You Have Too Much Time on Your Hands

This is a repost from another blog I’ve long ago abandoned.  Inspired to repost today by a comment in the Minecraft subreddit where the top comment on a really fabulous creation was, “you need a real hobby or a job.”  Anyway, here are my thoughts:

People sometimes think the most insulting thing you can say to a creative person is, “I don’t like it.” And while that may sting a bit, most of us understand that creating something and sharing it means accepting some negative feedback.

In reality the most insulting comment is, “You have too much time on your hands,” or “Must be nice to have time to do that.”  See, negative feedback means you at least looked at it, evaluated its merit and offered a quantitative or qualitative opinion. That’s not insulting. The casual dismissal of effort is far more insulting.

I’m sure you’ve seen it, you’re browsing Reddit or Digg or Youtube or whatever user-submitted-content-comment-heavy site you prefer, and someone shares, say, a video of the boulder sequence from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” rendered entirely in papercraft*, and within the first 5 comments someone pipes up with the following observation:

“Someone has too much time on their hands.”

Somehow that comment is more insulting and cutting and crushing than any possible critique of technical execution or loyalty to the source material. We creatives can defend our artistic direction, but when our work is dismissed as the result of misused and maybe undeserved idle time, it’s like a slap in the face.

I’ll give a more concrete example. I’ve shared my crochet characters here and elsewhere online. I’ve received great feedback and I’ve enjoyed seeing what other Lost and Mad Men and Firefly fans and yarn-addicts have created. Back when they were newly finished I brought my Li’l Losties into work to put them on my desk and almost immediately a coworker approached to investigate. She asked for a few details, told me it was a “weird” project (no argument there), and then she said it: “You have too much time on your hands.”

The thing is, I don’t have too much time on my hands. Who does? I work full time, commute an hour each way, and I have 2-year-old twins to care for. I get a couple hours after the boys are in bed each night to do something, ANYTHING, and most of the time that anything-thing isn’t very fun. It’s laundry or working out or running to the grocery store.  And that’s after an exhausting commute, cooking and serving dinner, passing toddlers through bath and bedtime routine, no fewer than 5 bedtime stories, and several return trips upstairs to escort newly potty-trained children to the bathroom.

I scrape together a few, brief free moments when I can tackle a project, and that may mean staying up an hour later and going to work extra tired the next day if necessary. That’s how it works with creativity, it’s not a result of lounging around idle time. It’s the result of ideas that beg to be brought into reality, for whatever reason, purely for the joy of creation. We’re not lazy layabouts with nothing to do, we’re people who cram creative time in when we can. It’s the mortar between blocks of busywork.

I haven’t yet been able to come up with a good response to the “too much time” remark. The polite thing would probably be to ignore the comment, but sometimes I feel like it deserves a response. I told my coworker that it was a better use of my evening time than zoning out in front of the TV and doing nothing. It was my attempt to point out to her that we all have time to be creative, if you don’t waste it on being uncreative. Her response was a sincere, “Oh I don’t know about that…”

So maybe there’s nothing that can be said to these people. If they’re sure zoning out slack-jawed at “Two and a Half Men” is fulfilling and, more importantly, less indicative of “too much free time,” I’m not sure there’s any response that would be worth saying.

What’s important is that we know it’s worthwhile.  How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.  It’s not what you build that matters, it’s the building.  Additional poetic image not found.

(*Note: not a real example. Don’t go searching YouTube for this mythical video.)

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13 responses to “You Have Too Much Time on Your Hands

  1. Whoever you are, you are so right on! I found this page searching for a good response to the comment of having too much time. There is absolutely nothing more insulting. It is amazing to me that people that enjoy getting sores on their hind ends while watching reality shows on television for hours each day can be so rude to those that have the talent to actually do something.

    I think the reason behind this comment may not be intended to be malicious. I have to believe that people that utter such words truly do not understand what it takes to actually DO things. They don’t understand the thought, time, skill and excitement that goes into doing something. The too much time comment infuriates me instantly, but maybe a more appropriate emotion would be to feel sad for someone that makes such comments.

    Or just let them know that there is nothing more insulting that they could say.

    Voices in my head: Too much time? I “do”. You “watch”. I don’t have time to watch because I’m doing. When I have time to sit on the couch and watch others “do”, then I have too much time on my hands.

    I spend weeks decorating my property for Halloween. I get several “too much time” comments. Happily, they are drown out by hundreds of appreciative comments and families coming from other cities to see my display. The best “tmt-er” is a neighbor that has no fewer than 6 Netflix movies in her living room at any given time!

