Don’t buy stuff to try to create a new habit

It's tempting to buy all the new gear when you start a new hobby.

Frank Augstein/AP Photo/File
A woman is on shopping tour in this file photo.

Jennifer writes in:

I’m getting very frustrated with my husband. Every few months he will come up with some new personal project he wants to work on. He tried woodworking a few years ago. A few months ago he tried cooking. Now it’s exercise. As soon as he gets into that mindset, he goes and spends hundreds of dollars on equipment for the project and will be really gung ho about it for about two weeks. After that, it just tapers off and a few months later he’s not doing it at all. This repeated cycle really eats into our annual budget. Help!

The title of the article says it all, but let me elaborate a bit.

The Honeymoon

When you stumble across something new that you’re passionate about, you go through a “honeymoon” period with it. You dive into the enjoyable side of it. You find yourself filling a lot of your spare time with it. It fills quite a few of your spare thoughts.

During that period, because your focus on the new thing is so intense, it’s easy to think that you’ll be doing this for a long time. It’s also easy to think that you should outfit yourself well for this journey right off the bat so you can do it “properly.”

In truth, though, you’re far better off going through that “honeymoon” period with low end equipment.

There are two big reasons for this.

First, it’s often hard for a novice to really understand why the “better” equipment is actually worthwhile. If you don’t have chopping skill, for example, the difference between a great chef’s knife and a cheap chef’s knife is almost nonexistent. It’s only when you can chop quickly and efficiently do you see the subtle ways in which a good knife can improve your cooking productivity.

Second, it’s impossible to tell whether or not you’ll stick with a new passion after that honeymoon period. It might feel great to run every day right now, but in three months, are you going to get up at five in the morning on a rainy day to run? Are you going to stick with it when the new wears off? You can’t know until you cross that threshold.

Diving In

So what’s a better way to attack a new passion? For me, I attack any new interest of mine with as little cash up front as possible. This way, if it doesn’t last, I’m not out very much, and if it does last, I can replace the equipment a piece at a time as I need it.

Take my recent dive into piano playing, for instance. I’m using an old used keyboard to practice at home and visiting a local church a few times a week to practice on a real piano. The keyboard was a freebie; the church piano is free, too. For instruction books and sheet music, I’m using more books picked up for free, either off of book swapping sites or as gifts.

If I keep up my current level of playing over a year or two, I probably will invest in a piano. For now, however, at my current level of skill, the equipment I have works well in helping me build additional skill. There will come a point when a piano in my home will help me greatly in making further progress, but I’m not there yet and I still don’t know for sure if my current passion will sustain me to that point.

Whatever your new passion is, look for ways to channel it and dive in without emptying your wallet. Check out the library. Check out Craigslist or consignment shops or Freecycle. Ask around your social circle. Look for community access to the equipment and facilities you need, whether through a city department or a shared workshop space.

Once you’ve found that inexpensive source for deepening your passion, dive in. Chase that passion as hard and as deeply as you want. If that passion still burns within you after six months, then I would argue that you’ve reached a point that it’s reasonable to begin upgrading your equipment when you can articulate clearly what that upgrade will gain you.

At the six month mark, you will either have found that the passion is sustainable over a long period or that it didn’t fulfill you like you initially thought that it might. In either case, if you didn’t invest a lot up front, you’re in better shape than you would be if you had invested a great deal up front.

Don’t let the stuff lead the passion – it almost never works. Instead, let the passion lead the stuff. See if the passion is deep and true before you throw money into it.

Good luck!

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