Need some specific short term goals
June 11, 2014 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I spend lots of my free time watching TV and surfing the internet. I feel like I am wasting my life. I am looking for free or very low cost programs like "how to learn/make X in 30 days!" with daily or weekly milestones. I need to see very concrete progress or I will just give up.

Stuff I have done in the past but didn't stick with - writing, photography, painting, drawing, learning a language

Stuff I'd like to do - crafty things, learning to program, learning to cook

I have a hard time starting or finishing anything because of perfectionism/anxiety and because I don't perceive any progress. I feel like actually being able to develop a skill would help my really low self-esteem. Please note that I am BROKE. I would love to learn to knit but I can't get over the thought that spending money on yarn is a horrible waste of money.

note: I'm not interested in fitness/exercise stuff.
posted by fantoche to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Stuff I have done in the past but didn't stick with - writing, photography, painting, drawing, learning a language

With the exception of the last one (and if you're talking about Rosetta Stone etc, possibly including the last one), these are all pretty solitary activities. I would highly recommend joining some sort of group for whatever hobby you pursue next- the feedback from others is very encouraging.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:48 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Many cooking schools, yoga studios, art schools, etc. offer classes at a free or reduced rate to people who volunteer with admin tasks. I don't know where you live but if there are classes offered near you, call them up, say that you have a limited income and ask if there's anything you could give in exchange for a free or reduced-price class.

If you go to a yarn/fabric store, look in the sale bin. If you don't care what colors you get you can get yarn VERY cheaply. Do you have any buddies who knit, or do you belong to a community group where some members knit? Barter in exchange for lessons.

Do you have friends in your area? One of my friends holds semi-regular "Craft Nights" where people just come over with whatever craft they're working on. Just having other people around can be fun and the crafts don't have to take expensive materials.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 1:57 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

a friend of mine started doing "screen free sundays" - where she lets all her close friends and family know that she won't be reachable except via phone call. so make it a point to have an entire day, or afternoon set aside with this specific purpose in mind. announcing your intentions to others can help hold you to it, as well as connect you with others that would like to do it too - and maybe you could find an activity to do with them that doesn't require a screen!

since you like to cook maybe spend part of your weekend making a meal that can last all week? something fun and inventive like salads in a jar or going on the super cheap and calculating how much per meal you are eating with a recipe from budget bytes.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Learn to juggle.
posted by Wild_Eep at 2:01 PM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

"I would love to learn to knit but I can't get over the thought that spending money on yarn is a horrible waste of money."

Try freecycle! "Would love to learn to knit. Looking for any kind/amount of yarn. Happy to pick up on the weekend. Thanks so much!"

Next stop: Thrift store. Bet the thrift store+freecycle can get you all the tools+materials you need.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:09 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

I keep on running into knitting - I can even think of the perfect project for you - but I'm stumped at this:

I would love to learn to knit but I can't get over the thought that spending money on yarn is a horrible waste of money.

Can you expound upon this a bit? What about it feels like a waste - do you feel like yarn is too expensive? If so, they have acryllic yarns that are nice quality that are very inexpensive. Do you feel like it takes too much yarn to make a project? There are a lot of projects that don't take too much yarn. Are you worried about what you'd do if you have extra yarn? there are a lot of books that have ideas for "what do do with all the random leftover yarn you have from other things". Do you live in, like, the tropics and you're thinking yarn is only for sweaters and you'd never wear them? Knitting can also be for bags and decorative scarves.

But enough of my armchair analysis - I have two project ideas.

1. The Sky Scarf. That link goes to a kit, but you can get your yarn elsewhere and just use the idea; what you do is, you get a few different colors of yarn, each of which stands in for a different kind of weather (white for cloudy days or snow, light gray for overcast, dark gray for thunderstorms, blue for sunny days, etc.). And then on each day, you knit two rows using the color that matches whatever the weather was like that day; and you keep that up for a year. It's only a little bit of knitting per day, but there is daily progress, and at the end you've got a decorative scarf. Two rows a day doesn't sound like a lot, but there is visible progress, absolutely, especially if the colors change frequently.

