Recovering the Lost Art of Solitude

In today’s world we’re too busy and too plugged in to enjoy the art of solitude. We should embrace solitude, but many of us avoid it–wrongly equating solitude with loneliness. Here’s how to find more alone time, and why we need to.In today's world we're too busy and too plugged in to enjoy the art of solitude. We should embrace solitude, but many of us avoid it--wrongly equating solitude with loneliness. Here's how to find more alone time, and why we need to.

Do you find joy in solitude?

Solitude is when you’re alone with yourself, absorbed in your own thoughts and senses. I can see three camps of people when it comes to solitude. One type of person avoids solitude, equating it with loneliness or boredom. Another type finds value in solitude but rarely engages in it, due to a hectic lifestyle. And the third enjoys solitude and seeks it out often and intentionally.

I land between the last two camps: I love solitude, and sometimes I’m intentional about finding it, while other times I’m too busy and forget.

Solitude probably comes more naturally to an introvert like me, but it’s healthy for any human being–regardless of your personality type. Sadly, in our culture solitude is something of a lost art, either because we don’t understand it or we’re too busy for it.

In Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle talks about how our phones and social media have made us uncomfortable with solitude. We’re so used to being constantly connected to streams of information and sound bites that we can’t handle downtime. When we’re waiting or alone for a mere moment we pull out our phones by default.

Turkle says “We deny ourselves the benefits of solitude because we see the time it requires as a resource to exploit. Instead of using time alone to think (or not to think), we think of filling it with digital connection.”

This over-connectedness murders solitude, and ironically, lack of solitude handicaps us in making meaningful connections. You see, when we engage in healthy solitude we come away feeling more refreshed, with more clarity and ideas to fuel real conversations and relationships.

I love this quote from Gift from the Sea:

“Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone. Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves; that firm strand which will be the indispensable center of a whole web of human relationships.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

Think back to a time when you were solitary and happy. Didn’t you feel renewed afterward?

For me, the memory that comes quickest to mind was that time in Oxford, in the month of March. Our study abroad semester was on pause for spring break, and most of the students scattered to Wales or Ireland or Italy. I stayed home, in a large brick house grown suddenly quiet. But outside the whole world was quickening with the advancement of spring. The birds were downright noisy, and gardeners were setting to work with sounds of scrapings and sweepings and clippings I hadn’t heard since I arrived.

I had a whole week to spend as I liked, wandering around that dreamy city in the magic of spring. One day I packed a picnic and headed to Christ Church Meadow, strolling the shady walks and watching rowers on The Isis while I ate my sandwich and Snickers bar. The trees were newly flushed with green, and flowers poked from unexpected places like Easter eggs.

The solitude was sweet and I was completely full of happiness, a strange mixture of serenity and effervescence. The man I loved was in Wales, and I wanted to show him everything I saw. But I wouldn’t change this moment for anything. I was by myself, and bottling up that glorious day to savour later–with him or in future daydreams.

Although I’ve had plenty of delicious times of solitude before that and since, it lingers in my mind as the perfect example of what solitude can be and achieve. Solitude gives us space for reflection, for noticing beauty and enjoying our own existence. (And I believe a lady who can enjoy her own company will be more welcome in the company of others.)

So how can we revive the lost art of solitude? How can we get more fulfilling alone time in our lives–and on a regular–not rare–basis? Here are some thoughts:

Ways to Practice Solitude

1. Shed the fear of missing out

This is the first thing you must do, before you turn to specific ways of seeking solitude. You have to realise that taking time for solitude is not going to result in a deficit. So many people can’t part with their phones because they’re afraid they’ll miss something online. They don’t want to be separate from other people because they’re afraid they’ll miss a joke or a fun time or an opportunity. But it’s quite alright to forgo the (online OR real life) party now and then. Solitude will flourish and freshen you as a person; when it’s habit you’ll never regret it.

