How My Wife and I Took Back Our Sundays

We have an agreement: One day a week, we do absolutely nothing. In a society obsessed with productivity, this is harder than it should be—but it’s worth it.

A brown couch with three throw pillows—one green, one red, one yellow—and a white blanket on the back
Martin Parr / Magnum

A few years ago, my wife, Angie, and I made a pact: Every Sunday, we swore to each other, we will abstain from work. And we kept our promise: On the second day of each weekend, we start our morning and end our night by bingeing TV in bed. In the middle of the day, we binge TV on the couch, taking breaks exclusively to nap or read. The door of our apartment is opened only for pizza to be slid inside. Chores go undone. Fitness is spurned. Job-related emails—or, God forbid, texts—are not read. When we feel the familiar anxiety creeping in and imagine our inboxes filling up or our muscles turning to jelly, we’re tempted to act—but we fight to stay still.

Lazy Sunday, as Angie and I like to call it, is hardly a revolutionary idea. A weekly time of rest is, after all, an ancient staple of several religions. And the five-day workweek has been the standard in the U.S. since the Great Depression. Spillover into non-workdays, though, is common; a 2015 Rand survey, for instance, found that about half of American employees do work in their free time in order to meet job demands. For many who started working from home during the pandemic, the boundary between labor and leisure has dissolved even further. More and more, individuals can’t rely on societal norms or even their own employers to draw that line for them; they have to do it themselves.

Angie and I shouldn’t need to actively protect our one day off, to make it a ritual—but sadly, we do. Even without explicit orders to work through the week, rest time can feel indulgent or unnatural. I grew up poor—like, government-cheese-and-constant-eviction poor. My single mom and grandma both waited tables; my grandpa and uncle both drove trucks. They were always ready to work at the drop of a hat, especially during a busy weekend shift or for time and a half. Earlier in the pandemic, I worked long overtime hours at a warehouse, pulling orders of organic dog food from a giant industrial freezer. (I think the dog food was of higher nutritional value than what I could afford to eat on that wage.) Now I’m lucky enough to have an office job, but I use Saturdays for freelance writing. The instinct to hustle—whether for success or just survival—is hard to shake.

Still, we do need respite—not only from our jobs but from all of the many obligations that crop up in adult life. Angie, who works remotely in IT, is essentially always on call during the week. She’s also a caregiver for her mom, who has multiple sclerosis, and her brother, who has paranoid schizophrenia. Every Saturday, she helps them with cleaning, shopping, and health care. That time is deeply meaningful, and she’s happy to spend it with them, but it’s also draining. This is part of why rest is crucial: We need to show up for other people, and in order to do that well, we need time to recover in between.

Of course, taking a consistent day off is an immense privilege. And yet, even when you can take it, there are plenty of ways to avoid actually doing so. Pre-pact, Angie and I often used Sundays to prep for the coming workweek; we thought we were buying time that we could spend later. (The problem is that work is a bottomless pit—there’s always more to do. The harder we try to get ahead, the stronger its gravity becomes.) Or perhaps you’ve just internalized the itch to keep moving and doing—you might think absolute inactivity, even for just one day a week, sounds more boring than desirable.

Angie and I, however, don’t just do nothing; we let nothing become something. On one Lazy Sunday, we Googled a familiar actor in the show we were watching and wound up going down an IMDb rabbit hole. Hours later, we were still in bed, excitedly looking up obscure character actors from our youth—which led us to share memories and ask questions we might otherwise not have, at least not with as much mutual presence and attention. Sometimes, the people we’ve been close to for decades are the very people we tend to take for granted, the ones we stop getting to know. Taking a break gives Angie and me the opportunity to really see each other again.

That might be the most important reason to pause work: not just to fuel up in preparation for more work later on, but for the sake of the pause itself. Although Angie and I aren’t religious, we really do think of our secular day of rest as sacred; that’s why we take pains to protect it, even when it means turning down some career opportunities or the next week being a little more stressful. When you take away all the tasks you might feel pressed to do on a Sunday, what you’re left with isn’t an absence. It’s an opening.