The Three Phases of a Hobby

By Michael W. Harris

Audio equipment, stationery ephemera, and books about them…

Recently in discussion with various pen/stationery/watch folks, I have talked about my concept of the phases of a hobby—collecting hobbies in particular. While terms like the “acquisition” phases seem to be well trod, and I have heard a lot of people talking about the “consolidation”—or as recently called it, the “refinement”— phase, I recently stumbled upon what I think is the third and final phase: “Endgame.” Or may less chillingly called, the “Satisfaction” phase.

Now, this is not to say that all hobbyists go through these phases. For some, they never really get past “acquisition” and are constantly buying and selling to test out endlessly. Some folks get forever stuck in the “refinement” phases as they constantly tinker in an endless pursuit of unattainable perfection. They endless curate, tinker with, and try new things out that they think will finally lock their entire collection into place…only for it not to be quite the right thing or something new come out that fixes that one thing they perceive is not quite right. Invariably, there is always some thing that they discover that they will want to fix.

I worry that I may get stuck in this phase…but I have hope that I may be inching towards the final phase, the equivalent of Hobby Nirvana where you can just sit back and enjoy what you have. Contentment. The “Endgame.”

However, I do feel like it is a bit of a misnomer on my part, since Endgame is a final phase but it implies action to bring about the end, whereas what I am actually describing is a phase of rest and inaction except for use and enjoyment. But “Endgame” just sounds cooler, so I am sticking with it.

So, with all that in mind, I am going to break down these three phases, but to be clear, I judge no one for how they approach their hobbies. For some, they may get maximum enjoyment out of acquisition or endless tinkering. Though, if you are like me and want to reach towards a steady state where you are not chasing the latest things, then follow me on this journey through the three phases of a hobby.

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Phase I – Acquisition and Research

Ah, the rush of the new hobby. You start to read and watch all that you can about your latest interest. The sheer joy of diving headfirst into the rabbit hole of research. All is new and cool. You start by trying out all the basic “entry level” recommendations, use those to test out and determine your tastes or use cases. You dabble in the shallow end, the more affordable. For some, they find that these work just fine and stop there. For others, they just want to keep trying out the new stuff, read more, chase the new.

However, others move into a higher gear of “Acquisition” and move up the ladder in term on price. More expensive and more rare or high tech or whatever more money gets you in your hobby of choice. Carbon nano-tube frames for bikes, lightweight but high-strength nylon for camping gear, rare materials or custom-made pens and journals. People tell you these are the next steps and between Instagram feeds and message boards, you want them all…or at least want to try them.

And you do. And some of them are great and live up to they hype! Others, meanwhile, you don’t connect with in the way that you hoped, so they sit unloved and unused in your garage, or closet, or pen cup.

Eventually, if you continue down this path, you come to a fork where you have to make a decision. Either you continue to acquire and risk drowning in a mountain of unused stuff (literally because you have no place to store it, or metaphorically where your endless acquisition puts strains on finances or relationships or both), or you move onto the next phase…

Phase II – Consolidation and Refinement

A small sliver of my comics (and other books) collection.

After a while of acquiring and trying, you begin to figure out your tastes and needs. Sure, ultralight bikes are great, but how often are you going out riding in a situation where every ounce counts? Or sure vintage flex pens are fun, but how often do you need to be able to write like you are a 19th century letterer of legal documents? Maybe one midrange bike that is light, but not the lightest ever made? Or one vintage flex pen that you use for special occasions, but not five.

You think through all of the things you have acquired, start trimming away at things you have not used in a while, maybe low end equipment you tried out early on and maybe can sell for cheap or in bundles to those just getting started. Maybe there are a few truly special pieces that were pricey but not for you, so you sell them to others who maybe get more from them. Regardless, you have reached Consolidation and Refinement.

Another name of this phase could be “curation” since you are essentially curating your collection or the things you use to match those of your tastes and use case. This can vary by hobby, but the goal of this phase is to whittle down your accumulation of stuff into a more manageable number. However, the point of this phase is not to completely finish the consolidation and refinement process and only then pass into Nirvana. Rather, it is to have your collections or items reach a final shape or form, but with the knowledge that there may still be a need to replace or upgrade should a situation or opportunity arise.

Aside: My own pen collection is almost to this point, but I keep tinkering and tinkering with the makeup of it. I feel like I am almost ready to pass into phase three, but I keep hitting small roadblocks that prevent me from getting there.

Phase III – Endgame and Satisfaction

And you finally reach it. To me, the biggest point of reaching this state is to actually learn to enjoy your hobby for what it is away from the endless buying, selling, and researching. For some, that may seem like you have fallen out of love with the hobby, for others it means that you have distilled it down to its core aspect, the use of this thing you love. Reading comics, using pens, going camping, riding you bike, wearing your watches, etc. The verb that accompanies the noun your hobby is ostensibly centered around. This is why the older I get, collecting hobbies like coins, stamps, and baseball cards, do not make as much sense to me as they used to. What do you do with them after? At least with something like comics and pens, sure there are some older/vintage ones you would not want to read or use, but I can understand wanting to acquire a historical item that goes with the rest of the collection/accumulation.

