One of the joys of overthinking is turning that brain power towards learning and discovery. If you’re looking for a hobby that can harness that endless curiosity and has extra benefits such as skill-building, stress management, or fresh air, here are some suggestions picked just for you.
Bird Watcher: Like Twitter, but More Trees
Bird watching is not the sexiest of hobbies, but no one said that the khaki slacks and polar fleece were mandatory. All you need is a willingness to stand still, listen and look. If you like checklists, you can certainly set up a Life List for yourself and chase the next rare visitor or migratory stray. Discord is full of chatter exchanging tips on where to see unusual birds in your area.
You could also spend weeks observing a single species, watching a few individuals build a nest, attract a mate, feed their young, hunt for food and change their feathers. Once you’ve learned to recognize one or two bird calls, you’ll start to discover more. Then you’ll realize that even an ordinary robin has a whole melodic vocabulary. There’s no special equipment required, no weekly meetings, just you and your new feathered friends.
Geocacher: Hide and Seek, but Worldwide
If you ask a geocacher what exactly they do, they’ll probably tell you they’re: “using high-tech military satellite technology to find lost tupperware.” But is it fun? Well, do you enjoy loitering? Staring suspiciously at fences? Crouching under trees? If you’re lucky, you’ll run into another geocacher doing the same nonchalant shuffle toward a hidden goal, and then you can give up the pretense and search together.
You can also bring a friend along with you, but many people enjoy geocaching as a solitary pursuit. To participate in this global treasure hunt, all you need is a mobile phone and access to the Geocaching app. Some caches are urban, others are far off of the trail in the woods. Many caches involve puzzles to solve, trails to follow, or little trinkets to share, but there’s just as much joy in the mysteries you’ll uncover along the way.
Forager: Grocery Shopping, but Outdoors
Before you could read, you could probably identify dozens of corporate logos, but how many trees and wildflowers could you recognize? Most of us get our meals from grocery stores and farms, but there’s a lovely sense of security knowing that there are edible plants growing all around us (yes, even in cities.)
If you’re curious about reducing waste to help the environment, or just getting to know more of your herbaceous neighbors, consider joining a foraging group near you. You can eat or preserve what you find, or donate to those in need. You’ll learn about plant families, local traditions, invasive species, and you’ll never walk through a park the same way again.
Rockhound: Pet Rocks, for Free!
There may not be gold in them there hills, but there will almost certainly be some cool rocks. When you pick up a stone or a fragment that catches your eye, you are holding a piece of ancient history. Each rock tells its own stories of lake beds, glaciers and tectonics. There may be million-year-old coral inside, or a long-extinct arthropod.
Creek beds and lake shores are excellent terrain for rockhounding, but if you live near an old mining site or a glacial deposit, lucky you! Whether you stumble across crystals, gems, fossils or simply a fascinating shape or texture, rockhounding is a way to find beauty in overlooked places and to feel more connected to this planet.
Land Steward: Garbage and Weeds, but Fun
Before you start to investigate how to care for the land in your community, I must warn you. Once you start to spot specific invasive plants, you will never stop seeing them and wanting to rip them out. Once you remove all the litter from a hiking trail, it does not stay clean.
Land stewardship is an ongoing relationship to your surroundings, so it’s up to you to decide whether you’d prefer a hobby that is more project-based with a clear “finish line.” On the plus side, you’ll probably be collaborating with some fascinating people, you’ll feel more connected with the species and terrain around you, and you’ll see small but powerful changes over time.
Herbalist: The Forest, Your Pharmacy
A herbalist can look at a plant and see more than just a pleasant bloom or a tasty snack. Learning herbal remedies can help you to appreciate the medicinal powers of local greenery. It might give you access to some useful supplements for your own health.
It could save you money on store-bought treatments, but I would recommend exploring medicinal herbs simply for the joy of brewing up a fragrant concoction in your kitchen. An infusion like cedar tea tastes surprisingly nice, and elderberry syrup is a beloved remedy for colds and flu symptoms. Every plant you try can open you up to new scientific knowledge, traditional stories, and biological wonders.
