So one of our readers asked us this question: I want to learn a new talent with real-life application that requires little to no equipment.
Rather than answering this question during our usual AskUs session, we decided we will answer this question in our advice section.
I’ll open frankly: the universe is bigger than you can even imagine and there are an infinite number of different answers to your question. In the post to follow, I’ll try to provide some answers. I will list out some of the more obvious things that you can do with little equipment, not that much money, and nobody else to do things with. But first, I want you to recognize this: this is, at most, an incomplete list. You will have different opportunities based on the environment you put yourself in. No matter what, your mileage will always vary. Regardless, there will always be new things to learn or do, you just have to get up and seek it. Let’s begin, shall we?
First and foremost, you could learn to play an instrument. Knowing how to play at least one instrument can be one of the most rewarding hobbies a person can do. Not only will it teach you about music and music theory, but playing an instrument can be relaxing, fun, and intellectually stimulating. A secret: used instruments and garage sale equipment can be extremely inexpensive. Check your local listings. Another secret: a lot of people have unused instruments sitting in their attics or closets and are willing to lend them to prospective musicians. All you have to do is ask nicely.
Ideally, you would want a music instructor who will guide you through the basics and outline what you should practice. Unfortunately, instruction can be expensive and in some places, unavailable. Thankfully, there’s plenty of resources online to self-teach yourself. On reddit (a great online community), check out these posts from /r/piano, the FAQ from /r/guitarlessons, the sidebars and top posts on /r/clarinet, /r/saxophonics, /r/trumpet, and /r/drums. Not only that, but there are numerous Youtube videos and online tutorials out there for learning how to play instruments. I highly recommend that everybody at least tries to learn an instrument at least once. Or learn many, like this guy. The music you learn to play and the experiences gained from musicality will stay with you for the rest of your life.
Let’s switch to a less common hobby. You could pick up lockpicking. As strange as it may seem, lockpicking has plenty of legal real-life applications as well and is a fun, calming hobby that plenty of people enjoy. There are very few feelings better than opening up a multi-tumbler lock. Just be sure to read your local laws on what you can and can not do.
Another great part about lockpicking: you can self-make your own equipment or buy it online for very little money. On reddit, there’s a fantastic lockpicking community on /r/lockpicking and here’s their beginner’s guide. There’s also plenty of tutorials and videos online. For example, here’s a fantastic online video series by the controversial competitive lock-picker Schuyler Towne on learning how to lockpick. If you want to cut directly to the lockpicking and skip all the videos about locks and pick making, start here.
If you have access to a computer, you can learn programming. It’s a large, fun skill that has an incredible number of uses. There’s plenty of resources online for learning programming. Here’s the starting FAQ from /r/learnprogramming that a lot of redditors are referred to when they ask about learning to code.
You can also learn graphic design. With free tools like Paint.Net and GIMP, you can learn how to make visual products that look nice. You can teach yourself to make a well-designed logo, to choose a typeface accurate for any given situation, or design a handout for a public event. You can apply concepts like color theory and negative space to almost anything. There’s a million practical uses for design, but it’s also very, very difficult to master. Like with drawing, skill and mastery comes with years of practice.
Thankfully, you don’t have to do it by yourself. Like any other digital skill, there’s an incredible amount of resources online. Check out this guide from PSDTuts and read online resources like /r/design, /r/graphic_design, and/r/Design_Critiques. There’s also plenty of other websites out there that will offer free resources and tutorials. Look to them for inspiration. Don’t be afraid to mimic other people’s style as well, it’s how a lot of beginning designers learn. Just don’t directly copy them. Once you understand the basics of whatever tool you’re using, the best way to get better is to simply practice. Challenge yourself with new tasks every day and set the bar higher and higher each time.
Similarly, you can pick up sketching and drawing. Frankly, learning to draw primarily comes from practice. Spend ten to twenty minutes every day sketching something new. Or better yet, try /r/sketchdaily. Similarly, don’t feel demotivated if you start off as a not-very-good artist. I assure you, with practice, you will definitely get better.
Let’s say that drawing is too easy for you and you want to pick up something slightly more challenging. Try 3D modeling. It may seem daunting at first, but through the development of habits, 3D modeling can be not that difficult. Here’s how: download Blender and follow this online book step-by-step. It’s the best book I’ve found that goes into extreme detail on learning how to pick up 3D modeling. It has an amazing pace and is incredibly easy and fun to learn. There’s obviously a million uses for 3D modeling, from making model architecture to product design to designing 3D assets for a game or film.
You could also improve your penmanship. Every day, spend a little bit of time and develop a unique style of handwriting. Write out the alphabet a few times and add nuances to your lettering to make them stand out. Here’s a nice starter on practicing your abilities with a pen or pencil. Like with sketching and graphic design, don’t be afraid to look at or copy parts of other people’s styles. Seeing good handwriting and other people’s handwriting can be a great place to find inspiration and motivation.
It’s not a talent per se, but you could do the awesome thing and read. No library? Look at this, it’s more books you can read in a lifetime all put in a single place for free. Try to at least spend a little bit of time reading every day and better yet, immerse yourself in the books you read. If you don’t know what to read, look up the exact same question on reddit’s subreddits like /r/books and /r/printsf or visit /r/booksuggestions. Be sure to go back and read classics that you were forced to read in school at your own pace. You’ll might find the experience enlightening. Reading will help improve your openness to other ideas and are fantastic references and conversation makers. Reading will generate creativity, expand your knowledge and vocabulary, and improve your ability to write. Most importantly, it’s fun.
