My current emphasis: how to make good habits and break bad ones (really)

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Do you hoard your new underwear?

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.

  • annmarie

    Gretchen, just a note to let you know how much I’m enjoying your blog and looking forward to your book. You’re helping me notice what it is that really matters to me, things I thought too trival to try to secure for myself before. Each of your posts resonates on some level.
    So keep up the good work, and have a great vacation! Your reading agenda makes me cast a wary eye at my nightstand, which is about to buckle under the weight of books I’m “reading right now.”

  • http://www.monicaricci.typepad.com Monica Ricci

    Gretchen,
    Your post reminds me of the one I wrote on June 18th called Don’t Pack Your Life Away…it was about these pretty linen napkins that I found in my mother’s house after she died. I lived in that house for a LONG time and never even SAW those napkins. She was apparently “saving” them. For what, I have no idea. But she never did get to use them. Now they’re mine and I’m sure as heck gonna use them the next time I have someone over for dinner, which come to think of it, is tomorrow night!
    So Bravo (or is it Brava?) to you for “spending out”!! Life is too short to save your good china or your good lingerie or your good ANYTHING for later because truly, later may never come. Awesome post today and a great reminder for us all.
    ~Monica

  • Larry P

    I came upon your blog via a post by Monica Ricci. Thank you Ms. Ricci.
    I’m not sure the appropriate place to suggest a quote about happiness for you, so I will try here.
    “Believe in yourself. After that, everything is easier” ~ Larry P ~
    Enjoy the vacation

  • http://www.gretchenrubin.com Gretchen Rubin

    Thanks so much for those nice posts–and Monica, thanks for posting on YOUR blog about MINE! Monica’s memory of her mother’s napkins reminds me of the never-opened bottle of perfume, “My Sin,” thirty years old, that I found on my grandmother’s nightstand. I keep it, still unopened, in my bathroom cabinet as a reminder. Having a place for people to post their favorite happiness quotes is a great idea…hmmm…I will have to see if I can rig that up. I appreciate your taking the time to write. Now I’m off for vacation –

  • http://somethingsoclever.typepad.com Ali

    I am a hoarder as well! I am spending this Saturday morning bagging up lots of clothes, undies, socks that are all worn out or never used. I haven’t made quite as much progress as I’d like (I still have a lot of clothes I can’t part with yet) but I did manage to get 4 big bags out of the house. :o)
    The more I think about it, I realize I would much rather have high quality clothes (and shoes, etc) that I LOVE and will use a lot, then tons and tons of cheap stuff that I got because it was a ‘good deal’. It isn’t a good deal if it hinders me from organizing my house and is laying in piles in my bedroom because I’ve run out of space! :)
    PS- I added you to my site, under the category ‘domestic perfection’. ;o)

  • http://www.monicaricci.typepad.com Monica Ricci

    Ali that’s so great to hear! What a powerful mindset shift for you! :) ~Monica

  • http://somethingsoclever.typepad.com Ali

    Thanks Monica :o)

  • http://www.nomommysperfect.com Susan

    That’s so funny…I can relate too…I have to clear out the clutter so I can think and then I sometimes have to force myself to buy a few nice little things..just for me. I tend to be overly frugal so I really do have to force myself but it really helps create a calm clean environment. Thanks for a great website. It’s awesome.

  • Zsuzsa

    Gretchen, Thank you soooo much for this post! Not spending out is such an issue for me (broken/old elastic in a bra I wore 3 times in a 6 year period….sadly true). To think it’s just as wasteful to buy clothes and not wear them as thtowing them away really hit home. Thanks, again!!

  • Penny Hammack

    I used to work for a lady who had a great seamstress. The seamstress would make my boss a dress then my boss would hang it in the closet for two or three years. When she finally wore it we would all compliment it and she would say in effect “This old thing, I’ve had it for years”. Drove us up the wall.

  • Char

    Have a great (break? — books, baby AND partner?!) Gretchen;-)
    I am getting accustomed to following the link on some item in your incoming emails-it’s always a new angle that you express on an otherwise cliche!
    These comments on hoarding are the clearest I’ve noted on the subject. I too am (I’m learning…) extremely frugal, an admirable characteristic within my resource management learning context that I as much attribute to my partially Germanic enculturation as to a personal trait.
    I feel clearer about how frugality can derail into hoarding, having read your shared inclination and thanks so much for just the perspective that can support my breaking this deficit-orientation trend!

