1. Check out the community calendar. Look at your town’s website (as well as those of cities and towns nearby) or stop by city hall to find a list of events going on in the community, many of which are free. You’ll often be surprised at how many interesting (and free) activities are going on right now in your area.
2. Visit your community library. Not only is a library a warehouse of books, most libraries also have extensive CD and DVD collections you can check out. Many libraries also have “story time” for young children, film nights, book clubs, and many other events that you may be unaware of – completely for free. Stop in and check out what they have to offer.
3. Do some networking. Spend an afternoon writing emails to professional contacts, just to see what they’re up to and letting them know what you’re up to, setting them up to send en masse on Monday morning. While it might be boring for some, it can open countless doors for your career if you do it consistently, help you build new relationships and friendships, and all it takes is a little bit of spare time.
4. Get your financial papers in order. This may not sound like a fun activity up front, but the peace of mind it gives you will make your life a lot more relaxing. Spend an hour or two organizing all of your statements and other financial documents. This is a perfect time to start your own filing system. If you’re more adventurous, try initiating an electronic filing system, as it will save you significant space and make information retrieval easier (though it’s more of a time investment up front).
5. Check out some podcasts. Podcasts are wonderful things – top-notch audio programs available for you to listen to for free. Give some a sample – you can do it easily by using iTunes. Visit the Podcast section of the store and check a few out. My favorites include The Splendid Table (on food topics), Marketplace (on economics and business), Speaking of Faith (on religion), Fresh Air (interviews of general interest), This American Life (quirky general interest stuff), and This Week in Tech (technology news), among many others.
6. Play board games. We have a pile of board games, mostly received as gifts, that we often pull out and play, plus our closest friend has a few choice ones. Classic games like Monopoly and Pictionary can be great fun. Just dig through the recesses of your closet, find an old board game you haven’t played in ages, and bust it open!
7. Bake a loaf of homemade bread. You probably have everything you need tomake a loaf of bread in your kitchen right now (except for maybe the yeast). Anyone can do it, and the bread turns out deliciously. Here’s a detailed visual guide for making a simple loaf with minimal ingredients and complexity.
8. Learn how to juggle. All you really need is three balls and a video showing you how to do it. Not only is it a fun activity to learn, it’s something that’s fun to bust out as a party trick on occasion (trust me, you can always get people to smile if you juggle three fruits in the kitchen while preparing something).
9. Teach yourself how to change the oil in your car. If you’re due for an oil change, just bring the oil you need home with you and teach yourself how to do it. All you really need is an old pan to catch the wasted oil and a funnel to pour the old oil back into the canisters for later disposal. Just use your car manual as a guide for the procedure and you might just find that not only is it a lot easier than you thought, but it’s a useful skill to have.
10. Meet your neighbors. Make an effort to introduce yourself to your neighbors if you don’t know them well. Invite any interesting ones over for a cup of coffee and a chat, just to get to know each other better. Your neighbors can not only become friends, but can also be a valuable resource – a friendly pair of eyes on your property when you’re away or a helpful set of hands when you’re trying to complete a challenging task.
11. Have a “cupboard potluck.” Go through your cupboards and find any items that might have slipped to the back over time. Invite some friends to do the same, then get together for a potluck dinner prepared from only these ingredients and whatever else you have on hand. It makes for a “free” meal and a lot of fun for everyone involved.
12. Clear out your media collection – books, DVDs, CDs, etc. Just go through what you’ve got, determine which ones you’d actually like to keep, and get rid of the rest. You can either sell them at a used media shop or swap them with friends. In either case, you’ll get rid of stuff you don’t watch or read or listen to any more in exchange for either some money or new media to enjoy.
13. Make a 101 Goals in 1001 Days list – then start on some of them. A 101 Goals in 1001 Days list is a very effective way to codify all of the ideas of things you’d like to do all into one place, so that when you have spare time, you can just turn to the list and do what’s next on it. Spend some time thinking of things that belong on this list, then when it’s finished, you’ll have an excellent list of potential accomplishments and be ready to go with lots of activities.
14. Make decisions about and write out your will. This is a thought process that many people put off, but it makes you feel quite relieved when it’s done, adding to your peace of mind and relaxation. Spend some time thinking about what you want to happen to your personal assets when you die, particularly in terms of the personal mementos that you want others to have and where you want the value of your estate to go. Do you want it all to stay with family members? Do you want to remember a charity? Then, when you’ve figured it out, sketch out the basics of a will. Later, you’ll likely have to have a lawyer prepare it for you, but just having the decisions made doesn’t cost a thing and is a big mental relief.
15. Do a household maintenance walkthrough. Just go through your home and look for any little maintenance tasks that need to be done. Do filters need to be replaced? Are there any burnt-out light bulbs? Here’s a maintenance checklist that might give you some ideas as to what to look for. It might not be the most fun activity you can think of, but it’ll add subtly to your enjoyment of your home when it’s done – cleaner air, light bulbs in place, and so on.
16. Organize a walking tour. Find out about the interesting historical and cultural sites in your town, then go on a walking tour of it. Pack a lunch in your backpack and have a picnic on the village green or in the park. You can easily turn this into a full day if you live in a compelling area.
17. Try out some great open source and free software. Ever wanted Microsoft Office but didn’t want to foot the bill? Spend some time downloading and setting up OpenOffice. Want a good scheduling program? Try out Sunbird (a program Ireally like). Want to design a nifty newsletter or lay out some pages? Try out Scribus. Your computer can do so much more – and it’s free!
18. Take some digital photographs. Take your digital camera out with you and take pictures of anything you find interesting. Take lots of them, then go home later and see if you’ve taken anything beautiful and compelling. Great images can make for the basics of homemade greeting cards (yep, keep going downwards for more on this), nice desktop wallpaper, screensavers, or many other interesting uses.
19. Share those digital photographs with others. Sign up for a free Flickraccount, then upload some of your most interesting pictures to share with others. Spend the time to title them appropriately, add interesting captions, and allow them to be used under a Creative Commons Attribution license so your images can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
20. Start a blog on a topic that interests you. You can get a free blog atWordPress or Blogger. Join the service and start a blog on a topic that interests you. Not only can it be a ton of fun, it also helps you improve your communication skills, reach out to others, and perhaps earn a bit of income as well.