The thing is, I have started to realize that I do have free time, I just don’t see it that way because I feel like the things I spend time on are obligations, even though I’m still making the choice to spend my time that way. For example, I would have a lot more “free time” if I stopped spending time with friends and family, exercising, purchased more pre-made foods, and quit my love/hate relationship with DIY projects. (Side note: I never realized people don’t DIY everything until we moved into this neighborhood. Pretty sure I’ve never seen anyone else holding a tool, and we are always cleaning paintbrushes, sanding, or sawing something in the driveway. We’ve started to get a bit of a reputation as “the project people”, but it’s actually a great way to meet neighbors.) However, if I didn’t choose to do those things with my time, I’d also probably be less healthy and wouldn’t enjoy the accomplishment of conquering a tasty dish or installing tile, so I really am spending my free time how I want - it’s mostly that I just want more free time so I can get to the things further down my priority list, things I deem as “hobbies.”
I just started my "Purposeful Project" in September, in which I pick a different area each month for the next year to be more intentional about. This month, I picked “Hobbies” because this is actually one of the hardest areas for me to be purposeful with. I’m not talking “hobbies” like what I described above - exercising, cooking, or cleaning, which even though I enjoy (mostly because I like the results), are is easy to justify spending time on. Rather, I mean the things that are purely for fun. I’ve let things I enjoy slide, thinking I’ll get back to it when things “slow down,” which I’ve come to realize may be decades away. It’s hard for me to make time for these things because I feel selfish spending time in ways in which I'm the only beneficiary. However, the more I learn about how our brains work, the more convinced I am of the need for rest, enjoyment, and time to let your mind wander. “Play” helps the “work” times be more productive, and maybe you could even make the argument that being happy makes those around you more happy, so it’s not totally hedonistic. Plus, if I’m on the go all the time, I eventually burnout and end up useless anyways, so I may as well balance out the fun stuff to begin with. Work hard, play hard, or something like that.
Your hobbies may look different, but for me I specifically wanted to focus on music, blogging, and painting. In order to implement the principles I made the following resolutions (relevant principle in parenthesis):
Take an art class (learning) – Reuben talks a lot about how learning new things and mastery of something contributes to happiness. While I will likely never master painting, I do agree that learning is really enjoyable to me. Plus, you enjoy things the more you gain a mastery of them. Chasing after a tennis ball all the time isn’t as fun as when you have the skill to have a steady back and forth volley. Learning really does make me feel like I am conquering two birds with one stone – entertaining myself and educating myself. I don’t think of it that way, but when I started to reflect on the fact that I often choose nonfiction books, podcasts instead of music, and documentaries over sitcoms, it became pretty evident that I should make learning a big part of my principles. (Don’t forget, a parallel principle is to be yourself, so if you aren’t a nerd like me, embrace whatever it is you do enjoy!) I’ve often talked about taking an art class, but always found a reason why I didn’t want to commit the time or money to it. The city I live in holds classes on all sorts of things, and they usually send the course catalog in the mail twice a year. On a whim I looked an art class up that only lasted 5 weeks and wasn’t all that expensive. Because I looked at the very beginning of September, I had just the right timing too since the class started the week after. It is a watercolor class, and although I normally paint with acrylics, I figured I could still learn a lot, and really, it was the perfect timing.
Results: This was fun, and I learned that watercolor is way harder than it looks. I skipped one out of the 5 classes since it was the night before we went out of town and work was busy. Overall, I am glad I did it, and now I have all these watercolor paints to practice with.
Spend 2 hours a week painting (organization) – especially when it comes to discretionary ways to spend time, I knew it wouldn’t happen unless I made a specific goal and carved out designated time. I never spend time on these hobbies because there’s usually something more pressing that has to get done, or weekend schedules aren’t always consistent. I decided the one time every week I kind of had free already is Sunday morning. We usually go to church at 10, so never schedule anything for Sunday morning. I love Sunday mornings sleeping in, drinking coffee while I putz around, usually on the internet, but the quietness of the time also made it the perfect time slot to schedule some creative time.
