Help me find a new pastime.
June 7, 2010 12:59 PM   Subscribe

I want to cultivate a hobby, something simple but productive, to give me an alternative to passive time-filling activities.

I have a lot of interests, but not a lot of active hobbies. My primary hobby is tabletop gaming (D&D, Catan, etc.), I have a few potential hobbies on the proverbial back-burner (cycling, amateur radio, photography) but my funds are limited right now. I do have a nice bike, though I haven't properly learned to ride it yet, and my camera is not professional (or even hobbiest) quality.

I spend a lot of time surfing the internet, watching movies, or reading books, but I'd like to find an interesting activity that gets me doing something less passive and that works other parts of my brain.

1) It needs to be something I can do on a tight budget. I'm currently unemployed.

2) I'd like to find an activity that will allow me to feel some sense of accomplishment early on, to encourage me to keep it up.

3) I'm trying to purge unnecessary clutter from my life, so I'd prefer it if this hobby didn't produce more cluttery things.

4) I'd like it to be constructive (ie. creating useful things). Bonus points if it can provide me with a little extra income in some way.
4a) Extra bonus if it's something that will or can put me in touch with other people, but that I can also do alone.

I was going to list a few more of my interests, but in the spirit of trying new things, I'm going to leave that out. I will mention that I live in a small suburb in southern California, and the nearest "big" city is about an hour from here.
posted by digitaldraco to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Computer programming. That's what I chose when I was looking for a hobby ... and never regretted it.
posted by aroberge at 1:15 PM on June 7, 2010

Yes I agree with aroberge, if you haven't tried it, I would suggest giving programming a shot. From your list:

1) There are plenty of free programming languages, you only need a computer, and you can get all of the learning material you need for free online.

2) You can start writing programs that actually do stuff the first day (although they won't do much other than say "Hello World"). You can start working on your own programs without much experience as long as you pick relatively easy projects.

3) Only produces digital clutter.

4) Definitely constructive, possibly lucrative (probably not right away).
4a) Heh, programmers aren't exactly known for being very social, but there are a lot of programming groups out there especially if you just want to interact with people online.

It's really easy to get started (just download something like Python and find an online tutorial that makes sense to you) and you'll find out relatively early if the kinds of thinking programming requires is something you like or something you have no iterest in.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:18 PM on June 7, 2010


Learn guitar.
posted by musofire at 1:21 PM on June 7, 2010


1. Yes, it can be a little spendy if you decide to do wacky things, but you can almost always pick up stuff from Goodwill. My personal recs for a start-to-knit kit (a set of bamboo circular needles, maybe 16" or 24" size 7 or 8 or so, along with a ball of Plymouth Encore or Cascade 220 yarn) could be yours for around 10 bucks. It's easy to unravel if you are unsatisfied or make a mistake, and there are loads of small, medium and large projects that your friends/family could cherish while you blush [not-so-]modestly and say, "Oh, that old thing? It was nothing..."

Start with potholders (I think scarves are tedious and ugly).

2. It's very, very forgiving. Plus, it's literally measurable!

3. Weeeell... don't look at my living room, but it's easy to get rid of stuff. Especially if you get together with friends (IRL or virtually) and trade yarn instead of buying it. Or you can unravel thrift-store sweaters. Just limit yourself to a project or two at a time, and it's easy to store.

4. Ta-daaaa!
4a. LiveJournal, Ravelry,, your local yarn store (LYS), fiber festivals, you name it.

NB: Don't fall for that "knitting isn't a guy thing" nonsense. There are great books out there for male knitters who want to make male-oriented stuff for themselves, and that shouldn't stop you from making beautiful girl-foofy things for other people.

Plus, if you're single (as I note from your profile), it's a great way to meet people. Either they'll remark upon your uniqueness as one of the few male knitters they've seen, or you can sidle up to hot chicks/dudes at knitting night and say, "Oh, I seem to have dropped a stitch. Could you help me?" or "That's an awesome pair of mittens, there. Where'd you find the pattern?"
posted by Madamina at 1:21 PM on June 7, 2010

I'd suggest origami and paper engineering. If you can make stuff out of waste paper and cardboard, you'll have an endless supply of material to work with. And the tools are relatively cheap.

Ditto for any effort to make art or even useful stuff out of trash.