Like reading, you could practice writing. Write more and with purpose. Expand your vocabulary by writing with a new, difficult word every single day and reusing it later on. Learn to convey ideas with short sentences but with beautiful prose. Learn to tell a story and learn to objectively state the facts. Check out /r/writing and try writing short little stories every day or every week and submitting them to /r/nosleep (for horror) or /r/shortstories. Maintain an unread blog. Keep a journal in your pocket all day. Write more! Try out/r/shutupandwrite if you’re having trouble staying motivated.
I also highly recommend working out and getting fit. Not only is it physically beneficial in terms of losing (or gaining muscle) weight, but it’s also emotionally and mentally rewarding as you feel better from it. You’ll feel better, healthier, and more confident from it. Here’s a fantastic start-up guide from /r/fitness. There’s not much to say about this one.You should be doing this already! If you’re not, do whatever it takes to motivate yourself to get physically active. For example, try listening to music while working out. It’ll make the time pass much quicker and make you less self-conscious if you’re in a public place. Most importantly, don’t push this off.
If you want some music to listen to, you could try to expand your music appreciation to the harder-to-pick-up genres. A lot of people say they like jazz or classical and can only cite pieces like Take Five by David Brubeck or Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata as examples. That’s all great and fantastic, but there’s a MASSIVE genre out there filled to the brim with fantastic music. Learning to love it will supply you with a near endless amount of music. All it takes is a little patience and a little know-how.
The patience comes from you. Here’s some of the know-how: check out this post from /r/jazz and check out this post from /r/classicalmusic. Take some time and patience and learn to love the musical nuances that defined genres like classical and jazz. Soon enough you’ll be humming out motifs from Coltrane’s Giant Steps or a Mahler symphony.
If you have some music theory knowledge, you can also try composing and making your own music. As it turns out, once you have the music theory basics covered (try this if you want to learn basic music theory and use this if you want to practice ear training to recognize pitches, keys, and chords), making “reasonable” electronic and pop music really isn’t that difficult, but hard to perfect. It’s also really fun and entertaining. /r/WeAreTheMusicMakers has a terrific guide for getting started at making your own music. This is a great starting point for the massive amount of resources like this also available online on learning how to make your own music (See a theme here? Lots of resources online. Just gotta learn to seek them out.)
If you need a DAW (a digital audio workstation), LMMS is free and not that hard to use. It shares similar functionality to the ever popular Fruity Loops/FL Studio DAW (which costs money, is professionally used, and is professionally laughed at) but lacking in some advanced features.
Let’s keep up with the music theme. You can also improve your singing. You could get a vocal coach, or you could do the hard work and practice. The best thing you can do is both. But if you don’t have the money, do the latter. Start here then practice. Practice! Belt it out to your favorite songs and don’t care. Sing in the shower, sing in the car, sing whenever and wherever you can afford to have the people around you listening (so no singing during business meetings). When you’re at home, sing while listening to a song and record yourself with a mic and a recording program like Audacity. Play it back with the original song and see how you do. Sure, you’ll think you sound terrible at the beginning, but like with all things, you get better over time.
Another thing: you’re probably not going to enjoy listening to your own voice. Don’t. You’re just not used to hearing yourself in recording compared to the sound bouncing around through your head. First of all, it’s your own voice. It’s not going to change. Learn to love what you’ve got. Some people are short. Most of them learn to embrace it and take it in stride. With practice, you can make slight changes to your tone and voicings that will improve your ability to not only sing, but will improve your ability to talk with people and give speeches emotively. Plus, there will be that day when your friends force you to sing some karaoke against your will and you’ll have your months and years of practice ready to go. Show them what’s up.
Another small thing you can learn is learning how to meditate. You might not see or feel instantaneous ephemeral benefits, but spending 10-20 minutes meditating every morning will dramatically improve your lifestyle.
You could do the obvious and pick up sports. Ask around in your local communities. There’s almost definitely people out there who gather in local parks and facilities to play sports together at different levels. If you’re not the interactive type, learn to swim. It’s cheap, easy, fun, and doesn’t require other people to enjoy. Learning to swim is one of the most important things you should do, even if you live in the middle of a desert. You simply don’t know when you might be in a position where knowing how to swim could mean life or death. Plus, swimming is relaxing and not that hard on the muscles.
Here are some other physical activities you could pick up without relying on other people or a vast array of equipment:biking, hiking, rock climbing, martial arts, skating, surfing, skiing, and gymnastics. Having a good instructor could be extremely helpful though and is almost always preferable than not. I’ll put a little bit more emphasis on biking because it’s an incredibly useful skill to know how to do well. Biking is a cheap, ecologically friendly way of getting to local places quickly. Apply liberally.
Learning a language. I’ll be frank and tell you I’m terrible at learning languages. I’ll tell you what I’ve heard from other people. First of all, the number one most recommended method of learning another language is the following: surround yourself with people who will speak the desired language often. Better yet, travel to it. Within weeks, you’ll know the basics. Within months, you’ll be practically fluent. Dead serious.
If you can’t move yourself around, try this website. I’ve heard good things about it. You could also try classes. Generally, they have mixed results, but it forces you to practice in a friendly environment which is better than practicing by yourself with little to no motivation.
There you have it, a not-so-short list on the things you can do in your free time. I might add a few things every now and then if it comes to memory. You now have no excuse to be bored and let your ennui catch up to you. You don’t have to master every single thing. If you enjoy it, pursue it. If you don’t, move on to the next thing. Life is too short to not do what you enjoy. Have at it and never give up- never surrender!