Rescuing Hobbies

How do you measure the value of a hobby?

I love to be creative. It’s what makes me feel most alive— most like myself. When I’m not making things, I end up turning inward and finding things about myself I don’t like. My self esteem and body image begin to plummet. But when I am exercising my talents and abilities, I am happy and feel fulfilled as a person. While I might be inept in a lot of other ways, my strengths and capabilities are able to shine through my hobbies and give me a sense of accomplishment. This is why I’ve worked so darn hard on the dollhouse I’ve been sharing with you. No— it’s not because I have too much time on my hands (Ha. Ha.), and no, it’s not because I’m an amazing mother. It’s because I discovered I really enjoy making miniatures and was absolutely thrilled to my core when doing so.

Recently, I’ve been impressed with lots of feelings about adults and hobbies. And the sad fact is, not many adults see the value in hobbies. I’ve seen husbands discourage wives from putting money into hobbies because their hobby won’t bring any money into their household. I’ve had people express to me their desires to build a dollhouse, but end up admitting they wouldn’t because they don’t have children to enjoy it. As if the only value in a hobby is in its practicality or end purpose. This mentality is so ultra American. Our history is built around pragmatism, and it’s hard to not let that influence the way we live our adults lives.

hobbies have value

Children are encouraged to explore all kinds of hobbies- art, dancing, athletics, music, clubs, and more. Often within clubs, they’re encouraged to give back to the community, whether through volunteering, organizing donation efforts for those in need, or raising awareness for rare diseases. Kids are often doing way more than adults these days. But I’m not here to talk about the kids. I’m here to ask, why are the kids having all the fun? Why are the majority of adults working a job they don’t enjoy and returning home to watch television they sort of enjoy? Why do we feel the only way to justify having a hobby is if it can earn extra money? When we encourage children to pursue their interests, is it only to eventually help them decide which career to pursue? Because let’s be real, most people aren’t actually able to turn their hobby into a paying job, much less a full-time one. So do those people just abandon those things that make them multi-faceted, happy individuals once they become an adult? Are we expected to work jobs we tolerate, or sometimes hate, only to return home and escape into a televised world featuring people who are out living their lives to the fullest and exploring their passions? Why are adults pressured to find their fulfillment in their work, and if they can’t do that, to just exist and help their children eventually live a better life?

I’m curious how many adults you know have hobbies. I’m definitely privileged to have grown up in a lower middle class family where healthy adulting was modeled for me- hobbies included. My dad designs robots by day (how cool is he?!), and my mom worked a variety of retail jobs throughout my childhood, when she wasn’t staying home to home school me and my brother. My dad is a woodworking hobbyist, has volunteered to build a track and organize pinewood derby style races for local churches, hosts a card club once a month with his buddies, and sings bass in a traveling men’s quartet. My mother plays the piano for local choirs and for special recording events, she organizes musical programs at our church, has a book study every Sunday evening and card club once a month with friends. My parents are both avid readers and enjoy traveling too. You’d think all of that means we’ve been pretty busy as a family, but we really weren’t. We usually sat down at the dinner table together as a family, and I was able to learn about a lot of my own talents and passions by joining my parents in theirs. To this day, my dad and I spend hours together in the garage building things, and I know without his influence I wouldn’t be as interested in wood working, and definitely not as proficient.

As I typed that last paragraph, I was impressed by how privileged I really am to have had such amazing parents, but it also challenges me to create a similar childhood for my girls. Yes, it’s important to play with my children and invest my time in them, but it’s also important for me to spend time alone and investing in ME. That means I find babysitters at least once a week, I end up staying up far too late at night, and I will trade kids with local friends to have some time alone. With my alone time, I’m often tempted to unwind by eating a treat, drinking hot coffee, and watching television, but I am actually most fulfilled when I am being creative. So that’s what I do! Lately it’s been the dollhouse. What an adventure that’s been!

hobbies help me be happy

So how do we rationalize having hobbies, when our lives are already so full to the brim? How can we justify the expense of craft supplies, music lessons, or league fees when our budget is as tight as can be? I have a few ideas which have helped me. As far as justification goes, you have to find the value in having a hobby. I look at my hobbies as essential to my health and happiness. Do you invest money in healthy foods because you see the value in your resulting quality of health? That’s sort of how I view the time and money required to have a hobby. Do you see a therapist to work through your emotional issues or dissatisfaction with your life? Not that a hobby would replace a therapist for mental or extreme emotional issues, but working with my hands has certainly helped me work through a lot of my self esteem issues.

