Pick me up, put me down
May 18, 2021 9:48 AM   Subscribe

What small, easy to pick up and put back down, non-screen hobby can I pursue while watching my kid?

I am a super busy parent and between work, child care, housework and socializing with family and friends (which are all great things!), I hardly find any time to pursue a personal hobby. I am looking to squeeze in a bit of me-time throughout my day/week and as my kid grows older (now almost four), they now play independently more and more often. Instead of rushing to do the dishes or the laundry, I would like to use these 10 or 15-minute sprints to engage with a small hobby of sorts. Do you have any ideas?

* It must be screen-free (as I already work in front of a screen all day and don't want my kid see me engage with my smartphone even more than they already do)

* It should be something that I can easily pick up and quickly put back down (safely!) when my kid needs my attention

* I can dedicate a tray, box, etc. to it, but I'd want something that doesn't require clean-up of the dinner table once I'm done. Rather pull out of the drawer and put back without a mess.

* Ideally I wouldn't produce a bunch of unnecessary cr*p that then clutters up my house; so either the result is somewhat useful, consumable or it would have no tangible/lasting result

* I am open to both intellectually stimulating as well as creative endeavors

* I am specifically NOT asking for something I can do TOGETHER with my kid; rather something that is mine and mine only :)

* I have tried knitting, and I hate it - other than that, everything goes :)

Curious to hear your ideas!
posted by Fallbala to Society & Culture (46 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Read a book? Memorize poems?
posted by The otter lady at 9:54 AM on May 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

How about reading? Just get super into reading books. If you are already reading a lot, how about crosswords/sudoku/paper puzzles?
posted by blnkfrnk at 9:55 AM on May 18, 2021

I don't know that I would call it a hobby, but I find adult coloring to be a relaxing, destressing thing to do. It takes minimal supplies (get good colored pencils or gel pens), easy to pick up and put down. You don't end up with more stuff that clutters the house.
posted by maxg94 at 9:56 AM on May 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

I find that making newspaper baskets is relaxing, can be done in small bits of time, over time, and is practically free to do. I use mine to distribute garden produce to neighbors (you can laminate them with soy wax to make them water-resistant) and they love them. If they get ratty, they can be thrown in the recycle or compost bin.
posted by mezzanayne at 9:59 AM on May 18, 2021 [15 favorites]

My husband and I have at various times in our lives been into making latch-hook rugs. We have 4 of them hanging on our bedroom walls and I'm sure the guy that put our ceiling fans in thought we were insane, but they're fun and ~~art~~. Ebay has some nice vintage latch hook kits.
posted by jabes at 9:59 AM on May 18, 2021

Sketching? A little sketchpad and a pencil/pen would do it. If you want to work on your skills or get stuck thinking about what to draw, there are all sorts of progressive learn-to-draw programs you can follow. Even if you don't produce useful or lasting things right now, I feel like having that skill can end up being useful at all sorts of unexpected moments.

Also: if you don't dislike fiber stuff in general, maybe macrame?
posted by trig at 10:01 AM on May 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Lockpicking! Everything you need fits in a small box: picks and a wrench or two, plus a few padlocks to practice on. Plenty of videos and books out there on the techniques.
posted by jquinby at 10:02 AM on May 18, 2021 [7 favorites]

Cross Stitch -- it can take as much or as little space as you like, it can be contained, and as long as you mark your charts, it takes no time at all to get back into.
posted by freshwater at 10:02 AM on May 18, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Print out crossword puzzles? That's what my parents always used for this. If you're not doing a newspaper puzzle you can keep a bunch on a clipboard and tie a pen to it for max portability.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:05 AM on May 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I went from reading maaaybe ten books a year to listening to 100 books a year when I had kids. You need wireless earbuds, otherwise the kid wrangling is tricky. And YMMV in terms of what kind of books you can listen to while watching the kid.
posted by caek at 10:07 AM on May 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Juggling, sleight of hand, card tricks, coin rolling, knot tying, macrame, small instruments like harmonica/melodica, voice training, whistling, beatboxing, sudoku, crosswords, cross stitch, houseplants...
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:08 AM on May 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I keep a crossword puzzle on a clipboard, so it's easy to grab and work on anywhere. Personally, I get the newspaper, and like to write on newsprint, but you can print them out on regular paper, or buy a book of them. And if you're not a fan of crosswords, watch Wordplay. I didn't enjoy them until I saw how fun and clever they could be.
posted by hydra77 at 10:09 AM on May 18, 2021

I've heard from several people who hate knitting that they actually enjoy crochet.
posted by dotparker at 10:12 AM on May 18, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I find weaving oddly addictive. You could start with a little lap loom? It's fun because you can add all kinds of things to your weaving--different kinds of yarns, strings, bits of ribbon, wool roving, raffia, paper. You'll start to see things that you want to add. Here's some inspiration from a type of japanese weaving called saori. They use a big loom, but the idea is that it's free form...no patterns or mistakes. It's up to you!
posted by biscuits at 10:15 AM on May 18, 2021

