After having spent so many years being consumed by consumer culture (watch the Story of Stuff), it’s a strange feeling to find yourself with lots of time on your hands because going shopping has become a lot less important. It feels great, but I also don’t want to fill all my new free time with watching TV. Good news: not spending money doesn’t have to be boring! Here are 25 things that can be developed into new activities for your new “life of austerity”. Most of these are things I’ve put on my own to-do list. Listed in no particular order…
1. Learn the names of flowers. Personally, I hit a wall after rose, daisy, sunflower, tulip, orchid and maybe hydrangea (sometimes I forget which one they are). Wouldn’t it be cool to know them and pick a few intelligently for your backyard or patio, or give a unique one as a gift? Here’s a basic start guide.
2. Get into historical biographies. I read a lot, but I’ve only recently discovered how fun biographies can be, and there were some crazy people back in the day. Potentially good ones: J. Edgar Hoover, Enoch Johnson (Boardwalk Empire’s Nucky Thompson), Frank Lloyd Wright, Cornelius Vanderbilt, Alan Clark, Mother Jones and Mao Zedong. There are so many interesting political figures whose lives are much deeper than what we know from history. And they all broke the rules! Biographies are never linear and balanced, with nuanced plots like a great novel might have. The lives of other people, like our own lives, often take paths that make no sense at all. They can be inspiring, revolting, funny and sad. Here’s a little more inspiration.
3. Learn to draw. Drawing is fun and anyone can start. It’s a great break for your brain too, to try something new. Try this site to start.
4. Call your mother. I bet you don’t call her enough. She loves you, you know.
5. Get back into an old sport. Remember when you played three sports in high school? How the heck did we ever do that? How cool is racquetball, tennis, field hockey, ice skating, surfing, soccer and every other sport you used to play? I love getting back into an old game.
6. Learn the names of trees.
I want to know a conifer from a broadleaf. Here’s a cool online guide from Arbor Day.
7. Get into a new genre of music. I love music and yet I forget all about it sometimes. How about flamenco guitar, bluegrass, big band jazz, or reggaeton? There are so many genres to discover. Try Jango or Pandora.
8. Clean out every closet in your house. Here’s a big project that will be well worth it. Donate or get rid of the stuff you don’t use.
9. Start juicing.
After you watch Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead you may decide you want to eat less processed foods.
10. Take pictures. I still don’t have a camera, but I’ve got a loaner from my dad. It’s been so fun taking pictures again. There’s nothing like candid shots.
11. Write an email. Respond to all of those emails you’ve been meaning to write thoughtful responses to. But first, read the The Sad Truth of What’s Really in Your Gmail Inbox.
12. Organize your airline miles/loyalty programs. You might find you have a free hotel night or trip somewhere! I’ve also enrolled all my debit cards at SkyMiles Dining (they have it for other airlines as well) so every now and then I find I’ve gotten extra miles without any effort.
13. Turn old, lame jeans into sweet cutoffs. Can also be done with old, lame skirts that are below the knee and need some “dressing down”.
14. Borrow P90x or Insanity from a friend. No need spending $120 on it. Get ready to be seriously challenged.
15. Clean your bathroom. Take a hot bath as a reward. With candles.
16. Take your dog to the dog park. Let him pee on some new trees.
17. Write down a list of all of your regrets in life. I always say I have no regrets. But there are a few things where I find myself wondering, “what if I….” (the majority of them being the financial mistakes I’ve made). I found that writing them down helped me to get the hell over it and move on with my life.
18. Bake a cake from scratch.
Chocolate. Black Magic Cake looks amazing. Just add an extra bar of Hershey’s dark chocolate for extra decadence.
19. Foster a dog or cat from a local rescue group. They’re dying for your help. Just Google your town and “animal rescue” and you’ll find plenty of groups. I could do a whole post on volunteering opportunities, but that’s for another time. This is just one thing that’s simple to get involved in and you can decide how long you want to foster. Some groups will even help out with your costs.
20. Make dinner at home. I know you have some recipes you’ve been meaning to try.
21. Create a vision board. I know, I was inspired by 2 Broke Girls and their cupcake store vision board. I liked this article about using Ript to make a quick and easy vision board. I should post mine when I make it!
22. Learn a new language. Personally, I could spend the rest of my life learning new languages and feel fulfilled. I love learning new languages because it makes the languages I already know that much richer. I understand grammar a lot better because I know the 14 verb tenses of Spanish. It also makes traveling to new countries so much better, And I love being able to haggle in a different language, making the bargaining process so much better. It also opens up a whole new world of novels, poems and films that were otherwise only available as staid translations (Example: non-Spanish speakers think Shakira is a . The LA County Public Library offers free online language learning with Mango Languages, so check with your local library as they probably have something similar. I speak three languages fluently (English, Spanish and Persian) and definitely want to add Chinese and Arabic to that. And then for fun, I’d love to learn Italian and Portuguese to corner the Romance languages. Oh yeah, and definitely some elementary Japanese because I really want to visit Japan.
23. Start an herb garden.
I seriously need to do this. With just basil, mint and rosemary, you have the beginnings of extra flavor in all of your meals. I just discovered how good lemonade tastes with just a little bit of fresh mint, and I don’t want to pay $2.99 every time I want fresh mint. And theres nothing like fresh basil on top of your pizzas, pastas and bruschettas. If you want even more herbs, grow parsley, marjoram, oregano and dill.
24. Create a portfolio of your skills. I love the idea of a portfolio for people who are not painters, photographers, designers, etc. A blogger could create a PDF compiling a few great posts, and then some of their skills, samples of projects they have helped others complete and anything else that you do that other people don’t know about. Lots of people don’t know I made a short documentary about Tajikistan. But I have all these skills of creating a story from raw footage, editing, handling interviews and so much more. I am eventually going to make a portfolio site that has articles, videos and other things I’ve created. But instead of focusing on just getting something up, I want to take my time to put together a really appealing portfolio. And whether it’s a website or document portfolio, be sure to add where people can find you on LinkedIn, Twitter, Elance, Tumblr, etc. And don’t forget a plain old telephone number.
25. Have your friends over. It seems like people have forgotten the great art of hanging out. I saw Demetri Martin at the LA Festival of Books and he said, “I would prefer to get paid to just hang out with my friends but nobody was paying me for that, so I do comedy instead.” I totally agree with him. My absolute favorite pastime is to have friends over and lounge around and talk. I don’t really care what we talk about, I love spending time with people. I guess that is another reason why I want to have a nice place to call home. But even in our 1-bedroom apartment, I am happy to see people come over to eat, hang out and spend time together. So when you’re looking for something to do instead of shopping, do nothing. And call a friend to come over and do nothing with you.
How did you like the list? What are your new activities since you’ve broken the shopping habit? I’d love to hear from you!