Pokémon Go: Take Your Phone for a Lovely Walk
It might seem weird to include a video game in a list of hobbies in the great outdoors, but to the creator of the Pokémon franchise, Satoshi Tajiri, this would make perfect sense. After all, the inspiration for Pokémon sprang from Tajiri’s childhood love of insect collecting.
Pokémon GO is designed to reward players who don’t sit still. As you walk around your neighborhood using the Pokémon GO app on your phone, you will see a virtual map full of creatures and signposts (or PokéStops), with a list of mini-achievements for you to accomplish on your leisurely stroll.
Urban Explorer: Knock Knock, Nobody’s Home
This hobby is not for the faint of heart, but it will certainly take you off the beaten path. Urban explorers venture into long-forgotten or unseen places, usually to take photos or explore unusual man-made environments. Abandoned infrastructure has a haunted, decaying beauty all its own. Exploring dusty structures has an illicit thrill, but all urban explorers should understand the hazards before attempting it. The risks include possible exposure to unsafe substances, drowning (tunnels may suddenly fill with water), falling from heights, and other injuries.
Urban explorers should also take every precaution and follow local laws regarding trespassing and breaking and entering. Fortunately, many abandoned sites can be accessed simply by asking permission, so those amazing Instagram photos won’t get you in trouble with law enforcement.
Star Gazer: Look Up, Waaaaay Up!
Astronomy might be one of the oldest human hobbies, but we’re still finding more sources of wonder in the night sky. If you don’t have any special equipment, or you are in a densely populated area with lots of light pollution, you can still find plenty to marvel at.
To get started, check your local library for guides to the stars in your hemisphere. There are even magazines specifically for star gazers, with sky maps to help you find your way. A good pair of binoculars can give you a little more clarity, as you learn to find your way around the constellations and trace the paths of the wandering planets.
Mudlark: Turn Trash Into Treasure
The term “mudlarking” dates back to Victorian England, and was used to refer to those who scavenged along the foreshore of the Thames River at low tide. Modern-day mudlarks can be found all over the world, combing through the muck for detritus from days past.
Armed with a shovel, a trowel or a metal detector, you never know what you will turn up, but as time passes, the most mundane items of everyday life become transformed into historical artifacts. Local history comes to life as you inspect an odd metal tool or a pattern ceramic shard. Go find some fascinating garbage!
Gardener: Life, in Slow Motion
The beautiful thing about a garden is that it never stays still. Every day, you can look closely and see small changes. New leaves growing, a few nibbles from visitors, and surprising newcomers sprouting from wild seeds.
You’ll start out with an idea of how you want your garden to look, but as you learn how the sunlight falls across your patch, and what sort of fencing or potting your plant friends like best, or how much space this vine wants to occupy, your garden starts to build itself. If you want to research deeply, you can learn about historical uses for each plant, and even which plants your occupants prefer as neighbors (yes, even plants have friends and cliques!)
Invertebrate Admirer: Creepy, but Cute
This one might be a hard sell, but you can’t beat it for price and accessibility. There are literally insects all around you. No, wait, don’t go… ah well. For the rest of you who are still here, there’s good news! You will never run out of insects to identify.
Even if you restricted yourself to ants, flies and bees, you’d have hundreds of species to discover. Bees are a nice, fuzzy place to start. You will quickly find that most of what you think you know about bees is probably wrong. For example, not all bees build hives or even live in colonies. There, now go look at a bug!
Citizen Scientist: Hike and Contribute to Science
You don't have to go on long extended hikes to enjoy hiking, though backpacking is certainly an option. Even in your own neighborhood, you can learn to identify plants and animals you see. With the iNaturalist app, you can be a citizen scientist. When you record observations, not only can you get help identifying specimens, but you'll also contribute to biodiversity data that helps scientists understand where organisms are found across the globe.