Would you be brave enough to go couchless? Why would you even want to do something like that? What are the pros and cons?
In this post, I’m sharing our personal experience with going couch-free for the last two years, alternatives we have for guests, and what it looks like for us. (Literally…included in this post are photos of our living area!) Keep in mind that there are so many couch-free arrangements you could adopt. Your only limit is your imagination.
The Problem with Sitting
I mean, do I even need to fully expand on this? It’s pretty obvious even though most of us don’t want to admit: We sit too much. Or rather, sitting contributes to sedentary lifestyles and all the health implications that come from them.
It’s something that I’m mindful of, and even though I work out and love to be active, I still sit. Sometimes more than I probably should. Neither Z nor I have physically demanding jobs (unless you count the fact that our fingers do a lot of typing). When I sit too long, my body gets achy. I slide and slump my way into poor postures.
I’m not against relaxing in a comfortable position at the end of a long day, when I’m sick, or when I just want to chill out. But for us, continuing to couch-sit meant we moved less than we sometimes already do outside of the gym.
That idea breaks people’s brains sometimes and it bears repeating: You can exercise – even daily – and still live a largely sedentary life. You don’t have to be like a hummingbird on speed, either, but it’s worth taking stock to see just how often (or not) you move.
Please note: I fully understand and am sensitive to the legitimate movement challenges some people have. There are a lot of you reading out there who do not fall into that category, though. I’ve also worked with people who had self-imposed limitations. Many of them were able to break through their own self-restrictions with practice and support.
Inspiration for Couchless Living
The seed for us to go couchless was planted in 2015. We attended the first AHS New Zealand International Symposium and heard a talk by Dr. Phillip Beach that touched on biomechanical health and the importance of being able to get from floor to standing. See his full talk below:
We headed back stateside after that trip and started seriously considering going couchless. Inspiration also came from people like Katy Bowman and Agalée Jacob who speak openly about living with minimal furniture.
The key reasons we wanted to get rid of our couch were to:
- Invite more opportunity for frequently changing position.
- Practice getting up and down off the floor more often.*
- Open up more space in our living area for storage, including a large book shelf to hold our growing library. Said bookshelf is in these photos. I arranged it by the colors of the visible spectrum and it brings me so. much. joy.
*The ability to rise from the floor from sitting garnered attention in 2012 after a team of researchers used this movement pattern to predict mortality in older adults. (1) A staggering number of adults and young people – even children – cannot perform this task, and it speaks to the “use it or lose it” maxim.
Recently I posted these examples of getting up from sitting without using my hands, and a lot of people admitted they couldn’t do it.
I like cool gym stuff and lifting heavy but it’s the icing on the movement cake. But can you get up off the floor without using your hands? . A surprising number of adults cannot, and it’s not just the elderly. Even teens and some young children struggle with this task. Here are three options — there are others I didn’t film (and okay, one is kind of a cool trick — but you get the gist). . One of the reasons we got rid of our couch was to increase our opportunity for getting up and down off the floor many times a day. You can still practice if you do have a couch but we wanted the extra space for a big bookshelf and multiple working situations. . If you can’t get up and down off the floor without using your hands or stabilizing against furniture, it’s time to practice. Our modern (western) world takes away our opportunities to change levels and positions, to get up and down off the floor daily. You lose what you don’t use. . With practice you’ll restore that capacity! For more on this topic see Harder to Kill Radio 111 with @nutritiousmovement! . ❓Can you get up and down off the floor without your hands? Leave me a ?? #movebetter #strong #strengthenyourbody
It’s not a judgment or anything to feel bad about. Rather, I see this test as an opportunity to assess where you may have lost function and think about how to practice again. Sometimes, that means going out of your way to do things differently in an environment that’s taken away movement opportunities.
How We Went Couchless (And What We Do Instead)
Because we live in a small cottage – 600 square feet in total – we didn’t have the luxury of having a couch and setting up a cool place for us to use the floor. It just wasn’t going to happen, so we had to make a choice: Keep the couch or have usable floor space. Not everyone will have to make that choice so if you can keep your couch and use the floor, great!
