I was in my backyard preparing my garden for the upcoming fall weather when I noticed a beautiful flower pot that I had purchased a year ago was now covered in little bits of sap from the trees that line our property. I’m attaching a picture so you can see the planter in all its dotted glory. I had paid about twenty dollars for this flower pot at a local hardware store and while I wasn’t particularly attached to it I enjoyed the way it looked in my landscape, the added pop of color it provided. So when I saw that it was covered in little bits of sap my initial instinct was to throw it away and replace it. This has always been my instinct. Why spend the time to clean this planter when I could replace it for a mere twenty dollars. I mean, after all, what’s my time worth?
I learned the phrase “what’s your time worth” many years ago on a talk show. The guy being interviewed talked about how spending an hour to wash his car actually costs him money because he could be spending that hour with his family, which is more important. Or he could spend it working at his trade, making quadruple the amount that he would pay for someone else to wash his car, so why then, would he wash his own car? This made perfect sense to me at the time. As a student in a rigorous Master’s degree program I saw the future benefits of hiring the tedious and menial work out to someone else. I graduated and pursued this idea in many areas. Why wash my car, clean my house, paint my nails, or mow my grass when I could work an hour of overtime and make more in that hour than the costs of hiring those tasks out? Seemed like a “win win” situation to me.
This is the attitude that a lot of people have regarding consumption and most DIY projects. Why the hell would I spend an hour of my time cleaning this planter when I could spend that hour with my family or doing something more beneficial to me?
I stood next to my trash can with the planter hovering over the open lid and suddenly, I paused. Something stopped me from throwing it away. The old me wouldn’t have hesitated at all but the new me, the one who is dying to tell her boss to f**k off, had a sudden epiphany. If I continue to live my life with an attitude that allows consumption and spending instead of some hard work and DIY then I’m never going to reach financial independence. I closed the lid, got a brush and spent around thirty minutes cleaning the sap from the planter. Below is the result. It looks brand new.
The funny thing to me about this situation is that if I would have thrown the planter away and gone to the store to replace it, I would have spent well over thirty minutes of my time on that task. Let’s consider this for a minute…driving to the store, entering the lawn and garden section, locating the planter but then being distracted by the fall mums….and wait, are those scare crows? Well, we gotta have a scare crow and we need the mums. We also need some weed killer and that flag with the pumpkin on it to hang in the front flower bed…an hour and a half later I would have returned home with a new flower pot and $100 dollars in other items. All because I didn’t want to take the time to clean the flower pot I already owned.
Habits like these are the ones that are going to be the hardest for me to break. Its so easy to just run out and replace an item that we have forgotten how to maintain and repair the items. No, I’m not going to launch into a rant about landfills and oceans, stuff and mass produced junk. I don’t need to. Its been written to death and we are all aware that the cheap crap that comes from other countries is suffocating us in every direction. It’s not the crap that I want to talk about, its the habit and the ease with which I tend to mindlessly consume it.
Old Habits Die Hard
I found myself fighting this same battle in Target the other day. If you could have seen me standing there, in the aisle, holding the big king size comforter you would not have realized the mental struggle that was occurring. I found a lovely looking comforter ON CLEARANCE for $59!! Do you know how rare it is to find a king size comforter that cheap? It’s rare, very rare. I know this because I’ve been wanting to replace our current comforter for about a year, so every time I walk into a store that carries comforters I look. I haven’t found one that I love enough to spend $300 on it. But here I stood holding one that wasn’t expensive. I had found a deal!
The old me was about to take that comforter home. The new me stopped. I had walked into Target to buy one item, socks for my child, and I was about to buy a second item because it had a red sticker with the word clearance on it. Two things occurred to me as I stood there.
The first was that the only reason I was even considering this purchase was because of that red sticker. The comforter wasn’t one that I loved or just had to have on our bed. It wasn’t spectacular in any way. In fact, if the comforter had a regular price tag on it I would not have been having the mental debate. I didn’t love it enough to pay full price for it. I would have walked away without hesitation.
The second thing that occurred to me was that I was literally twitching. I was having an actual physical response to wanting to spend money. I had declared the first month of my FIRE journey as a “no spend month” for myself. This meant that for the month of August I would not make any purchases on non-consumable items such as clothes, shoes, books, decorations for the home, or toys for my daughter. This had made my first month a hard month as I didn’t fully realize just how easy it is for me to make impulse purchases until I couldn’t make them anymore. Entering the second month meant that I could spend money on something if I wanted to, and I was literally twitching to make a purchase.
The new me, the one that put the comforter back on the shelf, realized that I was tempted by the clearance sticker. I wanted to replace a perfectly fine comforter because I wanted to spend money, not because we actually needed a new comforter for our bed. How much time had I wasted shopping to replace items that didn’t need replacing because I had developed a habit of spending money? The new me would rather save that money and use our current bedding set until its so tattered it no longer provides us with warmth. The new me wants to change her life and that requires a change in habits.
I am now more aware of my desire to purchase items simply because I can. I’m pretty lucky to be in a profession where I can earn a living that allows me to be so carefree with my money. But it’s the frivolous nature of spending money that has me stuck in my current job. If I can’t permanently change these habits then I’m never going to reach financial independence. As I continue on my journey I will be sure to make a few changes in my shopping habits.
The first is to reconsider each item before I buy it. Is this item really needed? Do I have an item in my home that can be used instead of purchasing something new? The second change is to use up the items I already own, like our comforter, until they are no longer functional. In the past, I’ve purchased for style and beauty and while I don’t want my home or myself to look like I’ve given up or don’t care, do I really need the latest and the greatest?
The third change I’m going to make is to get organized. I was cleaning out my bathroom vanity when I discovered 12 tubes of chapstick, 4 tubes of hydrocortisone cream, and 5 bottles of lotion. Clearly, I buy items because I’m unorganized and don’t know that I already own them or can’t find them. The fourth change that I’m going to make is to simply not enter a store where temptation is looming, like Target, unless I have to. While I have nothing against Target I simply can’t enter the store for one item. I’m sure I could have purchased my daughter’s socks on Amazon where clearance stickers and comforters aren’t tempting me as easily.
Finally, I’m going to put the effort into maintaining the items I own instead of carelessly throwing them away. Sometimes all they need is a little love and a lot of elbow grease to be perfectly new again.