Guide to setting up a personal retreat space

Guide to setting up a personal retreat space


If you’re feeling the need for some deep space for your inner work, you might feel drawn to set up your own personal retreat. This guide outlines step-by-step instructions for setting this up — from what to prepare in advance, to setting up the space as you’re starting, to developing a schedule for your retreat, to closing.

The yumminess of retreat-ing

I spent the first week of December in deep retreat space.

No phone notifications buzzing. No TV blaring. No phone calls. No texting. No inputs anywhere out there, just what’s drawing me to evolve, to see more, to expand down in here.

It was entirely refreshing, re-invigorating, re-life-giving.

When I started the retreat, I was wondering, am I allowed to do this, just say no to all the world around me with no one to really ask permission to, just to do this? But by the time that was over, that wasn’t my question anymore.

Instead my new question was, when can I come back and do this again? And it was, do I really have to leave?

Taking retreats has been a frequent occurrence at points of my life, whether I called them that or not. They were periods of a few days to even months of intentionally stepping away from “regular life”, times to set aside projects, mundane chores, maintaining relationships, and any other regular ordinary actions. They’ve been times to see beyond, come into a wider view, and expand beyond what has already been lived.

I’ve seen my life change, drastically, during retreats. What’s old, no longer needed, released. New seasons entered. New choices made that invite a grand expansion, which can then be lived during regular time.

So earlier this year I decided to set up a regular annual 7-day retreat for myself to support my own need for depth and growth and development, even while I’m expanding into a teacher and coach that can fluently bring my life work to humanity.

Now you might be wondering what even is a retreat, or isn’t that a group thing that you pay big bucks for?

And yes, retreats have often been thought of as group events that are facilitated, held at some beautiful space, and can tend to be quite expensive. They’re a time to get away from ordinary life to expand in new ways. Having facilitation for deep work in that container can be amazing! And that has also been a wonderful part of my own journey.

But I’ve found that it’s quite possible to set up your own personal retreat space without the need for necessarily paying any extra money. It can be entirely unique to you, and if you need space to just be with yourself without needing to even relate to other people at all, having your own personal retreat space can offer an opportunity for that.

During the retreat, I wrote myself a step-by-step guide of how I went about setting up for and holding a personal retreat, and I’ve edited it here to share.

Where to hold the retreat, and dealing with family responsibilities

How removed from the outside world do you really need to be? What if you have young children at home, and you don’t see an easy way to get them taken care of? Can you really do this at home, or is it best to rent a hotel room or Airbnb?

I feel that it would be wonderful to have the retreat in a separate beautiful environment. I was richly blessed in early 2020 when I reached out to an online local community and asked for support with coming up with a retreat space, and I had 2 people offer time in their home for me to have a retreat there. Those spaces were amazing!

So if you find it affordable to rent a space for your retreat and available to leave behind responsibilities at home, I definitely recommend it.

But if not, I can say that a lot of my retreats, including this last one, have been done at home, and they were still really powerful.

The key is to really be intentional and black-and-white about your decision of how to use the space in that time.

For me it meant that I chose to have no unnecessary external inputs. No TV. No texting conversations or social media. No long conversations with anyone. But if I saw people around me while I was walking, I was friendly and had short conversations. But it wasn’t a time for getting into long conversations with other people.

I also had my daughter at home. I have sole responsibility for her, and I didn’t have anyone I could just leave her with right now. So I continued in care for her in all the necessary ways, such as getting her off to school and making her dinner. I did let her know that since I’m on retreat, I’m not available to do certain things she might want that I would otherwise be able to do for her. I didn’t get into long conversations with her, but I didn’t shut her out either.

So in my experience, it’s entirely possible to hold a retreat at home, even with other people there and some need to continue responsibilities.

The key is to set firm boundaries and let those who you’re living with know what they are. If they need a reminder during the retreat, you could even pin a message on your shirt so they know even though they see you, you’re not in normal availability right now — sort of like setting your DM to do not disturb.

And you could also consider a hybrid of setting up an alternate place to spend part of the time, such as a coffee shop or a quiet place in nature (especially during warmer seasons — but taking daily walks on the quiet Pacific Northwest beach was a highlight of my December retreat).

I have even done a retreat with just heading to the beach and sleeping in the car when I just had to get away and had no money for even a campsite, but certainly camping can be a sort of retreat, depending on the intentions you bring to it.

