I have a theory about how to ruin a hobby based on my experiences and from what I’ve seen with my kids. Let me be clear: I don’t want to ruin my hobbies or anyone else’s. I think hobbies are an important aspect of life. They’re the lost art that creates well-rounded people with describable interests beyond vocation, educational background, and family title (Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and so on).
There are different types of hobbies, but collecting is often the first we see in children. When I was a kid, I collected ceramic, wood, and glass turtles. I knew nothing about turtles and had no interest in them whatsoever, but my older sisters had shelves in their rooms dedicated to their collections of spoons and miniature glass dolls, I wanted in. I wanted stuff. It’s still a mystery why I landed on turtles. All I know is that I had an area of my childhood bedroom dedicated to them, then one day I packed up the collection and gave it all away. The turtles were dead to me, and an unfortunate pattern was born. I became anti-stuff, which wasn’t a good match for hobbies requiring a certain threshold for clutter.
My dad thought I might enjoy collecting stamps like he had loved as a kid. I was into the idea for long enough to get excited about the stamp collector’s binders, cover sheets, and packets of stamps, but when the binders filled the one storage drawer in my bedroom, my passion for stamps vanished. The same thing happened with the Archie comics I collected after that.
Next came a combination of collecting and doing. The example I remember most vividly is the evolutionary precursor to the Rainbow Loom: the friendship bracelet. At some point, I owned so many bundles of yarn, that I needed a way to keep them all organized. You can guess what happened next. I gave it all away.
You would think I would have learned my lesson, but I briefly become a scrapbook fanatic in my late 20s when I stayed home full time with my first child. After needing space for my supplies, I filled the empty room that would later be our second child’s bedroom with a large table where I could do my projects. I remember setting up the special paper-organizing trays against the wall and thinking, “I’m over scrapbooking.” I sold the barely-used table for less than half its value six months later, and my husband reminds me of the scrapbook-room-that-wasn’t whenever it works in his favor, such as when I want to waste that kind of money again.
My theory is that once a certain kind of a person dedicates the time, money, and space to a hobby, the passion for that hobby disappears. I’m not proud to be that kind of person. And what’s worse, my older two kids are just like me.
When my son’s collection of trains, tracks, street signs, and bridges started taking over the living room, we bought a special table and put all the train supplies in the two big drawers underneath. He rarely played with them again. The same thing happened with his Legos years later. My husband and I took him to a hobby store where he picked out a small set of marble mazes, but quickly grew tired of that activity as well.
Similarly, my daughter played with her Rainbow Loom all the time when we kept the loom and her starter set of bands in one plastic bag. As soon as she graduated to the carrying case that keeps the many colors separated, she’s been less excited about making bracelets. Thankfully she and her younger sister still enjoy beading even though the whining that ensues when it’s time to clean up makes me question the staying power of that pastime, too.
Over winter break my mom taught my older daughter how to needlepoint, and I’m going to stay as far away from that situation as possible lest I ruin it for her somehow. My mom has been needlepointing for exactly 52 years. At least someone in the family can enjoy a hobby for life and serve as a good role model. My favorite leisure activity is reading, and I read a book a week. But true to form, I don’t like books spilling out of every crevice of the house and make a point to give them away often. I do marvel at my mom’s ability to keep her hands busy. Mine are too often hovering over my smartphone.
Why do I care whether a hobby remains for the long term or not? Like I said, I believe that hobbies create engaging, nuanced, and well-rounded individuals. But how are we supposed to give a child, or an adult for that matter, the opportunity to explore a new activity without making an investment in time, energy, and often times stuff? It’s the Catch-22 of hobbies for me and apparently for my kids: Love it, own it, then forget it.
I would like to hear from people with hobbies. Why do you think your hobby remained a part of your life? I’d also like to hear from parents who have successfully nurtured hobbies in their children. How did you not ruin the experience for your kids?
Illustration by Christine Juneau
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