Lend me your delightfully tedious hobbies
October 11, 2017 6:13 PM   Subscribe

I love anything that is repetitive and keeps at least my hands busy. I knit repetitive sampler afghans; I buy wool sweaters from goodwill and dismantle them; I get $20 in pennies from the bank and sort them for wheat pennies. I LOVE to tear up a garden bed. All are mindless and require 1% of my attention so I can devote 99% listening to a podcast. I want MOOAR!
posted by pintapicasso to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (57 answers total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Modular origami. Once you've made one or two of the pieces you know how to make the other million. The only tricky bit is putting them all together at the end.
posted by potrzebie at 6:15 PM on October 11, 2017 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Latch hook is pretty mindless. It's like a paint by numbers, but with yarn and a hook tool. But I'm not sure what one is supposed to do with the final product. People hang them on the wall or make pillows, I suppose.
posted by hydra77 at 6:22 PM on October 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Detangling necklaces or other fine chains.
posted by bookmammal at 6:23 PM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is what I do while listening to podcasts.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 6:29 PM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Spinning fiber into yarn is very meditative once you get past the learning curve. Coloring doesn’t have the learning curve. Calligraphy? At least the single-letter practice bits. Going for a walk is something that is easier for me to do when I have good podcasts lined up.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:34 PM on October 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

My SO and I are taking a woodworking class right now. The basic skills are tedious and measuring and exactitude are required. "Squaring off stock" involves meditative planing, and sanding. It smells good.
posted by vrakatar at 6:38 PM on October 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Polishing shoes.
posted by maurreen at 6:47 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I bought a giant pack of embroidery floss skeins like this, and a giant pack of embroidery floss bobbins like this. I haven't gotten much further with actual needlework as a hobby, because it turns out I just want to wind colorful embroidery floss around bobbins forever.
posted by somedaycatlady at 6:48 PM on October 11, 2017 [26 favorites]

I was going to say sanding and refinishing wood/furniture, so, 2nding vrakatar -- although some parts of any woodworking project are very focused work, so not all of it is good for listening to podcasts.

Also: grooming cats; doing dishes; kneading dough; decorating cakes and cookies; molding candies; cleaning produce.
posted by amtho at 6:48 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hand lettering!
posted by Hop123 at 7:03 PM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Cross stitch or embroidery. There are patterns for all sorts of tastes out there.
posted by wwax at 7:05 PM on October 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

Bead weaving or bead crochet. I also do bead embroidery but that does take some attention.
posted by notquitemaryann at 7:10 PM on October 11, 2017

In the vein of woodworking, I do scroll sawing, and I listen to podcasts the entire time I do it. Now that I've started selling my work at craft shows, I can be listening to podcasts for 6-8 hours a day. It's heaven.
When I'm not scroll sawing, I do cross stitching which is also pretty mindless, as long as it's a pattern that's not too complicated.
Nearly-mindless repetitive tasks are my favorite thing in the world, to the horror of my high school guidance counselor years ago.
posted by jenjenc at 7:11 PM on October 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Shelling peanuts? Pitting cherries? Lots of food prep tasks, I think.
posted by daisystomper at 7:17 PM on October 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Waxing canvas.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:28 PM on October 11, 2017

Sowing and labeling chilli seeds, then attending to them, then pruning them, then eventually harvesting them, cutting open the pods, removing the seeds, and making tasty treats.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:30 PM on October 11, 2017

Ooh, yeah. Gardening is great for this (and for a lot of other reasons).
posted by amtho at 7:31 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Tablet weaving, also known as card weaving, is maybe too complex to be mindless, but the people who enjoy it find it soothing and a nice thing to do with hands and part of the mind while listening to other things.

My mindless-repetition tasks of choice are digital; I do formatting and image cropping for ebooks. (Start with 300 pages scanned as double-page layouts. Crop one into 2 single pages each. Deskew. Adjust the DPI settings. Adjust the color contrast. Repeat on next page.)

Beadwork of various sorts can be delightfully monotonous. Sewing, making necklaces, weaving, peyote-stitch beadwork... only problem is, unlike knitting or crocheting, you may need a lot of variety in supplies to get started on a project. Also, the supplies are not forgiving of "I forgot it was on my lap when I reached for the coffee."

I used to do chainmail. Less persnickety pieces than beadwork; smaller storage space than textiles or yarn. (Heavier, though.) Chainmail jewelry ranges from tiny and delicate to heavy and tough-looking. I recommend getting some cheap frisbees if you're going to do chain mail or beading; they make excellent portable worktables.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:36 PM on October 11, 2017 [5 favorites]

Needle felting? There can be a bit of detail work at the end, depending on what you're making, but the VAST majority is just stabbing needles into a hunk of wool, putting more wool on, and stabbing some more.
posted by fuzzy night at 7:37 PM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

This depends on how much you can multitask, and the complexity of the text, but proofreading texts on Distributed Proofreaders works for me while podcasting.
posted by dilaudid at 7:44 PM on October 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Nail art!
posted by phunniemee at 7:54 PM on October 11, 2017

