Buying Towels and a Moment of Self-Reflection: I’m Already Grown Up.

For a while now, my husband has been talking about wanting new bathroom towels. And he was right, we needed them.

As an under-buyer, I take great pleasure in the process of wearing things out or using things up — and boy, we got good use out of those towels. They were worn, frayed, torn, stained, and generally in bad shape.

We were both home on the Monday afternoon of the long weekend, so my husband proposed that we use the time to go towel-shopping.

We went to Bloomingdale’s, where they stock about a hundred brands of towels. We looked around, identified a mid-range brand (conveniently on sale), and pulled out six white towels to take to the cash register.

As we were paying, my husband asked, “Are these nice towels?”

And I said, “Not super-nice, but nice enough. Did you want very nice ones?”

He said, “No. Just regular towels.”

And here’s the weird thing: I said to him, “When we’re grown up, we’ll buy really nice towels.”

And I immediately thought — what am I thinking? When we’re grown up? We’re already grown up! We have a daughter going off to college next year!

This is something I’ve noticed so often in myself: I have this feeling that everything in my life is…temporary, provisional. That my adult life hasn’t yet truly started or assumed its ultimate form.

But that’s not true. I’m a grown up already. If I want nice towels, I should buy them now. I can’t expect that one day, I will magically have an adult life, with nice towels or anything else. Everything is as adult, or not-adult, as it will ever be, unless I make a conscious change.

Do you ever have this feeling? That somehow, you aren’t yet really a grown up? It’s not a Peter Pan, refusing-to-accept-responsibility feeling; it’s that feeling that nothing is yet real or permanent, but that someday, it will become real and permanent.

Even though I know it won’t.

Have you had this feeling?

  • Dana E

    Oh yes, thank you for putting it into words! I am 38 with a demanding job, mortgage etc. and often have this feeling, like I’m expecting to wake up from this dream and realize I’m still in second grade or something! I don’t have kids, so I assumed that the “grown-up” feeling would start manifesting when becoming a parent. Interesting to find out that it doesn’t 🙂

  • Catherine Grainger

    yes, I have had this feeling and have done something very similar to you. As an underbuyer…do you think this maybe be related? I have had conscious knowledge of this issue lately and do try to buy what I really need to meet my needs and give myself a treat once in awhile. You probably could use a treat is my sense, and your husband too.

  • Joan Gavrilik

    Nothing is permanent, but it’s always real. In such situations I always remind myself, “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”

  • Laura

    I feel this all the time, that I’m not really an adult, despite having a toddler and another on the way, and now a mortgage!
    But in a different issue, as I think I’m an overbuyer rather than an underbuyer, I’ve realised recently in preparing to move house that a number of presents that we registered for and received for our wedding, although lovely, appear to be preparing for this mythical time when we’re grown-up, ie things we don’t use now and may never use, like cocktail glasses and a wine decanter, but things I clearly thought that I would need when I was a married grown-up! So it can go both ways 🙂

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah, the wedding registry. An interesting exercise in trying to imagine being grown up.

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      • Laura

        Definitely! I’m torn whether to keep them for my grown-up self, start using them or clutter clear them …

  • Tania Kleckner

    All. The. Time. And my husband wants us to buy some new towels as well.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I manage to simultaneously feel younger than everyone else I’m with, but also I’m all too aware of my own mortality. We are ALL going to die someday. I ask myself, do I REALLY think I’ll be lying on my death bed, relieved that I didn’t buy the best or use my best for every day? Or is it more likely that I would be lying there regretting that I didn’t use the good china or wear the cashmere sweaters on a daily basis? Don’t only BUY the best — USE your best for every day. What are you saving it for? For the people who inherit it to give to Goodwill, so that people like me can buy it cheaply and actually USE it?

