It’s my birthday this week, and so I have been delightfully inundated with gifts. (This year has been especially bountiful, since my lovely friends have also sent housewarming gifts, or bought me things which combine both. You guys!) Among these have been a fair amount of champagne, which is always welcome, and the usual magnificent haul of notebooks. I tell you, if you want great presents, get a brand…
But I also notice a theme when I talk about my impressive notebook collection among fellow stationery lovers. Which is, all too often, “Oh, I have some lovely notebooks, but they’re too nice to use”. Allied to this is generally something along the lines of “I’m scared I’d start a project then abandon it and waste the notebook”, “I’ll ruin it with my terrible handwriting”, or “I’m not a proper writer like you”.
This seems like a very specific issue, I’ll grant you, so I’m guessing if notebooks aren’t a thing that feature heavily in your life you’ve already lost interest. But honestly, I think it’s indicative of a wider issue about self-care, which is: why do we put off using the good stuff?
This can be in every aspect of our lives. Saving our sexy underwear for dates, our fancy crockery for guests, that bottle of champagne for a really special occasion, that notebook for when the really great idea strikes. And meanwhile, we make the life we are actually living now a little less special by rationing out our treats.
I’m not talking about using impractical things every day, obviously – most of us have the shoes/bras/jewellery/super-heavy le Creuset pan that we get a specific pleasure from using for a limited period but which would turn into unmitigated torture if we had to use everyday or for longer than it takes to get a taxi into town. I’m also not saying risk that super precious heirloom plate to the dishwasher ever day, if breaking it would break your heart along with it. (But… but…how much pleasure are you getting from it, sitting there unused? Isn’t that actually more heartbreaking?).
I’m talking about the small upgrades that we deny ourselves, often for the most ill-defined reasons – saving things ‘for best’ when we don’t have any idea of what that best is – or when it’ll come – instead of imbuing the everyday with tiny mood lifters, little moments of pleasure that can add a shine to your daily routine. Even the least materialistic of us reacts to our environment – you might not care about fancy stuff, but you still probably have a favourite mug or take a momentary delight in that rainbow-covered shower curtain.
I found myself doing this only today, when I packed away a stash of pricey shower gels I’d received as gifts and replaced them with a £1 bulk bottle I got from Lidl. “I’ll use that first,” I thought to myself, then stopped. Why? Just who the hell was I saving the good stuff for? I live alone, and I’m in my 40s, so have thinned out any friends who are going to judge me on the calibre of my toiletries. And yet, I had to give myself a stern talking to before I put the posh stuff back out.
It’s easy to frame this about money, but so often, it’s a false economy anyway. I was once helping a friend declutter her wardrobe (I am a stellar – if ruthless – declutterer: seriously, call me) when we came across a gorgeous dress I had never seen her wear. Was she saving it for some special occasion? A pending wedding? A job interview? Nope. “Oh, I never wear that, because I have to dry clean it,” she shrugged. “OK, but why not wear it at least once?” I asked. “It might end up sitting in the bottom of your laundry hamper till you can afford to clean it, but that’s getting one more use out of it than you are now.” (Reader: she wore the dress.) Are you really saving money by putting something aside for some nebulous future – by which time the fancy soap might have crumbled, the dress gone out of style, the flatware no longer be to your taste – when you could be enjoying it now? Ships are safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for*, and all that: most of our belongings are meant to be used. What are you really preserving by not using them?
And what message are you sending yourself, if the good stuff is saved for other people? (And note, I don’t necessarily mean the expensive things: I mean nice, I mean something you like and which lifts you up). If your pals coming over for the weekly DVD-watch get the chipped plates and the cheap fizz while you have the lovely wedding dinner service and that decent bottle of wine stashed away for… who? Someone more important than the folk who are there for you all the time? If the person looking back at you in the mirror everyday gets the bra with the dodgy underwire, but some random date gets a peak of Bravissimo’s finest?
And when it comes to notebooks and writing, I always give the same advice: use it now. For anything. Use it for any idea, no matter how trivial, how dumb, how fragmented. Treat your ideas with respect by giving them a nice home, and you might find that they flourish under such attention. And besides, nobody knows what the future holds – life throws us plenty of curveballs, and all your careful hoarding may well be for nought. We could all die in a fiery nuclear explosion tomorrow. You could walk outside and get hit by a bus. Might as well be wearing your nice pants.
*I’m a history geek so can also provide an illuminating list of occasions when ships weren’t actually safe in harbour to strengthen my argument, should I need to. Honestly, I am a delight.
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