I think it’s time to lose the guilt for our creative hobbies

From time to time, I read about someone inquiring about the guilt for indulging in creative hobbies that may have little immediate value other than the creator’s own personal enjoyment.  A recent blog post over at Lisa Rivero’s titled The Unapologetic Hobbyist got me thinking about one of my more recent updated views towards hobbies.

This post is modified from a comment I just left, but it ties into Women’s History Month (a little bit anyway).


I didn’t have any hobbies as a child. Mostly reading and living in my imagination and trying to stay out of the way of my family.

After high school and all the way through college, I worked part time, and didn’t have time for hobbies, unless you count writing letters to friends. I had a few pen-pals. I had some friends I hung out with. Dated a little bit. Went dancing with my girl friends.

After college I worked full-time in microbiology and I took some grad-level classes, and I still didn’t have any hobbies. I worked, went out with coworkers after work. I didn’t have the time, nor really any knowledge or talent. Same thing after two more job changes – in forensics and medical genetics. Other than writing occasionally, my work really challenged me so all I wanted to do when I was off work was relax and spend time with friends and later, my husband.

After I came home to be with my daughters, that’s when I started creative hobbies. I taught myself to use a sewing machine and hand embroider. Turns out I had a knack for making creative things. I made handmade toys for a while and some blankets. I then turned to writing and then to photography. Then I just recently got started with art journaling. I have done a LOT of science experiments over the years with my girls using household items as much as possible (not just because I was a cheapskate, but because it was more of a creative challenge to recycle).

And of course, I’m still reading.  Which has helped me in the area of raising my daughters.

I used to feel guilty about my hobbies, until over the years I realized it’s the creative effort that goes into my hobbies that energizes me, reduces my feelings of isolation and depression.  It slows down an over-active mind and it’s meditative. I believe it’s actually crucial to our mental and physical health to have creative outlets. Not surprisingly, chronic, unrelieved stress can cause a host of medical problems. For me, this translates into an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid, called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which has genetic origins, but is triggered by stress (and for me, explains a lot).

That creativity spills over into other areas too. It helps us think outside of the box in other ways.  It lubricates the brain and keeps us innovative, and brings together skill and knowledge from more than one area.    Any time I do a sewing project, I need to use math skills to get my measurements right the first time.

It’s only social conditioning that makes us feel guilty. Human beings are creators. Those who are stifled in their desires to create are up for some serious stress.

My daughters take their own hobbies seriously because I do too. They share with me a love of reading and writing. They art journal too.


I like Nikola Tesla’s view of his mother. His mother was a traditional housewife. He spoke very highly of his mother, and credited his photographic memory and inventive genius to her. He wrote this about her (as written in Margaret Cheney’s Tesla: Man out of Time):

 An inventor of the first order and would, I believe, have achieved great things had she not been so remote from modern life and its multifold opportunities. She invented and constructed all kinds of tools and devices and wove the finest designs from thread which was spun by her. She even planted the seeds, raised the plants, and separated the fibers herself. She worked indefatigably, from break of day till late at night, and most of the wearing apparel and furnishings of the home was the product of her hands.

So, these things, like sewing and knitting and gardening and what not, are now considered hobbies (because why make anything from hand now that anything you need can be purchased)…but once upon a time, these things were absolutely vital to survival.

I think if more people had creative hobbies and took their hobbies seriously, there would be a lot fewer unhappy, stressed-out people in the world.

As I read the troubles of the world I can’t help but think what would happen if they would only take If only people would make creative expression a priority, and not a frivolous waste of time…if people would “make art, not war”, how much better the world would be.

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4 Responses to I think it’s time to lose the guilt for our creative hobbies

  1. I like how you talk about “taking hobbies seriously” (and modeling that for your daughters). “Brain lubrication” is such a great phrase, and the idea that guilt (about hobbies/creativity) is all from social conditioning has got my own brain churning.

    I’ve been thinking lately about how much “extra” stuff is devalued now that almost-equivalents are available for purchase. It’s funny, really. Commercialism and mass production seems both to promote discontent (look what I don’t have!) and an odd sort of contentment (also called resignation) based on what’s “available” rather than pressing for what’s *exactly right.*

  2. Thanks, Amy Jane

    I am doing a lot of reading lately about creativity and also about depression. There is more than a casual link between the absence of meaningful and creative outlets and depression.

    It seems that the way out of depression is making meaning out of our lives…and there is no better way than to put creativity into whatever we do. Sure, we can buy a lot of stuff…but it’s so much more edifying to make something from what we already have.

    I know I feel better when I eat what I make rather than eat out or eat something store-bought (not that I don’t do that sometimes, I just don’t feel as good afterward), or I give or receive a hand-made gift.

    When I’m cooking from scratch, or sewing, I have time to think meaningfully on the process and on the person for whom I’m cooking or sewing. Even in my writing, I prefer to write as a way to honor special individuals I come across in my life…or the task of mothering itself, which is way too under-valued these days.

    I’m going through a lot of the girls outdated toys and am giving the store-purchased ones away. The toys I’ve made are going to be kept.

    I gave away most of my daughters infant blankets, except the ones that were hand-crocheted from an aunt and a great grandmother. They also have a few quilts their step-grandmother had made for them that I cherish. Those are the ones the girls brought with them when we took them on a train ride to Colorado to see my dad and step-mother for the first time two years ago. Not just any blankets warmed them on the air-conditioned train (it was really chilly at night in the middle of July on the train) but the ones my stepmother lovingly made for them. These blankets will be kept for them until they move out.

    Or alternately, I might keep them for any potential grandbabies. We’ll see (and yes, both are hopefully a LONG way off…).

    As for the girls, they all prefer to make handmade cards for their friends and relatives, and I let them share in some of my art supplies in order for them to do that. I like that much better than store-bought cards.

    • “More than a casual link between the absence of meaningful and creative outlets and depression.

      It seems that the way out of depression is making meaning out of our lives…and there is no better way than to put creativity into whatever we do.”

      This is *so* true. I tried to put it into words this year (http://untanglingtales.com/2012/01/creativity-and-depression/) but mostly I’m still trying to come to grips with the reality of the connection while simultaneously legitimizing the existence of the two components. Its like trying to do gymnastics with the chicken-and-the-egg question (social guilt, like you mentioned before).

      It’s like I’m under stress, looking both for permission to be creative, and permission to be depressed, when I can’t (it seems) live without either.

      Not by choice, in the case of depression, but having lost that choice, creativity is no longer optional.

  3. Casey says:

    I’ll have to come back to talk about this more…but I do appreciate your link and the conversation.

    I’m off soon to the park with the daughters…it’s been unseasonably warm here in the midwest and we want to take advantage of it.


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