Below are suggestions of how to set up the retreat space and plan ahead so your ongoing responsibilities are diminished a lot, and you can devote yourself to the retreat.

Pre-retreat planning

  • Do laundry, grocery shopping, and handle any errands so that only minimal cleaning and upkeep is needed during the retreat.
  • Buy or gather retreat supplies, including candles and tea (it can be nice to have candle light in the evenings and during rituals).
  • Clean up the area that you’ll be spending time in during the retreat.
  • Check in with all frequent connections and clients and let them know you will be completely offline during that time.
  • If you’re holding the retreat in your home, and family members or roommates will be there, let them know that you’ll be on retreat and unavailable to participate in conversations or do projects aside from basic housework during the time.
  • Set an out-of-office auto-responder from email to let anyone emailing you know that you can’t reply.
  • Handle any actions that are likely to come due during the retreat.
  • If needed, ask a family member or friend to be a point person to handle any emergency calls, who will be one of the few numbers that you allow to text or call you during the retreat — but let them know to only do so if it’s something that critically must be attended to.
  • Set up a digital notebook area or physical notebook for the retreat, with a place to note actions needed as part of the retreat, a place to write notes that come to you during the retreat, a “parking lot” for ideas that you need to address in normal life (which you know you will come back to after the retreat closes), and a place to have a retreat schedule.

Day of retreat starting

  • If you’ll be using a computer, close and unpin all communication apps on the desktop computer, to only leave the ones showing that you need to use during the retreat.
  • On your phone, set up a specific focus mode to be used only during retreats. Set it to show only critical apps needed during the retreat, and allow only critical phone calls and messages. Have it set to block all notifications.
  • Set up the daily schedule and overall schedule of the retreat.
  • Hold a retreat opening ceremony to officially open the retreat. This can be great for an inner voice session, if you do inner voicing, or it could be a journal or voice recorded time that you state your intentions for the retreat and say that you’re officially starting it.
  • Hide any distracting elements on your computer and in your personal space. For example, I found it helpful to cover the TV with a blanket, as this showed my intention to be in retreat mode every time I saw it.

Retreat schedule

It can be helpful to have a schedule of what you’re intending to do during the retreat, so you don’t find yourself with just a blank block of time with nothing to do.

The below is the schedule that I used during my recent 7-day retreat that was around a year-end ritual and incorporated lots of inner voice work. Feel free to get inspired by this to create your own version.

Early morning (5-7am to 8 am): Process retreat inner voice work

  • Process yesterday’s IV session
  • Read gems in the goals resource or other relevant topic or resource
  • Review inner voice and journal content related to the 2023 December Retreat

Mid morning (8 to 10 am): Morning opening and session

  • Daily review
  • Breakfast preparation with music
  • Breakfast with reading something from the retreat or inner voice content
  • Inner voice session, potentially in context or relevant to the focused work

Late morning to early afternoon (10 am to 2 pm): Focused retreat work

  • Active and creative retreat projects
  • Lunch (around 12 pm)

Mid afternoon (2 pm to 3 pm): Break

  • Take a walk

Late afternoon (3 pm to 5:30 pm): Afternoon review session

  • Edit today’s inner voice session
  • Review content related to the retreat

Early evening (5:30 pm to 8 pm): Relax

  • 5:30 pm: Make a nice healthy dinner
  • 6:00 - 6:30 pm: Eat dinner
  • 6:30 - 7:00 pm: Take a shower with spa setup.
  • 7:00 - 8:00 pm : Meditate, listen to soft music, write poetry, or journal.

Late evening (8 to 9 pm): Bedtime

  • Get ready for bed

Night (9 pm to ~5 am): Sleep

  • Sleep
  • Night wakeups: Read existing inner voice sessions

Ending the retreat

  • As the retreat comes to a close, hold a closing ceremony to reflect on what came during the retreat and to officially say that you are closing it.
  • Re-open apps you closed on the computer, turn off the retreat mode on the phone, and put away any elements in the physical space that changed it for the retreat.
  • Giving yourself time to re-adjust, and as you are ready, review emails and texts and other inputs that came in during the retreat, and send some loving notes out, if it feels aligning, to let those in your life know that you’re out of retreat.


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