2. This is crocheting instead of knitting - a granny square afghan. Granny squares are stupid simple to crochet, and are great for using up random spare stray bits of yarn so you can even solicit donations from other knitting friends or hit up ebay for yarn here. And as for the daily-progress thing - just make one square a day. They'll go quick, and pile up. You need at least 56 squares to make an average sofa-throw sized afghan, so that'll take a couple months. Or you could just crank out a whole shit-ton of squares and use up yarn, and then have fun seeing how many blankets you wanna make ("let's see....I could make one throw and ten baby blankets....or two throws....or fifteen baby blankets...."). And if you end up making extra blankets, you're all set to either give some to friends, have them on hand if anyone has a baby, or donate them to a local hospital.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:13 PM on June 11, 2014 [5 favorites]

The problem with this question that I'm getting stuck on is that hobbies cost money to start. Like, almost all of them will need some output of funds to begin. And if you're feeling like YARN is expensive, I'm not too sure what to suggest that would be cheaper than that. Drawing, but I suspect you might find it frustrating.

Is there something you already spend money on that could be redirected to a DIY of a hobby? like, for instance, if you spend money on beer or wine maybe you could learn to brew or vint?

If you ARE interested in learning to knit, thrift stores generally have tons of yarn for.. super dirt cheap. Or just put it out there to people you know, lots of people have odds and ends of yarn they may never use for anything they'd be willing to give you.

Beading and chainmail and embroidery can be fun if you like fiddly hand things and are all.. decent prices to start. Buy beads off ebay, not from michaels.

Cake decorating has always appealed to me, and you can make people birthday cakes! icing bags and tools aren't too expensive from a place like bulk barn (that might be canadian, but you will have somewhere I suppose.) try to stay away from craft stores and hobby shops, they're pretty overpriced.
posted by euphoria066 at 2:21 PM on June 11, 2014

How about paper folding? You can start with discarded paper that's been printed on ("the failed printing pile"); go to the library or youtube and learn to make cranes / boxes. There are really easy things and much harder things; some harder things are just lots of easy things assembled.

Paper cutting ("more than snowflakes") is also good, though I think you'll get dissatisfied with printer paper sooner.
posted by batter_my_heart at 2:55 PM on June 11, 2014

Saw a BUNCH of knitting supplies at Goodwill last weekend.
posted by harrietthespy at 2:55 PM on June 11, 2014

Stuff I'd like to do - crafty things, learning to program, learning to cook

Check out the courses on They're delivered in bite-sized chunks that are easy to handle and give you a nice sense of progression and achievement.

Also check out Codeschool, which is paid but offers a bunch of courses for free -- just search for "free" on that page.

The courses on those sites are fun and make a great intro to programming for the web.
posted by ludwig_van at 2:56 PM on June 11, 2014 [4 favorites]

It's free to volunteer. Pick an organization that you like ok and start volunteering there. Repeat as needed.
posted by aniola at 2:56 PM on June 11, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, I have been looking for a new hobby and am trying drawing. I see my progress by going through the sketchbook every couple of days.
posted by harrietthespy at 2:57 PM on June 11, 2014

For example, if you volunteer at a bike collective, you could learn how to work on bikes.
posted by aniola at 2:58 PM on June 11, 2014

I was going to say knitting or crocheting too - partly because it's a thing you can do while you watch TV and not feel guilty about sitting in front of the tube. Check out the kilt hose I made while watching the winter olympics this year!

As for the cost of yarn... The freecycle/thrift shop recommendations are great. Failing that there are some perfectly good acrylics our there for only a couple of bucks per skein and if you live near a Jo-Ann fabrics, eve a skein of 100% wool yarn can be had for $3-4 if you catch it on sale or use a 40-50% off coupon - which they'll send you all the time if you sign up for their e-mail/snail mail lists. (And you can use another coupon to pick up some needles on the cheap.) Look up some 'how to knit' videos on youtube and put in an interlibrary loan request for Stitch N' Bitch - it's got good illustrations and instructions, and builds skills in a progression.

RE: Learning to program, it's a bit of an outlier but you might check out Inform, which is a very specialized and unique language for creating interactive fiction (text adventures). It's completely free, and comes as an all-in-one authoring environment. The built-in documentation is pretty good.

And I wanted to add: there's nothing wrong with trying something out and not sticking with it. I loved the way gregglind put it in another Ask Metafilter thread: "Buying crochet hooks isn't a suicide pact with crocheting."
posted by usonian at 2:58 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oooh! I also just discovered English Paper Piercing, but haven't tried it yet.
posted by harrietthespy at 3:01 PM on June 11, 2014

Yes, if you are in an area with good Freecycle activity, I would just go and check out what people are giving away. You never know. On the other hand, do a bit of research before diving into things, because some hobbies are deceptive. (e.g. That free fish tank? Yeah, you'll need another $50 to make it actually usable.)

Assuming you have a computer, learning to program is the perfect cheap hobby! I've heard very good things about Learn Python the Hard Way, though I haven't used it myself. (Software engineer by training, so I went to school for that.) But it is $30 so I don't know if you want to spring for that.

