The personal challenge presented by a white t-shirt. Preposterous.

This month’s theme is “Buy a white t-shirt; throw away a white t-shirt.” I set myself this goal because I have trouble making myself buy things I truly need or would love to possess, and once I own something, it’s hard to make myself let go of it—even when I should.

My favorite summer uniform is jeans or khakis with a v-neck white t-shirt. The burn rate on white t-shirts is pretty high, so I really should buy some new ones each year.

But instead, I hang on to the old ones too long—even when they’re looking very dingy. Because I hate to buy new shirts, I don’t want to let the old ones go.

Even though buying a white t-shirt was a key mission for July, it was July 15 before I actually managed to make a purchase.

It was only recently that I noticed that I vastly preferred white t-shirts. In the past, when I did go shopping, I’d buy a variety of colors and styles, on the assumption that I’d like some choices.

But then every morning, I’d reach for the same tired white shirts.

I’m not alone in failing to predict what I’ll want in the future. Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness describes a study in which volunteers were asked to come to the lab for a snack once a week for several weeks. Some volunteers received their favorite snack each time; some volunteers got their favorite snack most of the time, and their second-favorite snack at other times. Which group was happier? The no-variety group. People preferred to have their favorite snack each time.

In the same way, I’ve realized that every day, I will choose the white shirt. So that’s what I should buy.

I find it tough to shop for myself, and I’m only somewhat better about buying needful things for my family. For example, the Big Girl was frustrated by her backpack. She’s had it for several years, and it’s too small to hold her camp impedimenta and her Tae Kwon Do uniform. As for her lunch—no way that’s going to fit.

She’s been asking for a bigger backpack since camp started, and she really needs one. And she’ll need it for school, too. But did I buy a backpack as soon as it was clear she needed it? No.

Now, I think it’s good for children to work up some real longing and anticipation. But the Big Girl needs the backpack for purely practical reasons. It’s not a treat.

I finally followed my own rule: Identify the problem. Why hadn’t I bought a backpack? Answer: I didn’t know where to buy it and dreaded hunting through a lot of stores.

As soon as I recognized the problem, I knew the solution. I have a friend who always knows where to buy all the stuff kids need: the soft insulated lunch bag, the kind of swimcap that doesn’t pull hair.

So I asked her where she bought her son’s backpack. She told me where I could buy a backpack for $15, at a store six blocks from my house. I went; I chose the blue one; I bought.

It’s one of Life’s True Rules: take advantage of someone else’s research.

; ; ;

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