Hobbies, pastimes, leisure activities, or just “that thing you do for fun”…we all have some, and they usually come with stuff. But what happens when you still have the stuff, but no longer do the hobby? Answer: clutter. Keep reading for tips on confronting your hobby clutter.
I have a lot of hobbies. Well, I guess I should say I’ve had a lot of hobbies over the course of my life. Most of mine fall under the “arts & crafts” category, and that comes with a lot of stuff. The thing is, I still have a lot of that stuff, even for hobbies I haven’t actually practiced in years.
In reading so much about organizing and decluttering, I’ve noticed this topic come up a lot. The wisdom is always the same: if you haven’t used it in the last year, get rid of it.
I feel so attacked.
I’m a textbook but-what-if-I-need-it-someday person, so getting rid of anything that’s potentially useful requires herculean strength. If you’re a fellow crafter or hobby enthusiast, you probably know what I’m talking about. So join me as I attempt to work out my own hobby clutter issues. You might just learn something too.
Hobby Clutter – what is it?
So we’re on the same page, I’m defining “hobby clutter” as all the paraphernalia associated with a hobby that:
1- you used to do but no longer do, or
2- you thought you wanted to do but never really did.
For the purposes of this article, hobby clutter is not:
1- Stuff that makes you money or enables you to do your job.
2- Stuff you use regularly, even if not frequently (i.e., candy making supplies you only use during the holidays).
3- Anything related to those hobbies of yore, which you have no expectation of using again (i.e., your college lacrosse jerseys or that trophy you got for showing up to softball practice in middle school).
You should of course declutter those first two categories regularly to keep your supplies edited and relevant, identify if you need to purchase or replace equipment, and to keep your workspace usable. That third example is what Marie Kondo calls Sentimental Clutter, and should be set aside until you’ve had enough decluttering practice that you can confidently assess their importance to you. This is hard enough without bringing childhood memories into the mix.
While I’m no fine artist, I am creative and I like to dabble with all sorts of mediums. And while I sew semi-regularly and love to make my own paper gift tags and cards for the holidays, it’s been a hot minute since I’ve used the majority of my art stuff. I’m feeling a lot of shame and disappointment admitting that, but it’s true.
Even my photography equipment — which was my most sustained hobby — mostly sits untouched in a drawer. There were years I didn’t leave my house without my Nikon! Even though my iPhone now takes better photos than my teenaged DSLR, the thought of getting rid of it feels like a betrayal of me.
I’m sure you can relate. Maybe it’s cupcake pans and icing tips you used to use all the time, but now all your coworkers are on Keto and won’t eat your delicious baked goods anymore. Or maybe it’s that croquet set you bought because you wanted to be fancy, played exactly once, and immediately stashed in the garage. You promise yourself you’ll whip it out at your next barbecue, but always end up “forgetting” it’s there.
So, do we just follow conventional decluttering wisdom and throw away our dreams like so much garbage?!
I know this sounds dramatic…but is it, really? After all, stuff isn’t just stuff. It’s part of us, and the objects that support our most beloved hobbies are closely linked to our sense of identity.
Now, I’m not giving you — or myself — blanket permission to keep all the hobbies that we used to enjoy even though we haven’t thought about them for the last 15 years. That would be crazy. If that was the case, I would still be carting around that Ab Lounge I got for Christmas in 2009 and used approximately 8 times, just in case I suddenly feel inspired to get shredded.
But I do think the answer is more complicated than just “if you don’t use it, toss it.” And it varies slightly based on the type of hobby clutter you’re faced with.
The two types of hobby clutter
Type A: Hobbies you actually used to do
We all have activities we once practiced and enjoyed, then one day stopped doing. Maybe you had to give up roller derby when you sprained your wrist playing roller derby. Or you no longer had time to scrapbook when you had a kid. Or you got a job that requires frequent travel, leaving you with exactly zero free hours to engage in your squirrel taxidermy hobby.
What? I don’t know your life.
Or, as seems to happen as we do this thing called #adulting, you just kinda…stop. You move 3 times in 5 years, start grad school, switch careers, get married or move in with your partner, and your routines change. Time you used to spend hiking in the woods on the lookout for expired rodents is now spent picnicking in the park with your boyfriend.
Maybe you miss your old hobbies terribly and yearn for the day when life gets less hectic so you can get back to your sawdust and bone saw. But I’m willing to bet that for a lot of you, you don’t think about our old hobbies that much at all. I know that’s the case for me. I don’t actively desire to whip out the oils for some plein air painting, but when I think about getting rid of the unused canvases and easels, I immediately feel resistance.
