How can I break this thought pattern?
March 31, 2012 9:40 PM   Subscribe

I haven't been able to use certain items or do certain things until I feel my life has "started." How can I break this thought pattern?

Almost ten years ago, I received some very cute stickers that are to be used for marking certain events, such as date night, test, etc on a calendar. I was just in middle school, and that's the first memory I have of waiting to use something until some vague notion of life has been achieved.

When I was in high school, I received as a gift an expensive polo shirt. I still have never worn it. I have clothes, makeup, a watch, shoes, etc, etc, etc, that I can't bring myself to use because of several reasons.

First, I have this idea that I'll use those items when I'm at a certain place in my life. Sometimes, I reach that place. For instance, I had a pair of sandals that I didn't want to use until I moved. I was very unhappy where I was living, and I just wanted to "save" them for when I lived somewhere nicer. Now I live someplace lovely, and I use the sandals. But there's still so much I'm not using.

Second, I put off using them because I like having nice things. I don't have a ton of money, and when I receive something nice or buy something especially nice, I don't want to ruin it by using it. I love that "new thing" feeling.

Third, I continue to buy things in hopes of using them when I become the person I want to be. I have quite a bit of makeup that I don't use, because I don't feel ready yet. I have pictures on my fridge of women who inspire me, of styles I admire, of an aesthetic that I want to live.

And yet, every day, I wear the same old clothes, my hair, while clean and brushed, still looks unkempt, and I am clearly anything but made up. I don't want to dress up everyday and use up all of my nice things at once, but what I would like to do is improve my baseline. I want my everyday appearance to be slightly nicer, I want to maybe once a week wear one of my lovely dresses or use some of my nice jewelry. I want to use those stickers on my calendar.

I'm pretty sure I know why I am this way. I grew up being told I was a perfectionist. I realize I have some obsessive tendencies. I guess that I am asking for practical tips on how to coax myself into finally living my life and to stop waiting for whatever it is I'm waiting for. Maybe I need permission from strangers on the internet to wear my nice dress tomorrow? How ridiculous and self-indulgent. But I'd still like to get out of this pattern of thinking that I've held for a long time.

So, how can I do that?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (54 answers total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
This will help.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:44 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you considered the possibility that you might have OCD?
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:48 PM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Maybe I need permission from strangers on the internet to wear my nice dress tomorrow?

Permission granted. Also: Carpe diem, you only live once, etc.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:49 PM on March 31, 2012 [9 favorites]

I was and am very similar to you. I believe that if you use the things you are saving, you move toward being the person you want to be. It is the issue of increments that is the problem. A perfectionist view says tomorrow everything must look the way I always imagined my life to be when I become the woman I envision as "arrived." Reality says you move to that place continuously through significant effort and, of course, using all your nice things and ideas. That's the hard part, and it is a daily struggle. It is not silly or ridiculous or self-indulgent. Making yourself better is hard, and it means you do your best every day, even if it is only a little.
posted by oflinkey at 9:49 PM on March 31, 2012 [22 favorites]

And that with very specific therapy you could begin to break whatever mental block exists between you and living your life as fully as you want to?

I say this because you sound an awful lot like me as a teen and young adult, and therapy was what helped me overcome my OCD to just live and stop paralyzing myself with illogical behavior.

(pressed send too soon. Sorry)
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:51 PM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your writing style feels very careful and deliberate. That's a good thing, but it makes me wonder: When's the last time you really pushed yourself outside your comfort zone? Sometimes shaking up your life a little (skydiving, an impulse weekend trip, zipping down a mountain on the back of a motorcycle -- anything completely reckless) throws your perspective in a good way and makes you realize that life is for living, stuff is for using.
posted by mochapickle at 9:53 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yes, I think it was in some movie, someone said "don't wait til the weekend to wear your favorite underwear..." and that can be applied to other things, too. "don't wait to wear your favorite perfume", etc. I hope you do start enjoying your items.

I used to be that way a little bit, but then for some reason, I just decided to start wearing my "nicer" things whenever I felt like it and wearing my favorite perfume more than on weekends, etc. But yeah, the thought might still cross my mind every now and then to "wait" to wear something....for whatever wonderful thing that was supposed to happen in the future.
posted by foxhat10 at 9:55 PM on March 31, 2012 [3 favorites]

Maybe I need permission from strangers on the internet to wear my nice dress tomorrow?