Best answer: English paper piecing— hexagons are especially easy. Baste hexies, sew them together on the edges, repeat 1000 times. Becomes a throw pillow or a quilt or whatever.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:11 PM on October 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Crochet, even better for mindless.
posted by BoscosMom at 8:25 PM on October 11, 2017

Frosting petit fours. God I never want to do that again, but you might like it.
posted by batter_my_heart at 8:34 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

You could become a volunteer yarn detangler and help other people detangle their yarn. Article here on how to get connected to the detangler group on Ravelry.
posted by aka burlap at 9:04 PM on October 11, 2017 [14 favorites]

I love this! I buy cheap men's shirts from thrift stores and use my seam ripper to remove the collars, cuffs, whatever. My eyes aren't as great as they used to be so I have a very bright task light.

I so want to get into that "untangle my yarn" group!
posted by bendy at 9:50 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Also cross-stitch can be pretty tedious. It just requires counting and colors.

I'm assuming you're talking about couch-based tedious activities (binging Netflix maybe) so that's from whence my suggestions come.
posted by bendy at 9:52 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Since you knit, you could makeyour own beaded stitch markers. I made lots one year and gave sets of them to my knitting friends (and kept some for myself, of course).

I've also made marble magnets with this tutorial and given sets of them as gifts.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:56 PM on October 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Card tricks
posted by chrchr at 10:19 PM on October 11, 2017

Homemade tamales or pierogies or other dumplings take absolutely forever to assemble and in the end you have a feast!
posted by esoterrica at 10:36 PM on October 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Jigsaw puzzles allow me plenty of brainpower to also concentrate on what I'm listening to.
posted by Carouselle at 10:48 PM on October 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Color by number books like these, where the page is just trianges/squares/hexagons that reveal tigers or bunnies. Writing repetitive postcards for Postcards to Voters.
posted by xyzzy at 12:55 AM on October 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Kumihimo! A form of braiding that produces colorful patterned cords (or friendship bracelets).
posted by O9scar at 1:55 AM on October 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

A friend used to put chainmail together: get a big bag of chain links and two pairs of needle-nose pliers and help outfit the troops of your local feudal lord.
posted by Dr Dracator at 4:05 AM on October 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Copying Bargue drawings.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:45 AM on October 12, 2017

a colleague of mine with a degree in art restoration watches TV and uses q tips and her saliva to clean old oil paintings. IT REALLY WORKS. Just don't re-dip the dirty tip in your mouf.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:17 AM on October 12, 2017

Ooh, yeah, spinning yarn is great. I can get into flow almost immediately now, it's like a drug.

Polishing jewelry (and if you do this, simichrome is your best friend). If you put out a call to your friends I bet you'll have more to polish than you know what to do with.

Plastic canvas is super fun to stitch.

nthing chainmaille, if the rings themselves aren't enough, you can make your own damn rings, which is repetitive and satisfying.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:51 AM on October 12, 2017

Oh! And in the origami vein, fold a thousand cranes in a year. I did this a couple of years ago and the strung cranes are gorgeous to look at. And if you do them with small paper you can take them anywhere. I folded a lot at bars and dinner parties.
posted by fiercecupcake at 6:52 AM on October 12, 2017

Best answer: My favorite mindless craft is sashiko embroidery. All the stitches are running stitches and the fabric is preprinted with your design. You can create some very intricate looking results that didn't actually require any decisions along the way.

I've stitched quite a few of these sea life panels in the past.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:59 AM on October 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Seconding to go on Ravelry and untangle other people’s yarn.

Buy wooden chairs, chests, etc. from yard sales or goodwill, sand them clean, and stain or finish them.

Churn butter?
posted by Night_owl at 7:44 AM on October 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Rug hooking (which I see has already been mentioned) and needlepoint on printed canvas are the easiest, most mindless crafts out there. Some have recommended counted cross stitch, but I find that it takes a fair amount of concentration to follow the charts and place the stitches.
posted by orange swan at 7:55 AM on October 12, 2017

I know I'm not the first one to suggest it, but spinning really is perfect for this. It's what I reach for when my other crafts require too much attention. And since you say you're a knitter, you can use the yarn you make while you listen to more podcasts.
posted by Akhu at 9:14 AM on October 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm a really terrible person compared to everyone upthread who has cool hobbies that involve making stuff and/or bringing art into the world. For, you see, I multitask while playing video games.

For some grindy-but-satisfying games which rarely require full attention, I'll play in windowed mode instead of fullscreen, with a podcast or YouTube video or Twitch stream open in another window.

No Man's Sky (all of it) and Elite: Dangerous (trading / mining / exploration) are great for this. Minecraft also sometimes works, depending on what you're doing (e.g., farming Ender pearls, branch mining).
posted by sourcequench at 10:06 AM on October 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Polishing hardwood samples. Requires a sturdy flat surface, like a piece of thick glass or a granite tile, and an array of increasingly finer grit sandpaper. IIRC, the standard sample size among North American wood collectors is 3" x 6" by 1/2", but anything you can hold in one hand will do nicely.