The thing is, these types of hobbies are tied to our identity. They’re a part of us. They’re your default response when new acquaintances ask what you do for fun. Even if these old hobbies have no place in your current life, they shape how you think of yourself. And that’s a really hard thing to let go of.
I still like to think of myself as an artsy person, even if the last thing I painted was a hole I patched in our drywall. But if I get rid of my art stuff, I fear that I’ll no longer be able to call myself creative. It’s a little crazy when you put it in black and white like that, but the feeling is real. The way to confront this type of clutter is to get honest with yourself about who you are (more on that in a bit).
Type B: Hobbies you own stuff for but never actually did
In college, I acquired a box full of vintage lens filters when the film club I belonged to was decluttering its office. And while I was an avid photographer, not a single one of these filters fit any of my camera lenses. Those filters still sit on a shelf in my craft closet today.
You see, I thought it’d be really cool to get an old, manual camera and get, like really into photography, like some old-school Ansel-Adams-photographing-mountains-from-the-roof-of-a-car shit. But I have never photographed mountains from the roof of my car, nor have I used a single one of those lens filters. And yet, I still have them. *cue facepalm emoji*
Unless you’re a ruthlessly practical person, I’m willing to bet that you’ve acquired something simply because you thought it’d be cool (or fun, or healthy, or prudent) too. (Exercise equipment, anyone??)
Rather than representing a piece of our identity, this type of clutter represents our dreams. Our dreams of who we could or should be, the things we could or should do, and the life we could or should live. You own this thing because at some point you had a desire to become the type of person who would use it.
Sometimes these dreams and desires are truly our own, but much of the time they come from other people — be it family, friends, or media. The way to confront this type of clutter is to get honest with yourself about what you actually want.
Tackling both types of clutter
Working through both types of clutter begins by looking inward — by getting honest with yourself about who you are and what you want. If that feels too vague for you, here are some questions you can ask yourself while working through the clutter.
Clutter Type A:
- Did I enjoy this hobby?
- Can I see myself (the person I am now) enjoying this again?
- Why did I stop?
- Do I miss it?
- What’s keeping me from starting again? Is that circumstance temporary, permanent, or unknown?
- When circumstances change and I have the time/money/ability to start this hobby again, will the equipment still be relevant or functional?
- How much space in my home does this stuff take up?
- Am I ok with that, or would I enjoy using that space differently?
- How expensive was this gear? Did I invest a ton of money in stuff that will still be relevant when I’m ready to use it again? Or, will it be relatively inexpensive to just buy the supplies again if or when I decide to restart this hobby?
- Do I actually want to do this hobby again?
- Am I worried that getting rid of the evidence of my past will erase my memories, change my sense of identity, or impact how others see me? (be honest, even when it’s uncomfortable)
Clutter Type B:
- Why did I acquire this stuff? What dreams or plans did I have for it?
- Was that dream mine, or somebody else’s?
- Do I still desire to be or do that?
- Is there something else in my life that’s already fulfilling that desire or dream?
Listen to your gut when answering these questions. If you find yourself justifying or coming up with lots of reasons for why you should totally keep this thing, you probably shouldn’t keep it. Likewise, if all you feel is guilt, resentment, or anxiety, that’s a huge red flag that the item isn’t serving you, so toss it. If, on the other hand, you feel that heart-swelling sense of excitement, possibility, and joy, put it in the Keep pile and continue reading for your next step.
Lights, camera, TAKE ACTION
If you’re over it
If, while reflecting on the above questions, you realized that it’s time to let some stuff go, then let it go with peace and confidence. All you have left to do is decide how you will let it go. Depending on the types of items, you may be able to donate to a local school or daycare center, your go-to charity resale facility, or a friend or family member who will use it.
Please handle that last one with care; if you’re letting go of scrapbooking supplies, only reach out to people who actively scrapbook and ask them if they’re interested in some free supplies. Do not show up at Aunt Sally’s door with a box of colored paper and 3D stickers because she said three years ago that she might start scrapbooking. Many people don’t feel that they can refuse gifts — even if that “gift” is stuff you just want to get rid of. Do not be the cause of “other people’s dreams” clutter in someone else’s home.
Some highly specialized or pricey items might command some cash if you have the bandwidth for selling them. I do not have the patience for that mess, so I’m not an expert on the subject. Thankfully, there’s great info on our friend Google if you’re interested in finding out more.
If you’re unsure
If you’ve gone through the questions and you still feel compelled to keep some hobby clutter, I get it. But now’s your chance to prove to yourself whether or not this hobby has space in your life. How?