  • Jyoti

    As I was reading, I wanted to respond – Gretchen, pending further exploration, this may be the one thing that we have in common. Then I read the comments – seems like and very reassuringly so, that I am not the only one. I do buy new/nice things and recently have gone overboard doing so but have a hard time parting with the old/unused/bought-cos-it-was-a-good-deal stuff. I have made progress though – I inspect one tiny hole in my sons’ clothing, it goes in a dustbin. But I still don’t agree with the joy of having used a nice umbrella only to have it broken. I still mourn the loss of a nice red umbrella with peacock head handle that my mother-in-law (the opposite of me) insisted on using, wasn’t careful enough and ended up breaking it! Yes, I am a hoarder – things that I love, I wish they never fade away or wear out and last forever and ever.

  • Trina

    Oh, Gretchen… I can’t believe that there is someone else out there that does this, too! I have struggled with this for years. I realized it WAS contributing to my mental dismalness! I thought I should be keeping some of my new, better stuff just in case of (so pessimistic, here!) “bad days ahead”. Sadly, I found that I have even pushed it over on my own daughter (i.e. don’t use up all the battery power in your toys!) I think that’s when I realized it. Now, I am on the track to using it all up today…’cause who knows about tomorrow! I just have to keep reminding myself EVERYDAY!

  • Ruth Galindo

    Wow, same day post as last one 5 hours ago, but it really resonates with me, the one who never played with her best dolls and saved them and one day found she was grown up! Yikes, still do that with clothes, then they become out-dated and donated, yet never worn or once worn. Looking at a closet full of new clothes rarely worn that I’m tired of looking at. My young adult daughter has the answer – only buy what you really love and wear the heck out of them – which keeps her closet uncluttered and she has the same concept about her room, very uncluttered. It’s very soothing, calming and gives me instant HAPPINESS when I walk in. :o)

  • http://listinglunatic.blogspot.com mike

    Can’t wait for your new book, Happiness at home… even men might like reading this? I know i enjoy and laugh out loud since it’s so freaking TRUE!
    starting a hangout on google + if anybody is interested?

  • http://changestory.com sean koon

    “And spend out applies to creativity…” This is the phrase that grabbed me in this article and made me think. Am I tempted to save some of “my best stuff” for some uncertain future opportunity? But maybe hoarding puts a lid on what “my best stuff” really is. If I’m saving “my best work” in a mental file for the future, aren’t I telling myself that I can’t do better than that? I have to get that stuff out there before my next (even better) “best stuff” can be created.

    • http://YourNextSolutionist.com/ Jinisha B.

      Right on Sean..I, too, save old articles I wrote and keep going back to them everytime I find myself stuck on a new piece. If anything, that old stuff is only restraining me from creating more awesome stuff. Going to put all old stuff away in a hidden folder right about now.

  • Colleen

    Gretchen – If you lived in Atlanta, i’d suggest meeting up for coffee. Heck, I’d even spend the big bucks and treat you to Starbucks. I respect you that much. :). Be proud of what you do – it matters. If you’re ever in town & killing time at a starbucks (sorry,wears short on diversity here) lemme know. I’d love to meet you.

  • Mary

    Gretchen thanks to wonderful ideas given here by you and other commenters I am finally getting to understand why I have been hoarding and am trying harder than ever to stop it. I know it makes me miserable, and the best piece of advice I have heard in a long while is “buy what you love and wear the heck out of it!!” all aboard for an easier 2012 xx

  • Sarah

    When i was a child, i had a favorite t-shirt. I loved it so much that i never wore it, because i didn’t want it to get stained, worn out, or ruined. One day, i decided i really wanted to wear this beloved t-shirt. I pulled it out of my drawer and put it on. Or tried to put it on. It didn’t fit; i had outgrown it. Some things are meant to be enjoyed now, and saving them so that you don’t risk losing them robs them of what joy they have to offer. Thanks for this post.

    • LindaInJersey

      Oh my goodness! A light bulb went on; some bells and whistles too. “I had outgrown it” is applicable to so much stuff, internal and external!

  • Cynthia Savell

    Gretchen, I had to laugh at this commandment. How about this: you give me some of your “saving” ability and I will share my “spending” ability.

