This article originally appeared on moreloveletters.com 1 November 2021.
Hobbies are generally good. They are fun, pleasant escapes from the drudgery of necessary tasks. They are often a creative outlet, something we can be proud of. Or they are simply relaxing, a needed balance to the stress of our lives. But what about when the hobby itself becomes a source of stress?
I love my hobby and there is no doubt that it has brought immense value to my life. But sometimes I wonder if I’ve taken it too far. We may get so into our hobbies that they turn into projects to tackle instead of simply enjoy. We may set ourselves progress goals, deadlines, and add hobby related tasks to our to-do lists. Completing something usually gives a satisfactory feeling, but what are we going through to get there? Is it still fun?
- Obsess – int. v. To preoccupy the mind of (someone) excessively. To have the mind excessively preoccupied with a single emotion or topic. To besiege; beset; compass about.
Before we notice, a hobby may morph from a fun and exciting escape into a pervasive commitment. This can happen without intention, without us asking ourselves if we truly want this commitment. Perhaps we became victims to the subversive promotion of *productivity* and applied it to what was supposed to be our leisure time. When a hobby becomes a chore, something is wrong.
To complicate matters further, we often identify ourselves with our hobbies. For example: I am a reader, a knitter, a hiker, etc. These labels can add even more pressure to ourselves, albeit unintentionally. How many books must I read per month to be considered a “real” reader? How complicated must my patterns be to call myself a “real” knitter? How much equipment must I own to be a “real” hiker? These markers are often arbitrary yet may compel us lest we be seen as an “imposter.”
- Tracking stats — Are you very meticulous about tracking the progress of your hobby? Do you use an App, website, spreadsheet, notebook, or all four (seems crazy, I know, but I’ve done it) as trackers? Do you spend a significant chunk of your hobby time tracking in lieu of doing? Are you more curious about the stats you’ll rack up than enjoying the hobby in the moment?
- Too many supplies — Do you spend more time shopping for supplies than you do using them? Do you buy more even when you already have usable supplies? Do you have more supplies stocked than you could use up in your lifetime or other reasonable amount of time? Do you spend a significant chunk of your hobby time organizing or sifting through supplies?
- On your to-do list — Have you put any aspect of your hobby on your to-do list? Does it feel like a nagging duty to finish something, or even start it? Do you want to do your hobby because you are excited about it or do you feel a need to because you already spent money on it, told others about it, or feel committed to it as a part of who you are?
The most important question we must ask ourselves regarding our hobbies is “why?” Our answers will be as unique as fingerprints. Is it to relax? A creative outlet? To connect with others? Once we figure out why we do something, we can intentionally decide how to do it our way and set our own markers. You can’t be an imposter if you decide the parameters. Communities built around our hobbies can be supportive and helpful, but we must be careful to remember our whys and hows as we’re immersed in the stories and excitement of many others’ whys and hows.
Once we know our why, we can see if our hobby is serving us or controlling us. I have recently taken a huge step back from the hobby I had become obsessive about and it has been a game changer. I got rid of the trackers, culled my supplies a lot (note: these may be sneaky supplies that don’t take up much space like lists, digital resources, and even ideas), deleted my podcast app, unsubscribed to YouTube channels, and allowed myself to go forward with my hobby at my own pace, which coincidentally is a lot slower than I’d been pushing myself. I’m enjoying my hobby again. And the joy I find in aspects of life unrelated to my hobby has increased as well.
Take a break —
- Free yourself from any expectations you have about yourself and your hobby. What you were once capable of doing may not be possible anymore, for whatever reason, and may affect enjoyment. Let it go for a short time to reset any compulsions that have developed around the hobby. A little separation may help prepare you to be mindful with how you engage with your hobby in the future.
Get back to basics —
- Strip away anything extraneous that isn’t just you and the hobby, the essence of what attracted you to it in the first place. Don’t worry about tracking or equipment or groups—just focus on the enjoyment you derive. You may find that you feel differently about the hobby now. Maybe you’ve come too far, there’s no going back, and the hobby isn’t for you anymore. Maybe this simplistic approach will re-spark what you loved about it in the first place. Limiting yourself in your approach can set boundaries against obsession.
Try something new —
- Look at your hobby from a different angle; read a magazine instead of a book, try selling everything you’ve already knitted, walk to clean up litter from your community instead of hiking a trail. Or try something completely disconnected from your hobby. We grow and change all the time and sometimes what was good and healthy for us becomes harmful. It’s okay to replace what’s gone bad with something fresh.
It may take a long time to escape the grip a hobby might have over us. It may be slow and we may rebound, but hobbies are supposed to be enjoyable, not stressful. Maybe we can rebalance the relationship; maybe we need to break up. Either way, we deserve to be hobby happy.