The most idiosyncratic and cryptic of “My Twelve Commandments” (see left column) is “Spend out.” What does that mean?
I have a miserly nature; by spending out, I mean to stop hoarding, to trust in abundance.
I find myself saving things, even when it makes no sense. Right now I’m forcing myself to spend out by wearing my new underwear.
Last week, as part of my July “buy a white t-shirt” campaign, I went to buy new underwear. When I got home, I forced myself to toss out my sorry old pairs, because I could feel myself tempted to “save” the new underwear. And indeed, even though the old underwear is gone, I find myself re-wearing the same laundered new pairs, so that I can “save” the new ones that are still neatly folded, with their tags on.
Why buy new clothes and then “save” them for months? Not wearing clothes is just as wasteful as throwing them away.
I have a great set of bookmarker pens—flat pens that can be stuck in a book, so that you can take notes as well as mark your place. I love them so much that I leave them in the case. That’s crazy—spend out, use them!
I once went to a bridal shower where every guest was given a black umbrella with a handle made from an old piece of silver, with the guest’s initial on it (zoikes). I loved my umbrella so much that I didn’t open it for three years. Finally I started to use it, and about 18 months later, the umbrella broke. But it was far better to use the umbrella, and enjoy it, than to have it sit in the closet.
I need to spend out by throwing things away. I re-use razor blades too many times, I keep my toothbrushes for too long. There is a virtue and a joy to frugality, and there is a preppy wabi-sabi to soft, faded khakis and frayed cotton shirts, but it’s not nice to be surrounded by things that are truly worn out or stained or used up.
And spend out applies to creativity as well as to possessions. I find myself thinking, “I should save that story…” or “I don’t want to use all my best examples now…” But pouring out ideas is better for creativity than doling them out by the teaspoon.
My post on Wednesday was a perfect example. I had a lot of fun working on the organization quiz. But when I considered posting it, I had to fight the urge to hold it back. What am I waiting for? I’m reminded of tagline for the Broadway show Rent—which gave me a shock every time it blasted out at me from the ubiquitous taxi ads—No day but today.
I’m leaving tomorrow for vacation, so this will be my last post for a week. Last night, in a happiness-project inspired act, I went ahead and packed for me, the Little Girl, and the Big Girl, so I have today to worry about hunting down the odds and ends.
Because I’ve been reading so much non-fiction about happiness, I haven’t been reading many novels lately. So for vacation I’m taking Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping (I loved Gilead); Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby (ever since I wrote Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, I’ve been meaning to read Disraeli); Mrs. Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters (about time I read something by her); Philip Roth’s American Pastoral (I’m not a big Roth fan, but several people have told me they think it’s the best novel of the 20th century); and as a special treat, Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games (not yet published, supposed to be superb, I got a copy of the galley).
Looking at this list, I realize—am I crazy? We’re only going away for a week, and chasing around after a seventeen-month-old is hardly compatible with doing a lot of serious reading. Oh well, I’ll try. But I think the Big Man will have to carry that duffel bag.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.