Here's ideas for spending alone time at home, plus why we need to practice solitude for our wellbeing!

2. Enjoy some quiet in the morning first thing

For this, you can wake up really early if you like…but you don’t have to! Even just ten minutes of peace will start your day on the right note.

With young children, including one who wakes up during the night to nurse, I’m in a stage of life where I really need my sleep. I simply can’t wake up at 5:30 to do a nice complete morning routine. However, I have found that I can keep a book by my bed and slip in a quick chapter before I get up!

3. Take a relaxing bath in the evening

Baths lack the efficiency and focus of a shower; they make us slow down and relax. Here’s my post on the lost art of taking a bath for inspiration.

4. Go for a solitary walk

Walks are an excellent venue for conversation, and sometimes that conversation can be with yourself! A quick, cleansing walk is perfect when you can’t get away for long; other times a long ramble may be the thing you need.

5. Sit outside on your porch or patio, without electronics

Porch sitting is another lost art. Try experiencing it at different times of day.

6. Bring a book along when you travel, and set aside time to read

Your family visits and vacations shouldn’t have an hour-by-hour agenda. Doing something alone that rejuvenates you (like reading) will make you enjoy the family interactions and planned activities more.

7. Visit a museum, see a movie, or eat at a restaurant

Do something you’d normally do in company with others, but try it alone.

8. Go for a swim

Water is a perfect medium for communing with your thoughts. Whenever you have the chance to get into the water, whether it be the ocean, a lake, an indoor pool, do it. It’s not as much hassle as you think.

9. Take a personal retreat

Grab your journal and head for the coffee shop/tea room. Or, if you can swing it, stay overnight in a hotel! A personal retreat carves out space for introspection and brainstorming.

[question]Do you enjoy solitude? Tell me about a time when you especially relished being alone.[/question]

P.S. Another post you might enjoy is this one on two ways to create more margin in your life. See also these 79 ways to practice self care.

This post is part of my “lost arts” series, where I pick an old-fashioned habit to discuss and talk about why we should blend it back into our modern-day lives. Here are the other posts in this series (I’ll be adding more in the coming months!):

Recovering the Lost Art of Dressing Up

Recovering the Lost Art of Porch Sitting

Recovering the Lost Art of Cooking from Scratch

Recovering the Lost Art of Taking a Bath

Recovering the Lost Art of Analog Living

Recovering the Lost Art of Old-Fashioned Blogging

Recovering the Lost Art of Writing Letters

And here’s my post on 5 Old-Fashioned Habits That Are Due for a Comeback


  1. Elsie, you are a very wise young woman. At 66 I wish that I had more of your wisdom. Keep spreading the word of simplicity. Your peers need to hear it and even your elders need to be reminded of the simpler time we grew up in.

  2. I seek out solitude on my back porch. I bring my phone/iPad because sometimes it’s when I catch up on reading. But most times, it’s where I can pray, watch the birds, and enjoy the sunset. I love spring and summer evenings the most! 🙂

  3. Elsie, I think posts like this are so important. Solitude does seem to be a lost art, and yet it is one I have mastered. Being an introvert, I’ve always recognized my need, not just desire, for solitude. I think your list will help lots of people come to a new appreciation of it.

    1. Thank you, Jean! I too have that need for solitude. I was in to personality typing when I was a young teenager, and I found it so helpful to take the MBTI test and discover more about how I process the world (INJF here!).

  4. I think that is a real problem with relationships. No one knows how to be alone. My mother always told us to go play even if it was by ourselves and I enjoy alone time as an adult because of that. It makes me feel refreshed and ready to talk to others. People that are always needing to fill that quiet when they are with their spouse need to learn the art of alone and content moments (because you can have those even with when you are with someone else;). Thank you.

    1. Misty, you’ve reminded me of a good point, because my mom did that too—gave us lots of free, open-ended play. It’s definitely made me happy with solitude as an adult. I think we need to be encouraging those habits in our kids!

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