During the latter days of my video game hobby, I used to love spending time after work playing video games on my Playstation 3 and computer games using Steam. These two platforms had one really cool feature in common, one that kept me playing many games far longer than I might have otherwise – achievement collecting.
Achievements in video games and computer games are a simple concept to understand. Essentially, they’re specific goals within the game that aren’t necessarily tied to actually defeating the game. Most of them are centered around exploring every nook and cranny that the game has to offer and often involve finding or doing an extensive set of challenging things.
I found these achievements to be really fun to collect. I distinctly remember spending a lot of time collecting achievements in some games, most memorably Red Dead Redemption and Batman: Arkham Asylum. It was fun to chase down those achievements because I was actually doing something I enjoyed, I got this sense of accomplishment out of it.
My interest in playing video games has waned in the ensuing years, but I haven’t forgotten the joy of chasing down achievements. In fact, they form the backbone of my fondest memories of the later years of my video game hobby.
Here’s the thing, though: Achievement collecting doesn’t have to end just because I don’t play video games much any more (aside from getting stomped by my kids at Mario Kart). In fact, achievement collecting can liven up almost any hobby and can actually save you money in terms of your hobby spending.
This is one of those things that’s easiest to comprehend through examples, so let me start off by giving you some examples from some of my own hobbies.
In 2017, I made it my goal to read 52 books. This is essentially an achievement, and that achievement encourages me strongly to spend more time reading. Notice that reading does not mean buying books – it means spending my time with a book in my hands learning something or being carried off into a story. It means actually engaging with my hobby.
I have a long-standing goal to walk at least five trails at every state park in Iowa. I actually keep a list of these parks and trails that I’ve walked, along with photos. This encourages me to plan weekends where I go to state parks with my family and go on the trails with them, which is a great way to spend a weekend doing something. It’s far less expensive than hanging out at a REI store buying stuff that I don’t actually need to fulfill some vision of an outdoor adventure.
I’ve found that I like to collect filled-up journals and notebooks as well as empty fountain pen ink bottles because I’ve used up all of that ink taking notes and journaling. I like using fountain pens for writing, but it can be tempting to get caught up in buying some of the many beautiful inks available, but I came to realize that I was far more proud of collecting things like empty ink bottles and full notebooks because those were easy indications that I’ve actually been doing things with pens and inks, not just collecting them.
I’m much more interested in my daily step count than on a new pair of hiking or walking shoes. I’m much more interested in my batches of homemade sauerkraut or home-brewed beer (both of which I carefully catalog) than I am with the amount of gear that I have for those things. I’m much more interested in my list of “nickels and dimes” (board games I’ve played five or ten times this year) than the actual physical games in my collection.
In other words, I find that I get much more joy and life value out of collecting achievements or physical representations of things I’ve actually done than collecting stuff that represents things undone. An unread book on a bookshelf is just stuff – it has no real meaning for me. A book that I’ve read, whether I actually possess the book or not, has meaning – it represents knowledge that I’ve (hopefully) absorbed into my head.
Understanding that phenomenon actually encourages me to buy less stuff, assuming that I stay focused on the achievements. The actual process of reading a book or adding a fully-read book to my list of completed books doesn’t require me to own the book – I can happily return it to the library at that point – but those processes leave me with far more lasting meaning than actually buying a book and tossing it on my shelf.
Over time, all of my hobbies are slowly transforming from object collecting into achievement collecting, and any stuff that I own is solely oriented toward achievement collecting. I collect books that I’ve read and not that I own. I collect trails that I’ve walked and not hiking gear that I own. I collect notebooks I’ve filled with thoughts and not pens and notebooks that I own that sit unused.