USE THE THING! DO THE HOBBY!
This will end in one of two ways: you either enjoy the hobby, or you don’t.
Now that the experience is fresh in your mind instead of a rose-colored memory or a starry-eyed dream, ask yourself: Did I enjoy that? Then ask: Can I see myself doing that more often?
If the answer is yes to both, congratulations! You’ve rekindled an old forgotten pastime or discovered a new kickass activity. Your hobby clutter is no longer clutter. Find a new (accessible) home for those supplies, and use ‘em whenever you can.
If the answer is no to either, congratulations! You’ve taken ownership of your life. You’ve had the courage to say “I hate that thing and I never want to do it again,” or “eh, it was kinda fun, but I’d much rather spend my free time doing something else.” It might feel a little painful to let go, but it’s the right thing for you.
Remember, every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. If this hobby isn’t a resounding YES, then make peace with the fact that it has no room in your life and lovingly kick it out of your house.
What if you can’t do it now?
If your hobby clutter is related to snow-skiing and you can’t find snow at the moment, then give yourself a deadline: “If I have not used my skis by [insert date here], I will donate them.” Write it on a sticky note and slap it on the items. Then schedule a calendar reminder in your phone for a month before the deadline so you have time to book a ski trip.
Hard truth time: If you can’t make time or space for the activity within a year, then it’s not a priority for you, and it’s probably time to let it go. I know that life is busy and it sometimes feels like we have very little control over our free time, but is that really true? We make room for the things that are important to us in our current season of life. If your 80-hours/week job is your main priority right now, then recognize — without guilt or resentment — that winter sports are just not as important to you. Right now. And if that feels awful, then you have the power to change your mind, redefine your priorities, and choose to spend your time differently. And when you do, you can always buy new skis.
It’s important to recognize that this can be really hard emotional work. So many of these things I’m calling hobby clutter are directly tied to our sense of identity and our dreams for the future. And realizing that we’re no longer the person who did X, or will never be the kind of person who does Y, is real tough. And with that realization comes grief.
As Dana K White describes in her chapter on Decluttering Dreams, “[g]rieving is the process of emotionally navigating a loss. Navigating the loss of a dream is where grief can come as a surprise.” And I’d argue that the loss of an identity — real or desired — is also a big cause of this surprise grief.
So often we think that decluttering should be a purely logical process of analyzing your stuff, whether you use it, and where it should be kept. But just because logic has a place in the process, the act of decluttering is highly emotional. Especially when it comes to activities that we heavily identify with, or activities that we dreamt of doing.
And while it may seem silly to be so emotionally invested in a croquet set, it’s not. Because things aren’t just things. Once we own something, we project onto it our sense of identity, our hopes for the future, our fears of the unknown, and our memories of the past. Our belongings are part of us and our stories — for better or for worse. And the process of decluttering is an opportunity for us to examine our present selves and take ownership of our life story.
Decluttering hobby clutter in particular forces us to confront the fact that we have changed as a person, or that our life doesn’t look the way we wanted it to. When we ask ourselves questions like the ones listed above, the ugly truth slaps us in the face. It’s damn unpleasant to be confronted by the ghost of your former self or the ideal life you never lived. But we have to. In order to feel freedom and peace in our homes (and thereby in our lives), we have to get real with ourselves and let go of items that don’t belong to the person we currently are and the life we live now.
Our belongings can give us power, or they can take it away. They can support us, or they can hinder us. They can make us feel joy, or they can make us feel guilt, shame, and resentment. The choice is yours.
All we have is now
So who are you, and what do you want RIGHT NOW? You can grieve the loss of an old identity or an unfulfilled dream while also feeling joy and gratitude for the freedom and clarity that comes with letting go of things that don’t serve you. It’s completely normal and healthy to feel some sadness, but don’t let that sadness stop you from feeling empowered.
Because decluttering is empowering. It’s one of the most empowering things I’ve ever done. And, as you can see from this article, I haven’t mastered it. It’s an ongoing process. But since I began writing this article, I’ve pulled down that bin of camera lens filters from the top shelf of my craft closet, and put them into a box to donate to my local nonprofit arts organization. While I never became a fine art photographer, I’m having a lot of fun with my iPhone camera right now. And if the urge for car-top photography ever returns, I can always buy a new set of lens filters.
Now it’s your turn
What are you holding onto? Did these questions help you find clarity? What have you decided to donate? What old hobbies have you rekindled, or what new hobbies have you discovered? Leave a comment below and let me know! I’d love to hear all about your decluttering journey.