But how do I find the time for my hobbies? I admit— I stay up sometimes until 4am because of the creative pull which sometimes feels impossible to escape. That’s not healthy, and I don’t recommend it. But lately I’ve been thinking of ways I can find time in my day by whittling time away from other necessities. For instance, we finally got a freezer to put in our garage so I can spend way less time cooking. When I make food, I can make double or triple the amount and put the extras in the freezer. Making food in bulk has been a huge time saver for me, and also helps us save money on takeout when we haven’t had time to cook. Other ways I’ve found to save time is to spend less of it on social media, or setting a timer when I’m browsing the internet so I don’t spend more time than I’ve allotted. I try to be efficient in my shopping trips as well, and have learned to say no to things I really don’t want to do, but would’ve said yes to in the past because of fear, guilt, or obligation. (That’s a whole ‘nother discussion for another day!) If you’re having trouble finding ways to shave time off your day, utilize social media and ask your friends for their best time-saving advice. Maybe spend a few days tracking the time you spend doing things and review it your logs later so you are able to see where you are wasting time on non-necessities and unfilfilling things that could be better spent exploring a hobby or doing something more fulfilling.

make time for hobbies

And what about money? Well, this is a sticky thing, because everyone’s budgets and financial goals are different. But since my husband and I have been on a budget, I’ve finally been able to spend money without guilt. That might sound backwards, but think about it: If I have a set amount of money each month to spend on whatever I want, I can spend that and not feel like I shouldn’t— because it’s already been set aside for this purpose. Because everything is budgeted, I don’t find money disappearing during Target trips or at coffee shop drive throughs, because I keep a watchful eye on every penny spent. That means I can make my money do what I want, instead of what genius marketers (Target Target TARGET!) want me to spend it on. We still have debt we’re diligently paying off each month (student loans— UGH), but we’ve found ways to save money on things we need to buy by doing things like shopping around for the best insurance rates and shopping at discount grocery stores (like Aldi), and we’ve also cut out things that we don’t need, such as cable TV and gym memberships (we still exercise at home). We’ve also found ways to increase our earning so that our budget has some wiggle room for fun things that we can spend money on, even while we aggressively pay off debt. The trick is to not let earning extra money take up all of our time so that we can still spend quality time together as a family and also alone as individual exploring our own interests.

I suppose you could find a myriad of excuses for not investing in a personal hobby, whatever that may be for you, but I encourage you to realize the value of exploring your passions and talents through a new or old hobby this year. Break through the barriers of excuses and unfilfilling time-sucks, and make this a priority in your life. It will enrich your days, inspire your friends and family, and maybe bring some valuable relationships into your life as well! Who knows? Why not try it out and see what can happen?

Lead image adapted from a Hellen Borten children’s book illustration.

30 Responses

  1. Ashley says:

    Thank you!!!

  2. Meg says:

    What a great post. I think about hobbies often, and I happen to believe that it’s important that they not make substantial money if at all. When we put pressure on our hobbies to “prove” themselves (often financially) we aren’t able to enjoy them in the same way.

    I also think about the ways that most Americans spend their free time: Watching TV. I look at my parent, recently retired, and I am not worried about what they will do with themselves with all their “free time” because I know it won’t be spent waiting out life in front of the TV. Hobbies give us something to share with others, something that we have done ourselves, and not simply rehashing things that other people do. I often wonder how other people can manage to get through life without hobbies to keep themselves sane.

    • Mandi says:

      SUCH good insights! Thank you so much! I agree that especially where art is concerned, doing a hobby in exchange for money can compromise the art, much less one’s enjoyment in creating it. I’m fortunate enough to be able to earn income through my hobby, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say at times I HATE essentially being forced to create when I don’t feel like it. But I do have flexibility, so I don’t have to work within someone else’s schedule or structure. So I really shouldn’t complain at all, actually. :) I guess I’m just agreeing with you that doing a hobby for money isn’t always the dream it’s cracked up to be. It’s nice to have some things separate. That’s why I’ve enjoyed working on this dollhouse just for fun, without feeling the need to take beautiful pictures of how I built each thing, because that would’ve ruined a lot of the fun for me.

  3. Katie says:

    Great thoughts, Mandi! I could not agree more with what you said. This was so encouraging to me and such a great reminder of how important my hobbies are. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. Fullerton street studio says:

    I love love love this post. Some of my most spiritual times have been when doing something seemingly unspiritual, like sewing or working on my bracelets. I finally realized God gave me the gift of creativity to keep my hands busy so He can speak to my heart. Like you, I feel the pull to watch TV or get sucked into Pinterest, but I feel most alive when I choose to create and I NEVER regret it!

    • Mandi says:

      Yes! If we are created in the image of God, and he is the Creator, then by being creative we are, in a unique way, communing with God. So it makes sense. :) I think that’s why music is so great for worship experiences as well.

