If binge-watching TV and mindlessly scrolling through social media have become the main way to spend your free time, it’s time to mix up your routine. After all, there’s life beyond the latest shows and other people’s photos.
And we’re not talking about cleaning out the garage or organizing the pantry. If you’re looking for something to do with your time that’s fun, free and different from the norm, consider these 20 ways to entertain yourself:
— Work on your family tree.
— Pull out the board games.
— Work a jigsaw puzzle.
— Set up a craft corner.
— Look through your old yearbooks.
— Call a friend.
— Start a blog.
— Go on a nature hike.
— Read a book.
— Bake a cake.
— Write a letter to a family member.
— Hold a scavenger hunt.
— Get some exercise.
— Do something good.
— Browse a bookstore.
— Go on a picnic.
— Watch airplanes or trains.
— Go to a dog park.
— Try birdwatching.
— Be productive.
Work on Your Family Tree
Clémence Scouten, Philadelphia-based owner of Memoirs & More, helps people publish books about their family history.
Even if you don’t go as far as writing a memoir, Scouten says there are a lot of fun things you can do alone or with your kids. “Work on a family tree together,” Scouten suggests. “Draw it. Do it in PowerPoint. Include photos of people. Draw countries of origin.”
She also suggests holding a storytelling hour where you tell family stories. You could interview the grandparents on the phone. “Record them if you can,” Scouten says. “There are free genealogy websites. A big one is FamilySearch.org.”
If you don’t have kids or they’re out of the house, Scouten says this would be a good time to consider how you store and display family photos and documents. “You could create an e-collection to share with the whole family,” she says.
Pull Out the Board Games
This is one of those obvious ideas, but have you done it lately? Surely you have a Monopoly board somewhere. Chess? Risk? It only sounds cheesy until you start playing and remember why board games became so popular in the first place.
Work a Jigsaw Puzzle
Trade puzzles with friends, which could lead to hours of fun. And if it’s your puzzle, consider gluing and framing it after you’re finished to hang in your home.
Set Up a Craft Corner
That’s an idea from Amy Maliga, a financial educator with Phoenix-based Take Charge America, a nonprofit financial counseling agency. She envisions it for families with young children, though arguably a crafty adult might enjoy this, too.
Maliga suggests: “Set up a small table in the corner of the family room — or, if weather allows, on the patio — with paper, glue, stickers, paints, crayons, glitter (if you dare!) and other craft supplies.”
She suggests keeping the table stocked at all times, so it’s ready to go whenever anybody’s creative juices are flowing, and to cover the table with a sheet or tablecloth when it’s not being used to minimize visual clutter.
Look Through Your Old Yearbooks
Feeling nostalgic? “Even though you’re probably connected with some of those folks on social media, there’s nothing like paging through yearbooks and reading the messages to make those memories come flooding back,” Maliga says. She adds: “If you have kids, they’ll get a big kick out of seeing the big ’80s hair or crazy ’90s fashions and hearing some of your best stories.”
Of course, some parents might think that’s a little overly optimistic.
Call a Friend
Now that you’re getting all nostalgic looking through those yearbooks, why don’t you call a friend that you’ve lost touch with?
You could go the old-fashioned route and call without video, but you could also do a video chat. Either way, talk really is cheap, and you’ll feel great reconnecting with an old friend.
Start a Blog
Consider an online project such as starting a blog, podcast or YouTube channel. “There’s even the potential for these things to gain some momentum and make some money over the medium to long term,” says Ben Taylor, founder of the HomeWorkingClub.com, an online website for freelancers and home workers.
“The great thing about these projects, beyond being highly diverting, is that they involve learning new skills and building something tangible,” Taylor says. “Individuals can work alone, and parents can involve children. Younger ones love to be videoed or ‘interviewed,’ and the older ones will enjoy things like sound and video editing.”
He adds: “Yes, there are some small potential costs for those who want to take things to the next level, but there are free or cheap options for everything.”
Go on a Nature Hike
Get out of your home and into the great outdoors. Although some nature parks have admission fees, it’s often free. AllTrails.com is a good website to check out to find trails near you. And if you’re a camper, this may be an excellent time to plot a route and pitch a tent.