    Thanks for sharing my thoughts!

  2. How about, “Thanks, I manage my time very well.”

    If you are holding down a solid job and are taking care of two kids, and you have time to indulge your creativity, I commend you. You clearly have good time management skills, and anyone who looks down on you is secretly jealous. Of course, there are those who indulge in these odd hobbies at the expense of more important things in life. But we can’t tell just from the artifacts they produce which camp they come from. So if you come from the more functional camp, how about just say, “Thanks – I do have a lot of free time don’t I?”

  3. Totally this.

    I get “someone has too much spare time” ALL the time.

    Sometimes it feels like a compliment, other times not so much.

  4. “You have too much time on your hands” was said to me this past weekend. It was a back handed compliment that left me feeling guilty for having spent so much time preparing a very elaborate dish for a themed pot luck. I love to cook and preparing something really great to share is about creativeness and execution. I received many actual compliments on both the taste of the dish as well as its presentation. I’m quite sure the person who said it to me did not mean to offend. It was simply a sarcastic “compliment”. In hindsight, I should have responded: “Thanks! I suspect that you enjoy being creative also”.

    • you’re right, it’s probably intended as a backhanded compliment. but i also feel like it communicates something more. it says, “i could do something that special, too, but i’m too busy.” it basically robs you of acknowledgement of your skill and uses access to free time to equalize the accomplishment. it makes your craft less special, because it’s a result of idle time and implies anyone with sufficient idle time could do the same.

      but maybe i’m reading too much into it.

    • thanks, kurt! i appreciate the feedback. i sometimes go back and read this entry to remind myself that it’s okay to spend time doing what i love.

  5. I found your wonderful post because I did a Google search to see if others felt the same as I do when it comes to this frequent and unsolicited response from people after showing or sharing something that I created. I cannot stand this comment. I have 24 hours in a day and the last time I checked, so did everyone else. How the hours get utilized is up to each person. Mostly everyone has responsibilities that require our time(work, commuting, school, children, chores), but the time leftover, “the mortar between blocks of busywork”, (to quote you) is the joy that completes us when creative people, well – create!!! Everything you said was right on the money. I like the comments that everyone left here as well. I get it when people make the “time” comments to me; I know all the different possible motives behind it and I consider the source, but in the end, it only serves to diminish a creative person’s efforts. However, what do I do every time I hear it? I smile politely and keep my mouth shut. I am a little older now and I have noticed lately that I speak up for myself more often about things. I am working on a comeback, which leans toward, “Thank you for noticing that, I have to say that I have learned to manage my time well”. There are some really good, more sarcastic ones that I LOVE, but in the interest of getting along “in the moment”, I like to think the “thank you-type” responses are the ones that will leave these kinds of people wondering and scratching their heads a little – which accomplishes what I am more about. Thank you so much for your excellent view points, your creative thinking, and your skillful writing!

  6. This is a great topic. I get that comment more often than I care for, even though I have a very hectic schedule. But who cares how busy you are. Having time on your hands is nothing to be ashamed of. Life is short, and to indulge in things that please you should not be insulted but complimented, regardless of how irrelevant they are. I don’t know how to respond to it. My knee jerk reaction is to go on about how busy my day was and how I carved out a few minutes to accomplish what they are giving me grief about. But I want a more witty, more heartfelt response. Ultimately, the best I have right now is “If you’re too busy to enjoy the little things, then you’re just too busy”. If you feel like adding on “so don’t insult me because I don’t spend every minute of my day trying to fill it with things you feel are important but in 100 years won’t have made a damn bit of differece”.

    Life’s a garden. Dig it.

  7. I love this! Thank you for sharing what I’ve felt for years. Being creative is therapy for me, the same way some people meditate or do yoga. Nobody considers that a “waste of time” but it’s all the same thing! My response is always “No, I MAKE time for this.” It is important to me. It sort of throws their own insult back at them and forces them to be responsible for the rude remark.

  8. This was said to me at the start of summer by a close friend who had the whole summer off from her teacher’s aide job. I am pretty sure she meant it as a compliment, but I don’t see how it could be one. The closest I come to a making a compliment out of this that she was trying to acknowledge the amount of time and effort put into my projects.

    If I ever get this comment from someone that I am sure is meaning to insult I will smile broadly and say, “Just think of what I could get done if I have all the free time you have”

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