Here you go: in the famous AskMetafilter thread on things you were "doing wrong" all your life, HopperFan made this insightful comment:
One thing I've only recently realized is that it's stupid to "save things for best." Dishes, sheets, expensive bath products, etc... - use them on a regular basis, or they're worthless.
posted by John Cohen at 10:01 PM on March 31, 2012 [16 favorites]

My read on this is that you may be buying these things as proof of your intentions to make certain changes, and as a stand-in for the actual actions that would bring those things about. On the other end of things, your decision not to use them serves again as a stand-in for those actions, for the control you're not exerting elsewhere.

It reminds me of another problem with two components that seem disconnected, though I'm having trouble mapping this scenario directly onto the one I'm thinking of. I mean procrastination, where someone will say, "I'll do it tomorrow." Then, when tomorrow rolls around, it's "If this was really important, I would have done it already."

I'd suggest you look to therapy, and to systematically dismantle the mystique you've placed around these objects.

You could go get the watch right now, put it on, and wear it to bed, and then maybe think about how to really go about achieving the thing you were really saving it for.

And if you're looking for my permission to wear that dress, you've totally got it.
posted by alphanerd at 10:02 PM on March 31, 2012 [10 favorites]

One thing I want to point out about the makeup specifically -- makeup goes bad. So putting it away until you live in a better place or have better hair or a better wardrobe or whatever it is that's holding you back from using these specific products... it's just a total waste of your money. By the time everything lines up in your life in a way that makes you feel comfortable using your nice makeup, it may very well be spoiled and unusable.

If you need permission, then I give you permission to use every single bit of makeup you have in your possession right now, or in the future. I also give you permission to wear your nice clothes, your nice accessories and shoes, I give you permission to go get a good haircut and ask the stylist how you can keep it looking nice as long as possible.

You most definitely deserve to have nice things, and to use them! So please do. And I'll also suggest therapy, to help you break out of this mental rut. I think this is a pretty common thing for people, so please don't think you're abnormal or weird.

Good luck!
posted by palomar at 10:06 PM on March 31, 2012 [5 favorites]

Nice things are nice because they're durable. As a general rule, expensive goods are expensive because they are made to last.

So I'm guessing you have these nice things. And you're kind of anxious about using them because you don't want to "waste them."

Well, the thing is, it's really hard to "waste" nice goods. They'll stick around. That's the whole point of them. They're tough. That's why they're "nice" (expensive) in the first place. And second, there's a bonus of using nice goods.

You build a relationship with those goods. Yes, I know that may sound silly, but there's something sweet about wearing something you've owned for years. You know that piece of clothing and that piece of clothing knows you and it just feels right.

That's what "nice " goods are all about--you'll have them for awhile. So your duty is to use them and they'll learn how to use you and you should have a long and fun relationship with them.
posted by mcmile at 10:16 PM on March 31, 2012

Oh my god, I'm the same way. I've been working on this for years. What helped was to remember the "dress for the job you want, not the job you have" maxim-- so I dress myself/my world for the life I want, not necessarily the life I have. Like the stickers-- is it better to see the unused stickers now, 10 years later, or would it have been more fun at the time to add that little pleasure to your life? Do you want to be the kind of person who fills her life with little joys or the kind of person who hoardes them? When someone steps into your life, do you want a past and present full of experiences and goals-in-progress and changing opinions, or a lot of waiting?

I also think this point of view comes from not having a lot of money, because I frequently think when I want to wear a new pair of shoes that I won't have a new pair for years, and pretty soon they'll be my daily beat-up shoes and it won't feel as special. So if I have something really really nice, I might save them until I live somewhere where people will notice, or I'll wear them for the first time on a date and then keep wearing them afterward. But I think eventually when you get into a routine with your hair/makeup/clothes you'll realize how comforting it is to be able to use nice things on yourself on a daily basis and feel like you're radiating your sense of style into the world.

It also helps for me to announce that I'm going to use something to someone else? Like I'll tell my sister that I'm using my new journal to write down five things a day or something, so that I don't feel like I'm... wasting it on myself, if that makes sense.