  • Jill

    seriously!!!!! I came across this appropriate blog at the right time SPEND OUT and don’t feel guilty about it!!! Thanks Gretchen for supporting me.

  • http://www.pamelajorrick.blogspot.com Pamela

    Thank you for this! I’ve been working on this very thing in a major life de-clutter. I too find myself holding on to things that are ready to be tossed and saving things I should just use and enjoy. It feels lovely to have and use nice new things and to let go of the things I don’t really need.

  • Renee

    LOL Great commandment, but I can’t say I relate to this one. I enjoy wearing new underwear, in fact I can’t wait to throw the holey ones out! haha…. Seriously though, I definitely am not a “saver.” ;-) I’m the kind of person who’d LOOK for extra occasions to use the good China. (Assuming I owned some China.)

  • http://searchingfortheroadlesstravelled.wordpress.com/ Patrick

    This was a wonderful post Gretchen! I definitely have the same habits about not using things, wanting to ‘save’ ideas etc. I’ve never heard anyone else talk about this as it relates to writing, so thanks for bringing it up!

  • http://whatwillknows.wordpress.com Will

    Gretchen, I do the SAME EXACT thing with new clothes. I enjoy the look and the idea of knowing if a great occasion is coming, I’ll have that new t-shirt, jeans, or jacket to wear…yet when the occasion comes up, I end up buying something else new to wear! How insane am I?! You’ve pinpointed it perfectly! Spend up…Truly, what am I waiting for? Thanks again!

  • Linda

    Gretchen
    Wow it was like reading myself. I have tried to be frugal but one of your readers commented on how frugality can derail into ‘save/hoarding’. I received a lovely set of towels for my bridal shower…. I kept saving them for a special occasion. 22 years and a divorce later those towels were never used! And they looked so ridiculously dated when I finally took them out… I couldn’t use them. There are many of these incidents…. including saving a shirt for so long it had yellowed when i went to use it years later…..
    Spend out….. I am working on that.
    Thank you.

  • Sondra

    It is like you are speaking my thoughts! I don’t recall how old you are, but I’m sure you’re much younger than I am and I’m surprised how much you think like I do. I am 65 and newly retired and trying to revamp my life (and my closets), but it is soooo hard to get rid of things. Plus the sheer volume of stuff is overwhelming! You came into my life at exactly the right time and I am so thankful for your messages and your perspective. I have given your book as gifts and look forward to your new one. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  • Sacha

    I total agree, In the past I have had a bad habit of buying to much the reason being I might need it or its on sale and it will come in handy somewhere down the road but lately I am using it up because now it is starting to become too much, on the verg of hording, I never put a term to it so now I will say to people “its called spending out”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/karla.booker Karla Booker

    I’ve been really, really struggling with feeling misunderstood and quite alien lately… and it is making me UNHAPPY – waiting for someone to ‘get’ me before I can feel ok with myself…. I googled HAPPINESS… and your site came up first… God, the Good, at work again… when I’m SURE She has forgotten all about me again!!! Reading this ‘spending out’ and the reason for it… is absolutely JUST ME!. I’m going to spend today writing out my 12 commandments… or at least 10.
    Please know that you are being used in a powerful way today in the life of me. God bless.

  • Styl Emum

    I clicked through as I couldn’t imagine what Spend Out could be on your commandment list (which I loved btw) but this post really struck a cord with me as I had a clear out yesterday and decided to keep hold of the oldest, grottiest, holiest t-shirts with the rationale- “I’ll wear them in bed” The truth………… argh, you already covered it.

  • Yoga Gal

    Dressing for the drama of your life means never hoarding your best knickers!!! Life is the occasion. Maybe this is the time to practise a little gratitude for the good undies in the drawer and put them on.

  • Aspen

    Yes!! Just this year, I convinced myself to stop “saving” my favorite clothes for later and to start wearing them and enjoying them now. I love the feel of something that’s brand new but hate to shop, and get nervous that I’ll never find a [pair of jeans/sweater/dress/scarf] that will fit as well and feel as great as the one sitting in my closet, not being worn. There used to be some benefit to the habit when I was in my teens and 20s and truly could not afford nice clothes – so I had to keep the few I had in good condition for nice occasions – but you’re so right that it’s just as wasteful to own something and never use it as to throw something away! What’s worse, since I don’t like to own a lot of “stuff” (which I think is good), I’d end up wearing the same few things over and over and over until they weren’t looking so good… but wouldn’t touch the nice stuff!