What was it about knitting that you hated? There are similar crafts (crochet, cross stitch) that you might adore.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:17 AM on May 18, 2021 [4 favorites]

Crochet -- you can make dishcloths or cloths for a Swiffer in a short time, and it is easier and faster than knitting. There is only one loop, rather than the many that can drop when knitting.
posted by jgirl at 10:21 AM on May 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

Maybe diamond painting? Not sure if that falls into the category of producing unnecessary crap for your house though.
posted by Malleable at 10:30 AM on May 18, 2021

posted by you'rerightyou'rerightiknowyou'reright at 10:37 AM on May 18, 2021

Best answer: I do every fiber art under the sun, and honestly, the best thing I did when watching my little kids was knitting. I’m sorry it didn’t work for you. Crochet would be my next suggestion.

Handspinning yarn on a spindle is really excellent when you’re watching kids, but it can be hard to learn and you’ll end up with a bunch of yarn. If you don’t knit or crochet, it might feel pointless.

If you’re going to do needlework, I recommend blackwork. Cool geometric designs, only one color of floss to keep track of (depending on design, but traditionally done in one color).

The problem with cross stitch and embroidery is changing/keeping track of all the colors (yeah, that does depend on the design — but most of the cool stuff requires colors). That’s a hassle when you have to pick it up and put it down all the time. Cross stitch charts also, in my experience, are most easily tracked on a tablet, so that’ll be a screen.

I’d also recommend against any crafts that use small pieces, like diamond painting (choking hazards).
posted by liet at 10:37 AM on May 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

Cross stitch. Sample kits can be purchased for $5 from Target, Walmart, or other big box stores. Sampler kits usually only use a few kinds of thread and you can stuff it all in a ziplock bag when you're not using it. The sample kit will keep you busy for long enough for you to decide whether or not you like it.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 10:41 AM on May 18, 2021

Perhaps needlepointing? The patterns are generally painted/printed right on the canvas so might have an advantage for you over cross stitch because you don't have to keep track of where you were when you pick it up again. If you google "unfinished needlepoint" you can find projects that others haven't finished and are selling at a discount with all the yarn you need.
posted by mcduff at 10:54 AM on May 18, 2021

Crocheting plastic bags into rugs or sleeping mats. We have a local church that collects these and donates to homeless people. If you google "plarn" you'll find tutorials. My other idea is ukulele.
posted by areaperson at 10:57 AM on May 18, 2021

Best answer: Thought about it some more. Like I said, I do pretty much every fiber art, and I’m the primary caretaker all day, every day for my 2- and 4-year-olds.

In my experience, where I shared a lot of criteria with you, I needed something really easy to pick up and put down, required minimal concentration, and the details could be memorized.

- Not too many pieces or items to keep track of while you’re working.
- Minimal equipment to get out and put away.
- No looking at a chart or pattern to see what you need to do next all the time.
- No long setup before you can actually get started.
- And — nothing that your kid can get in too much trouble with if you have to put it down and run away for a second, because that happens.

So honestly, I needed something kind of brainless. But still creative — I found that having a creative outlet that actually produced something useful or beautiful made me feel more like a person — you know what I mean? It’s so easy to fall into the idea that you’re just a parent and not an individual. At least I did.

But yeah, I still stand by my recommendations in the post above (knitting if you want to give it another try, crochet, spinning, maybe blackwork). Just wanted to share my thoughts about choosing a craft, if you’re going to choose a craft.

(on preview: needlepoint on printed canvas could be a good option too! That’s something I’ve never actually tried.)
posted by liet at 11:03 AM on May 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I do sticker puzzles - easy to do even 2-3 mins at a time, low mental load. Not a finished product I'd keep but they force me to slow down.
posted by jennypower at 11:07 AM on May 18, 2021

Try paper quilling. I fit everything into a gallon sized Ziploc when I'm not using it. When I feel like doing something with my hands I make some shapes, and eventually put them together into something bigger (Christmas ornaments, a card.)

Also, check with your local library to see if they're doing any adult take & make crafts. Lots of libraries are giving away supplies with instructions so you can try some different things.
posted by lyssabee at 11:50 AM on May 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

So, we just watched Malice (1993) a few weeks ago - super-entertaining garbage. Four and a half stars on its own terms, maybe a star and a half graded without that curve. But easily the best part of the movie is a terrific later-career turn by Anne Bancroft, playing against type, as a crotchety yet wise, mysterious yet blunt, long-suffering con-artist's ex-wife. She spends a fair amount of her one scene futzing with a deck of cards, doing an interesting shuffle, and it's really cool. (What's the statute of limitations on spoilers? Big Malice spoilers in that clip.)

So, I found a deck of cards, and watched the scene on Youtube a few times to figure out that shuffle and it turns out to be really easy. Now I've been mindlessly doing it while listening to work Zoom calls, and it occurs to me this might be the kind of thing you're looking for. Super easy, low cost, and it's really a pinnacle of "pick it up and put it down." Fun to do and uselessly impressive. No tangible result, other than you can maybe eventually intimidate some square with it.

