Rethinking a Hobby

Kevin writes in:

I love what you write about keeping your hobbies and interests, but I have a bit of a different problem.

When I was a teenager, I found a lot of solace in comic books. I like how they presented a world that wasn’t completely soaked in moral ambiguity and that good people generally came out on top, something I didn’t often see in my real life at the time.

Now, I’m 31. I have a great job that pays very well. I’ve been dating a girl seriously for several years. And I also still have my comic book hobby. I buy a few dozen titles a month, read them, put them in plastic bags, and save them in a storage room I have in the basement of my home.

Sometimes, though, when I go down there, I feel like there’s a ton of money wasted. I look around and wonder what I could have done with all of those resources and it adds a twinge of guilt. I also have a sense that maybe I should “grow up.”

I’m wondering what your thoughts are.

First of all, I don’t have a problem with any non-destructive hobby that brings personal enjoyment, even ones others might define as “childish.” I have one friend who collects vintage action figures and another friend who’s into My Little Ponies. They’re both in their thirties and are well-adjusted folks with great careers. If it brings you joy without personal injury, enjoy it.

The question really is whether or not you get sufficient enjoyment out of the hobby for what you put into it. I don’t really know what your costs are for the hobby and I also don’t know what your enjoyment level is at this point. Do you get excited about comic books at this point? Do you look forward to reading them? Do you re-read old issues? Do you follow hobby news online?

There’s also the nostalgia factor. Sometimes we change as people and it’s very hard to let go of something that meant something deeply to us in the past. In fact, it can often go so far as to produce some joy in the present that’s actually just an echo of what we once got a great deal of joy out of. It also may be that what you enjoy about the hobby has changed – or, in your case, you now have this sense that you need to “bag” all of your comics to preserve them when before they were something you read, cut up for art projects, mangled, threw under your bed, and “lived” with.

The closest hobby I have in my own life to compare this to is Magic: the Gathering. For those unfamiliar, Magic: the Gathering is a trading card game, meaning that you can easily play a game of it with just a few cards, but there are literally tens of thousands of different cards available, each of which can alter the game. Players choose their own small sets of cards from their collection to play with, called decks.

I started playing Magic: the Gathering in high school when several of my friends and I started playing all at once. I kept playing into college and for a bit after college, but once my first child was born, I had to take stock of the hobby. I realized that what I actually enjoyed at this point was the occasional game with my wife and with old friends. I had no real need or interest to continue to buy new cards.

So I sold off most of my collection right around the time we needed some help with our financial turnaround. The collection had been sitting in my closet for a year or two anyway at that point, with only a few cards actually played with. I turned the remainder of the cards into a handful of playable decks and a “draft cube” (another playable set of cards) and kept around a few leftovers to occasionally trade for newer stuff to put into those decks.

Today, I probably play Magic once a month. I’ll play with my wife or with another close friend of mine. I don’t buy any new cards – instead, I just pull out some of the ones I have. I realized that what I enjoy about the hobby right now doesn’t require me to spend any money.

My oldest child is starting to show an interest in it, too, as he watches us play. His reading skills aren’t quite there yet, but he understands some of what’s going on.

In other words, the hobby as I experience it today has only some elements in common with what I enjoyed as a teenager, but they’re the elements I want to keep with me. I just enjoy playing the game, laughing with friends, and enjoying a bit of nostalgia from time to time. To retain these elements, I don’t have to spend any money. I just have to keep a couple of boxes on the shelf in my closet.

Which brings us back to Kevin and his comic books. I think what you need to do is ask yourself what you actually enjoy about the hobby. Do you enjoy the collecting? Do you enjoy reading the comic books? Do you enjoy simply following the hobby and being aware of what’s going on in it?

From what I can tell, your enjoyment seems to come from the reading, not from the collecting. My thought would be that you should simply forego the collecting. Stop buying the poly bags to store your books in, sell off your collection, and use that money to buy only the issues of comics that you want to read. If there are some “classics” that you want to read again and again, pick them up in the least expensive format you can (probably a graphic novel).

Stick to what makes you happy. Jettison the rest. It’ll save you money and increase your joy.

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