Result: I’d give myself a C on this task. I did paint for 2 hours one Sunday morning, but the other mornings in the month of September, I was either sick and slept in, or only spent 20 minutes prepping for my watercolor class.
Buy music every month (nagging task) – I used to carefully curate playlists, felt like I had the perfect song for every moment, and loved discovering new sounds. My sister and I could basically have a conversation using only song lyrics, and while part of my love for music was mixed with all the emotional zeitgeist that is high school and college, I still loved music. I came to the realization recently that all of my favorite songs were made before 2006. First, I now understand why my parents just kept listening to 80’s music growing up, because that is me now! Second, it’s kind of because I stopped really caring enough to buy music that I liked. You would think that in this digital age, where you can buy one song at a time, buying music would be easy – hear a song, like it, buy it. But I then either forget, or overthink it (i.e.: feel like I have to listen to the whole album to decide if I want to buy that, and then just give up). Hence, the fact that I actually need to make this a resolution. Yes, it cost money, but I kind of have a built in “allowance” for this. For better or worse, I have an Amazon Prime subscription and buy most of our non-grocery items that way. Amazon has a shipping option where if you choose the slower option, they sometimes give you digital “credit.” So I really have no excuse to at least buy a few songs a month.
Results: I did pretty good with this, even though I only bought music once, but one was my goal. I really liked a song we sang in church, so on the drive home, I added it to my Amazon wish list, and bought it next time I made a purchase.
Listen to more music at home (mindfulness) – So really, buying new music isn’t going to do me any good if I don’t listen to it! It’s become a bit of a ritual for me to play a song once I get into work as I’m booting up my computer and settling in. It’s just one song, but it’s been a fun way to start the day. Though it can be a little bit more of a challenge to find music Jason and I both like, I think it’d be an easy way to set a fun mood at home too.
Results: I did awful with this. I think I only played music twice the month of September at home. One thing I did realize is that I often assume Jason doesn’t like some of my go-to music genres (think women singers and 90’s punk), but that really isn’t the case. “I wouldn’t listen to this, but I don’t mind it,” Jason said when I made an excuse for playing Regina Spektor in the car one day. (He said he still does not like the Beastie Boys, so I guess they will stay confined to running music.)
Blog more (organization – and hey, now you have this blog post! Win win!) – Years before I even started this blog, I loved the idea, but never wanted to pull the trigger because I didn’t want to start something I’d give up on. Well, I started, and I kind of gave up over the past couple years – exactly what I was trying to avoid. But I always mean to blog more. I’ve always enjoyed journaling, writing, and feel like, at least for a while, I can start committing some brainwidth to blogging again. As with the painting, I just needed to make time for it. So, once a week on my commute, I bring my tablet on the train and just write. And I’m doing my best to stop taking so long with the rewrites, edits, and other time-sucks that have kept me from blogging, and just hit “publish.” So apologies in advance for the less-polished posts, but I am seriously always surprised and flattered to the point of embarrassment that anyone would bother reading anyways!
Results: I actually did stick to the writing once a week on the commute part. I just didn’t account for how long it would take me to write each post, and more importantly to post it to the internet. I would probably not make a good reporter.
So! That was my first month. Not great, but not the worst. I think one reason I did worse on the daily goals such as music is that 1) it has not yet become a habit, and 2) I still don’t have a great system for making it one. I made a spreadsheet, but unlike my to-do notebook which I look at daily, I put the check sheet in my closet and never once looked at it, much less checked anything off.
One final note, Jason has been amazing with all of this. He fully supported me signing up for the art class, making time for myself, and his practical help around the house truly is the main reason I can even attempt to spend a bit of time on "fun" stuff. He wouldn't do his own "project," but he also doesn't crave the goals and organization in the first place like I do. Hmm... I may need to reflect on this more when "Marriage" month rolls around!