I once had a basket filled with blue yarn ready for a quiet night of knitting with a podcast playing in the background.
But that quiet night never happened. And looking at that basket only reminded me I should make more time for my hobbies. Hadn’t I liked knitting? So why wasn’t I doing more of it?
Then I realized knitting just wasn’t happening.
I moved my basket into a cupboard and never looked back.
Maybe I’m missing out on a beautiful world of knitwear. But feeling guilty about it was just taking up my time.
I thought about all of my other hobbies, pursuits and interests, and everything I’d love to do with my free time.
I had an endless list: yoga, meditation, reading, journaling, painting, watercolors, hiking, weight lifting.
And there was the paraphernalia to go along with those aspirations: weights, sets of colored pens, pastels, stacks of notebooks and unread novels.
It only made me feel guilty to have all these things laying around reminding me of wasted time and ill-spent money.
So just like with an overflowing garage or a stuffed wardrobe, I cleared out my hobby clutter. I was decluttering my free time.
I asked myself: can I narrow it down to just 2 or 3 hobbies that are priorities? If I don’t have time to do everything I’d like to, then it’s far better to do just a few things.
And it’s better to take small steps than to concoct ambitious plans with too many options that only leave you overwhelmed.
I narrowed my ambitions down to reading, writing, and meditation. These are the non-negotiables that add the most meaning to my free time.
Then I scheduled them in as I would any other activity. Twenty minutes of writing in the morning, and in the evening an hour of reading plus a 10-minute guided meditation.
When my list became shorter it began to feel more manageable.
And penciling my hobbies into my calendar made them feel like a plan, not like a pleasure to indulge in whenever I wasn’t too tired.
The measures of productivity that govern our work (where we’re rewarded with raises and praise) often spill out into our free time. We feel we should be growing, improving, relaxing and having fun in our free time.
But it’s important to keep our expectations realistic and not beat ourselves up over not doing enough. And it’s just as important to do nothing at all – without feeling guilty about it.
A curated and edited list of a few favorite hobbies helps us avoid overwhelm and reinforces the importance of those activities in our lives.
Because it’s not always a case of not having enough time.
We often expect too much from time and overestimate how much we can pack into a day.
And did I really want to knit so badly anyways?
Narrowing my hobbies down to just reading, writing and meditation opened up space that I used to spend feeling guilty about doing too little.
After all, it’s that guilt that often stops us from taking action. We tell ourselves we’re just not the kind to exercise in the mornings, or that we’re too tired to pick up a thick Victorian novel on a Monday.
And if we do cardio every day for a week, we may give up after missing a few days. We get down on ourselves and wonder why it’s so difficult and why we always fail.
What if we just did a few stretches in the morning? What if we prioritized what we considered most important and then made space for it by letting go of our unrealistic expectations?
Instead of feeling bad for not reading enough, why not read just one chapter before bed?
Instead of feeling guilty about still not meditating, why not try a guided meditation on our headphones on our commute?
Taking small steps is infinitely better than doing nothing.
Small steps empower us by reminding us how great it is to do what we love. And then we want more of that in our lives.
If it feels like you just can’t make time for doing what you love, here are some tactics to help:
1. Write a list of everything you’d love to do in your free time, from yoga to water polo to baking, or anything else you’re passionate about.
2. Narrow your list down to a few priorities. In the same way you’d declutter a wardrobe, ask yourself what really brings you joy. Is there anything on your list that feels more like an obligation?
3. Once you’ve picked a few priorities, get rid of any clutter related to the activities that aren’t so important right now. Donate the golf equipment, or take the dusty yarn to a charity shop.
4. Put the items needed for your priority hobbies in visible areas. If you’d love to read more, set a novel on your nightstand or download an audiobook.
5. Schedule in your hobbies and free up space to make them happen. Let go of any non-essentials and activities you do out of obligation.
6. Get some accountability. Join a book club in real life or on Goodreads. Meet up with a friend for a weekend run in the park.
7. Turn your hobbies into habits. Mark on your calendar the days you’ve made time for your hobby. Then aim for at least a one-week streak. Seeing a streak on your calendar will make you less likely to abandon a new habit.
8. Don’t be hard on yourself if you fall short. Re-evaluate your expectations and cut them down to make them more manageable.
Getting the most of your free time, and finally making space to pursue what you love, starts with small steps that turn into habits. By decluttering your hobbies, you’re making time for what’s most important.
. . .
About the Author
Dee Nowak is a freelance travel writer and photographer living as an expat in Cairo, Egypt. She writes about slow travel and loves exploring off the beaten path.