What grit you start with depends on how smooth the wood is to start with. If it shows saw marks, maybe 80 grit. If it show slight planer ripples, maybe 150. If it is flat to the eye, maybe 220 or even finer.

The technique is to hold the sandpaper on your work surface with one hand and rub the wood back and forth over it with the other until all the tool marks or the scratches left by the previous grit are gone. Use only enough pressure to feel like the sandpaper is cutting. If you're having to really bear down, it's probably time for a new sheet of sandpaper.

When you're done at one grit, brush your sample and your work surface clean and move on the next finer grit. Don't try to skip too many grits. It actually takes less time to move from 220 to 320 and then 400 than to go directly from 220 to 400.

For most woods it's more effective to sand more or less parallel to the grain, but changing the angle by 10 or 15 degrees between grits makes it easier to see when you've removed all the marks from the previous grit. A bright light and a low angle also make it easier.

Keep moving up to finer grits until you can no longer see a difference or you run out of patience. Suppliers to auto paint shops sell up to 3000 grit. Suppliers to people who polish Plexiglass airplane windshields sell up to 12,000 grit.

The harder the wood, the smoother you can polish it. I have samples of Lignum Vitae and Madagascar striped ebony that look like they've been lacquered. I have some oak samples that are very handsome. The one sample of cherry that I worked on never got very shiny.
posted by Bruce H. at 10:20 AM on October 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Folding laundry a la Marie Kondo
Cleaning and conditioning/polishing shoes
Organizing/cleaning/conditioning handbags
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 11:02 AM on October 12, 2017

Best answer: If hexagons and paper piecing are too much thinking, you could try yo-yos instead. They were very fashionable in the 30's and I wouldn't be surprised if they make a comeback any day now.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:11 PM on October 12, 2017

Um -- Freecell? It won't give you anything but satisfaction; you won't end up with a pile of wool, but it keeps the mind sharp.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:31 AM on October 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Make papercraft models! There are free templates for every interest and difficulty level under the sun. Here are some geeky ones, here are some of the easiest (you can even just make the heads.) You can check my profile for my old 365 project, which has some deep dives you may not find with google.

Easy paint-by-numbers kits. Two things: 1) The harder ones are really intricate and do require concentration if you care about making it perfect (and you may not!) 2) on Amazon you'll find most of them using the the 'oil' or 'oil paint' in the description. They are not oil, just acrylics/)
posted by Room 641-A at 6:16 AM on October 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sawing coins. You have to saw slowly and stop every so often to cool the blade and reposition it.

Some people use a powered scroll saw, but many just use a jeweler's saw and do it by hand.

I tried it this summer and it's a very repetitive, calming task...until the damn blade snaps. :7) But that just tells me that I need to slow down more.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:06 AM on October 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all amazing. Great suggestions. I marked as best answer the ones I will try but all of them sound cool. Thank you !
posted by pintapicasso at 9:13 AM on October 13, 2017

The 90's edition:
Find a lot of poorly tagged MP3s, figure out how you'd prefer they be tagged, do it.
posted by talldean at 3:42 PM on October 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Polish bicycle parts. I start with barkeepers friend, move on to simichrome or mothers or both, as appropriate.

If you have a bike coop near you, you might be able to talk them into giving you a bunch of old brake calipers, stems, etc to work on and bring back. The shiny parts sell faster, in my experience.

Getting a pair of ambient Weinmann 999 center pull calipers to a near mirror finish was really deeply satisfying to me.
posted by Caxton1476 at 4:01 PM on October 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

I do bookbinding!
tedious activities including but not limited to:
Cutting and folding a zillion sheets of paper into signatures
Using an awl to measure and punch holes in all these signatures
The process of sewing up a book block
Using beeswax to wax linen thread (and lots of it)
sewing headbands onto books
measuring and re-measuring paper, leather, and boards
gluing up the books themselves
etc etc etc

It requires some easily-learned skills, lots of little chunks of time of tedious activity that are perfectly suited to podcasts, and way less equipment than you might think.

I also knit, though it makes my hands sore after a while, and modular origami. I also find polishing leather (I'll do all my shoes at once) or cleaning guns great for using my hands, minimal attention, and listening to podcasts.
posted by circle_b at 4:50 AM on October 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

One thing I always wanted to get into was making miniature castles. You cast the individual tiny bricks yourself, then build amazing structures, brick by brick. It looks wonderfully tedious!

Alternately, I once decided to remodel a toy horse into a kirin-- hand-forming all those tiny scales out of putty and layering them onto the model was very enjoyable. Maybe sculpt a fish or a dragon or a snake or whatever you like, and hand-scale it?
posted by The otter lady at 8:48 AM on October 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

assembling drop spindles from toy wheels and wooden dowels. i wish someone else can do it for me, because the tedium is the sanding and the finishing. and the cost of materials is dirt cheap.
posted by cendawanita at 12:35 AM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Most homebuilt aircraft will keep you busy ... for years.
posted by bz at 8:17 PM on October 26, 2017

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