Wanted: Low-Cost Screen-Less (or Screen-Lite) Hobbies
July 28, 2020 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Looking for ways to occupy myself that get me away from screens and that don’t require much money.

I’d been thinking about how to cut down screen-time before quarantine, but now that we’re months into it, I’m hitting a saturation point: reducing exposure feels more urgent. Between various video calls, TV, video games, Internetting, photography, and even reading (my local library isn’t operating normally just yet, so Kindle it is), I’m spending almost all my day looking at a screen. And I’m tired of it.

I’m turning, then, to the hive-mind to brainstorm analog hobbies I haven’t considered. I don’t have a lot of money to throw at this, so I’m interested in activities that are cheap and, if possible, don’t take up tons of space. Two things I already enjoy that fit this bill are reading and drawing. I am also exercising more, though I don’t get to go out much for reasons (so there’s another limitation). I browsed some of the other Asks on hobbies, and I have zero interest in knitting, crocheting, or the like. Otherwise, I’m open to possibilities.

With those constraints in mind, what do you recommend I do that doesn’t involve much (if any) screen-time? Suggestions that account for quarantine are more useful, though I'm fine with looking ahead as well. Thanks!
posted by xenization to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (31 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have room to garden? Even a few pots on a deck are interesting to care for. Seeds are cheap! And if you plant vegetables, you'll also have fresh edibles.
posted by summerstorm at 9:00 AM on July 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

Cubing. You can get a decent cube for $10 (don't get a Rubik's!), it's portable, gives your brain a good workout, gives your hands some practice doing something besides tapping keys, and it's fun. I started recently, for the same reasons you list, first time I finished without looking at my cheat-sheet was a blast.
posted by skewed at 9:10 AM on July 28, 2020

Outside: geocaching, randonauting, wild/urban foraging

Inside: quilling (it's like drawing but using paper curls), Femo clay jewelry or sculpture, resin casting
posted by ananci at 9:16 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I enjoy playing the recorder. They're not very loud so they're not annoying to neighbours, and you can get one for under $10.
posted by Poldo at 9:17 AM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you have a printer, there are hundreds of free print and play solo boardgames you can explore. Here's a smaller list of some of the stand-outs. And a couple I recommend:

* Bargain Basement Bathysphere
* Barbarian Prince (former retail game that has been designed)
* Paper Mech
* Deadball (not free, but there's a demo/basic version to try)
* Pretty much any of these
posted by hankscorpio83 at 9:22 AM on July 28, 2020 [11 favorites]

There are lots of printable sudoku, crossword, and other wordy-mathy games out there. Just use a good browser and make sure your antivirus in updated as some of these sites are a little sketch. If you find some you really like, do tip a couple bucks if you can. There's also a lot of printable papercraft out there.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:28 AM on July 28, 2020

You could trying singing. Already sing? Learn a new style!
posted by whisper_robin at 9:50 AM on July 28, 2020

Point of clarification in my post: "Two things I already enjoy that fit this bill are reading and drawing" should read as "writing and drawing." Which just proves my eyes are tired.
posted by xenization at 9:51 AM on July 28, 2020

I've recently rediscovered my obsession with jigsaw puzzles. They're kinda pricey from the store, but as always they can be found on craigslist, ebay, etc., for pretty cheap.
posted by backwards compatible at 9:51 AM on July 28, 2020

Sunday hard copy of the NY Times Crossword Puzzle! Do the puzzle manually, day by day over the week until the following Sunday, when the paper will have the answers and a new puzzle for you.
posted by Elsie at 9:53 AM on July 28, 2020

Origami! Portable, cheap, cute, can learn via YouTube or checking a book out of the library
posted by tatiana wishbone at 9:58 AM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've really enjoyed learning about the birds in my neighborhood! If you can afford a bird feeder and seeds I'd recommend it as it is so much fun to watch them up close; otherwise just paying attention to the birds while you're out walking can be really gratifying. I'm going about it in an unstructured and lax way but I can already recognize a bunch more birds than I could at the start of the year - and if your eyes are tired you can focus on their sounds (it's really kind of neat to hear a bird call and know who's nearby!).
posted by DingoMutt at 10:04 AM on July 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Musical instrument: how about a ukulele?
posted by freethefeet at 10:18 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Picking a kind of drawing to do more of would give you an away-from-the-screen goal - do coloring pages (for other people?), learn a neat hand for labeling things and a fancy hand for cards and announcements, go through Ruskin’s drawing book or Edward’s. Make a whole comic!
posted by clew at 10:25 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Cooking? Have you tried making your own sourdough starter :)?
posted by vunder at 10:39 AM on July 28, 2020

Since you like drawing, you'd probably enjoy some form of painting. They're similar but certainly different enough to count as a separate hobby. A basic watercolor kit is super inexpensive.
posted by thebots at 10:40 AM on July 28, 2020

Well if you like writing and drawing, calligraphy seems like an amiable marriage of the two. If you want to try your hand at brush calligraphy, I love this reusable "magic water painting paper".