When I visit home, people are much less "high-fashion" on the streets, and I often revert back to wearing old jeans and very little makeup, not doing my hair, &c. And that's because I'm there to visit with my family, and don't really care how anyone else perceives me. But if I were living there, I'd try to be true to my sense of style and taste, because it signals to other people like you!

Oh, and there's something really cute about seeing a friend's/boyfriend's/girlfriend's bedroom for the first time and seeing all their stuff around in various states of use. It's so much more interesting to be trying new things!
posted by stoneandstar at 10:39 PM on March 31, 2012 [9 favorites]

Lastly, wanting to "save" stuff is a part of your personality too. It makes you who you are in some way, and there are people who will think it's adorable. I've been there and I wanted to change too, but just to keep in mind if you feel guilty about it.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:43 PM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wear that dress tomorrow!

I understand that tendency--I have that a little bit too. Like if you use it for a non-special occasion, then the thing won't be special in itself anymore. But really, things are made to be used (and worn and eaten off of, etc.)! If you never take your clothes out of the closet, you're not letting them serve the purpose they were made for.

I remember my mom telling me a story about a neighbor she had growing up who was in her 40s and still unmarried. When she was in her 20s she'd bought some nice china to use when she got married, but she never did. So the china was still sitting there, never used, waiting for a day that might never come.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't take care of your things. But you should also use them. Apply that makeup and feel good about how pretty you look. Wear the expensive dress and feel confident in it! There's almost certainly never going to be a point in your life where you feel like you've arrived. The only thing you can do is embrace where you are right now.
posted by McPuppington the Third at 11:48 PM on March 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

Find the middle ground between never and every day.

If you feel you can't wear your beautiful dress every day, what about saying "I'm going to wear this beautiful dress to the next dinner party I get invited to" or "I'm going to wear this dress to the next wedding I attend."

It sounds like you're overwhelming yourself by thinking that you need to change your entire life in some way when you use something, for example that if you dress up one day then you'll have to keep dressing up forever because you will have reached the stage in your life where you dress up. Life isn't like that, you are going to have times where your hair is all over the place and you go to the grocery store in your pajamas, and there's nothing wrong with it, and there are going to be other times when you're dressed to the nines and look like you just stepped out of a salon, and that's great too. If you can accept that, then making the choice to do something different will be less intimidating.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:51 PM on March 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

You know, I am very much like you about my nicest things, except I am very happy that way and don't plan to change. But I will share what I've done in case it's interesting for you. I'll use clothes as my example.

I started with almost no money and very few clothes. All of my clothes fit in a backpack or two and were very cheap, frumpy and ill fitting. Sweatshirts, vinyl pants and things. From that starting point, I just kind of slowly went up a ladder over several years of my early twenties as I made more and more money.

I started from the lower priced items at thrift stores. I got a new item every few weeks until I felt like I had something halfway decent to wear for any occasion that required more than a sweatshirt. I supplemented that with stuff from the sale racks at Ross and Mandees. At the end of this stage I was still wearing my crappy stuff almost all the time, and wore the halfway decent stuff on the rare special occasions.

Then I got a LOT better at shopping at thrift stores and had a bit more money so I could get the higher priced stuff and instead of Salvation Army, go to Buffalo Exchange (if you don't know what this is it is basically where rich college kids go to sell their extraneous clothes.) So now instead of "halfway decent clothes" I could get, like, brand new slacks from Express with the tags still on. So I built a wardrobe of NICE things to wear for any occasion. Although what was nice to me at that time, I think most people would see as everyday stuff, even if it was good quality. I stopped buying low quality stuff from Ross in this period. However, most of the time I was wearing my crappy stuff and my halfway decent stuff, and saving the nice stuff.

Then I finished being a student and got my first job and had a decent amount of money. So I just took that next step up the ladder and kept building my wardrobe to where my formerly "nice" stuff became my everyday stuff, and my super nice stuff truly became super nice. I could actually buy stuff in normal stores at the mall! And not necessarily just the things that were on sale!

Now I have a whole closet full of very pretty things, enough so that every time I want to look nice I'm very happy with and almost amazed by my options. (I actually just thought the other day as I was deciding on a sweater to wear, "I can't believe all these sweaters are really mine and I can wear any of them that I want.") And I don't feel like I am wasting them because I have enough that I don't wear any one particular item very often so they won't get worn out anytime soon.

