Avoiding Guilt: False First Steps

Erica poses on her back patio with her DSLR camera just below her face

I don’t know about you, but I am often tempted by aspirational purchases. I get excited about new hobbies or lifestyles, and I want to jump in head first with all the things. And somehow, that always seems like it needs a heavy financial investment up front. I also tend to jump around from thing to thing. I get really excited about one thing, but something else piques my curiosity before I’ve had time to finish what I started. It’s hard not to feel guilty about all the things I drop and leave behind, especially if I spent money on them. Greg and I have a concept that we call “false first steps,” for managing this problem. It’s a helpful framework for me to make me feel like I have the freedom to invest in my hobbies and interests without guilt.

The basic concept of false first steps is simple. If we’re looking at starting something new, we try to use what we have or can borrow before we go out and buy anything. At some point, we hit a limit on what we can do without further investment, but by then we usually know if it’s an interest that is going to stick around for the long term. If it’s something we love and want to dig deeper into, we feel free to invest what is needed to continue to develop that interest: classes, equipment, etc. If it turns out the thing wasn’t for us, we can walk away without feeling like we threw a bunch of money down the drain. Or wasted storage space. The emotional burden of finding physical space for the things attached to hobbies and interests should not be ignored.

I have two examples to illustrate this point, one win and one fail. Both happened around when I bought my house five years ago:

When I bought my house, I suddenly had all this yard space and decided I was going to try gardening. I had romantic visions of myself strolling out to the yard to grab fresh veggies and cooking them up for dinner. I built a raised garden bed out of cedar boards and filled it with organic mulch from a local nursery. Then I planted some carrots and beets. I was fairly diligent about watering and weeding the garden for a few months. I got a mediocre crop of beets and probably some carrots as well. Then I lost interest and got busy and neglected the garden bed. It sat there in the yard for four years until we finally removed it a few months ago. I think I spent over $100, and had that thing staring at me and housing fire ants for four years until I threw in the towel. In hindsight, the way to do that without false first steps would have been to try growing a few things in pots on the patio before going all-in and building a bed. I’m actually trying this right now with a little herb garden on my patio. Fingers crossed!

Avoiding false first steps by trying out gardening with a small patio herb garden

On the flip side, a false first steps win was starting DIY projects as a homeowner. When I bought my house, I borrowed some power tools, including a table saw, from friends and family and DIYed laying laminate flooring on the second floor of the house. That led to starting to build furniture-I already had the tools lying around, so why not? Eventually I felt confident investing in my own set of tools. I’d made and DIYed enough things around the house to know I would continue working on projects. Those first projects also kept inspiring additional ideas of things I wanted to make. We now have a small arsenal of power saws, drill attachments, and painting/staining materials…and they get used constantly. I don’t feel guilty about any of those purchases, even though some of them weren’t cheap, because I knew for sure the things would get used. And they absolutely have.

This concept can apply to so many things. I borrowed my mom’s sewing machine for years before finally getting my own. I’ve worked my way up in my baking supplies and avoid buying specialty cookware that only does one thing. I waited until we were several months into this blog before investing in photography equipment beyond my iPhone-and that camera investment actually turned into a side hustle!

The last thing I will say about the idea of avoiding false first steps addresses the point where I need to purchase equipment or professional instruction to keep going. If I’ve already done the work to know the project is something I want to take on long term, I feel like it’s worth the investment to get the best tool for the job, not the cheapest. I can’t tell you how much money I’ve wasted buying cheap things to start hobbies, only to have to go out a spend even more when I realize the cheap version isn’t cutting it. I know I save money in the long run by working with what I have or borrowing what I can before spending anything. It buys me time to be thoughtful about my purchases.

How do you balance taking first steps in starting in a new hobby without guilt if it doesn’t turn out to be right for you? What are the best investments you’ve made in yourself? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or on social media. You can also check out some of the things we’ve created with the hobbies that have actually stuck on our Recipes and DIY pages.

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