Home Improvement and Repair: Limited in both time and money, the grad student-homeowner faces an unenviable choice. It's my belief that some people are just meant to spend their free hours surrounded in plaster and paint, and that for them sawdust = happiness. I am not one of those people. I've opted to persuade my husband to get major projects (new windows, gutters, exterior paint) done professionally rather than take up all our free time for weeks on end. The smaller repairs end up on his "Honey, do..." list, which leaves me with the moderate projects that we can afford to have half-finished for months on end after my interest wanes. For example, tearing the paneling out of the guest bedroom (while studying for my orals) was much more fun than putting the precisely measured molding back up (while doing anything else). And so it remains an unfinished masterpiece.
Yard Work: In the two years of owning our house, my attitude towards the flower gardens has gone from "If I don't know what it is, I better leave it alone" to "If I don't know that it's something I like, it's getting pulled out." It seems draconian, but the first strategy resulted in massively overgrown, weed-infested gardens. Besides, savagely pulling weeds is a great way to get rid of stress. As for those other yard chores (mowing, chopping wood, cleaning the gutters), I am blessed to have a husband who takes them on, and I get to help when the spirit moves me. Usually that occurs when I've promised myself to actually "work this weekend" and brought home a pile of journal articles.
Eating right: Vegetable gardening hasn't been very successful in the past few years, the time and money invested just weren't paying off in terms of being able to eat a lot from our own garden. So this year we bought a "share" in local organic farm. Every two weeks for ~4 months we get an overflowing box of delicious veggies. It's helped our eating habits for the better, because ~1/2 the time we have to plan meals around whatever veggies we've got. And in our garden we've got a few scraggly tomato plants, some lettuce, and peas. Just for fun.
Crafts and Homemade Gifts: The domain of homemakers has stealthily crept back into the lives of working women. My advice: find one craft that can serve as a gift and just do that. For me it's sewing simple baby blankets. It's not that time consuming, but it is heartfelt (and much more fun than journal articles).
House work: I don't have any really great advice or wisdom on this one. It's something I struggle with daily. Only things I can say are "buy a dishwasher & washer/dryer" and "invite guests periodically, preferably non-students." There's nothing like the impending arrival of people-whom-you'd-prefer-not-to-look-like-a-slob-for to make that bathroom sparkle. I know, we did it yesterday. Other than that, for me it again comes down to journal-reading-avoidance behavior. This weekend also saw the cleaning of the garage. Any suggestions ya'll have would be appreciated.
I'm sure there are other categories in which grad students slide around the roles and responsibilities of adulthood, but in our defense, it's just fair play for the way society treats us. Health insurance, reasonably salaries, vacation time, not being asked when we'll get a real job -- those are all things that most grad students are forbidden to have. So, I think it's only fair that my version of a potluck contribution is a home-baked pie with store-bought crusts.