  5. VanessaMeryl says:

    LOVE!!! So well said, I’ve always said “everyone needs a hobby.” Even in the dating world, if a guy I am seeing doesn’t have a hobby, related to mine or not, I find it hard to relate to him in many ways. Especially since hobbies have become such a big part of my individuality and ME time. <3

  6. alice says:

    Word! This is such a great post, and definitely inspired me to think more about how I spend any spare time I get, especially with readjusting to life with a baby. I know that when I spend time doing what makes me feel alive it gives me the energy to do all those other not so inspiring things during the week. Thanks for posting this, so good!

  7. Meg says:

    I just shared your article with our Facebook follows for Anchorage Community House. We’ve created a whole house, which is conveniently located across from our own, to have space for hobbies for people of all ages. Our family is big on hobbies, but we found that we didn’t like doing them by ourselves. While we started out kid oriented, but we agree whole heartedly in the value of adult hobbies. We hope people will come use the space we are fortunate to have to pursue their creative interests together or spread out if they need more space or use our tools or whatever they need, including doing the clean up.

  8. Sarah says:

    This post is exactly what I needed to read, especially as I’m desperately trying to make a dent in my own student loan debt and sacrificing a lot to do so. Thank you for reminding me about the importance of hobbies!!

  9. Lovey says:

    Fantastic post! This may be your best yet! There is so much food for thought here.

  10. Tiffany B. says:

    This post was awesome to read, I totally agree with you. I love hobbies, mine are scrapbooking, painting, reading and general crafts. I might not finish all my hobby projects ;) but I love making stuff. I keep telling my husband he needs a hobby as well.

  11. Eve says:

    I just loved reading this post! I was a junior high English teacher for 10 years and I transitioned over to bring an art teacher 6 years ago. I now have to make time for my creative hobbies because they inspire my lessons. I am such a better person for it. Making things is so important. I feel much more balance in my life when I am creating. Keep the great posts coming, Mandy.

  12. Stephani says:

    This was lovely. Thank you.
    I have found myself in a slump lately where I am unhappy and all I want to do is stay in bed late and/or watch Netflix, which just makes me more unhappy. Crazy, huh? I know that if I just get up and make the quilt I have been planning in my head and do some yoga I will feel so much better. I think this will be my kick in the pants. Thanks so much, Mandi.

  13. Ally says:

    I totally agree with this, it’s so important to do things which make you feel happy and fulfilled. My boyfriend is a videogamer, which most of our friends & family don’t understand. To me it’s the same as playing/watching sport. I also don’t think that girls are always encouraged to have hobbies in the same way that boys are – boys play sports etc to spend time with their friends etc, whereas girls don’t necessarily have an activity like that. Obviously that’s a massive generalisation. However, sometimes it can go too far the other way – back to the boyfriend: sometimes he will sacrifice too much of adult responsibility (i.e. having a shower, doing the washing up etc) in order to play games. I think it’s really important to have balance, as in all things xx

  14. Anna says:

    Thank you for this! Sometimes I wish my hubby had a hobby but thanks to Ally ^^, I can see that playing video games can be a hobby (often I lump it in with all of the other media activities). However, he works hard, spends time with us & serves in the ministry too, so it’s ok if all of his hobbies are media related. I, on the other hand, love to sew, I’m planning on starting a doll house for my daughter & I want to scrapbook this year (I don’t have enough pictures of our daughter off of our phones). I enjoy spending time reading blogs, pinning things, social media, watching tv (when I get the chance) & playing with my toddler too. =)

  15. Jessica says:

    Hi ya Mandi . Such a great article, thank you for your time writing it :-) i absolutely love the social med

  16. Heather says:

    Thank you! I needed this. I feel like part of my problem is that my brain doesn’t have enough breathing room to even understand what hobbies ARE lately. I don’t think I could figure out which hobby appeals to me if I tried. That aspect is particularly daunting. Any tips on finding your passion? I love your tips on money- and time-saving here.

  17. Hilde says:

    What a lovely read, Mandy. And I couldn’t agree with you more. Hobbies are so important to me, my mental health and my self esteem. I’m at my definite happiest when I’m making stuff, whether it’s sewing a new dress or putting together a photo book or working on a DIY project for our home.

  18. Sarah says:

    I can’t imagine my life without hobbies!! I would be so bored!! I see my various hobbies as a foil to my professional life. At work I have to be serious, I have many responsibilities and people counting on me, I work long hours…when I’m not at work, I want to have fun! I go through hobby phases but in the past I have gotten really into journaling, scrapbooking, coloring books for grown-ups, geocaching, hiking, biking, you name it. My favorite hobby has always been reading, which is totally free if you go to the library!