It took another half a year for us to finally get around to adopting a couch-free situation. I put up a post on Facebook about selling our couch and within a day, one of my local friends wanted to buy it and picked it up. Great! Now what to replace it with?
We have wood floors which I love, but they aren’t remotely comfortable to sit on. If you have carpet, you’re probably already halfway there and may just opt for a few cushions. Here’s what we have:
- Egg crate foam mattress toppers for some padding. I bought two queen-sized pads and sandwiched them together.
- Duvet cover. I slid the mattress toppers into a queen-sized duvet cover which means it’s washable in case there are spills or dirt.
- Big couch pillows. We’ve got a few oversized, comfy couch pillows to lean up against.
- Yoga bolsters. These are great for sitting so I can work off the coffee table and provide a bit more support than a pillow.
- Blankets. Tons, including yoga blankets.
- Sheepskin. Depending on the weather, sometimes I’ll move the sheepskin we have on our bench to the sitting area.
I’ve also seen people use bean bags and various other sitting implements like low stools to mix up their options.
We also keep an assortment of yoga mats, foam rollers, lacrosse balls, and such on hand to encourage us to mobilize our tissues when we’re watching Netflix. (We don’t have a TV but we do watch shows projected on our giant closet doors using a short-throw LCD projector.)
But What About…?
So, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Isn’t being couchless weird?
My best answer is that it’s only weird if you make it weird. True, in American culture, sitting on the floor is not the norm. (Katy Bowman address the roots of that cultural norm on my podcast. Hint: It has to do with the view that floor-sitting was uncivilized and savage. Anywho…)
However, there are so many cultures that sit on the floor and many countries where it’s completely normal. I think it’s worth examining why we have hang-ups about it. I think it’s worth questioning if it’s actually doing us any favors to sit with our knees bent at 90 degrees all the time. Surely, the environments we are in don’t give us many opportunities to move freely, but unless we start demanding different things, we can’t expect the status quo to change.
One place you do have more choice is in your own home.
Other questions people ask:
Where do you lay down?
On the floor. The padding, cushions, and blankets we have there is plenty for us to feel comfortable enough.
But wasn’t your couch more “comfortable”?
Yes. But that’s exactly the point. It was way too easy to spend 4 hours sunk into couch cushions precisely because they were more comfortable. Now we move around and change position a lot more, and we’re less likely to laze around on a regular basis for many hours at a time.
What about guests?
This is the most common question we get. Look, we don’t have guests all that often. And it may sound harsh, but I’m not about to construct my living situation in a way that makes the very occasional visitor more comfortable. We have to be here every day! If you rarely have visitors, consider the concessions you’re making for people who hardly ever come to your house.
And it’s not like we don’t have other sitting surfaces. We have a lovely dining table with benches that actually seats more people than our couch did. And we’ve also got a softly upholstered sitting chair. So far, nobody’s ever declined our invitation to come back and visit 😉
Are you completely furniture-free?
No. We still have a bed frame though it is lower to the ground than most standard frames. There’s the dining room table, comfy chair, standing desk, and various other storage units.
I’m not sure I can go all the way and completely go couchless. Any suggestions?
That’s an easy one. Clear a space for yourself to sit on the floor. You don’t need a large area, and you may already have a suitable spot available. Make it comfy. Maybe you start by sitting on the floor while watching TV. (Dr. Kelly Starrett and his family do that. They still have a couch.)
Challenge yourself to get up and down off the floor several times a day. Work up to doing it without using your hands or grabbing onto a support.
Or progressively start sitting on lower and lower objects until the floor feels comfortable.
Some of our friends have jumped right in and gone couch-free, too. We sit on the floor at their house. No biggie.
Going couchless may or may not be for you, but consider whether your own hang-ups are what’s keeping you from experimenting with spending more time on the floor. Investigate different arrangements and do what makes sense for your lifestyle and needs.
Getting up and down off the floor helps you use more joint range of motion, introducing more non-exercise movement into your day. And some day, it may even save your life.
Two years into couchless living, and we have zero regrets!