  • Lauren

    Yes!! But not with things as much as with creative ideas. Like you said…filling them out by the teaspoonful — I love that — so me!

  • Shortey618

    I’m a hoarder. ;) I love holding on to paper. I don’t know a solution.

  • Skyler White

    The fiction (and I think screenwriting) term for this idea is “burn story.” You don’t save cool plot moments or great lines for the sequel, you use them *now* believing you’ll make more when you need them. Funny, I’ve never thought to extend the idea to all the “good” candles I keep in a drawer at home. Lighting one now.

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE this phrase.

  • http://twitter.com/sarahmath97 Sarah Mathews

    I do the same thing with old clothes. I keep them around as long as possible. However, I use the new stuff unless I stashed it away somewhere and I forgot I had it.

  • Jen.

    Oh so true! Just cleaned out a closet and had to get rid of a bunch of stuff that was “saved” but now is too small/out of date/etc. Now I also am working on not only using what I have but loving what I have. I have lots of great stuff so why not enjoy it?!

  • http://thesepeastastefunny.blogspot.com Terry Cohoe

    This really hit home with me. I remember my parents giving me this great art kit with acrylic paints, brushes and canvases. I was so afraid of using up the paints that I couldn’t bring myself to crack them open. Finally, nearly a decade later (or was it longer than that?) I decided to go for it. Well, the paints had dried up and I couldn’t use them. I try to keep that in mind when I’m tempted to save things.

  • http://twitter.com/Sara_Runs Sara K. Burg

    OMG…I totally do this! I bought a new laptop (which was much needed) and couldn’t get myself to use it for 2 months. Part of me thinks I don’t deserve nice new things.

  • http://twitter.com/kylapoyner Kyla

    this is me, I call it “keeping things nice”. glad I’m not alone!

  • KarenL

    I do the same with jewellery.. WheneverI buy new jewellery, it goes into the safe. Occasionally I take it out of the safe, look at it, get the warm and fuzzy feeling and then back it goes until I feel enough time has passed for me to wear it. Absolutely crazy – from now on, no more. From today I spend out!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joy.i.marks Joy Marks

    I love expensive scented candles but never burn them all the way down. This month I have been “using” up my half burned lovely smelling candles to enjoy and my house smells better and I don’t feel guilty when I put the spent candle in the trash.

  • Vigam

    Oh my! This is so me. I’m such a hoarder. I shall have to SPEND OUT ! I intend to start TODAY …..NOW,!

  • http://twitter.com/YouEverySecond YES You Every Second

    Oh great post! Specially the part about holding back articles for some time…
    I do this a lot and reading you as been like a wakeup call!
    Thanks Gretchen!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.barnes.9619 Elizabeth Barnes

    I’m vegan, and love to try new foods that fit into my eating habits. I’ll often go to the health food store…find a really neat new frozen dish, bring it home, put it in my freezer and not want to eat it because I’m saving it…not sure what I’m saving it for…I often finally serve it when it has just the first hint of freezer burn. One of my resolutions this year is to spend out in my cooking…thank you for this article!

  • Cherela

    I do this with jewelry and makeup…not so much with the idea of ‘saving them’ but with the related idea, I think, of telling myself, “I don’t have the time to put them on…I’m a middle-aged mom, who cares if I look good when I go to the grocery store.” Well, I’m putting on some lipstick and a bracelet today! It’s not doing any good sitting in my drawer. And I deserve to take the time for myself…it will make me happier.

    Thanks, Gretchen.

  • Flower

    I am happy to share that I do not do this! My mom gave me crystal bowls that she had for years and never used – I keep one on my kitchen counter, holding my fruit.

  • David

    I have been trying really hard to do this with food. Over the past month or two I have tried to use an old sauce or marinade, bag of beans, can of tomatoes, stock, frozen veggies for all my food. I still need to buy a couple things to go along with what I’m using up, but it is great watching my cupboards slowly empty and spending almost nothing on groceries. It is amazing how much has been sitting in there. Years in some cases. Now I actually have space in the cupboards instead of packing everything in, this made it possible to organize everything, elimnating the need to dig through to find something. very freeing experience.

  • Candyce

    This speaks to me over and over!

