Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten-Cent Store

I do something odd.

Yes, of course, I do many things which are odd and that is why people either really like me or let my calls go to voice-mail, but we shall speak of a specific oddity today. Lately, I looked entirely too happy while doing chores around the house. Emptying the dishwasher or putting clothing on the drying rack rarely brings out small private smiles and humming unless you’re drugged, which I’m not, no matter how many times I explain to a doctor how drugging me might cause fewer people to let my calls to go voice-mail. Here’s where all the happy stems from.

I dislike nearly every thing I own. I have disgust for my dishes. I loathe my linens. I have a grievance with my glasses and so on. For some items, I liked them when I bought them but that was a long time ago. Others, I inherited and thought “Don’t love it but it will work until it wears out and I can justify buying something I like.” And then we had a child and the child had needs and the needs had payment schedules and I have made do. [Consort hates that phrase, “Make do.” He swears it sounds fecal. We won’t tell him I used it.]

For years, interacting with these items made me feel awful because...well, let’s consider our sheets. The sheets have a perfectly adequate thread-count but the fitted sheets and the top sheets don’t exactly match because there was a big sale and I went for thread count and not matching. The only matching set on deep discount which would fit on our bed had a tiger print with a background of orange, proving there is something worse than the phrase “Making do.”

Every week, I’m confronted with the terrible truth that the sheets are good enough and that I can have a coordinated bed or I can have a daughter with straight teeth. I just heard one of you pipe in. “Go to Target!” you caroled. “Spend a little money and get what you like! It’ll hold you until you can get more expensive stuff!” That’s how I got my bathroom towels.

At what point did mid-price towels stop absorbing water? I just know those high-end towels do more than weakly blot before gasp-whispering "Couldn’t possibly drink in any more.” When I step out of the shower, Squeakers the cat lunges in to the bathroom and sets to licking my ankles. It’s weird and I’d stop her but she removes more water than my towels do. So I continue to use, launder and re-use these towels. I also continue to scowl because I’m grown and without ever putting it into words I always assumed part of being grown is having better stuff. I have grad-student stuff. I am done with making do, and yet I continue to make with the do.

A few weeks ago, I was emptying the dishwasher and confronting my least favorite coffee cup. The drycleaners gave us this cup for Christmas two years ago and I’m very tired of looking at their dorky logo while I wait for my water to boil. Still, I can’t give it up because there’s nothing wrong with it besides the small chip in the handle and how it fills me with despair. I said out loud, “I win the lottery, you are so out of here.” Instantly, my mood brightened. I put away the blameless salad plates I so despise and thought, That lottery money won’t even be in the bank before I get rid of you.

The dishwasher was emptied in a trice. I looked around the kitchen with new, joyous eyes. Coffee-maker which works fine but burps? See ya. The napkins which never exactly matched the walls? Someone will love you. Someone far away. The hanging baskets which work fine unless the barometric pressure changes or they’re feeling a little emotional at which point they tip over? Go deposit bananas and vitamins on another head, pal.

There are a couple of flaws to this new attitude. First, I don’t actually play the lottery but from what I understand of odds that means I’m only slightly less likely to win than any given player. Second, were I to suddenly swim in money while wearing a bathing-suit made of money, I’d end up looking at my serviceable-yet-crappy stuff and think “Let’s just give that money to the Red Cross for Japan. And Japanese animal-rescue. And American animal-rescue. And educate a few hundred girls in Afghanistan. And feed some American kids who don’t have food security.”

I’m not placing any halo on myself, I just know what actual money would do to my conscience and there’s no towel so expensive it could absorb that guilt. I’d make do and write checks. I’d hate my blender but could sleep. But in my imagination, I’m throwing about 85% of the items in my house into Hefty bags and taking them to Goodwill. I’m removing them from my car -- Wait, I hate my car. I’m removing them from my new car. Or possibly my personal assistant is doing that for me.

In my imagination, I’m laughing a rich tinkling little laugh as I head to all those lovely stores where everything matches and a coffee cup, upon developing a chip, softly implodes into ceramic dust .

In reality, I fold laundry and smile a contented and wealthy smile.


Blogger Manic Missy said...

i liked ur post. Feel the same way about the "stuff" in my house.. and feel the same guilt about throwing away perfectly "usable" stuff even if I despise.. i think we have too much common sense for our own good.

10:53 AM  
Blogger Debbie St.Amand said...

Wait. Our napkins are supposed to match the walls? I'm in deep trouble!


11:00 AM  
Blogger Leta said...

Yep, I understand completely. I can't seem to get rid of things that still work but no longer please me, either. Sometimes it works out that I can, like when a nearby shelter needs old towels and - yay - they get my old towels and - yay - I get to buy new ones.

I inherited some money recently and I replaced my 12-year-old car and increase the money I give to theaters and charities by many-fold. Everybody wins.

But somehow having more money makes me want new things less. I'm not sure I understand that, but I'll go with it. "Making do" is a lot less onerous when it's a choice.

11:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Up until my mid-30's, I moved about every two years, so I had to live a very minimalist life-style. Six years ago I packed my most favorite possessions into my Civic, drove cross country and settled in Portland. Having no job, I kept my purchases to a minimum: they were either bargain-basement or they were something I loved. Now I live with Partner, and I realize everything here is his. I do have some things I love, but they've had to squeeze in to his decor - like my vintage sixties, hanging, orange ball lamp. The flip side of having things you love: when they break, you feel awful.

11:41 AM  
Blogger badrhinogillett said...

Just two days ago, my husband and I were mentally decorating our house with our lottery winnings! (note to self: start playing lotto)

11:43 AM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

Towels, Quinn, buy some new towels. Honestly, the amount it will lift your spirits and the time it will save will be well worth the small expense. You can cut up and use the old towels as rags instead of paper towels, hence offsetting the cost. Go for it - just this one thing.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

First of all, my cat does the same thing. I just figure my ankles are doubly clean.

Second of all, this is entirely how I am, too. I still have towels that my mother bought for me to use at college. Yes, that means they're from the 80s. They're ugly and they have some fraying and some holes, but they still *work* so they stay. Every time I open the linen closet, I am confronted by their ugliness, their bleached-out, color-faded, frayed-edged hideousness. And yet, they stay. They'll stay until they are no longer usable for drying our family's girth, and then they can be repurposed for dust clothes or donated to an animal rescue, but that day has yet to arrive. Let me just say that a lot of good would be done, but also that I'd never clean a toilet or mop a floor in my house again. I am selfish enough to include "housecleaning for life" in my spending list.

I also aspire to win the lottery and have the ways I'd use the money all divided up in my mind, but I never buy a ticket unless the jackpot is really astronomical, like north of $300 million. Otherwise, what's the point? ;-)

(Totally unrelated to anything in your post, but my word verification is "colashew" which sounds like some sort of Big Game-Time snack idea gone horribly awry. Can't you picture an ad/marketing person coming up with that? "Soda and nuts.... we'll call it Colashews! BRILLIANT!" No? Just me? Okay, never mind.)

12:50 PM  
Blogger Nancy in PA said...

As someone who has spent my entire married life perfecting the art of "Home Decorating in Early-Modern-Yard-Sale" while converting all that saved cash into amazing quantities of homeschooling materials, I offer my empathy. Not to mention that I also fight the guilt of, "Do I REALLY need new bath rugs when children are starving in Africa?" Darn my mothers for raising me with a focus on character development... oh, shoot... does this mean that MY daughter still will be using dishtowels from HER wedding when she starts teaching HER child to drive??? *look of horror* What have I done...

Seriously, though... about 5 years ago I gave myself a small budget (under $100) and redid my bathroom (paint, accessories, a few new matching towels, etc). When it was done, I cried tears of delight as though Ty Pennington had just built me a new house and was saying, "Welcome home!" LOL Something to consider. ;-) A morale boost is never a bad thing - and I don't think the kids in Africa minded one bit...

5:52 AM  
Blogger Elsie said...

Thank you so much for remembering that there are worthy causes (and great needs) here in the United States as well as overseas when you plan your charitable giving. Here's hoping you win that lottery! (Assuming you ever get around to purchasing a ticket or two!)

PS: I agree with Sara: buy the towels. You're worth it. :) AND you'll be saving money & time on laundry.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous josita said...

Keep smiling!

A practical note: fabric softener makes towels less absorbent. The internetz has multiple and often conflicting advice on how to remove the buildup.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Judy said...

If I ever win the lottery I plan to replace my socks.
I hate to admit this, but my favorite thing about spring eventually coming to Michigan is that I will no longer have to spend my mornings hunting down socks that match.
Only two people live here, but I swear we have thousands upon thousands of socks with nary a twin for any of them.
I'd donate them to charity if they had any value, but in my weird little world they will someday become odd sock puppets. For some reason it's easier for me to throw away a sad looking puppet than a lonely sock awaiting the return of its mate.
Go buy new towels.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this post, as I can relate! I have been "making do" with odd pieces of furniture in my bedroom and I find myself getting so irritated and angry at "all the ugliness". And yet it is so hard to spend the money, when there are so many other priorities. Still, I agree with Sara. When I finally got rid of old towels for new ones i felt much better and the old towels were used to wrap some storage items, so nothing was wasted. I have never fantasized about lottery winnings; Maybe I should give that a try when visualizing my bedroom!

7:51 PM  
Blogger MommyLisa said...

Oh man. I totally do that all the time.

9:03 AM  
Blogger Mary said...

Yup, I totally relate. I seem to have turned middle age into a new weird austerity. But every once in a while, I'll run into just the right thing at just the right price, and LAAAA!!! I can donate the junky cheap stupid kitchen clock for the nifty retro teal one that makes me smile EVERY SINGLE DAY! Something that makes me smile every day is worth every single penny. I already found towels that absorb. But now I'll smile at them and think of you.

Yes. Get new towels. And troubleshoot new towel issues by buying a tester washcloth or hand-towel. :-) Then you can smile at your wonderfully absorbent and amazing towels for the next 25 years.

4:44 PM  

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