The hobby buyer's fallacy: "I'd really pursue my hobby if I just bought X"

Sep 24, 2022 · 709 words · 4 minutes read

There’s a trap I used to fall into that has happened more times than I’d like to admit1. The typical scenario would be something like this:

  • There’s a hobby I’m into (or starting to get into)
  • I find myself wanting to do that hobby more than I currently am
  • I find some THING that seems like it would help
  • I somehow convince myself that having that THING would make the difference
  • I purchase that THING
  • The THING only slightly helps, and I may or may not do the hobby more

Much like the scroll in Kung Fu Panda, the secret was really inside myself the whole time. But, as I mentioned, I’ve fallen into this a few times before:

“If I only had the perfect notebooks, I would write much more by hand”

“If I had that drawing board, it would make it that much easier to practice drawing and I would draw so much more”

“The only thing standing between me and painting is those new paint pens”

As you can imagine, the new shiny things were not the only things standing between me and doing my hobbies.

It’s so tempting, though. Maybe that thing is what the pros use, and of course it would make sense to upgrade my equipment if I want to get better (spoiler: it isn’t the shoes). Maybe I’ve been more tired and burnt out recently without the energy to sit down and do my hobbies and I fool myself into thinking this new drawing board would make the difference. Maybe it’s only $40 and Amazon will deliver it tomorrow.

At some point I started to see the pattern, and I started fooling myself less and less and built up defenses as I became more aware of it. I have a “nice to have” shopping list I add to when I have that spur-of-the-moment feeling — if it would really be helpful, it’ll still be there in a month. I think about whether I’m fooling myself with this old pattern, and having fallen into the trap a few times, I find it easier to take a moment to think about whether I’m starting to think like this. Even recognizing the pattern has helped me avoid it, like I’ve given it a name and can now point to it, as if it was a gremlin in the back of my head whispering foolish thoughts.

Maybe the gremlin’s name is Purchasa. No, Purchasa, the more expensive guitar won’t make me play more or play better.

I’ve also accepted that I won’t be 100% into all of my hobbies at the same time, and it’s OK if my interest in something ebbs in favor of other things. If I’m not pursuing any of my hobbies, there’s probably something else going on that I need to take a look at, but if it’s just that I’ve been playing more guitar than piano recently, that’s totally fine. There just isn’t enough time for everything.

For new hobbies, there are little gut checks that help as well, like “try without it for a month and see if you’re still doing your new hobby, then re-decide from there”. Maybe we buy a single month pass at the climbing gym to make sure we really like it before we buy the full year. Maybe the one-month pass is a little more expensive, but it’s like a “don’t fool yourself” fee that frequently ends up more than worth it.

There are a few things that don’t fall under this, though. You really do need a skateboard to skateboard, though bonus points if you can borrow from a friend. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time in front of your computer for your hobby, a good ergonomic setup is worth it. There are points at which an equipment upgrade actually makes a real difference, but when I’m honest with myself, I’m usually far from that point. Until we get there, let’s stick with what we’ve got.

I still need practice to get to Carnegie Hall, and buying that thing probably won’t be the difference.

  1. Quick caveat that this is by far one of the most first world problems to have — I’m lucky to be blessed with such cushy problems. ↩︎