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Let's Enjoy our Hobbies Instead of Commodifying Them


When I decided to get back in the saddle (that is, the saddle attached to two wheels instead of four equine legs), I bought a cheap bike from someone who repaired old ones for charity. I figured that if we were going to be a biking family, I'd need to figure out how much I enjoyed it before I dropped a ton of money.

The old bike, a burnt orange, has a swooping vintage style that new bikes aim to copy. It's heavy. It has a worn sticker that mentions Palm Springs Cycling and an extended handlebar that reaches out to meet you. It has a large, springy seat, but the gears are stiff, and the brakes are rickety.

I didn't enjoy riding; it was a chore every time.

Before the pandemic, my husband decided to get a better bike after a year of going the same route as me, where he also bought a starter bike. His new bike had fat tires, shocks, and disc brakes, and while the cost didn't break the bank, I bought and sold cars cheaper when I was a teenager than the sticker price of that bike.

He let me borrow it for a gravel ride; it was a game-changer.

It was novel — and a privilege — to think about a hobby where you'd drop money purely for enjoyment, not as a means to an end. Hobbies have seemed to get pushed to the next level of productivity. Take a class for professional development, not just curiosity. Learn to knit, then sell scarves on Etsy. Write a blog, then start freelancing. Transmute your joy into productivity and have joy make money for you. Because, as they say: if you find something you love as a job, you'll never work a day in your life.

Millennials are called entitled, but we have started to make ends meet by hustling on the side, especially when wages don't give us the same bang for our buck that they did for our parents. But when you strip the joy from a hobby for money, or maybe never have the money to start or grow into a more expensive hobby, the perceived return on investment doesn't measure up — and the consequences could affect not just our generation and our mental health, but society at large.

The Santa Fe New Mexican had an article about the aging pilots at New Mexico's world-famous Balloon Fiesta. The article asked what the next generation of pilots might look like, but more, where they might be since they weren't appearing. It took paragraphs to get to the salient point.

When speaking to an older pilot couple, the husband hit the nail on the head. From the article: "While his wife purchased her first balloon for $10,000, new balloon setups today can cost $40,000 or more. With many already struggling to find affordable housing, he said ballooning is not financially realistic for most young people."

It's unrealistic financially because of the price tag, but it's also unrealistic because the younger generations conceive of hobbies as something we must turn around and commodify. Maybe that's to our detriment, with fewer of us ever feeling the joy of commandeering a journey into the winds, but society might start to feel the effects of our inability to pick up pricier hobbies too. The 2019 Balloon Fiesta brought in $186.82 million in economic impact.

I couldn't shake a feeling of extreme indulgence when my husband suggested upgrading my bike to something more comfortable and less authentic to the 1970s. While the concept of bicycles hasn't changed much, some technology, especially that of comfort, has. Spoiler: A new bike made me enjoy biking — including with family and friends — so much more.

When we leave room for hobbies that allow us joy without strict adherence to an end goal, we might be revealing the actual value our feelings could truly give us. When we are allowed to unfold our worth to the world without the measure of productivity, the investment into our lives could just be for our enjoyment, but maybe in time, it might also be measured in returns that will benefit society.

Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at cassie@mcclurepublications.com.