  • http://twitter.com/realitychickaus reality chick

    Great topic Gretchen! I do this too – with clothes, make-up, even treasured ceramics I’ve bought overseas. Recently my mother gave me a beautiful old hand-painted salad bowl she found in an antique store, knowing I’d love it. I decided, no more hoarding or ‘saving’ for a better time (when IS that anyway?) and we spent out big time, using it almost every night for salad or veggies. Then it got a massive crack and chip in the wash and I was heartbroken. I’m hoping to fix it but at the same time am so glad I didn’t save it because we got so much joy from using it the past few months!

  • http://twitter.com/realitychickaus reality chick

    PS. I just had to share a story of a former boyfriend too, who saved to ridiculous extents. When he was a kid he was given a box of expensive crayons that he saved and saved because they were too good to use then one day he opened them and they’d all melted into one big mess! :)

  • Muhammad

    Hi baby can you please post picture of yourself with underwear thanks yours

  • Cindy Brown

    I’m frugal, but honey, I wear my Everyday Underwear! I even named my blog after them ;0)

  • Terry Insinga

    I’m just getting around to reading this now in 2013 because you made reference to it in today’s post. Oh my gosh, is this me! I am so glad that I’m not the only crazy person to hold on to new things. I was LOL-ing when I read that you saved your markers in their case. I do the exact same thing. I also hoard my clipped recipes, pretty new journals, candles, and even bottled marinades and such. I feel compelled to use up all my old stuff before I allow myself to touch any new stuff. I have realized that I am being penny-wise and pound-foolish ( I think nothing of spending $40 on a new craft item that I don’t need!).

  • Merissa

    It sounds like a dose of minimalism may help you. If you’re “wearing the same laundered new pairs, so that [you] can “save” the new ones that are still neatly folded, with their tags on,” then you probably don’t need the ones with their tags on. Are the ones you’ve already broken into sufficient for your life? The beauty of minimalism is that you only have what you need. If you only have what you need, then you need everything you have – so you wouldn’t be able to “save” pens or underwear because you’ll need to use them! I like that you explained this goes beyond just material possessions. Certainly food for thought!

  • Ashley Renee

    I concur with other commenters…your book and blog post above literally summarized what I do and why (ie., loving something so much you don’t use it)!!! It is refreshing to read about others like me who wonder if they are also “crazy” because of this behavior! ;) After reading your article, I realized that I also “save” my good ideas too, so I vowed to “spend out” in that regard as well. That night I cut the tags off of a brand new pair of shorts and wore them for the first time after three years! Tonight I will be pairing down my saved boxes…you know, the empty boxes people like me save for occasions such as holiday gifts, packing, storage and otherwise transporting gifts? And this week, I will be posting a blog entry I have been saving for the longest time. Anyway, here is my thank you to you: http://mylifespacemoments.blogspot.com/2013/06/how-to-fill-my-space_29.html

  • Wendy

    This reminds me of when people try to give me things, nice things I know I will never use because we just aren’t “nice” people. You know like crystal and dinning sets with matching china patterns. My family are plastic plates people and we are ok with it. If I had the china I’d totally “spend it out” and then the person who gave me their treasured gift would invariably think I had done something terrible by destroying such lovely items. If you don’t use them what is the point? I love this post.

  • Lisa

    Can you update the link to the pens … i would love to get my hands on them!

  • Jenifer Lewis

    Under some circumstances, I will deliberately NOT wear something I bought. That’s because too often I have bought an article of clothing, loved it, wore it until it wore out, and then could not find a replacement, even at the very place I had bought it (e.g. LL Bean).
    So now, when I find something I really love, I will sometimes buy two of them and put one away for the day when I wear out the other.

  • Ann

    I get given candles for Christmas and birthdays and I never seem to use them up, so for the last two or three days I have been burning candles all over the place and when they are used up I will enjoy finding a use for the containers they came in, mostly shot glasses! Thanks Gretchen for all your lovely creative, encouraging ideas

  • CJ James

    for my second wedding in june, i bought an extremely expensive bottle of perfume. one i would never normally buy. i used some money i had saved from my mother who has since shut me out of her life. it was tempting to save and use this perfume sparingly. on special occasions.
    instead i used it everyday. generously. it’s been six months of glorious scent and now the bottle is gone. i still feel pleased about it.