I bought a bikini. It’s not a big deal because lots of a people wear bikinis and no one cares at all. It’s just that for about fifteen years, none of those people have been me. Not because I have body image issues. Or because I feel that bellybuttons are for husbands’ eyes only. But probably because after college I taught elementary school in the same town where I lived and seeing your teacher in a bikini seemed…icky. Also because at a water park around 1998 a little girl climbed on my back and pulled my top down, so I’m more aware swimsuit related mortification than most. Don’t worry, I probably saved that kid’s life (is the lie I tell myself whenever I think back). Anyway, all that to say, it’s been a long time since I’ve worn a two-piece. Then, the other day, I ordered one.
Why?! Why did I buy something that will probably never see the light of day? Was it because I had a gift card? (Yes.) Because it was on sale? (Yep.) Was it because a blogger with a rockin’ bod told me that it was flattering? (Yup.) Because it’s on backorder so it’s probably my last chance ever? (Ugh, yeah.) Did I think it would motivate me to be something I’m probably not? (For sure.) Is it because I turn 40 this year and this seems like a good way to kick start a midlife crisis? (Cringe-yes.) Did I think the suburbs of Cleveland were ready to see my mid-section which is the color of a par-boiled chicken breast? (Hard no.)
It all got me thinking about why we buy what we do. There are times when I buy things that are just fine, or fun, or genuinely useful. There are other times, though, when I buy things that are decidedly not any of the above. That’s when problems can arise. Things I don’t want or need taking time, energy, space, and money.
Over the last ten years or so, I’ve made a lot of progress in my relationship with stuff. And if you’d have asked me before Bikini-gate, I would’ve told you that I’m pretty mindful about what I purchase. The bathing suit was such a weird thing, though – a warning flare, maybe, helping me to realize that I still have a ways to go on my quest to only bring things into my life that are really worth it. To help me with that, I’ve come up with some questions to ask myself before future purchases. I’m sharing them here because if there’s a chance of helping someone, it makes all the crazy worth it.
Is it a distraction?
This is my preferred method of disfunction, a form of procrastination that results in a purchase. When there’s a ton to do but not a clear first step, it’s a lot easier for me to fall into this trap. Why actually start cleaning out the basement when it’s so much easier to buy some tote bins to help get the job done? Of course, if I went straight to work and started using the bins for their intended purpose, that would be a different story. When the purchase is purely to make me feel like I’m making progress when I’m actually not, I’m going to put it on a “To Buy Someday” shopping list and move on with my life.
Should it wait?
There are a million reasons why buying a thing is the right choice, but now is not the right time. For me, I love cooking, baking – all of it. I live for little cookie cutters and food picks, specialty cake pans and ramekins. I use things like that often, and they do spark joy. (Okay, Marie Kondo? So let me live my life.) While they’re definitely not necessities, they do have a place in my life, and feel worthwhile to me. We’re about to remodel our kitchen, so it’s not the right time for me to bring anything home that will soon need to be packed away.
It helps me to just stay away from HomeGoods and avoid temptation all together. At the very least, I’ve been trying to wait until our next paycheck before buying something unexpectedly. If I still feel like it’s needed after a week or two, it’s much less likely to be an impulse purchase.
Will it last?
Not everything is meant to last forever, of course. A baby carrier lasts through a season of life and then moves on. Candles are consumed and that’s the point of them. Other things wiggle their way into my shopping basket that have no business there. They’ll wind up dusty or donated in a year or two. Prime candidates include: anything from the Dollar Spot at Target, the check out aisle at TJ Maxx, and anything that’s 90% off anywhere. To combat these little stinkers, I’m going to ask myself where the item will be in a few years and make sure that I’m okay with the answer.
Are you in a mood?
Is this some kind of messed up Fight Club thing, where you do something just to feel alive? Okay, that’s probably a little dramatic. About once a month, though, I have to look out for this one. Because I’m sitting there with a glass of wine and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Urban Bourbon and I don’t feel things like I normally do – the whole world is in sort of a grayscale, and I almost definitely have a headache, so I order fancy high-heeled boots because people with fancy boots probably never feel like this. Except that they do. They just have an extra pair of boots in the back of their closet.
Who told you that you need it?
Everyday so many people tell us that we need so many things. I do it too, especially with my mom and siblings. “You’d love this tea,” and “This top is on sale, want me to grab one for you?” A lot of the time I really appreciate the information. (That hand lotion really did clear up my son’s dry skin!) It just gets a little muddled when we’re bombarded all the time – commercials, ads, product parties, blog posts.
Whenever I share something that I’ve bought, I’m hoping that it’s helpful and useful. I would certainly never think that just because something is right for me that it’s a must-have for everyone. Even though it’s such an obvious thing when I’m the one giving the information, I still get mixed up when I’m the one receiving the information. Will that face wash change my life? I don’t know?! They seem pretty freaking excited about it. I love when people get excited about things. I love that they’re sharing that enthusiasm with others. As a consumer, though, I just want to be sure that the purchase seems like a good choice and that I’m buying the product and not the passion.
Is it realistic?
I’m sorry to bring up the boots again. They’re just a really good example of buying for an alternate reality. I bought those boots for a reality where I 1) have a higher tolerance for foot pain 2) go to places besides Heinen’s and Target 3) don’t mind having a sliver of skin exposed to winter’s wind at the top of my ankle, below slightly cuffed jeans (ugh, just thinking of that made me shiver with sadness and cold). That’s a beautiful reality and, wow, I want to high-five the woman who is living that life and say, “Go get ‘em, Tiger!” But that woman isn’t me, and I have no business buying her boots.
I know there are a lot of other times when I’ve bought things for reasons that just don’t make sense, but this seems like a decent summary without diving into the archives of my crazy. Is this something everyone does? If not, you can tell me, just give me a day or two because I’m up to my elbows in Ben and Jerry’s and I’ll be able to receive that information with a lot more clarity and grace after this cloud passes.