Housesit book review: ‘How to be Idle’ by Tom Hodgkinson

13 Mar, 2017

Housesit book review: ‘How to be Idle’ by Tom Hodgkinson

A housesit assignment can inspire one to read voraciously. Recent graduate Nick became a housesitter after University, and that’s when among other books he read ‘How to be Idle’, while on the housesit assignment. In this book review, Nick shares his thoughts on the sentiment of Tom Hodgkinson the author on the art and state of being idle, and at the perfect timing of choosing to read this book while housesitting after three years of University studies. He concludes that it can be a good experience to be ‘idle’ from time to time, it recharges the batteries and gives space to creativity and appreciation of one’s surroundings and situation in life.

Housesit match book of the week how to be idle
‘How to be Idle’ by Tom Hodgkinson

Enjoying the housesit and learning ‘How to be idle’

In the summer of 2016, I spent a week on a housesit assignment in the town of Marlow, Buckinghamshire in the UK. After having submitted the final essay of my degree, three years of study had come to an end and a period of transition into the working world had just begun. And before plummeting headfirst into the search for employment, I needed a break. The housesit couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a completely affordable way to relax a little, to recharge in the quiet countryside, and to be afforded the time and space to start thinking just what would I would do next. There couldn’t have been a better way of bridging the difficult gap between study and work. Housesitting hit the spot.

This book was passed on to me shortly before I arrived in Marlow. My brother had found it in a charity shop, thinking that the title ‘How to be Idle’ was fitting for someone like me who had just emerged from a busy and stressful period of life. Indeed, idleness was what I desired. Though what I discovered by reading this book was rather different from what its name suggests.


Comfortabe sleeping dog
Dogs are highly skilled in the art of relaxing


Housesitting: The art of living

‘How to be Idle’ is a non-fiction book. It is a collection of ideas that range from the Tao Te Ching of the 4th century BC – through eras of philosophy, literature, poetry and religious thought – to modern pop-culture. Its scope is massive. This theme is much more common amongst cultural icons than you might think. In a suitably effortless writing style, the author Tom Hodgkinson explores an ancient, yet surviving, school of thought that endorses idleness. The reader might be surprised to find influential thinkers such as Bertrand Russell, Oscar Wilde and D.H. Lawrence placed alongside the punk movement, John Lennon and, oddly enough, the film Shrek.

Idleness is not to be confused with laziness. In means being removed from “the imposition of work-discipline on free-wheeling dreamers” and being free to enjoy moments away from the all-consuming pull of productivity. A simple example of idleness can be experienced when taking a long shower, or a lie-in. I must agree that these instances are when I come up with my best ideas. Rather than being a waste of time, Hodgkinson argues that it’s in such moments that creativity and liberty are achieved. The book is a study of “the art of living” rather than the exhausting routines of work that we are all too often wrapped up in. We are treated to a theory of the importance of taking a stroll, of reading poetry, good conversation with a friend, and of drinking tea, to give only a few examples.

Back in Marlow, I found myself on an early evening sat on a bench overlooking the river Thames, with this book in my hands. Willow the labrador lay to my side, as content in doing very little as I was in the still and warm air. At the opposite bank of the river was a famous hotel and restaurant, The Compleat Angler, busy with people enjoying their dinners. The name of this hotel and restaurant is taken from a book written in 1653 by Sir Izaak Walton; also discussed in ‘How to be Idle.’ It speaks of the joys of fishing – the perfect combination of activity and inactivity at the same time, enjoying life for what it is rather than striving so hard for results. This is absolutely necessary, Hodgkinson writes, in order to find happiness. I’m inclined to agree.  It was a beautiful moment in May that housesitting had given me.


The Complete Angler - wedding on lawn
The Complete Angler Hotel Marlow, Buckinghamshire

Housesitting and the value of time

This book can seem a little silly at times, though this is exactly the point of it. Of-course we have to work and put effort into things we don’t always want to do. But it’s a light-hearted take on a life of pleasure and freedom – something which all of us are striving for in different ways. When we might think it better to ‘work now – play later,’ Hodgkinson says ‘play now – work never.’ If only things were so easy. Although, as I found last summer, housesitting can be an excellent way to unwind and live a life free of stress and pressure, even if for a short while. It’s more than just a holiday. It gave me the invaluable opportunity to open my mind to what the future could hold, and now, many months later, I consider the blissful time I spent in Marlow very important. Without it, I couldn’t have began to dream about and make possible the life I have now working and writing in London. Without housesitting, things couldn’t have worked out so well for me. Idleness, it seems, is good in small doses. Newcomers to this idea would do well to read this book.

Housesit book review: Stand-out quotes

“We create our own paradise”

“Being idle is about being free, and not just free to choose between McDonald’s and Burger King or Volvo and Saab. It is about being free to live the lives we want to lead, free from bosses, wages, commuting, consuming and debt. Being idle is bout fun, pleasure and joy.”

Read the previous book of the week: ‘Care of Wooden Floors‘ by Will Wiles

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  1. The quote at the end of your article sounds much like the joys of retirement. I am both a house & pet sitter (volunteer), and retired. The best of both worlds.

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