To similar ends, in the past I've found scans of old penmanship workbooks and always had a thought that sometime I'd run some off and try to teach myself Palmer-method script.
posted by wreckingball at 10:42 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I second gardening, if you have any room for it.

Also, handwritten letters can incorporate as much or as little artistic energy as you care to put into them. You could get all calligraphic, use fancy paper and wax seals, dive into fountain pens and ink in any color you can imagine. You can also just write a letter every day to someone on copy paper with an ordinary biro.

Finally, you can pick up a decent starter harmonica for around $40 and there are plenty of lessons online.
posted by gauche at 11:06 AM on July 28, 2020

Picking locks -- oh, sorry, "lock sport" -- which is fun and is also a useful skill if you ever get locked out of your own property!

Buy a cheap set of picks & wrenches, or make your own (from rake tines or street-sweeper tines or an old windshield wiper), and start with the locks in your house.

I was amazed how much it caused me to focus on my hands and fingers, and to totally ignore the rest of the world. It's very physical/tactile, but not a big exertion.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:22 AM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Two things I already enjoy are "writing and drawing."

would you like to write a story and make illustrations, too?
also, pages can have some cool design borders, colors...
posted by Oli D. at 11:35 AM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've really enjoyed learning about the birds in my neighborhood!

This can be a nice hobby especially if you like making and completing lists. Getting started can be as simple as a bird picture chart from a local birdwatching place with birds you are most likely to see, and either a window feeder (can DIY it or get one for about $10-15) and/or a place to walk outside. You don't even need binoculars, though they can help. If you like sketching it might be a good combination. There may also be birding groups in your area so you can share information and/or do socially distanced birdwatching in a group of that is your thing.
posted by jessamyn at 12:03 PM on July 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Puzzles and podcasts for me. Cobble Hill puzzles are my favourite and are $19.99 CAD.
posted by nathaole at 12:30 PM on July 28, 2020

Growing microgreens - cheap, doesn't require much space, lots of different seeds you can experiment with, and you get edible results within a few days. Plus they're very healthy. I've found it very satisfying over the past few months.
posted by wavelette at 12:37 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have: mapped out a walking route of Little Free Libraries in my area and take a stroll to find something tangible to read every few weeks.
Bought a New York Times crossword book from a local bookstore.
Hauled my sketchbook on walks and draw whatever catches my eye.
Done a bit of beading on a loom.
posted by sugarbomb at 1:08 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I took up canning a few years ago because I wanted a hobby that would not strain my eyes and would mostly have me on my feet. It's worked out well. It can get me out of the house to pick fruit, to the farmers' market (in better times), or to garden. The resultant goods (ranging from jams, pickles, chutney, syrups, fruit) make excellent gifts but are also nice to have. It's very inexpensive: you can get started just with a few jars, a stock pot, a silicone trivet and a jar lifter. I end up saving money because I eat the things I make.
posted by miscbuff at 3:38 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Coloring. You can get pens or crayons or pencils at your local big box store. Coloring pages can be printed off the internet. I've also picked up some adult coloring books at the dollar store.
posted by kathrynm at 4:04 PM on July 28, 2020

2nding calligraphy. I gushed about it in recent previous hobbies ask.
posted by bertran at 5:10 PM on July 28, 2020

If you enjoy drawing perhaps you'd also like painting on rocks. I've been having a lot of fun with that and it's been inspiring some creativity I thought I'd lost. There are tons of ideas on Pinterest; you can order paints/rocks/books so you don't even have to leave the house. I posted my first rocks on Facebook and a friend from states away immediately asked for one! Usually I have music playing in the background while I'm painting and I find it very relaxing.
posted by annieb at 5:24 PM on July 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I spend most evenings after work listening to podcasts and embroidering. Hand sewing uses my hands and eyes but not my ears or (usually) my brain, and I find it very meditative.
posted by workerant at 6:54 PM on July 28, 2020

Regarding recorder: The alto (or treble) recorder is a bit more expensive (maybe $30 for a good plastic one) than the more common soprano (which is the little recorder often used in schools); but it's a serious instrument with a lot of old public domain music written for it (as its heyday was from about 1400-1700). It's also not quite as piercing to the ear. If you have an interest in classical music it's a good place to start.

If there's something you know how to repair or refurbish (bikes, clothes, furniture, electronics) it can also be quite economical. Scavenge up something, fix it, sell it; any profit covers your materials and tools (though probably not your time!).
posted by solarion at 7:11 PM on July 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

Came here to recommend lockpicking/locksport; happy to see someone else beat me to it. Starter kits can be found on Amazon for around £10, and include transparent locks so you can really understand what you're doing.
posted by sincarne at 6:51 AM on July 30, 2020 [1 favorite]

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