Every couple of months or so I have the sudden, urgent desire to change my life and become a new, better kind of person. Someone who works out regularly, someone who frequently produces works of art, someone who consumes three high-quality meals that are cooked from scratch every day, and many other variations of those super well-rounded, productive alter egos of mine.
It seems that every time I decide to become a drastically new version of myself, I find myself unequipped to be that person without making a few purchases first. I realize that I could have been that person all along, if I only had the proper tools, and then I go out to promptly rectify my mistake.
But inevitably, two weeks and too many dollars later, I realize that I don’t actually want badly enough to be that person I thought I wanted to be in order to take consistent action to become her. I return to who I was before I impulsively, temporarily (and at some financial cost) became someone else.
Here’s a look at some of the silly purchases I’ve made and why they weren’t worth it for me:
1. Gym Membership & Treadmill
In high school, besides carrying an honors/AP course load, I worked on my school newspaper and in my junior and senior year, I worked 20-24 hours a week at a fast food restaurant. In college, in addition to full-time course loads, I also worked anywhere from 20-30 hours a week. I used these full schedules to justify not working out, declaring that I would do it when I graduated to the “real world” and only had the the responsibility of one job.
Despite having much more free time and both a gym membership and a treadmill in my home (!!!) now, I still don’t regularly work out. I just don’t want to and would rather spend my time doing something else. I realize now that had it been a priority for me when I was in high school or college, I definitely could have made time for it, just like I made time to hang out with friends or watch TV.
Reflecting back, I definitely could have gotten just as much exercise doing basic calisthenics at home or walking/jogging around my neighborhood for infinitely cheaper (free!) than I have gotten from the few times I have gone to the gym or used my treadmill.
2. Professional Clothes
I love jeans, and my workplace has a very relaxed dress code, so I tend to wear jeans to work quite a bit. But I am talented and ambitious and want to be a leader within my company, and jeans aren’t what I usually see leaders in media (where most of my examples this far in life have come from) wearing. As a result, I’ve sporadically added many professional pieces to my wardrobe in an attempt to up what I perceive my status to be in the workplace.
The problem is, when I’m at the store, I tend to buy based on what I think a TV character or someone like Sheryl Sandberg would wear. I assume that if I look like them, I’ll act with as much confidence as they have, automatically be as respected as they are, be as smart and talented as they are – basically, if I look like them, I’ll magically take on other traits of theirs, too.
But there are multiple flaws with that logic. For one thing, if I don’t feel comfortable in the clothes because I bought them for some ideal version of myself and not the me who feels safest in casual clothes, I’m not likely to wear them on a regular basis. Additionally, when I do wear them, they don’t make me feel confident – they make me feel nervous and uncomfortable. The extra level of respect I think I can garner from these clothes is marginal at best, and probably mostly in my head. Finally, clothes don’t make anyone smarter or more talented. For these reasons, most of my ultra-professional clothing purchases have not been smart investments.
3. Crafting Supplies
I love crafts. I have my whole life. As a little girl, my favorite place to spend my allowance money was at Michaels, and while restaurants have replaced it as my treat of choice in adulthood, several times a year I still do serious damage there.
This is the way it always goes. I’m inspired by something I see on Pinterest, Etsy, or some other social media or eCommerce site, and I think “I want to make that! I could if I wanted to right now – if only I had the right tools.” I need the best quality fabric, the prettiest yarn, a decent sewing machine, and five books with instructions, and then I’ll be ready.
Inevitably, as soon as I’m “ready,” my interest has faded and the crafting supplies sit in my closet until inspiration strikes again, once in a blue moon. While those supplies do bring me joy every now and again when I do use them, I have definitely overspent on what I need to fulfill my sporadic urges to create.
4. New Phone
When my husband and I first got married, my parents kicked me off their phone plan, and I needed a new phone. Mr. FBF and I had just started working so funds were tight and we were committed to not taking on any payments – so the phone I picked out needed to be one we could afford with cash. I chose one of the cheapest smartphones available and carried on.
I spent a year and a half pretty happy with that phone. It did what I needed it to do. The only slight annoyance I had with it was that it took fairly grainy images. My coworkers are Snapchat-obsessed and I love taking pictures of my cat, so it bothered me a bit that the image quality was so lacking. But it wasn’t a huge deal.
Eventually the phone started to run out of memory, and rather than upgrade the memory, I decided to upgrade the phone. At this point we had much more money saved, so choosing a modest phone wasn’t necessarily mandatory.
I started researching my options and immediately became convinced that I had to have a phone that was amazing at everything this time. I came up with all kinds of crazy justifications. If only I had a phone that had a super fast, easy, and fun to use interface, I would actually diligently add obligations to my Google calendar, so Mr. FBF and I would never have any frustrations about schedule miscommunications again. If only I had a phone that took beautiful pictures, I would actually participate in my work’s Snapchat group and my cat Macy would become Instafamous.
I ended up getting a Pixel 2 for $650, and honestly, I love it. It takes great pictures, is much faster than my old phone, and overall provides a much better user experience. But, six months later, I still don’t post to Snapchat, haven’t made my cat Instafamous, and still haven’t consistently used my Google calendar. I know I could have gone with a much cheaper alternative that was still an improvement from my last phone and would be just as happy with the upgrade.
When Mr. FBF first moved in together when we were in college, we lived in a tiny shotgun style 500 square foot apartment. It had almost no natural light, the ugliest carpet you’ve ever seen, and one winter, mold started growing on one of our walls. (It happened to multiple neighbors too – it had nothing to do with our hygiene!) We lived in that apartment for two and a half years.
When we graduated from college, we moved into an 800 square foot apartment that was flooded with natural light. It felt big and beautiful and I loved it. Still, I found myself constantly on Pinterest, wistfully looking at ideas for spare rooms, beautifully painted walls, unique bathroom tile, gorgeous kitchen countertops – all things I could have if only I was a homeowner able to take on homeowner projects. I spent hours doing this each week thinking “if only.”
From the very beginning of our careers we saved half our salary, so within a year of our college graduation we had enough for a downpayment on a home. So we went for it! I remember being particularly obsessed with looking at paint samples while we were on the hunt for a new home. But as soon as we signed the paperwork, poof! My desire to do any kind of cosmetic, non-necessary home improvement work evaporated. A year later, I have not touched a can of paint.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t classify this as a “silly” purchase. I’m glad we bought our home because we are much closer to our workplaces than we were in our last apartment, the local housing market is booming, we love having the extra space, and even with a 15 year mortgage, we’re spending less on the mortgage interest, HOA, and taxes (what we think of as our new “rent”) than we did on our apartment’s rent.
However, being a homeowner hasn’t been anything like I expected – because I haven’t done any of the things I dreamed about doing before we had a home. That’s a choice that I’m happy with, but it also adds to this list of lessons learned.
What I’ve Learned From Reflecting On My Purchases & Corresponding Actions (or Inactions)
I have often fallen victim to commodity fetishism – the idea that some things have some mysterious, special powers beyond their utility. I have, without realizing it at the time, believed that some things I buy have inherent virtues that can act on me, when really, I have to perform the actions that make them valuable to me.
Not having the right “stuff” is not why I don’t do many of the things I’ve thought I wanted to do or behave the way I wanted to behave. My priorities are what dictate my actions and drive me to act or not act.
No purchase can change me into an ideal version of myself. In order to derive value from the things I buy and change my life in whatever way I thought my purchases would, I have to take responsibility and action to make that happen.