Ever since the lockdown began, creatives have been sharing ideas online about how to fill their downtime. There's been an abundance of people offering free classes and courses – you can see some of our favourites in our free online resources (opens in new tab) post.
But what if none of these ideas float your boat, and you’re still searching for fun and enriching ways to fill your empty hours? Here, we suggest seven low-cost or free ways to make use of your downtime that you might not have thought of.
01. Upcycle your clothes
Right now, our options for buying new clothes are pretty restricted. So if you want a new look, why not rummage through your wardrobe for something old and tired, and bring it back to life with a bit of upcycling? Even if the results don’t go to plan, it can be a fun way to kill time, especially if you get the kids involved.
You could, for instance, try tie-dying old T-shirts, socks, etc to give them a new lease of life: you can find guidance for this on Dylon’s website (opens in new tab) (other dye brands are, of course, available). If you can use a sewing machine, meanwhile, check out these more advanced upcycling tutorials (opens in new tab), created by sustainable fashion designer Christopher Raeburn. Who knows, you might get the bug, and make upcycling the new normal in your household, saving you tons of money over time.
02. Make your own electronic music
Have you always dreamed of making your own music, but never actually had time to sit down and learn an instrument? Well the good news is that there are plenty of free online apps that let you make your own electronic music without any skills whatsoever; all you need is a bit of imagination.
A lightweight but fun place for newbies to start is Typatone (opens in new tab), which generates musical sequences based on the letters that you type. It’s all very intuitive, and although limited, it could be all you need to, say, create a short jingle or audio logo for your podcast. More importantly, it will help you get a feel for where you’d like to go next with your music making.
For more powerful, yet still free, apps we’d recommend giving the following a try. Pattern Sketch (opens in new tab) is a basic but impressive drum machine, while Online Sequencer (opens in new tab) allows you to create a sequence using piano, drums and guitar sounds in mere minutes. And at the more advanced end of the scale, Groovebox (opens in new tab) for iOS is a mobile music studio based around cool synths and drum machines.
03. Study the philosophers
What is the meaning of life? How can I be a better person? Will I ever be truly happy? Those might be questions you’ve never had time for before. But if you’ve found yourself aimlessly staring at the walls in recent weeks, they may well have popped into your head and been bouncing around your brain ever since.
The good news is that there are answers to be found, by studying the great philosophers. They aren’t necessarily answers that will satisfy you, or that you’ll necessarily agree with, but they will start you thinking about life and existence in a more informed way, and equip you better to come to your own conclusions.
Unless you’re particularly academic, though, we wouldn’t necessarily recommend you dive straight into source texts like Plato’s Republic or Spinoza’s Ethics, because without a strong grasp of the historical and cultural context they were written in, it will probably all be a bit baffling. Better to start with a good overview, such as Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy (opens in new tab) by Simon Blackburn or A Little History of Philosophy (opens in new tab) by Nigel Warburton.
If those sound too 'heavy', there are also lighter alternatives that will still give you a good grounding in philosophy. We’d recommend Derren Brown’s Happy: Why More or Less Everything is Absolutely Fine (opens in new tab), an “anti self-help book” that focuses on how understanding philosophy can help you to be happy; Sophie’s World (opens in new tab), a children’s fantasy novel about a girl learning about the philosophers; or Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar (opens in new tab), which helps you grasp philosophy through jokes. And if you're skint? All of these books, bar the last, are available as audio books on Audible (opens in new tab), which is currently offering a 30-day free trial.
04. Stream live theatre
So far, lockdown has proved a powerful spur to watch the best Netflix shows or sign up to Disney Plus. But you can reach a point where you’ve had enough of conventional TV and movies, so you might want to change things up a little and stream a theatre show. Yes, you’re still technically watching TV, but the atmosphere of the live stage really is a change of pace and atmosphere, and the best performances come close to making you forget you’re not there in person. Whats on Stage has a list of free streams (opens in new tab) that it's constantly updating, and you'll find something for everyone here, from Shakespeare's Globe to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Obviously, all of these performances were captured before the lockdown, but if you’re craving that 'live' experience, you can get it in part by joining live streams from the National Theatre (opens in new tab) on YouTube every Thursday, which include Q&As with the cast and creative teams afterwards. (Further streams are available to UK state-funded teachers and pupils).
Alternatively, if opera’s your bag, check out the nightly live streams by New York’s Metropolitan Opera (opens in new tab). Yes, the performances themselves aren’t live, but knowing that viewers around the world will be watching en masse at the same time does provide a nice feeling of communal activity, at a time where we’re all physically separate.
05. Download a free colouring book
Colouring books for adults have become a huge phenomenon in the last 10 years, offering both stress relief and visual inspiration, and now's the perfect time to give them a try. You don’t even need to spend any money, because in the last few weeks a ton of downloadable colouring books have been created and released for free to help people through lockdown.
Top of our list is Counter-Print’s new colouring book made up of contributions from some of the world’s best illustrators, including Malika Favre, Anthony Burrill, Bethan Woollvin, Eva Dijkstra, Jay Cover, Marco Oggian, Miller Goodman, Paul Thurlby, Sigrid Calon, Tad Carpenter and Zipeng Zhu. It’s completely free to download here (opens in new tab).
Public art bodies around the world are also providing downloadable colouring pages, including The Getty, the Smithsonian, the Toronto Public Library and the National Library of France, as well as universities like the University of Minnesota, the University of British Columbia Library and the University Of Melbourne. You can find a comprehensive list here (opens in new tab), and also check out the #colorourcollection hashtag on social media.
06. Share your art process on Twitch
Live streaming platform Twitch (opens in new tab) is best known by gamers, but that's not all the service has to offer. It's also increasingly becoming a place where artists share their process live, and interact with the community via the superior live chat facilities. So if you like the idea of sharing your skills with others, building an online community of fans and followers, and ultimately making money from tips, subscriptions and sales of your art, it has many possibilities to offer.
Like any unfamiliar social network, of course, Twitch takes some time to get used to. So lockdown could be the perfect opportunity to invest time watching other artists' channels (opens in new tab), and joining in conversations, to give you a feel for what's possible and what might work for you.
07. Take an Ivy League course
Few of us will ever have the chance to attend one of the world’s elite universities, such as Harvard or Yale, in person. But did you know that you can take online courses from these institutions, without paying a penny?
In fact, there are 450 Ivy League courses you can take online right now for free, in Computer Science, Data Science, Programming, Humanities, Business, Art & Design, Science, Social Sciences, Health & Medicine, Engineering, Mathematics, Education & Teaching, and Personal Development. Class Central founder Dhawal Shah has compiled this handy guide (opens in new tab) to what they are and how to access them. On the other side of the Atlantic, too, you can find high quality courses for free from the UK’s Open University (opens in new tab) and Ireland’s eCollege (opens in new tab) platform.