    • Gillian

      Completely agree! If you have nice things, use them. They add little shots of grace, charm and delight into your day. And using them removes any sense of guilt about having nice things stashed in a cupboard and never used. If you don’t feel “grown up” enough to use them, pretend you’re a child playing at being grown up. 🙂

  • Kylene Cardon

    I also do this, even though I am an over-buyer. I will buy what’s cheapest instead of what’s nice. So we end up with a lot of just okay things that I have to keep replacing instead of just spending the money on something that will last longer. I’m curious about the towels. Did you change your mind and end up getting the “grown up” ones?

  • Susan Tiffany

    Yes, but I have learned to upgrade to “nice.” When I was in Ireland in 2004, I overheard a craft shop owner recounting something his mother said: “The last of a good thing is better than the beginning of a poor thing.”

    • gretchenrubin

      I love that phrase!

    • Aline

      I am not an english-native speaker and don’t get that phrase. Could you make it more explicit ?
      I am also a saver+finisher in the sense that I will save/store new better things and used the old ones even if I don’t like them that much. And I sense that having a ready-made phrase could help me in changing that.

      • Susan Tiffany

        How about: Something well made will be of higher quality at the end of its useful life than something poorly made will be at the beginning of its useful life.

  • Andrea

    I feel “not grown up” most of the time (though I also feel old before my time in some ways). My husband also acts young for his age. What I can’t tell is, do those folks who look so much more grown up/polished actually feel that way? Or do they also feel like kids on the inside? As for buying nicer things for myself, I’ve gotten better at that by reminding myself not to buy things just because they’re a good price (a habit that served me well when I was less well off) and to try to wait for the item that makes me happy. 🙂

  • Helen Doty

    my “moment” was when I was 21. I had found a beautiful wood rocker that I really wanted. I talked with my dad about it, and said that “someday” I would own something like that – when I was married 🙂
    FORTUNATELY for me, Dad told me to start investing in myself at that time – to not wait for “someday” to have the nice things I wanted.
    I bought the rocking chair and still have it. Thank God I didn’t wait to get married, since it still hasn’t happened and I’m now 62. LOL
    Thanks for the great advice!

  • Carol

    When I meet people around my age, I immediately think they’re older than me if they have children. (I’m childless)

    • Rachel


  • ChrisD

    But I think another issue maybe you just feel more comfortable with the ordinary thing. Like I once saw a beautiful bowl in an art shop and I thought I could buy it (someday) and use it as a fruit bowl. But do I want a fruit bowl that will upset me if it breaks and costs a fortune to replace? I want to have people passing through my home and not being terrified to touch everything. So I bought a nice pasta bowl for £8 instead.
    Actually, completely coincidentally some friends then gave me a beautiful fragile bowl that I DO put out and use, (though only as an ornament, not a fruit bowl).
    So if I feel more comfortable using nice but ordinary things, that could be ok too. I think you just need to think it through to see what you should buy.
    Plus I’m a bit cynical if the expensive stuff is really better, or if we just think it’s better because it’s more expensive. If something is double the price is it really double the quality? Maybe it is, but how do I know? Price is nothing like a simple as standard economics thinks it is.

  • Karen

    I feel like this all the time. I didn’t realize others did too. I am going to be 50 (yikes!) this year and I truly can’t believe it. I don’t feel like I imagine a 50 year old is supposed to feel, both mentally and physically. It really is strange when you have to remind yourself how old you are.

    • Gillian

      I’m experiencing the same thing and I’ll be 70 in 3 months! I keep asking myself how I got here.

  • Vero Salisbury

    On the other hand, does this conflict with your “Be Gretchen” idea? I still have the “starter” furniture I bought twenty plus (OMG) years ago, that is particle board and was painfully assembled by me. I could afford nicer furniture, but I hate to shop for furniture and I hate to arrange the shipment of furniture and I think it’s too expensive, even if I can afford it. I also had the painful experience of selling for a pittance my mother’s much more beautiful furniture because it was too expensive to ship across the country. I’m trying to start small, and buy beautifully designed and useful things, without worrying too much about whether they’re a bargain. We’ll see where that goes.