You can also go to the library and borrow programming books. I learned to do HTML that way, way back when. Get a chapter book and don't skip the exercises. You don't need to do them perfectly. Your progress is understanding each chapter. (And no, it won't really come together until near the end, usually, since each lesson is integral to actually using the language.)

Lastly, what about cooking? It's actually quite cheap, especially if it means you eat at home more and eat less processed foods. If you don't have a proper kitchen or a lot of knowledge, ask a friend if you can cook with them. They'll like the help and company and you can learn something useful (and arguably crafty).
posted by ethidda at 4:24 PM on June 11, 2014 [2 favorites]

How about one of the different 30 day challenges? There are a lot out there-here's a learn to cook one:

You could set a goal of cooking your way through a specific cookbook-hit the library and read reviews and see what's most to your taste. I've been wanting to do one of Rick Bayless' Mexican cookbooks, for instance. And though there's a small up front investment-buy bulk spices for huge savings-it doesn't feel as wasteful as an abandoned craft project can feel since you always have to eat!

Another idea would be a 30 day de cluttering project, or organizing project. I like all these because the goals are specific and small and you get to check off boxes.
posted by purenitrous at 7:02 PM on June 11, 2014 [1 favorite]

Think of it this way - this is your only chance of life and your time is so precious and valuable! What do you actually want to achieve from life? What do you want to learn or leave behind? Don't do something you don't love just to stave off the boredom.
posted by hannahlambda at 2:23 AM on June 12, 2014

Trot yourself down to the library and hit the crafts section and browse. There are lots and lots of crafts that don't require a huge outlay of materials you'd have to pay for. For example German paper cutting is cheap if you have paper and a decent pair of scissors or a craft knife in the house. If you don't have decent scissors keep browsing until you find a craft where you already own some materials or know where you can get them.

You can hand sew things such as dolls by using old clothes as a source of materials. Go for the raggedy folk art look.

If you are willing to buy a recorder at the dollar store you could learn to play it, using music you take out of the library.

Someone already suggested learning HTML. offers the lessons so you don't need to find a text book.

Yarn can be recycled. My grandmother used to do this. The yarn that had previously been knitted into something that wouldn't fit any of us looked just like the yarn that had never been used when it was in the ball, but when a strand lay loose it was zig-zagged instead of straight.

Look for an on-line community that does what you are doing. For example if you get into drawing again there is Deviant Art. Upload pictures of the crafts you make, including pictures of in progress. Ideally you want a community of beginners not too far from your own level. Deviant Art is good because there are a lot of emerging artists there which will help give you perspective about the fact that you are emerging craftsperson, not an accomplished one. Writing is another hobby where you can find communities of people who like the same kind of stuff you do, but who are not intimidatingly good at it.

Make a project notebook. I've never used Pinterest, but I gather this is an on line example but you don't need to do it on line. You could combine two interests, such as sewing and sketching and drawing where you create a folder of the projects you are considering.

Get into cooking seriously. You have to eat so you are already paying for food. But rather than making fried eggs for breakfast look up how to make a souffle either in a library book or on line. Rather than hamburger scramble learn to make meatballs. The trick is to find recipes that don't ask for expensive spices you don't have and will only ever use once, but recipes that require technique. White sauce is not made out of expensive ingredients but can change a dish from fast and boring to having a range of textures and flavours.

There are places where you can look at other people's food blogs and you can make your own. In these places a picture of the white sauce that congealed is duly respected as an important part of the learning process.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:49 AM on June 12, 2014

You might want to give yourself a budget for your craft projects.

For example if you budget three dollars a week and then go to your local dollar store you will be presented with tons of materials. For example, three dollars buys a lot of tissue paper. Tissue paper and a balloon and glue can make you interesting round lamp shades. Tissue paper can be used to make paper flowers, or three dimensional paper doll clothes or window clings or any of a dozen things you can find by googling "tissue paper crafts" or getting a book on tissue paper crafts out of the library.

On a three dollar budget you could get a pen with silver ink and some black construction paper and make some beautiful art work.

The trick is to give yourself a rule that you have to spend three dollars each week on craft materials.

If three dollars is too steep then the game is to figure out what craft you can make out of something already in your possession without spending any money. You almost certainly have Paint on your computer. Have you tried drawing using that cheapie bundled drawing program? The trick is to look at specific things - the unused sponges under your kitchen sink for example and then think of a craft project you can embark on using that. Sponge printing? Making doll house furniture?