You could become a bit of a naturalist. Learn how to cultivate local plants that are useful -- like local plants that provide food or shelter for bees and butterflies in your area and that will thrive on the local climate with no additional water.

Or combine the two to make "green" topiaries?

Learn to make balloon animals or stuff out of duct tape.

Become a local historian and be the local expert on the natural, cultural and social heritage of your town or region.

Write poetry and share the ones you like at poetry readings. Believe me, you can probably write a poem that's as good as the average open mic night poem.
posted by cross_impact at 1:21 PM on June 7, 2010

You have a nice bike that you haven't learned to properly ride yet! There ya go! :)
posted by The otter lady at 1:21 PM on June 7, 2010

Harmonica. Even the very good ones top out at around 30 bucks. (Just get a standard blues harmonica, probably key of C/G. Don't get a chromatic. Those can be very expensive.) And I don't know any instrument where you can ramp up faster to "Hey, that doesn't sound that bad." (Mastery though, is a wholly separate thing.)
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 1:25 PM on June 7, 2010

Yeah, now's the time to learn to ride the bike. Every day you could ride to the local resale / thrift / Goodwill store with an item you want to get rid of.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 1:32 PM on June 7, 2010

Not only should you ride that bike, but you should learn how to service it, too. I've slowly picked up a few things from Bicycle Tutor, but I still can't do everything by myself, but it's a goal some day. You will save money in the long run, and a few big cities have bike activism groups that help build and repair bikes for other people, like the Austin Yellow Bike Project. You would be helping the environment, helping other people through a social outlet, and you'll get free access to tools and such. There is a list of other bike orgs in other cities at the bottom of the page.
posted by slow graffiti at 1:38 PM on June 7, 2010 [4 favorites]

Learn to play the ukulele.
posted by chez shoes at 2:04 PM on June 7, 2010

So once you start taking your bike out, why not pick up cartography? Making maps of local areas will give you a reason to bike out to new places, plus the ability to make a mean map will be an asset to your pre-existing geeky hobbies.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:38 PM on June 7, 2010

As far as "properly" learning to ride your bike goes, I learned to ride just last year and I had some great help from threads right here on ask mefi:

...and probably more that I can't remember right now.
posted by ymendel at 2:42 PM on June 7, 2010

For those suggesting I focus on the bike, it's a Lemond Versailles cycle. I've been reluctant to give myself the time to learn in part because it requires putting on the whole riding outfit, including the clip shoes.

Everyone else: Some good ideas! Thank you! Please, keep the suggestions coming. I'd really like some more, in case I pick something that doesn't quite stick.
posted by digitaldraco at 3:46 PM on June 7, 2010

Definitely programming. I'd recommend python, because it's pretty easy to get your feet wet and do some very productive things, it's free, and it has a huge community.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 5:41 PM on June 7, 2010


Flour and yeast are cheap (and you won't need much yeast after you switch to making sour doughs (which you will)). Making good bread is simple, but satisfying and yummy. On the downside, it's unlikely to become a money-maker.
posted by qldaddy at 5:42 PM on June 7, 2010

If you have a head for math and a somewhat obsessive personality, online poker. You'll probably have to deposit at least $50, but you can start playing at the $.01/.02 tables where a whole buyin is 2$. It's hard to get rich, but you can get to the point where you're clearing a hundred or two a month if you're good at games and math. Much more profitable than my former chess habit. :-)

It translates well to playing with friends, too, obviously.

Study and get better at forums like Two Plus Two.

Make sure you find out about and sign up for rakeback before you create an account.
posted by callmejay at 8:20 AM on June 8, 2010

I find vegetable gardens inexpensive and very fulfilling. If you would need to use containers instead of a yard it might take more of an initial investment.

But the great thing about veggie gardens is you've got lots of feedback throughout the process of how things are working (germination! yeah! height! leaves! flowers! FOOD!) ...and then you can *eat* them.
posted by galadriel at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Perhaps Geocaching? You can use your bike on the way.
posted by ibakecake at 2:50 PM on June 8, 2010

Buy the book Homemade Root Beer Soda Pop. Make soft drinks. Impress your friends. Sell the surplus at your local farmer's market.
posted by PueExMachina at 7:55 PM on June 8, 2010

Thanks, all! I've even started a new blog to chronicle my new hobbies. :)
posted by digitaldraco at 10:49 PM on June 16, 2010

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