    I personally think that it’s totally worth any expense I put into it because I’m paying for fun experiences, not things. Sure, I might buy a coloring book and colored pencils, but when I’m going to have fun for weeks coloring, I’m really paying for the experience.

    Another one of my hobbies is following my favorite band and seeing them live all over the country. My most expensive hobby, for sure. But I plan my vacations around their tour dates and seeing them live gives me so much joy and I meet amazing people who have become true friends…so again, it’s about the experience.

    I can’t imagine my life without my hobbies. I don’t know what I would do with myself!

  19. Emma says:

    Love this post! Yours is a voice that needs to be heard. So often I feel like an activity needs to be ‘legitimized’ beyond ‘I love doing this thing and it brings me joy, energy and inspiration’, when of course it doesn’t! Thanks, Mandi!

  20. Ella says:

    I have been thinking about the importance of play a lot lately and this was an inspiring read! No kids here so the struggle is more “say no to that invite to a thing I don’t want to go to” , not “manage the needs of caring and providing for children”. Maybe not as critical but still feels like a struggle sometimes.

    Love your writing!

  21. Carrie says:

    So… I keep my favorite blogs ‘open’ throughout the week on my work computer, and just refresh the page every day hoping for new content. Though I’m still waiting :) I’ve read this one three times now (top to bottom), and it is just so good, timely, and encouraging. Our hobbies and creativity help make us ‘us’ and can be so important for refreshing our souls. Thank you for posting. :)

  22. kristen says:

    Come back soon! I just love your blog!

  23. Eli says:

    I had never read your blog and don’t even remember how I found it, but after this post, I am an absolute fan. I’m lucky enough to be paid for all my hobbies (fashion designer, tv show editor, worked as a nanny, worked at a toy store with tons of crafts and amazing educational toys) and am actively trying to create an adult life that still involves all my favorite things. I feel like people get old the minute they stop doing the things they enjoy, the minute the passion is lost. I would rather make ends meet with my hobbies than be filthy rich doing something I hate. Thank you for writing this piece. I hope you come back soon!

  24. Pooh says:

    Thank you for saying it is a good thing to be creative! I have always done crafts, hobbies, ect. I could not survive without it. I have made for my home, done decorative painting on my walls, made all my gifts at Christmas, pretty much anything I really wanted, I had to make myself. I have a room in my small home just for all my projects. I spend more time in it than anywhere else. I do wood working also, which comes in handy. My husband has a shop out back for my band, and scroll saw. I too find that I am my most happy and content when I am painting on a project, whether its wood, ceramic, tin punch,and so on. I repurpose and redo many things others would just throw away. We have never had the money to just go out and buy what we wanted. I do find great satisfaction from doing a project, standing back and know I could not have afforded this if I had to buy it. Now with pinterest, I have more ideas than I will every have time to try, but I am going to have fun trying!! Oh, and have to listen to music, and my cats have to help me every chance they get! I am grateful my husband totally understands my need to create. Yes, it take money to invest in my passion, and I find every deal I can. I would loose my mind without it! I found out over 30 years ago, if you want something bad enough, you will figure out a way to make it yourself. Never turn down an opportunity to learn how to do something new. You never know when it will come in handy.

  25. This is so good. That line about not having to make money for it to be valid… it’s so poignant. I have always been “creative” I love it with my whole heart. I love sketching, painting, photography, working with clay. All of it. But I never thought of myself as an artist or as someone who could even say “I paint” with any real confidence. The thing was, the more time I’ve allowed myself for that, the better I’ve felt. It’s gotten me through low times and helped me embrace good times. It’s centered me and given me a boost. I just really love what you’ve written and I love all the ways you create. xx

  26. Vikas Narula says:

    Dear Mandi,

    I just stumbled upon your post and really LOVED it. It resonates so deeply. I wrote on the same subject a few years ago and made the case that hobbies are actually a great way to build entrepreneurial ventures of lasting meaning, value and purpose: http://www.keyhubs.com/blog/hobbies-are-underrated-the-case-for-heart-centered-entrepreneurship

    I also love your outlook on blogging and living a creative life. You will appreciate this one too: http://www.keyhubs.com/blog/how-blogging-changed-my-life-why-i-blog-and-why-you-should-too

    Have you read the book Big Magic by Liz Gilbert? I recently read it and made it required reading for my students (I teach one course a semester on purpose-driven entrepreneurship at a local community college here in Minneapolis).

    Thanks for shining / sharing your Light with the world.

    Warmest Regards,
    Vikas

  27. Vikas Narula says:

    Oh, one more, where I talk about the importance of hobbification: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQuPUZUARNY

    Thank you!