In my (e)mailbox there are always those items I don’t need to open, but which I always do, even if I’m running late, up against a deadline, or have promised myself I’ll focus focus focus on something.

It used to be the “See what’s new for you today” type emails from various e-tailers, but these days, it seems to have narrowed down to just a few: The Browser, Totokaelo, The Line, and The Idler Academy of Philosophy, Husbandry and Merriment.

The Idler Newsletter

The Idler Newsletter

The Idler newsletter, with that Hogarthian illustrated header,  wonky typewriter font, convivial tone, and charming frequent typos,  is an instant antidote to the “designed” crap I see so much of. It’s the anti-Twitter: no to groovy flat design, cheery infographics; yes to full sentences and a bit of a ramble from time to time. I stop to read it because it slows me down and immediately (and quite cleverly) sucks me into the Idler mindset and out of the mindset our society seems to thrive on: success-uber-alles, work-harder-get-more, strive, strive, strive. This is a good thing.

Now the London-based Idler isn’t about lying on a lounge getting sunscreen reapplied by the pool boy.  Nor is it about opt-out hippie/hipsterism. It’s actually about cultivated betterment, delivered via a magazine, an academy (courses), and a coffeehouse/bookshop. But what does an organization that “campaigns against the work ethic and promotes liberty, autonomy and responsibility” appear in a blog about AltLuxe? Because in many ways, it’s about helping you live your life with more thoughtful pleasure, and that, to me, is the epitome of the new luxury.

I first noticed them a while ago, and wrote about them here. Founded in 1993 in London by author Tom Hodgkinson and Gavin Pretor-Pinney, here’s its manifesto:

The Idler Manifesto

The Idler Manifesto

Now, a nit: embrace poverty, as its manifesto says? It’s easy to raise an eyebrow at this one (a couple of at-least-upper-middle-class guys from London talking about poverty? Really?) but I get the point.

These days it’s almost mainstream to preach against overwork, mindless consumption, etc. but the Idler does it with a difference. It doesn’t campaign against work per se or simply advocate “letting go” and being mindful (useful as those concepts are). Instead, it espouses the notion of, as it says, cultivated leisure where free time is used for self-education and self-improvement of mind, body and soul.

The Academy has a very idiosyncratic mix of wonky courses and lectures. It’s like being able to take all the electives you want at a progressive liberal arts college (the ones you realize you SHOULD have taken instead of that extra class on statistics.) And I think it’s quite civilized that most events involve a Hendricks G&T cocktail included in the price.

Generally speaking, it’s a mix of philosophy, science, making and cultivating (that husbandry bit), literature and music. Some recent offerings?

  • The neuroscience of Idling
  • Ancient philosophy (accompanied by lunch, cake and winter gin)
  • Bartitsu, the forgotten “martial art of Sherlock Holmes”
  • Beyond Mindfulness: Eastern Wisdom in Every Day Life
  • Astronomy
  • Singing
  • Calligraphy
  • Ukelele

It used to be that the Idler was for Londoners only, but it seems that they’re expanding their operation in several ways: online courses (we’ll have to see how that works) and also tours and retreats. Finally, I’ll be able to indulge in idleness. Where to start? Ah, that’s part of the pleasure of it all.

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