Play with a deck of cards, basically, is what I'm suggesting.
posted by dirtdirt at 11:56 AM on May 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

Another vote here for crochet - I find that people who like knitting don't like crochet and vice versa, so it may be worth a try. Something like granny squares, which can be sewn together into almost anything*, are small and fast to do, and need no pattern to follow after you've made a couple. Also, crochet only uses one blunt hook, rather than knitting or any other sort of needles which can be dangerously pointy.

*Although perhaps not clothing...
posted by Fuchsoid at 12:06 PM on May 18, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How about sashiko? It's a type of Japanese embroidery that can be either decorative or it can be used to mend and maintain.
posted by past unusual at 12:16 PM on May 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Needlepunch. Keep everything in a box, pretty easy to pick up where you leave off.
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 1:35 PM on May 18, 2021

Crewel embroidery? I find it’s a little less fussy than other types of embroidery. Kits like this.
posted by vunder at 1:53 PM on May 18, 2021

I dislike knitting, I find it fussy and complicated and it's so easy to mess things up (clearly I never got beyond frustrated beginner level). On the other hand, I love crochet! It's so much easier and it's fun and mindless in the best way. It's very easy to pick up and put down and I keep projects simple and so I don't have to count stitches or figure out where I am, I just pick it back up and keep going.
posted by quince at 1:56 PM on May 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

This has been AWESOME. You can paint by number and you get a nice painting to gift friends and family after! Also really cheap for a bday present: https://easyartiste.com/
posted by pando11 at 2:25 PM on May 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Learn/practice ukulele
posted by february at 2:33 PM on May 18, 2021 [2 favorites]

posted by epj at 3:03 PM on May 18, 2021

I recommend some kind of simple flute that you can make nice soothing sounds with. This could have benefits like stress relief through breath control, making music & atmospheric memory for your family, and lead to playing music with others in the future.
posted by oxisos at 4:05 PM on May 18, 2021

Best answer: Kalimba (thumb piano). It might be too exciting for the kid though. It's veeerrrrry portable and easy to stow.
Not exactly a hobby, but something to do once a day: Set (the game, with the deck of actual cards).
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:15 PM on May 18, 2021

Oh! And the classic Rubiks Cube.
posted by spamandkimchi at 4:16 PM on May 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

My partner does fingerweaving. Generally the scarves that get made are gifted or donated to homeless charities.
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:22 PM on May 18, 2021

Quilting? I'm thinking specifically of English Paper Piecing (kinda like in this introductory YT video)
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:31 PM on May 18, 2021

Reading! I recently read an article by some who said they were on track to read 30 books this year by reading just 20 minutes a day. If you borrow from the library, you won’t clutter your house with books. And reading is an excellent example to set for your child!
posted by lhauser at 7:07 PM on May 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Get a ukulele. They're a blast. Easy to pick up and put down. The only downside for me has been that my kids now hate the ukulele. This may have something to do with improvised songs about getting ready for bed. I think they secretly love it. That's what I keep telling myself. But seriously, it's great.
posted by roue at 8:15 PM on May 18, 2021

1. Juggling

2. A musical instrument, as several have suggested above. The reason this is such a good one is that a number of small "micro-practice" periods a day is actually one of the best ways to learn a musical instrument, or any particular piece you may be working on.
posted by flug at 8:55 PM on May 18, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all for your excellent suggestions! Lots of good stuff. I juts marked those as best answers that spoke to me personally and that made my list of "will try that". And a special thanks to liet for sympathizing and for listing a great set of criteria! :)
posted by Fallbala at 1:11 AM on May 19, 2021

Crochet -- a few hooks (G, H, I), something to cut with, several large-eye needles (they can get lost, include a magnet), some yarn, and a book. I like Sterlite plastic sweater boxes to put the gear inside, but I've used gallon Ziploc bags in a pinch. And bring a notebook and pencil to jot down your ideas -- trying to figure out what hook I was using on an old WIP (work in progress) is frustrating.
Here are some smaller projects. Or you can do 365 days of granny squares, and eventually sew them together for whatever reason (lap blanket, table runner, yarn bombing a house, etc.)
Vintage Crochet Hats and Accessories is a book I've used several times to make gifts for myself and others. This fits into the small and practical side of crocheting.
Jayda in Stitches is currently working on a mile-a-minute calendar blanket. This crochet technique works up quickly and her designs are interesting.
If I want a baby blanket in a few days (really!) that can stand a lot of rough handling, the Log Cabin Blanket is the ticket. I work mine in red, white, blue, yellow and green order. When the last row is done, it's ready to put on the bed.
posted by TrishaU at 7:52 AM on May 20, 2021

Chain mail is a hand craft that feels a little different, and all you need are rings and two pliers. There are a lot of different patterns to try, and you can focus on making jewelry or gear to give away.
posted by metasarah at 9:25 AM on May 20, 2021

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