Niksen: The Dutch Minimalist Lifestyle of Doing Nothing


As a society, we’re busier than ever. We have jobs that we work for long hours, kids that we’re constantly taking care of, and so many other tasks.

Too much working can take a heavy toll over time. Niksen can be just the solution you need.

It’s a Dutch version of simple living that asks nothing of you at all, except to do nothing.

What does Niksen mean?

The word “Niksen” simply means to do nothing. Another way of putting it is doing without any purpose.

When I learned about this, I found it to be an interesting concept because of how much we’re constantly on the go in life. As I write this, I’m literally trying to meet a deadline I’ve set for finishing this post.

I also found this concept interesting because of how contrary it is to our typical western self-help teachings. Whether it’s Tony Robbins or Les Brown, there’s one constant message we’re being given.

Figuring out how to increase your happiness with each item you get rid of. Constantly striving to make time for more of the things that make you happy.

Purpose and meaning are good things, but sometimes it’s good to slow down on the pursuit of happiness, and just simply relax. If we don’t do it, usually our bodies force us to do it eventually.

What are examples of practicing Niksen?

Practicing Niksen is very simple, as it doesn’t really require you to do anything specific at all. You can just sit in a chair and look out the window.

You literally just have to do nothing. No specific actions, no specific thoughts, just nothing.

As easy as it sounds to do, it feels like an uncomfortable concept to get into.

Lack of work guilt

Have you ever felt bad for doing nothing all day?

Do you feel unsatisfied when you don’t accomplish something on your to-do list? Personally, I’ve never felt these things as intensely as some do, but I do have a sense of regret if I don’t get something done in my day.

It’s a common thing especially for those of us in our 20’s and 30’s. This is the time we’re all supposed to make big moves in our lives.

The time we feel this intense pressure that if we don’t get something done now, we’ll regret it for the rest of our lives. It would seem like we should do anything but nothing.

But as I read more about this, I realized that “niksen” isn’t trying to get in the way of our pursuits. Niksen is just a way of giving us what we all desperately need in our increasingly stressful life, which is a little relaxation.

Niksen might even be better for you than meditation. Many forms of meditation require you to monitor all of your thoughts, focus on your breathing and other things that sometimes make it harder for people to relax.

Niksen just lets you be idle. No thinking about whatever you need to do next, no going on to the next task of your day.

Dutch Proverb

A writer, Olga Mecking, explains Niksen in another way based on some familiar Dutch proverbs. “Niksen is niks” means “Doing nothing is good for nothing”.

“Doe ewoon normaai” means “just be normal.” The message behind these phrases is to balance yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with a little busyness in life, but you shouldn’t be too busy. Likewise, doing nothing can be good, but it’s important not to be lazy, and continue to remain productive and contributing to society.

How do we find the balance?

It can be challenging sometimes to know how much is too much, and how little is too little. Perhaps it’s a process of trial and error.

In my college days, I would always set a time where I would stop working for the rest of the day. Maybe that can work for you.

As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. In general, most big things you want to accomplish in life won’t happen in one day.

That being the case, it seems like a good use of your time to just let yourself relax. Think of it this way, you restore your energies and allow yourself to work at full strength when you get back to your pursuit.

If we truly value productivity, it would go against that value to work at half strength. Doing nothing can be what helps you to always work as productively as you can.

Take time for niksen

Just remember that you’re never going to be perfect at this. You just have to keep trying until you get close to the balance that works for you.

When you know you’re feeling stressed and feeling the physical signs of that stress, just stop. Take time to just do nothing without any purpose and see how you feel.

You’ll know when you feel good enough to get back to taking care of your responsibilities.

The Power of Doing Nothing

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  1. I am from the Netherlands, and although I like to read the article, I’m sorry to say that I do not reconize the proverb “Niksen is niks” cause we don’t say that in the Netherlands. Second thing, I want to correct the other proverb, it is supposed to be “doe gewoon normaal”, and that does mean “just be normal” but in another context, like “just act normal, don’t act weird”.
    I hope it helps you!

  2. If you really want to write Dutch words, can you please use them the right way??
    “Doe ewoon normaai” has to be, doe gewoon normaal. It means to act normal, and not overreactive.
    Its not really something i’ve use to learn growing up anyway.

  3. Nice stuff. Interesting. I am Dutch and some of my fellow Dutchies have corrected some words already.

    Nowadays it is difficult, for especially young people, to do nothing. If they are busy with “niksen” they still stare at their screens, looking at someone else’s life…. Just staring is somehow difficult. 🙂