Even Our Hobbies are Cheap [Updated]

Think back to a day when you were free, when time was all just relative and money was no concern. Think back to your early childhood. What was the first thing you wanted to do every day? Ride your bike? Play with friends? Watch cartoons?

When I was a kid, I loved to draw. I loved to read. I could ride my bicycle for hours. This was my happiness.

As I got older, I thought my interests should be more mature too. I thought I should like wine and fancy food, skiing and art museums, and it used to bother me that I didn’t. Over the years though, I’ve come realize that I don’t have to like something just because someone else does or because I’m supposed to “at my age”. I hate wine. I’d rather have coffee. I cringe at the thought of going into a museum but I could live at the zoo. I still love going to the park, children’s books, and television. I hike. I garden. I read. I write. I cook. And I am happy.

Left to my own devices, I’m drawn to hobbies that are simple and cheap. And fortunately, I have a wonderful partner who feels the same.

Here are a few of our favorite pastimes.

Reading

Angie and I both avid readers. We try to read something everyday, whether it’s a book, a magazine, or a blog. It’s good for the brain and it’s relaxing. Our preferred way to read is on our Kindles, though on occasion we still check out a “real” book from the library. I think we love Kindle most for it’s easy access to free e-books, either from the library or from Amazon. About once a month, one of us will search Amazon for freebies. We just type in our topic of interest – usually mysteries, travel, simplicity, minimalism, happiness, and off the grid living – and sort by price. You’ll be surprised at the number of quality e-books you can get for nothing more than a few minutes of your time.

Letterboxing

Letterboxing is probably our most favorite hobby. It’s active. It’s cerebral. It’s cheap. It’s just plain fun! All you need is an ink pad ($1 at Dollar Tree), a notebook, a rubber stamp (or even just a pen will do), and a sense of adventure.

Back in 2013, I met a woman who had just started letterboxing. She was so enthusiastic about it that I ran right home and looked it up (www.atlasquest.com). We’ve been hooked ever since.

Letterboxing is a worldwide scavenger hunt for grown-ups. Boxes containing rubber stamps and logbooks are hidden or “planted” in parks, along trails, in cemeteries, or even in urban downtowns. Clues to the boxes are online. Once a letterbox is located the finder uses the stamp inside to mark their journal and leaves a print of their signature stamp in the box’s logbook. Before we had a signature stamp, we just signed our names in the logbook. Angie and I are “Operation Pinecone” and our signature stamp is…you guessed it…a pinecone. Most letterboxers carve their own stamps but we were lucky to have ours made for us by another letterboxing couple. We met them at a box one day and they offered to carve our stamp for free. You can’t beat that!

Camping

We love to travel, and by travel, I mean we love to go someplace new and explore. It doesn’t matter if that place is across the street or across the globe, we love to get out and go. Traveling (or adventuring) costs money though and one of the ways that we’ve found to significantly cut that cost is to camp wherever we go. Sure, we splurge on a hotel or camping cabin from time to time, but our go-to mode of overnight accommodation is our good ole tent (or on occasion, our car). We’ve stayed in some campsites that were free, some that cost as little as $6, and some that we thought should have come with a golden fire ring for what they cost (the most expensive ever – $38/night). You don’t have to invest in a lot of fancy equipment either. We bought our tent at Sports Authority for less than $20. It’s a 2-person 6′ x 7′ dome tent – for kids. Yes, we bought a kids tent. Why? Because it was longer and wider than a similar adult tent and cost half the price.

See? Isn’t it cute??

Paddling

Paddling is not a free hobby but it hasn’t been all that expensive either. Living near the water, there are plenty of rental agencies around; some that charge as little as $25 per day. However, when we fell in love with paddling, we bought our own equipment. The best part of paddling for me is the peacefulness. Very rarely do you have the opportunity to sit almost right on top of the water and watch a dolphin or manatee swimming beside you.

