Most hobbies require some kind of equipment, which causes a more or less noteworthy dilemma for some minimalists. There simply aren’t many hobbies for extreme minimalists.
This might not be the biggest weltschmerz in human history, but that does not mean you can’t write a blog article about how to solve this first-world problem, right?
I am a perfectionist and I can’t deny that keeping my state of minimalism is important to me. In the past, my interest in new hobbies often interfered with my need to not let any new things into my life.
So, whenever I took up a new hobby, I felt a little guilty about acquiring new stuff to maintain it, because it would take up space, need looking-after and require constant usage to justify its mere existence.
It sounds stupid, and it kind of is. But in its slightly overcareful consistency, this way of thinking aka me sticking to my »minimalist principles«, is what has helped me live like this for almost two decades now.
9 out of 10 times I am genuinely happy that I did not buy some tool I would have needed for a new interesting hobby. Because that interest faded faster than I expected, although it never seemed to feel like it when it was still new.
Can an extreme minimalists have hobbies that require a lot of gear?
One side note there: I do actually not recommend to never get into new hobbies or avoid tools and materials at all cost. Although I like gear-less hobbies, because they just feel more light-weight and don’t add clutter to my home, I do believe that the amount of gear and maintenance that comes with a hobby should not be the basis of a pro or contra-decision here. Because minimalism – no matter how extreme – is about making your life better, and should not make you miserable.
If you want to get into a new activity and it does require whatever kind of utensils, try borrowing them first. In almost any situation you will have access to this option, and if not, the second cheapest option would be to get the thing second hand.
With this disclaimer in mind, here are my top seven hobbies that do not require any gear. Or shall we say: only gear that you probably already have, even as a bad-ass extreme minimalist?
Hobbies for extreme minimalists
This is so basic, and that is probably why many people don’t even see it as a legitimate hobby. But it is. And how much of a hobby or passion reading can actually become, totally depends on what you read and on your enthusiasm.
The best thing about reading is that it can be done without buying any material items. There are libraries, both online and offline. And of course book boxes. Do you have one in your city?
Papers and magazines – easy access and good information
Apart from books, I personally like to read magazines on optics, to stay up to date in my field. But I also read about data science and mathematics, parenting and neuro-science. All of the latter I consider hobby reads. And more than enough books and papers in this category are accessible to me without even buying and ebook reader.
There are tons of open-access papers available online, and you can broaden your horizon by actually reading this primary literature instead of the often dumbed-down articles from lifestyle magazines. Due to a very extensive open-access directive issued in 2013 in the U.S., which has since even been expanded, most research that receives federal funding has to be made open-access to the public. If you can not imagine what that means, check out PubMed.
However, I do not only read papers in my personal time. I have books, including some that do not go on an ebook reader – because it is just more convenient than reading on a computer. Especially when it comes to reading in my bed… I mean, come on, who wants to take a laptop into their bed?
Some might see a tablet as a good alternative, but I really think that it is not much more versatile than a reader. In most situations, a reader is the better option, because it is lighter, smaller and has a longer battery life. Also, a tablet is kind of a second computer, and therefore a redundancy to avoid, for me.
Owning an ebook reader also opens my set of possibilities to a whole bunch of other genres, such as novels or short stories, because I don’t like reading fictional literature on a computer screen at all.
In my over five years of extreme minimalism, I actually did not own a yoga mat. The reason was that mats were provided in class and at home I did not feel the need to have one. It just didn’t come to mind, and instead I used a towel or a blanket. Is it less comfortable? Yes. But is it painful? Not if you do it right.
If you own a rug, that would be my first suggestions what to do yoga on. But pretty much any blanket, towel or a cushion to just bolster your knees will do. I actually like doing yoga on the floor, because we have a wooden floor. And I often don’t even roll out my mat.
