If you're a foodie, try out the coolest new bar or restaurant in town. Or rekindle your love for your city's signature cuisine like pizza in New York or Cuban sandwiches in Florida. For those more into nature, re-discover your favorite hiking trail or explore a new one. This is even more fun with a friend! One of my favorite ways to be a tourist in my own town is to hit up the attractions everyone travels here to see. Even if you have visited a million times, go again on a day when you have lots of free time. Most tourist sites are constantly adding new things to see and do to keep their attraction fresh, so every experience will be slightly different. Try taking a pal from out of town along with you so you can experience these activities with new eyes through her.
Need more suggestions? Seek out a blog or section of your city's website that features new businesses or events. You will get the inside scoop on the newest openings and the hidden gems. You might be surprised by how many festivals, markets, and other fun activities happen right in your own backyard. Many people think that their town is boring, especially if it is small, but try to see it through fresh eyes. Who knows when you will find a new favorite spot! Learn more about being a tourist in your town in the video below.
7. Satisfy Your Wanderlust
Have a little more money to burn? Plan a trip to your dream destination! If I'm being honest, traveling with my husband is my favorite leisure time activity. While I love to be home where everything is familiar, I love that pleasant stress that comes with exploring a new place. Whether you want to sightsee alone, with a group, or with your boo, this is the perfect time in your life to travel! There is no better way to learn about other cultures than to physically immerse yourself in them. You can read about Thailand or Belize or Iceland all you want, but nothing compares to breathing their air, eating their food, and enjoying their pastimes.
If you plan on adventuring to another country, spend a bit of your free time learning phrases in the native language. Even if you are terrible at it, the locals will appreciate your efforts. This is especially important if you plan on going to a less touristy area or will spend a long time abroad. Rosetta Stone subscriptions come in 3- to 24-month packages. So if you just want to learn a bit of Italian for your Roman holiday, you aren't stuck paying for more lessons than you need. Plus you can even download lessons to access offline, perfect for when you are lost or need a bathroom STAT. Get your Rosetta Stone subscription here.
I'll be honest:
I don't always spend my free time as productively as I should. But I will be taking my own advice from this post and try to do a little more with my weekends than just lay around on the couch. Whether you want to learn something new, discover the world, or just read more, try out just one of these ideas and go from there. Soon you'll be the master of spending your leisure time wisely! What's your favorite way to fill your free time? Which of these ideas is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below!