Knitting

True knitters might beg to differ with me on whether this is actually a cheap hobby. I’m a knit-dabbler. I pretty much make just hats on round looms, and mostly during football season while we’re watching our favorite teams get beat. Angie got me a set of 3 looms for Christmas one year, for $1.99 at Goodwill. I think I’ve only purchased one skein of yarn at regular price; the rest have come from garage sales. You’d be surprised how cheap you can pick up craft materials at yard sales. Folks start a hobby, go crazy buying supplies, and then decide they don’t have time for it. Their loss is our gain!

I scored 8 brand new skeins of wool-blend yarn and the basket for $8 at a garage sale.

Coloring

Angie loves to color. She colors almost every night while we’re relaxing before bed. She has a few coloring books from Dollar Tree but most of her projects are printed from the internet – for free. And there are no fancy pencils in her case. She uses simple Crayola coloring pencils – the same kind that you can pick up for 50 cents during back-to-school season.

What are some of your favorite cheap hobbies?

Mindfulness Amid the Chaos (May Recap)

May just may have been our best month yet – despite the fact that it was also a very crazy month. Let me explain…

When we declared “happiness” to be our pursuit for the year, our main objective was to regain control of our time and get back to doing the things that we enjoyed most in life. Sounds easy but sadly, even when you own your own time, you don’t always get to use it the way you want. This is especially true when certain members of your family act like complete idiots. Those particular family members, if they read this blog, would be highly offended by that statement but since they don’t, I feel really comfortable telling you this. Almost every day I find myself picking up the phone and uttering the words, “they did what??; which is usually answered with something unbelievable like, “left the baby at home alone”, “got fired”, “got arrested”, or, as was the case this month, “got evicted.”

In an environment where one family member (and her boyfriend) can wreak so much havoc, how can we possibly claim to have had a good month? I’ll tell you…it’s all about mindfulness and adaptability. Mindfulness gives you pause. It allows you to take a mental time-out when new information comes in and process that at your own speed. We don’t have to react to every (or any, for that matter) little thing that someone else does with his or her life. While it may be disconcerting and while we may wish they would choose differently, the choice is theirs not ours. The only thing we can control in these situations, is our reaction to them so this month we chose to offer them loving concern instead of our usual “I can’t believe you did this” outrage followed by “let us help you fix it”. And believe it or not, we found peace among the chaos. Enough peace that we were able to take back some of our time and use it for ourselves.

We picked strawberries.

We took Mom camping.

We fed the ducks (quite a few times).

We walked and hiked –   59.2 miles to be exact – and picnicked.

We gardened.

We letterboxed (a lot, including one special trip to Bowling Green, KY)

We had a few fun days with the little one.

And we started planning our fall vacation – 2 weeks in Canada!

We also did a good bit of decluttering (which I’ll talk about later), landed a freelance contract to write 3 grants before August, and stayed on track with our financial goals, even adding another investment to our portfolio. So yes, I think we had a pretty good month.

But back to the elephant on the page…

I’m the kind of person who likes to give others the benefit of the doubt and throughout this blog you’ll see places where I talk about my niece and her boyfriend as young and inexperienced and just trying to figure things out. I love them both very much but since being given a house by his parents in February, they have become someone I don’t recognize. Instead of seeing the house as a hand up, they saw it as a handout and immediately began skipping work; sticking their hands out for more and more. When no one would give them money, they stole things they thought they just had to have (like hair dye!). Even more than that, they nearly destroyed the beautiful little house, D.C.’s parents had taken the time to buy and furnish just for them. A few weekends ago, D.C.’s parents and I had a meeting and determined (with heavy heart) that it was in all of our best interests to let them fail. Sadly, D.C.’s parents are putting the house up for sale. If you’ve ever been in a situation that called for tough love, then you know how hard this is.

You may be wondering why in a blog about minimalism and happiness we would even mention family dysfunction at all. Because this is life. We all have crazy, mixed-up situations that draw us away from our personal journeys. How we choose to deal with them is often the defining point of that journey. Do we let other people’s problems slow or derail our own hopes and dreams? Often the answer is yes, though almost always – and especially in this case – it should be no.