In the endless hours, days, and months you spent stuck at home this past year, odds are you picked up a pandemic hobby or three. And while intentions were certainly good at the outset, not every quarantine pastime turned out to be a roaring success.
In fact, pandemic pastime pitfalls were rampant, whether folks tried their hands at sourdough boules or begonia beds. For a snapshot at some of the pandemic hobbies that just didn’t satisfy or pan out the way homeowners had hoped, here are eight tales from the front lines—and the lessons learned.
1. DIY projects
According to a survey from Lending Tree, DIY projects accounted for 14% of pandemic pastimes. Yet a report from Bid-On-Equipment found that these home improvement efforts didn’t always pay off, with top complaints being that the projects took too long to complete, and cost too much.
This all makes sense, since renovation requires ponying up big-time for drills, lathes, and other pricey gear. In fact, of the 60% of homeowners who took up a new hobby during the pandemic, more than half proceeded to take on credit card debt to make it happen.
The DIY route can certainly make good fiscal sense for basic home tasks like painting, putting up blinds, and changing cabinet hardware, but the harder part is learning which jobs require a pro.
“Tackling complicated projects and spending more in the long run is a waste of resources,” says budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “So it’s important to assess your skills, the cost of materials, as well as how much of your free time will be lost versus hiring a professional.”
2. Sourdough baking
Sourdough baking became a huge thing to wile away the quarantine, which is why Mark Hughes from West Hartford, CT, gave it a go. At first, everything was great.
“My family really liked what I was producing, including bagels and vegan sourdough waffles,” he says.
The downside? What Hughes and many others don’t realize going in is that making sourdough is a huge time commitment. It involves feeding your starter (or else it starves and dies), making the dough, kneading it, resting it, repeat—a process Hughes found overwhelming and was unable to keep up indefinitely.
But once you’ve lovingly nurtured (and even named) your sourdough starter, how do you abandon it? This has been Hughes’ dilemma; he’d named his batch Fred.
“My starter was dependent on me,” he says. “The starter became like a pet—and you wouldn’t throw out your cat.”
3. Plant babies
Adding greenery to the home was embraced as an easy hobby to pick up and maintain. But if you didn’t follow the instructions on that little plastic tag or listen to a pro plant stylist, your efforts may have died on the vine.
“I specialize in low-maintenance plants, but sometimes that’s confused with no maintenance, and all plants need a little bit of care,” says Anthony Watts, a plant stylist and owner of Layer. Watering too much and too little were the biggest pandemic plant errors, he reports, as were a few issues with sunlight.
“Putting a certain type of flowering plant in direct instead of indirect sun means the plant fries immediately,” Watts says. “We ended up replacing one of these for a homeowner and drew extra attention to the care information so it wouldn’t happen again.”
Here are some signs your houseplant craze is out of control.
4. Puppy adoption
Adopting a pandemic puppy was all the rage last year as stuck-at-home families decided they had lots of time to walk and paper train a new pet. Alas, returning some of these same pups also started to trend, according to reports.
Brooke Trometer, a certified professional dog trainer at Cypress K9, cites many instances of lonely homeowners who rushed to get a puppy—only to discover that canines are pricey and a ton of work.
“It does’t seem expensive when you buy a $10 toy or a $40 bag of food, but the average cost of owning a dog is $2,000 a year,” she estimates.
Another common pandemic pooch mistake was getting the wrong breed for one’s lifestyle.
“Border collies seem so cute because they can do tricks, but they were bred to really work hard—and without proper stimulation, they’ll find a task to complete in your home, and it’s not one you’ll like,” she says.
Yup, think chewed furniture, ripped wallpaper, and scratched doors.
Many homeowners redecorated to freshen up their spaces—however, the cash outlay was steep, often with dubious results.
“Next time, go to a warehouse in your area to see if there’s a leftover discounted slab that fits your space, or check the sale and clearance options for patterns on tile or paper that are being discontinued,” Woroch suggests.
6. Victory gardens
Back in the depths of the shutdown, homeowners raced to put in victory gardens to avoid long food lines and possible COVID-19 exposure at the grocery store. But growing enough peppers and tomatoes to fully live off the land and feed your entire family isn’t really feasible.
Susan Brandt of Blooming Secrets estimates needing 100 square feet per person to yield enough veggies to avoid commercially grown options.
“Growing the variety you’d like to eat as well as harvesting a continual amount all season long are other challenges,” she notes. And living in a northern climate makes this nearly impossible unless you have a greenhouse.
7. Maple sugar tapping
How hard can it be to tap that pretty maple on your front lawn to make syrup for pancakes? Many homeowners asked this exact question—and DIY maple sugaring began to soar.
“All you need is the right drill bit, a handful of taps and buckets, and a turkey fryer from Walmart, which seems glamorous and doable for weekend warriors,” explains Andrew Ingram, a longtime sugarer in Wolfeboro, NH.
However, once the sap really starts running, it can mean feast or famine depending on the weather. The reason: Warm days and cool nights cause trees’ sap to flow like the mighty Mississippi—but even then, the results are often underwhelming.
“Many wannabe sugarers throw in the towel since it takes 35 to 40 gallons of maple sap to make a single gallon of syrup,” Ingram says. “And they may quit sooner due to the untold boiling hours required, the mess that sticky steam makes in a garage or kitchen, and the fact that the syrup can catch fire in the pan.”
8. Pandemic reading
Ticking off all the classics you missed in high school and college was the game plan for many homebound folks in the past year. So what could possibly go wrong? Well, while some did the sensible thing and used an e-reader, others ordered actual books and ended up with a ton of tomes at home.
The end result was—and continues to be—a huge organizing project to tackle. Still, many nonprofits, schools, and libraries are willing to take books in good condition, so all hope isn’t lost if you’re trying to find some shelf space.
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