When Does a Hobby Become a Compulsion? And When Does It Matter?

I recently came across a YouTube video of a woman who keeps hundreds of plants in her NYC apartment. She’s knowledgeable about her plants and dedicated to nurturing them, and this blog post isn’t about scrutinizing her decisions. I was thinking about passions and hobbies more generally and wondering – when does something shade over into an obsession? And is an obsession always a negative thing?

The hobby can be anything – collecting books, growing plants, making things out of yarn. People with an intense interest in these activities sometimes use the words “addict” or “obsessive” about themselves, often in a light-hearted way, but sometimes because they seem worried.

So, is your hobby a problem? That’s not something I can answer, but if you’re wondering about yourself, the following are some questions to consider:

  • Is your hobby putting you in debt?
  • Is it interfering with your relationships? For instance, if you share a home with someone, are they getting angry because they keep tripping over your plants or awesome Lego collections or whatever else it is that you love?
  • Is your hobby giving you some nagging anxiety? One form of anxiety is not being able to keep up with the most recent trends or buy the latest products. Are you mildly disappointed when this happens, or do you feel devastated?
  • What motivates your purchases or interests? With social media, for instance, we get a peek at other people’s amazing collections. On the one hand, these can be inspiring; you may see a new plant someone’s keeping in their gigantic plant collection and realize it would fit well in your own home. On the other hand, it could also place pressure on you to get new stuff – not because of genuine enjoyment, but because you want to keep up. You feel incomplete unless you have the latest thing or your collection resembles someone else’s. You’re regularly comparing yourself to other people.
  • If you feel like you have obsessive tendencies, do you think your hobby is a healthy choice among possible obsessions? Sure, maybe you spend more money on it than you intend, but at least you’re channeling your energy towards something that isn’t much more harmful.

Anyway, if you wonder whether your hobby is getting a little out of control, thinking about these questions may help. Enthusiasm may intensify into compulsive or obsessive behaviors, but whether or not you’re crossing some sort of line really depends on your personal situation.

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