Another on line thing you could get into is MineCraft using creative mode. It's the same as a lego hobby but with virtual bricks. I believe there is a free to play version.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:00 AM on June 12, 2014

If you or your flat mate has long hair you can learn to do hairstyling - French braids, updos and the like.

Singing. Find the lyrics on line and the music on You-Tube to learn the song by singing along. You'll know you've made progress by the number of songs in your repertoire increasing.
posted by Jane the Brown at 4:09 AM on June 12, 2014

I feel like people are missing the point of your question. It's not just "suggest a new hobby for me", but "what can I do IN 30 DAYS and see results".

Google is your friend. Type in "learn in 30 days" without the quotes and see what you find.
From those results, here's 100 things you can do in 30 days. Though I have a bit of a problem with how they categorize what women can do vs what men can do, it's a pretty big list will all kinds of suggestions covering health, sports, crafts, arts, household stuff, financial, etc.

Mostly I'm just putting this comment here so I can re-find this and be inspired to quit my own TV habits and try to accomplish something (ANYthing!) so thanks for asking this question.
posted by CathyG at 8:48 AM on June 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

Would you consider some kind of sport/activity that gets you out of the house and a little bit active? I know you said no fitness/exercise stuff, but you didn't specify why. If it's just that you don't like the gym (or already work out), there are lots of things that are more fun-oriented than fitness-oriented, while still making you sweat a little. I have the same tendencies, and I find that activities like these are by far the best way to counteract things like low self esteem and feeling like you're wasting your life and not making any progress at anything.

Some examples: hiking, geocaching, casual bike rides, swimming, pickup sports or recreational leagues, tossing a ball/frisbee around, kayaking/canoeing/surfing, rock climbing, yoga, martial arts, walking dogs for the local shelter, even just walking around can be a real mood-booster, which can help get in the mindset for doing productive things instead of lounging around all day. Nature exposure helps a lot too - or even just being outside. Hiking is a really great starter activity since you can start with really quick and easy walks and work your way up to long, difficult trails (if you're so inclined).

Most of these have a skill-related component that you'll be able to see improving, and the best part is that many are also free or cheap!
posted by randomnity at 8:56 AM on June 12, 2014

If you Memail me your address I have a bunch of acrylic yarn that I am taking to the thrift store this weekend because I've graduated to the "good stuff" (wool). I would be happy to send it to a Mefite instead. Knitting is a fantastic hobby. If you don't see yourself using acrylic items you can make baby blankets for Project Linus. It is not a waste to help keep babies warm.

I just started volunteering with a local gardening/farm to shelter group and get to garden weekly. I like this activity because I've met other people there - knitting is pretty solitary as far as hobbies go so it is nice to do something social that also helps people.

Don't beat yourself up for vegging and watching television. You aren't wasting your life. It's good to realize "hey I want to do more stuff" but try to be kind to yourself while you figure out what that "stuff" is. I find that when I get down on myself for wasting time it ends up locking me to the couch even more.
posted by sockermom at 9:05 AM on June 12, 2014

I just went to my library's online catalog and typed in "30 days" and got 322 results, including:

Spanish in 30 Days
30 days to better thinking and better living through critical thinking
You can draw in 30 days
30 days to great Italian
Memory enhancement in 30 days : the total-recall program
30 days to a more powerful vocabulary
Creative boot camp: generate ideas in greater quantity & quality in 30 days
Book in a month : the foolproof system for writing a novel in 30 days
No plot? No problem! : a low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days

"21 days" turns up a number of programming books (Teach Yourself Java/XML/C#/Perl in 21 Days) but also How to write a movie in 21 days.

I also found Teach yourself digital photography in 14 days and Conversational Thai in 7 days (also, Italian and Greek).

So here's what I would suggest:

1. Use your library's online catalog to look for "30 days" books.
2. Pick one.
3. Print out a calendar of the next 30 days. Put it somewhere visible. For every day that you work on your new program, put a big colorful X on that day.
4. Put a pad of paper near the calendar. Every day, when you've finished the day's lesson or project, write it down:

Today I did: lesson 4 on using perspective in drawing
I thought I did: pretty well (or not so well or crummy, actually, but I could do better by ... )
Tomorrow I'll do: lesson 5 on shading
I'll practice today's thing over the coming week by: doing a quick perspective sketch while I'm waiting for the bus

If seeing your progress is an important part of continuing with your new project, make sure you build that into your daily practice. Make your progress visible to yourself.
posted by kristi at 10:30 AM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

« Older Music that makes me feel big feelings about being...   |   Motorik/Krautrock playlist for running Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.