How to do yoga without a yoga mat
However, it is really helpful to cushion your knees (e.g. in cat pose or gate pose), and for some people lying on their belly, hips or back is not doable without a bolster. But as soon as you provide padding in these sensitive areas, lying on the floor suddenly becomes much easier. Also, a blanket under the knees really helps, if you have a hollow back like me :^)
If you want to do yoga without a mat, make sure to not wear socks to ensure good grip on the floor, and wear warmer clothes, if you have a cold floor. When I did not have a mat, I often started with exercises to warm me up, wearing socks, and then took them off, once I got my circulation going. I’ve done that in winter on ground level and I’m usually very cold. So I am not saying this just to promote my weird minimalist traits.
Today, I do have a thin travel mat, but I never bring it on short trips, and that does not mean that I don’t do yoga while I travel. I’ve been doing yoga on wooden floors, icky hotel carpet and in the park. The only kinds of floor that, in my opinion, you should not do yoga on, are tiles and concrete.
So, do you need a yoga mat?
In conclusion, I would say that you do not need a mat just to try yoga and find out whether you like it or not. But if you have done it for a while, it would surely give your experience a boost in comfort, if you get a mat or a rug. In my opinion, a yoga mat is well worth the little space it takes up.
(I use the Manduka EKO Superlite¹ travel mat, and I’m very happy with it. If you are zero waste, the YadeYoga Rug might be an option for you. It is made out of cotton and as far as I know, the only eco-friendly modern yoga rug on the market right now.)
Yoga without a mat and other props?
Apart from a mat, I think that most yoga accessories (especially clothing) are pretty useless. That can of course vary with the kind of yoga you do, but the classic yoga props are mostly things you can easily substitute with household items, if you want to:
Instead of a yoga block, just alter the pose (normal people would use a pile of books, but I’m assuming you don’t have any) or use your body weight to intensify a stretch. An example would be the forward fold. Many people reach for blocks, if they can not touch the ground. But instead you could also put your hands on your shins or fold your arms, so your hands over-head are on your hands rest on your elbows, and let the weight do the work and pull you deeper into the fold.
Instead of a yoga strap, you can just use a fabric belt or a towel. I do have a yoga strap¹ which I share with my husband, and also two small cork blocks¹. The blocks are pure luxury items for me. I could easily use something else. But the strap is really helpful and I like to use it to shift my weight and make poses easier, e.g. reaching for my legs while lying down.
Yoga is a very minimalist activity
So, even if you get a mat, two blocks and a strap, this is still extremely minimal compared to many other hobbies. And the benefits of yoga are well worth it.
In fact, not long after I got into minimalism, I also found yoga. It really is a hobbies for extreme minimalists, because it requires so little. The only thing that always upsets me is how much yoga utensils you can buy, as compared to what you really need to do yoga. Seriously: The amazing thing about it is that you don’t need anything! You do not need yoga clothes, a kidney warmer, yoga socks,… I can’t even begin to list all this stuff. You don’t need it!
Day-hiking and forest bathing
As long as you have good weather and you are not in a hurry, you need little to no additional gear to go on a day-hike, as in extra-purchasing any gear. Of course it is more convenient to hike in functional clothing rather than in a cotton shit and jeans. But if you are just out on a day-hike in moderate climates, your basically at no risk to die from hypothermia.
I’ve been hiking in the Alps a lot and I wouldn’t want to miss my gear. But hiking in the mountains is by far nothing like just taking a walk in a forest. An average hike in the forest is something everyone can do without any additional gear.
All you need is a water bottle, which (as the aspiring sustainable minimalist you are, you probably already own, am I right?), something to pack your lunch in (not necessarily a brand-new stainless steel box) and a backpack.
Hiking can be a minimalist experience in itself
Hiking itself can also be an experience of minimalism. This is more relevant for longer hikes, where you have to restrict yourself to a minimum of things to save weight. But even on a day-hike you would probably not bring anything bulky. You will sit on the floor, you might make a fire in a fire place, you will eat simple food and keep it all very practical.
I like that experience. It always inspires me to question what I really need, when I am back home. In my opinion, minimalism and hiking go hand in hand.
Does upgrading your hiking gear make sense eventually?
If you find that you like hiking, upgrading to some specific gear might make sense, but what that means can be very individual. I know a lot of people who like to wear barefoot shoes, and I like that too in the mountains. However, I would not wear them in the mountains and on longer trails. Also, you might do just fine without some of the most standard hiking utensils.