That change has made virtually every hobby more meaningful for me. Rather than just looking at a shelf full of stuff that I’m not using, I’m instead drawn to thinking about the stuff that I’ve actually done and completed and achieved. I don’t have to look at a shelf of mostly unread books and try to convince myself that I’m well-read; I can just look at a list of the books I’ve read recently and remember all of the great stuff I’ve actually read recently and revel in all of the ideas and stories. I don’t have to look at a bunch of unused homebrewing equipment; instead, I can look at some of the bottles I’ve actually made and my big long list of successful recipes.
The focus turns from the collecting and the owning to the doing and the enjoying, in other words.
That transition has actually saved me a ton of money. Basically, I no longer feel that I need more stuff for most of my hobbies. What I need, more than anything, is time for my hobbies, so it’s actually convinced me to be more efficient in other areas in my life so I can block off more hobby time, and when I have more hobby time, I’m more inclined to do things rather than buy things.
There are still some pitfalls along the way, however.
First of all, in realizing how important my leisure time actually is to me, I’ve found that I sometimes really struggle when it’s missing. During really busy weeks when I don’t have any time for actual leisure, I can feel it strongly and it knocks my mood down. It also drastically increases my temptation to spend money on hobby supplies, because buying stuff is a weak substitute for not having time for a hobby you love.
My solution here is to block off time for hobbies and treat it as uninterruptible as possible. I treat my periods of time for hobbies as being practically sacrosanct, with very few things being able to interrupt them. Sunday afternoons are always blocks of hobby times, as are a couple of weeknights and most Saturday afternoons are spent on hobby activities that can be done with the family most weeks. We also have a rule of thirty minutes of daily sustained silent reading which I participate in as an example for the children, but I do it to sustain my passion for reading books, too. Walling off this time ensures that I have regular hobby time, which points me toward achievement collecting and away from spending.
Second, I often use hobby spending to prop up hobbies that are waning for me. I self-identify as a follower of a hobby, but if I find myself naturally winding down my time spent on that hobby because I find other stuff more compelling, I have this deep desire to “make up” for that by buying more stuff. Why? I think it’s because I think “stuff” can be a lure to convince me to actually do things.
Here’s the truth: Passion for a hobby is judged by how much time you put into it and how much more time you want to put into it. If you’re not spending time on a hobby, then you shouldn’t be spending money on a hobby.
What’s my solution? I keep rough track of how much time I spend on my various hobbies and I use that info to calibrate how much I spend on it going forward. I have a monthly hobby spending budget and lately I’ve been intentionally cutting my spending hard on any hobbies that I don’t spend time on. This is actually surprisingly easy to do. It also keeps money in the bank where it belongs and it also makes it easier to actually buy things for the hobbies I spend time on when I actually need them.
Finally, I find hobby related media very valuable, but it also sometimes pushes me toward more purchases. While the hobby media that I read or watch is really helpful in terms of techniques or ideas, it also often pushes me toward purchases that I don’t actually need but am tempted by, things that theoretically could improve my ability to actually achieve things within my hobby but often just amount to a tiny incremental improvement on what I already have.
My solution here is to be very selective in my hobby media. I have cut back significantly on my hobby-related media and instead try to focus my spare moments on getting other things done so that I have more time for practicing my actual hobby. I cut out several hobby publications and subscriptions and now I generally only use it when trying to figure out how to solve a specific problem that crops up by using internet searches. Knowing the latest in hiking gear doesn’t really help me get to the trail on Saturday afternoon, after all.
So, here’s my challenge for you. Look at your hobbies, especially ones that seem to eat a lot of your spending, and ask yourself whether you can start collecting achievements with that hobby instead of stuff. Can you start aiming for games played or games completed rather than games owned? Can you start aiming for books read rather than books owned? Can you start shooting for woodworking projects completed instead of tools owned? Make it your goal to actually complete things within your hobby over the next several months rather than just acquiring more stuff, and then, along the way, assess how you feel about that new direction. If you have a hobby budget, let your time use lead you in terms of how to spend your hobby money, particularly in terms of cutting back on spending in areas that you spend less time.
Good luck, and may your hobby achievements lead you to less spending and more enjoyment!