Some time ago I read an article in the New York Times titled You Can’t Take It With You, but You Still Want More and I can’t stop thinking about it. If you’re a research nut (or are looking for three peer-reviewed articles for a research paper), the actual study is published in Psychological Science and available through your local library. In a rather small nutshell, the study found that students from a “large public university” (I’m assuming in the US since 2/3 of the authors are from American institutions, but I could be wrong) will forgo leisure in order to earn more of something they cannot consume. Their methodology is actually really interesting (why can’t I ever think of something clever like that??) and the NYTimes summarizes it better than I will attempt to. But it led me to wonder, in my own life…..
Why can’t I just appreciate something without feeling the need to have it???
I just went through my sewing pattern stash and set aside 56 patterns I don’t expect I’ll ever make and it hardly made a dent in my lifelong accumulation.
I’ve tried to justify my hoarding– “They’re so cheap, so what if I never get around to it?!” “It’s creative inspiration!” “How can I NOT buy this ridiculous vintage bra pattern?”
Do I have any intention of making a big old bullet bra? Absolutely not. But the problem is, even with all of my justification, when I do clean out my stash, I feel a little guilty. I start telling myself “you really need to sew more” or “you waste so much money.” So it’s no longer fun or “inspirational,” but instead something else that I’m not doing enough of (other things: exercise, cleaning, meeting new people, hiking, library assessment, publishing, whatever). My attempts at self-discipline have more often than not failed. For example, I’m fortunate enough to have a dedicated craft room in my apartment and when I moved in here, I told myself No More Hangers= No More Fabric:
I have continued buying fabric:
My sewing board on Pinterest has almost 400 pattern and fabric pins. When I see some kind of FABULOUS pattern on Etsy (those glasses!):
all I want to do is buy it just so….I can have it? WHERE DOES THIS MADNESS END??
I remember reading an article in an anthropology class in college– The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race by Jared Diamond (spoiler alert: Diamond believes it’s agriculture). This particular passage has stayed with me:
Are twentieth century hunter-gatherers really worse off than farmers? Scattered throughout the world, several dozen groups of
so-called primitivepeople, like the Kalahari bushmen, continue to support themselves that way. It turns out that these people have plenty of leisure time, sleep a good deal, and work less hard than their farming neighbors. For instance, the average time devoted each week to obtaining food is only 12 to 19 hours for one group of Bushmen, 14 hours or less for the Hadza nomads of Tanzania. One Bushman, when asked why he hadn’t emulated neighboring tribes by adopting agriculture, replied, “Why should we, when there are so many mongongo nuts in the world?“
I’m ignoring Diamond’s use of “primitive” to describe Kalahari people. Anyway, why indeed work so hard when there are enough proverbial mongogo nuts to satiate everyday’s appetite? I recognize this could be a “first-world problem,” but regardless, it’s hard to deny the Glorification of Busy. So many tools that were created to streamline everyday activities turn into a time-suck that leaves us feeling overwhelmed and not good enough. Plenty of people have written about the problem with comparing oneself to “perfect” social media images, so I won’t get into that. I love Pinterest and social media, so I’m not ever going to just give it up. I am struggling with how to see something that I could potentially purchase and just appreciate it without owning it. Or learning how to shift my leisure time from spending so much time online PLANNING projects to an activity more meaningful, like actual sewing. And doing so without making myself feel guilty when I do indulge in an Etsy-athon. As someone who is so tied to my to-do list (which rarely involves anything fun), I’m trying to keep telling myself that I’m allowed to play. Not that I “deserve” to play (that indicates I have to do something to earn it). But also that I don’t have to accomplish every idea that comes in my head. So what that I have 99 crafts on a Pinterest board or almost 200 items of clothing on another? Do I have to do/purchase all of them? No. But I should be considering why I feel the need to purchase every single thing that appeals to me.
If you can’t tell, I’ve been reading a number of self-help books.
I started this post as a stream of consciousness, so I’ll try to wrap it up as nicely as I can. I know all I can do is spout platitudes like “You do enough!” or “Comparison is the thief of joy!” But as I learn to be less cynical about these kinds of things, I start to accept them. I did an activity last week similar to The Wheel of Life and it helped me put into perspective what in my life I value and how I should work on balancing my time. The only way a consumerist society can work is if most people feel unsatisfied with their current state. So stop judging others. Stop comparing. And ask yourself often: “Do I want to do this right now? Do I have to do this right now?” If the answer is no to both, fuck it.
In case you were wondering, the books I’ve been reading are:
The Gifts of Imperfection by Dr. Brené Brown
Dr. Brown might be known by some from her TED talks. People like her because she’s not all crunchy “love yourself and others!!” and is very relatable.
Making Peace with Your Plate by Robin Cruze and Espra Andrus
Even though this was meant for people with Eating Disorders, E.D. can be replaced with any number of things. After all, eating disorders are arguably one manifestation of perfectionism. If you have a tendency to be obsessed with being perfect at something or reaching an unattainable goal– whether it’s weight loss, academics, your home life, etc. this book will magnify the irrational thinking behind it.
Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice by Dr. Robert W. Firestone, Dr. Lisa Firestone, and Joyce Catlett
I haven’t finished this book, but it’s full of readings and activities to bring out the reasoning being your critical self-talk.
Mr. Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo
Not a self-help book, but a novel. It is AMAZING so I wanted to share. I guess I could argue it shows how living under an expected “norm”– and judging others based on that norm– is really a form of critical self-talk. Maybe.