I realise I’ve always had a lot of ‘hobbies’, even before I was at an age to know them by that name. For Christmas, when I was two years old, I asked Santa for ‘scissors, paper and glue’ and from that Christmas morning onwards I have had an arts and crafts box (with plastic scissors at that age, I must add). It started as a small set from the North Pole and has ebbed and flowed in size over my years as an imaginative kid, a productive art student and even now as an ‘adult’ my arts and crafts drawers are still with me. And this is just one example of my hobbies. Over the years there have been many – from learning French, a recently rejoined pursuit, to skateboarding, which was boy-with-the-dreamy-hair motivated and was, mercifully, a short lived undertaking. But my point is that I have always had my day-to-day stuff that I could sort and declutter like anyone else, but then I would have whole drawers of ‘untouchable’ items because they were my art supplies. Or my makeup collection. Or 10,000 notebooks I had acquired for writing in. And while the specifics have changed over the years, I realise that I still have a lot of ‘hobby’ stuff that I just won’t even consider taking apart.
So how does it fit in with the life I want to live? Paint stained tables and drawers bulging with scrap paper are a far cry from the minimalist images popping up on my Pinterest feed – but how do I feel about it?
The first thing I did when I started thinking about my hobbies going forward, is gave some thought to the Miss Minimalist quote; “declutter your fantasy self”. For a long time after I was out of my teens, I held on to so many relics from my less-than-wild adolescance – Nirvana t-shirts, Hello-Kitty-dressed-as-satan backpacks and some seriously chunky black eyeliner pencils. I held on, not because my teen years were great (they really weren’t), but I think it was more to do with the idea that our teen years are when we make a lot of decisions about college and life and all those big scary sorts of things, as well as have first loves and do a lot of learning about ourselves, and frankly, I think I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that time was past, and not being able to shake off the feeling that I wanted to go back for a do-over. Holding onto all those clothes and accessories really didn’t make me feel good though. I felt very confused each time I went to get dressed: it sounds dramatic, but honestly, being confronted with those garments in the morning would just have me being hit with waves of nostalgia, regret and panic about where I was now in my life. It was like trying to have multiple identities which, as well as causing some bizarre ‘fusion’ ensembles to appear, also put a lot of pressure on me in an area of my life that really isn’t worth stressing over.
Almost as soon as I started decluttering, I spotted this behaviour pattern, I realised that I was holding onto my past, and in seeing it clearly, I felt ready to finally say goodbye to that chapter of my life – have a little cry – and begin to move on. But for some reason, the same epiphany didn’t occur with my hobbies – like I said, the drawers and boxes that stored those items were always sort of invisible to me. They were given a pass through decluttering, because they were ‘specialist’ items. Well, no more. I slowly started to become aware that there were drawers I wasn’t opening, boxes I couldn’t recall the contents of, and in peeking inside, came to realise that they were all full of ‘hobby’ items. With each hobby I remembered I felt a pang of guilt that I was neglecting all these items, I felt shame that I was failing at keeping up with something that I really did want to do, and I felt pressure – how the heck was I going to fit this in? Eventually, a little voice in my head piped up to answer that last question, saying: what if I just don’t?
I love the idea of living a rich and full life, and so I see myself wearing a lot of (metaphorical) hats. I see myself being a polygot because I love studying languages, I see myself being someone who cooks a proper, elaborate dinner each night because I’m interested in nutrition (and because I freaking love to eat), I see myself by an easel, hiking in the hills, filming makeup tutorials, jogging, swimming and visitng the cinema weekly. I see myself doing a lot of things, I just can’t see when I would be doing them.
I think this is a key example of it not being a conscious pressure I place on myself – I don’t literally wake up each morning and give myself a hard time for not going out to photograph local wildlife and then combine it with a 10 mile jog home, but still, subconsciously I’m aware of all these boxes and drawers filled with all these ‘goals’ and ‘targets’ I’m failing to meet. On some level, I am still carrying all this around with me. I am still trying to remember the cheat codes to Mega-Bomberman, and retain the ability to speak conversationally in several languages, to ensure we get our 5-a-day in an innovative and exciting manner, and to pan an eyeshadow palette. It’s a lot of things to remember, really, given that a good chunk of my brain is already given over to remembering the lyrics of every ABBA song (‘cos those come hard-wired, right?).
So how did I go from having about 35,672 hobbies I never did, to picking out a couple that I wanted to continue with right now in my life?
1. Asked some really tough questions – what could I stop?
This line of thinking took me to some really dark places – dealing with the idea that I might never do something, led me to a lot of thoughts about my own mortality – you know, we only have so much time, we can’t do it ALL – I might very possibly die without ever completing Tomb Raider II for the Playstation One, or managing to master night-time photography. And you know what? In the end I realised that it didn’t really matter. While painting is fun and I’d love to be able to make beautiful desserts for my fiance I know that when the time comes and I’m on my deathbed I really won’t care if I ever did beat my sister’s score in the Wii ski-jump (not least because I know I never will). I know this is a really morbid way to think about things, but going to this extreme really made me realise what things were important to me – that added value to my life experience, and helped me grow as a person and express myself – and to be able to tell them apart from the things that while fun to experience now and again, were more weight and pressure than was worth stringing along.
2. What could I hit pause on?
After outright discarding a lot of my hobby items – buh-bye scrapbooking supplies – I was left with still a lot of things that I really did feel connected to, but that weren’t things I reached for everyday. For example, I had a lot of books on learning various languages, and a lot of books and tools related to learning calligraphy and hand lettering. I knew that while I was passionate about pursuing these interests, pursuing them wasn’t going to happen tomorrow or even next week and I wanted to find a way to keep them alive, but free myself from the constant physical reminder of them. I spent a lot of time online researching these subjects and for languages I found many great YouTube channels as well as the language learning website DuoLingo and I realised that actually, this combined with being able to store dictionaries on my Kindle meant that I could actually release ALL of my physical books to go to loving homes, but still be able to hit ‘resume’ on this hobby any time I like. As far as the physical ‘tools’ for hand lettering, or even my huge stash of printmaking supplies, I really looked at what I would ‘need’ to have on hand to get started again – what couldn’t I work without in the beginning? Everything else, I let go, knowing that if or when the time comes and I want to really get involved with these hobbies again, I will find a way to regain items as I need them. I trust that will work out.
3. Could items be loved more by someone else?
Then, when it came to the hobbies that I knew I was going to physically going to keep the items for- like the majority of my art supplies – I went through and tried to feel the joy, and workout if I’d actually prefer to let some things go rather than keeping them sitting in a drawer because ‘it made sense to’. In the end I got a big pile of coloured paper and pastels and various other bits and pieces ready to send off to the youngest budding artist in the family. On paper (no pun intended), it made sense to keep it ALL – paper is a non perishable and it would be a nightmare to try and find all those specific shades, weights and textures again – but in truth, I felt more joy at the thought of gifting them to someone else, practicalities be darned. For me, it was about finding the right balance between having still kept a ‘full set’ of supplies for my ongoing interests, but also that I wasn’t just holding on to so many things that I might actually never get round to using them.
Of course, deciding which objects to physically keep is only half the battle really. As with all of minimalism, it’s more about mindset than anything else, and I had to really have a big shift in my thoughts with my hobbies going forward. Right now, I want my biggest focus, or ‘hobby’ to be about being happy. About pursuing bliss and calm and fulfillment, and maybe once I’m feeling some more of that I’ll look to add in a couple more hobbies again, but for now, I’m liking the peace and quiet and the pressure-free space my home has become.