“Putting one foot in front of the other on a hike is one of the least expensive and healthiest forms of recreation there is. You can find a recreation area just about anywhere, and after you acquire the essentials, the gear will last a long time,” says Jeff Alt, a Cincinnati-based author of numerous hiking books, including “A Walk for Sunshine” and “Get Your Kids Hiking.”
“Much research has emerged about the mental health benefits of walking and immersion in nature. A walk in the woods keeps my body fit, enhances my positive thoughts, inspires my creativity and helps to de-stress me from the daily grind,” Alt says.
Read a Book
Surely you have some favorite titles lying around the house that you would like to revisit — or ones you purchased that you haven’t gotten around to reading yet. And if you’re seeking a new book, try your library. Maliga suggests downloading the Libby app.
“It’s a free app that connects you to your local library and allows you to check out e-books and audiobooks. You’ll need a current library card to get started,” she says.
Bake a Cake
Or cookies. If you have eggs, flour, sugar and other staples, you might even want to try to create something from scratch. Or try out a new recipe and cook something special for dinner.
Write a Letter to a Family Member
We’re not talking about sending an email but writing an old-fashioned letter. Even better, send that letter to a relative at a nursing home. Or take a cue from Jennifer Buchholz, mother of three and director of marketing for The English Contractor & Remodeling Services in Cincinnati: Send a letter to someone else’s relative.
She says that last year, at the start of the pandemic, her son’s high school soccer coach started thinking about his wife’s 98-year-old grandfather in a nursing home who was unable to have visitors.
“So he challenged the team to write notes to residents at area nursing homes and hospitals as part of their homework,” Buchholz says, adding that she ended up getting her entire family involved in writing letters.
Hold a Scavenger Hunt
It’s a lot of fun for kids — or anyone, really.
“In my neighborhood, different residents have organized different scavenger hunts,” Buchholz says. “One favorite was a fairy door hunt. Someone hid painted fairy doors all over the neighborhood and left clues on where they could be found. We have over 50 fairy doors hidden all over the neighborhood and most are still there.”
It’s also something you can get friends and family involved in who live far away. For instance, if you’re a grandparent, you could make a list of 20 photos you’d like to see, such as your grandkids with their pet or a photo of them on a picnic or at a local landmark. See if they can “find” all 20 items on the list.
Get Some Exercise
You can exercise without spending money on a gym membership or buying equipment. Turn on music and dance, or go for a run. Buchholz runs and says there are a lot of places in her city — and presumably throughout the country — where you can join other runners.
She cites a local store that sells running and walking equipment that organizes a run every Thursday night and starts at a neighborhood brewery.
“You can earn different prizes for completing a specific number of runs. Lots of runners hang out afterward to have a beer at the brewery. That part isn’t free,” she adds.
Do Something Good
VolunteerMatch.org lists a lot of causes and organizations that adults and teenagers can work with. Simply type in your ZIP code to see a slew of volunteer opportunities.
Buchholz does a lot of this, too, including becoming a volunteer emergency medical technician. If something like that interests you, Makemeafirefighter.org has information on becoming a volunteer firefighter or a volunteer EMT.
Browse a Bookstore
Or you can browse, well, any store. As long as you won’t buy anything, window shopping is free.
Go on a Picnic
Pack sandwiches or pull whatever you have out of your pantry and refrigerator, and then go find a scenic picnic table at a park — and suddenly you’re creating wonderful memories with your family or friends.
Watch Airplanes or Trains
A lot of airports and train stations have viewing areas for people to sit and watch the planes or trains come in.
For some people, this sounds as fun as watching paint dry. But for those who love travel and aircrafts and locomotives, it can be serene, almost like meditation. Kids often enjoy watching planes and trains, too.
Go to a Dog Park
It’s best, of course, if you have a dog. Find a bench and watch canines run and play. A bonus: People watching is fun, too.
Birdwatching has regained popularity in recent years, especially during the pandemic when people have stayed close to home.
There’s no doubt that if you want to spend a fortune on bird seed and bird feeders, you can. But the actual watching part, from your home or on a nature hike, is free.
Yes, we said that you could clean out your garage or organize the pantry some other day. But some people really do enjoy cleaning.
And sometimes getting things done and checking tasks off a to-do list can be a helpful way to reduce stress, especially if you follow it up with a reward later.
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Update 03/08/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.