To wit, I really want to buy copies of Fantastic Four #1-4 since I have every other issue in the series, but I will never read the physical copies. I have reprints for that.

So the point of “Endgame” is reach that state where you will be able to be content with what you already have, though possibly be open to buying something else if it is something you have been saving up to buy, or is rare and hard to come by. You have learned to control your “FOMO,” and resist impulse buying. You are targeted and considered in what you add to the collection and each item has a specific use that it will fill (even if it is to help finish off a complete run of Fantastic Four comics).

The point of “Endgame” is to both bring an “end” to the “game” of trying to chase trends, but the larger point is “satisfaction” with your hobby and enjoying it. In my own hobbies, I reached this a few years ago with comics, and now only read books by a few creators I enjoy along with Fantastic Four. To keep me engaged with the collecting side while I try to win the lottery in order to be able to buy issues #1-4, I have been working to build a complete run of She-Hulk comics, a character very important to the history of the FF. And for pens, it was the process I outlined in the above linked post, figuring out how I actually use my pens on a regular basis, and trying to optimize my collection to fit that. This process has now also extended into what inks and paper products I have.

So, while I feel like I have reached Endgame with my comics, I am not quite there with my pens—though I feel I am close. There are a few pens that I know I want to upgrade eventually, while there are a few holes in my boxes that I am still debating which pens I want to fill them with. Until I settle on what I want those pens to be (at least in broad strokes), I feel like I cannot sit back and enjoy what I have while I wait to be able to buy the remaining few that I want.

Phase ∞ – ???

Depending on who you are and your personality, you may go through all or only one or two of these phases. Regardless, there may be a sort of final phase, that one where either things just fall into a regular pattern or your interest slowly subsides and you completely move on. I sometimes feel like I have almost gotten to that point with my love of comics, but then something pulls me back in.

I don’t know if this phase actually exists, or if it is just me thinking there must be something beyond the “Endgame.” One where that hobby you previously were all into becomes a sort of background to a new fascination. This is a step beyond, or even below, satisfaction because it seems to be a deprioritizing of that hobby in your life, but it could also be so fully integrated into your personality that  while it is still there, you do not pay as much attention to it on a conscious level.

For me, it is only going to the comic book store once or twice a month whereas I used to go every week. It is no longer checking pen blogs or sale boards every day, but rather only when I am on the hunt. To me, that can sometimes be a good place to be.

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Is this the final form of a lot of my stationery hobby? Well…maybe as far as inks on display go…

Okay, so clearly part of me moving through the phases is controlling spending, but another reason is to somehow find a way to enjoy what I have rather that endlessly accumulate. As I have gotten older, and as I have moved through various hobbies, I see a pattern of industries built upon endless acquisition, which is not healthy for the planet or ourselves. If you will allow me to get a bit philosophical (and it is my blog, so I will!), while I love buying new pens and trying new things, or devouring the latest issue of Fantastic Four, it is with a slight twinge of guilt as I continue to feed into an economy built upon endless growth and consumption.

We now know the “endgame” of such an economy, and we are living through its consequences right now. Environmental disaster and economic inequality.

Now, I don’t blame our hobbies for this! Indeed, they are about the only things that bring me joy these days (along with some of the best parts of my job), however, it is symptomatic of the larger system that is the problem. However, it does not have to be. Getting to Phase 3 is a good place in terms of not buying endless amounts of things that will go unused.

In terms of pens, one can focus on tracking down high-quality vintage or used pens instead of buying new. You can support small, custom makers who make their own materials or source sustainably. And what to do with your unused pens? Why pass them along to others, maybe even consider donating them to local schools or charity programs.

There is a happy middle ground to be had, and that is what I am striving toward, for so many reasons. There is my own financial health, to use and enjoy what I have rather than chasing the new, and not feeding into larger systems that are contributing to that wreaks havoc on our world.

Our hobbies may or may not have a tangible impact on the world in terms of consumption or the economy, but we can use and engage in them more mindfully. Plus, in terms of stationery, put it to good use in writing to friends and leaders! If you knit, donate your products to local shelters. If you cook or bake, do the same. If you have a stack of comics sitting around, consider giving them to local libraries or a children’s reading program. There are so many ways we can reinvest and invigorate our hobbies into a social good with very little effort, and that might be the best reason for moving into an “Endgame and Satisfaction” phase.

So, where are you in your hobby journey?

3 thoughts on “The Three Phases of a Hobby

  1. I think the stage past “endgame” may be “sage.”

    As in, the person that guides and serves others in their process.

    I know that I have all the pens I need, and can enjoy them the rest of my life. But I do want to encourage and assist artists who are growing in the field, and I am sure that will lead to some acquisitions.

    1. Not a bad way to describe it. Has almost a “Hero’s Journey” vibe to it, the “return” when they come back to their village a changed person and able to lead and advise the next generation.

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