A list of creative things I did as a child that I no longer do

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” —Pablo Picasso

According to research, Picasso, and my own intuition, we all start out creative.

Remember the whimsy that pervaded your life as a child? I have a two-year-old niece, and she’s an incredible reminder of all the zany things we did when we were small and our brains were still completely enamored with the world around us. Felt like making a weird sound? You did it, and loud. Felt like pretending you were surrounded by alien ninjas and you have to dodge barriers to escape them? You obviously played it in public, perhaps in an inconvenient place like a restaurant (the tables were just obstacles placed by the ninjas). Maybe you were a DIY-er like me, or liked to fingerpaint murals on the walls. There were no limits to how far we took our imaginations.

What happened since then? Why don’t we still make weird noises, and dance spastically, and make pretty things just for the sake of making them? I, for one, want to regain that unapologetically creative spirit.

So, to remind myself to be more creative, here’s a list of creative things I used to do, and miss doing, and maybe should start doing again:

  • Making board games. My siblings and I used to make the most elaborate board games, always sure we’d come up with the next Monopoly. We’d cut the board out of posterboard, design players’ pieces from modeling clay, and have long winding candyland-like paths, full of tasks, setbacks, and potential winnings. We’d usually play it for a week or two, until we’d get bored and make a new game.
  • Making my school supplies super personalized before the school year started. As I struggled to find my identity as a preteen and teen, I took personalization of my things very seriously. I would create elaborate collages for my binders, cover my notebooks with Starburst or Tootsie Roll wrappers, splatterpaint my backpack. Twelve-year-old Sophia would be horrified that my iPhone background is currently the default. “Default” is the definition of boring. I’m not boring, am I? Of course not. “Backgrounds are to show your personality,” she’d say. “Duh.”
  • Making elaborate (and quirky) homemade halloween costumes. I was obsessed with making weird/quirky halloween costumes, mostly out of cardboard. I would spend hours painting them super meticulously (e.g. copying a candy bar wrapper exactly) and proudly trick-or-treated in them all the way through high school. No shame.
A sampling of costumes over the years: dart board (2005), candy bars (2010), monopoly board for sister (2008)
  • Painting elaborate Valentine’s Day boxes. At my elementary school, on Valentine’s Day everyone brought in a decorated old shoebox and collected candy and little valentine cards from everyone else in the class. Most people covered a box in wrapping paper and called it done, but not me. I spent hours on my box, often making it into something specific, like a mailbox, a clock, or a giant photo of my face with my mouth functioning as the opening. (I so wish I had pictures of these.)
  • Coloring the envelopes of mail I sent. Remember coloring contests? Anytime I’d enter a coloring contest for, say, free tickets to a concert or a small prize, I’d always go beyond the requirements by elaborately decorating the envelope for my entry. Sometimes I’d even do this for regular non-contest envelopes — I decorated the envelopes of my letters to Santa, my thank-you cards for birthday presents … even my college applications. Also, for the record, decorating the envelope is totally what won me free tickets to the Pittsburgh ballet when I was twelve.
  • Making up games on the Swingset. For my siblings and me, our ordinary swingset was a blank canvas for our raging imaginations. We played so many games on it — “Circus” was a popular one, as was “House” and the classic “Don’t Touch the Ground”. My memory of these isn’t necessarily about how elaborate the game was, but rather how present and committed we were to the game. The Swingset was its own universe for us— full of endless possibilities, and these games were serious business. I want to take play seriously again.
  • Experimenting with cheerleading gymnastics. I was fearless as a twelve-year-old. I would attempt stunts in my yard that I’d be terrified to do now. My friends and I would make pyramids, attempt back-handsprings, bend in every way possible. I’m rediscovering this form of play through yoga, but I’m full of so much more trepidation now. How can I return to the state of fearlessness in trying new things?
The neighborhood crew. Pyramids were one of the tamer “gymnastics” stunts we did in the yard.
  • Making DIY clothing. As a teenager, I was always on the site craftster.org. My grandma bought me a sewing machine for Christmas when I was thirteen, and I became totally obsessed with making my own reconstructed clothing from old t-shirts. I also made belts out of comic strips, pop-tab chokers, beaded necklaces out of magazine cutouts, “distressed jeans” from regular jeans, and countless other experiments. I wanted more than anything to create a duct tape dress for prom, but alas, it never happened.
  • Running a “fashion blog” with literally no background in fashion. This one makes me wince a little bit, but it’s true — I went through a phase in high school when I was completely infatuated with runway and street fashion. This is hilarious for anyone who knows me well to read, because I am decidedly NOT fashionable. But nonetheless, I decided that if other people could run fashion blogs, I could, too, and so posted about runway trends, my own outfits, and my mundane life. I admire past me’s courage, to put myself out there and just create the thing I wanted to create. To be part of the community I wanted to be part of. To not be held back by insecurities that “I’m not good enough at this.” For anyone who’s curious, the blog still lives on — albeit with a LOT of broken links — here.
  • Painting my shoes. Okay, I still occasionally do this. But back in high school, I was known for it. I spent serious time designing collections of hand-painted kicks — so much so that scores of people suggested I turn it into a business. Alas, those suggestions were ultimately what ended the passion — when making it into a business model proved too complicated, I stopped painting almost entirely. Perhaps there’s some value in allowing hobbies to be hobbies rather than side hustles.
My shoes spanned lots of different art styles! But my “feet shoes” were definitely the ones for which I was known best.

This list is certainly not exhaustive — nearly everything I did as a child had some strain of creative energy. And maybe that’s what I want, more than specific creative endeavors. I want to return to the state of wonder, of spontaneity, of being completely myself and apologizing to no one for it.

I want to lose the self-consciousness that pervades my every move and replace it with the unwavering knowledge that my ideas are worth expressing.