Here are some things I did not own in years of hiking in the lower Alps: Trekking poles (just used a branch, when I needed one), hiking boots (just wore my jogging shoes, but any other trail-runner or running shoe will do, as long as you are not in technical terrain), a rain coat (I just brought an umbrella), and a hiking backpack (just used my Fjällräven Kanken – they have additional shoulder pads, if you want more comfort).
I don’t think that any of these choices are extreme, and they weren’t for me. But after a while I just switched to using hiking gear, such as trekking poles, boots and functional clothing for convenience. Mainly, because I was doing longer hikes and because now I am taking my kid with me.
Nonetheless, I can only repeat myself: This is completely unnecessary, if you just want to find out, if hiking is for you, or occasionally enjoy a bit of quiet out under the green ceiling.
Blogging or Journaling
It does not need be public to be a legitimate hobby. When blogging was a fairly new trend, people did it because they just wanted to have a personal record of some of their memories. Blogging was much like journaling. There was no money in it anyway, and most of us just did it to ramble, rant or brag anonymously.
However, there are also apps for that today, if you do not want to use paper. Or you can just do it on your computer in a text-file.
Apps for journaling
I have tried a few apps, when I just had Flauschi, because it felt impossible to write something down on a regular basis. I just never found that quiet moment to write in my journal. So I downloaded an app called Journey and wrote something down whenever I could. However, Journey turned out to be pretty beta. It did not have a good management for images or files included in journaling entries, so that it would constantly create unnecessary, internal-memory-consuming copies of these files on my phone. I was pretty annoyed with it, and as soon as we settled in a little bit with our new routine, I ditched the app. Furthermore, I do not like to have all of my thoughts on some hard drive or in a cloud.
I like to have some of my memories on paper. And the fact that I don’t want to accumulate too many material possessions makes it even more precious. Because in consequence, I try keeping it short, I try to be mindful of what I write down.
My bullet journaling compromise
My minimalist compromise today is taking notes in my bullet journal. Every week I just write down one or two paragraphs in my bullet journal. And at the end of the year, I make a little very private essay of it, just like a summary of the year, what we did, our vacations and happy memories.
I also tried to keep a gratitude journal, but I don’t find it very helpful. I rather implement thoughts of gratitude into my weekly paragraph, and I just think about what I am grateful for before I start writing.
Since I keep a bullet journal anyway, the idea of journaling adds no new object to my belongings. But if I wanted to keep it ultra-minimalist, I could always just use an app, a file or a private blog.
But, as I said, I already have a journal. So I just write in it, next to the calendar. I prefer a journal over an online calendar very much, for its mental benefits and for privacy. I don’t need all my meetings to be in some online cloud forever and ever and ever ever. In fact, I think it is more minimalist, to get rid of that journal once a year. And if you have a small journal, like an A6 size (half-letter), it is really not much of a bother, is it?
Even though you need a pencil and paper for this, sketching is still a very lightweight hobby, and it comes with a steep and satisfying learning curve. I have done a bit of still-life drawing in art school, and I can only say that it is a very calming and satisfying thing to get into. Also, pencil and paper are probably two things you can find in any household, even a very minimal one.
And if you want to, you can draw on a laptop or computer as well. – I am currently using a ThinkPad Yoga, which can be flipped around, so it works just like a tablet. I can then draw on it with the integrated pencil, which is pretty neat. – I’m not saying that this option is for everyone. But there are a lot of options here.
For analog drawing, I use the OHTO Sharp Pencil¹ at the moment, a rubber (although some artists believe that rubbers are blasphemy, haha, my art teachers included…) and just normal printing paper
Learning a language
I personally don’t think that learning a language is a hobby. But for some people it is. I have actually met quite a few people who even have mail or email penpals, and invest quite a bit of time in their foreign language skills – sometimes even without ever having traveled to the particular countries.
Apps for learning a language
To learn a language you do not need much. Either you get a book from the library, sign up for an online course, or you use an app. I am currently learning Swedish and I solely rely on the Babbel app for that. A free option would be Duolingo.
