A Minimalist’s Approach to Hobbies

You can collect hobbies like you collect stuff. Trust me, I know. I’ve mindlessly collected quite a few over the years and have let very few of those go. I’ve collected the stuff for my hobbies and diligently housed that stuff in climate-controlled, rented space. I’ve schlepped that stuff to and fro with every move. I’ve even allowed those hobbies to guilt me about their neglect.

Now, each of us only has 24 hours to the day. Some of us, like me, require about 8 hours of sleep to function, and while sleep is so, so good (I write this before the crack of dawn while my kids are still asleep), it offers little in the way of task completion. That leaves about 16 hours, give or take for individual needs and preferences. That’s actually not a lot. We pack in all sorts of stuff in those 16 ish hours: work, school, commuting, housekeeping, parenting, basic self care, and so on.

Who has time for a ton of hobbies? I’ve found that the hobbies I’ve tended to collect are aspirational in nature. The kind of hobby that leads to some grand achievement. One that makes you look good for others.

My aspirational self has time for all kinds of neat hobbies, because this fake self doesn’t live in the real world. She can play the violin, knit a pair of socks, has earned a black belt, guides wilderness expeditions, teaches yoga, runs marathons, speaks about 35 languages, and so on. Yes, these are actual goals that I’ve aspired to with my hobbies over the years. And trust me, there are many, many more.

The problem isn’t hobbies. It isn’t even hobbies which come with impressive but hard to reach goals. The problem, in my opinion, is not taking the time to revisit one’s hobbies on a regular basis. Not allowing yourself the freedom of letting go those hobbies that no longer ignite you. The problem is when you start to beat yourself up for not practicing that instrument you no longer like just because you wanted to get good at it.

Downsizing Your Hobbies

There are three basic steps for culling your hobby collection.

The first is the Marie Kondo, or “Konmari”, approach. (She is the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.) That is, ask yourself if the hobby in question still “sparks joy”. Is it personally satisfying for you to take the time to do? You might be surprised with the answer. If the hobby no longer excites you, it’s time to let it go. Free up your time, remove the guilt. Keep in mind that if, in the unlikely scenario that you rekindle your interest, you can always take the hobby up again at any point in your life.

The second step is to set yourself some limits. What those limits look like is up to you. Perhaps you give yourself a daily or weekly time slot for your hobbies and refuse to feel guilty when you can’t achieve grandiose goals because the allotted time doesn’t allow for it.

Maybe you pick 6 hobbies per season, or work on 3 hobbies each month, or whatever number seems to call to you. By setting yourself a cap, you avoid the “jack of all trades, master of none” pitfall. By making your choices explicit, you may discover that you care more for a hobby you didn’t include than for one that you did. Being explicit leads to clarity in my experience.

The third is downsizing the stuff you’ve collected for your chosen hobby. A great example is camping gear. It may be time to weed out the tarp with all the holes, the old tent with the missing pieces, or the camp stove that you’ve long since replaced. It’s time to take into consideration the way you like to play your hobby and weed out the “what if” items.

The Hidden Danger of Too Many Hobbies

The reason I decided to write about this is because I’ve been neglecting both my hobbies and the act of dealing with them. They’ve sort of taken up a holding pattern in my life. Instead of pursuing the hobbies I’ve collected and am now overwhelmed by, I might surf Facebook or watch TV instead. This is a sad, cluttered state of affairs.

While I’m mindlessly killing the little down time that I have, I feel guilty that my archery gear is collecting dust (a hobby I might best let go of) or that my hiking boots are crying in the closet from neglect (to the deep pain of me and my boots). It isn’t just about the guilt associated with not doing something you set out to do, it isn’t just about all the stuff you’re tripping over instead of playing with, another hidden danger of having too many hobbies is that you lose focus on what can bring passion, creativity, or joy to your life. Because, at the end of the day, hobbies are supposed to be the things you do to refuel and recharge yourself.

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