Sometimes I write down a few sentences, but that is not absolutely necessary, in my opinion. It just helps with the learning experience, I believe. And I like to use a lot of paper anyway, because I can simply do my calculations better that way, as it improves my concentration.
Benefits of learning a new language
As I mentioned before, I do not see my languages as a hobby. I do spend a lot of time on studying new languages. But to me, before everything else, it is as a form of education. Maybe it can be a hobby too, much like playing an instrument. It just often feels like a lot of work… Anyway, in the end it doesn’t matter, what you call it. It just matters how you feel about it.
Learning a language enables me to do a lot of other new things that I like. One of them would be reading recipes in that language. That has come in particularly handy with French. The French cuisine is my favorite, and I make French food on a regular basis. But German recipes for French food are mostly just wrong and inaccurate. So I’m very glad that I can search for the originals just like that, without needing a translator app or a dictionary, or even to be able to watch videos and movies in this language.
The possibility of learning a language to the level of proficiency that allows me to do this simply makes me happy. And even though I don’t do this as an active hobby, as something I purely enjoy (because it is a lot of work, in a way – and because I learned most of my languages for work as well), I still very much enjoy the result and what I can do with it. It definitely adds joy and value to my life. And that is what every hobby should do.
This one sounds counter-intuitive. But in my opinion, it is very much compatible with an extreme minimalist lifestyle. Never have there been so many open workshops, from sewing to woodworking, where you can just go to and participate!
Sewing my own clothes and some for my kid
Especially when it comes to hobbies like sewing, this makes a lot of sense. Because, apart from a nice activity, sewing can be a contribution to sustainability.
Yes, you might have to buy some fabric, but that would basically be it. A lot of workshops provide sewing machines at their location, but I also know a lot of people who do not own any sewing utensils and just use the sewing machine of a friend. In fact, I know because I am that friend…
You don’t need a sewing machine
I have two sewing machines, and I use them at least once a month. They save me a lot of money and trouble. – So, whereas my sewing machines and sewing utensils might not “look” minimalist, the way they save me time that I would otherwise waste on looking for clothes actually is.
I like that I can basically use the same pattern over and over again for myself and just alter it or change the colors, whenever I want something »new«. I can use my patterns to make new things out of scraps and old clothes. And especially with regard to kids’ clothes, sewing has been so helpful to me. With kids, you just constantly need new things. And making them out of your old clothes is the cheapest and most sustainable option of all, even before second hand shopping.
Another hobby I will be looking into, is wood whittling. I can borrow a knife for that from a friend. And I intend to use it to make my own sustainable wooden cutlery from birch wood. – Which brings me to another aspect of crafting as a hobby:
Crafting and getting rid of your creations eventually
Whatever it is you make with your hands, if you are a minimalist, at some point you might want to get rid of it, and that can be a problem. So, if you want to take up a hobby, I truly recommend choosing something that results in handmade things that can be useful presents too.
I might end up making a few cutlery sets or maybe some salad spoons, and they will be a very personal and nice present. Same goes for sewing. More often than for myself, I actually sew for others, making little bags, repairing things, upcycling and so on. And I like that, because that way it can be useful, and not just something I do to not be bored.
I need my hobbies to have a purpose
For me, this purpose in a hobby is actually the most important aspect of it. Even when it comes to reading prose, I think of it as a form education or self-development.
That does not mean that I can’t enjoy myself. I can. But it adds meaning to that joy. I like doing yoga, but I also know that it is good for my body. I like crafting, but I like it even better if a good friend gets a present out of it. It just adds an additional reason to enjoy it.
Another note on the whole hobbies vs. extreme minimalism discussion…
I also want to add, that the problem here might not be that this or that hobby requires some gear, but that it simply becomes too much if you have too many hobbies.
No matter how minimalist your activities are, you will accumulate some utensils for everything that you do. That is why I think it, is also important to select which hobbies we bring into our lives as extreme minimalists. To hand-pick what we spend our time on and how deep we really want to get into a new hobby.
I mentioned hiking before, because I like it very much. But I am not a thru-hiker and I don’t do much mountaineering anymore. If I did, I would probably need a whole lot more equipment
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