So, if you find it kind of hard to make the change, I might suggest doing something a bit like this. Absolutely wear your nicest dress if that's what you want to do. But maybe slowly fill in items in the middle rungs of the ladder too.
posted by cairdeas at 12:23 AM on April 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

My grandma is 88. She lives in a house packed to the gills with stuff, and a few years ago, my mom went down and spent a summer trying to help clear everything out.

She found boxes and boxes full of stuff (nice towels, bedding, dishes, expensive clothes with the tags still on, etc, etc), much of it gifts from my grandma's wedding (in 1950), most of it unopened and still in its original packaging.

They were all being saved for a "special occasion".

My grandpa died nearly 20 years ago having never had a chance to use Byatt of these nice things. My grandma isn't getting any younger. In over 50 years, my grandma has had lots of special occasions, but none that were quiiiite special enough to break out one of her nice things. So instead, she spends every day using the cheap, worn-out crap that she thinks she deserves.

What a supremely depressing way to live.

At some point, you have to just make the decision that you're worth all of those nice things (because you are, because we all are) and just go for it. Otherwise you could end up an old woman living in a home full of the trappings of an unlived life.
posted by phunniemee at 1:26 AM on April 1, 2012 [67 favorites]

Byatt=any. My phone is crazy.
posted by phunniemee at 1:28 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

One thing that's helped me (I'm a little like you) is that I gave myself a stern talking to, it went like this "Miss Pony! Why are you saving all these things? If you act like you don't deserve them and you'll only have them this once- what a horrid thought... so start being the gorgeous woman you ARE and use what you've got to look great and feel great and get used to it!" and I think "yeah! I'm not a girl who has to hoard bubble bath and wear my second bests- I am a girl who takes AMAZING baths on a regular basis and wears nice things!"

Life happens while you're making plans right? You might be saving that dress for your next date... but then you pass a cute guy in the supermarket in something not so nice... you'd wish you were wearing the dress!

Sometimes when I'm in a slump and don't feel like seeing or doing anything- I pamper myself and dress up and take myself out... maybe start doing that once a week and get used to wearing and using your stuff? Pretend for that time you're just like one of those women you've cut out and admire... I bet you'll like it and find out that you are that spectacular- :-)
posted by misspony at 1:57 AM on April 1, 2012 [11 favorites]

One way to make the switch is to round up every last bit of your worn-out, low quality, uninspiring stuff and toss it-- why even have it around? "Nice" becomes the new everyday. And don't just stop at your clothes: do a grand sweep of your kitchen stuff, your bedding, your decor--everything! You'll be surprised at how much lighter you feel not surrounded by a bunch of gray old crap that's weighing you down.
posted by doreur at 3:37 AM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

They say we have to look the part too!

An example: If you interview for a new awesome job you do not have yet you dress for that new awesome job, not for the one crappy job you currently have. We dress for what we want to have, achieve, portray.

Sometimes there are no special occasions, no job interviews, no weddings, no dinner dates to wear those special items to. Life is sweet and simple and we kind of go with the flow. Well, let’s make a special occasion then. Let’s go out for a nice piece of cake to that fancy place in town on sunday. That’s not something we do every sunday, so it is the perfect occasion to dress up and make a note in the journal and put in the sticker just to remind us.

I have thrown those "precious-save-for-later-stickers" in the garbage after saving them for years! I simply did not even like them anymore as my style had changed. You might find yourself in a similar situation, after a few years clothes might look dated, makeup might be spoiled, your style might change.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:55 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I find that daring myself to do things helps me actually do things. For instance, if I say "okay I dare myself to wear the dress" then I'll feel obligated to at least try the dress on even if I don't want to. It's simplistic, but it's a way of forcing myself to do something that I fear.

I dare you to grab the dress out of your closet, ask yourself what's the worst that can happen, put the dress on, and see how it makes you feel.

Then, I dare you to grab a package of makeup that you have had for a few years. Ask yourself what's the worst that can happen and then put some mascara, lipstick, or eye shadow on.

You more than likely will feel anxious and uncomfortable doing this, but after you have reached the final point of wearing that dress or putting on that makeup you will realize that you feel better. You will feel better because you overcame your fear.


This is something that I force myself to do despite my overwhelming anxiety. For instance, I could take cab rides more often but I feel better once I just face my fear. I realize that I did it and that I was okay even after I walked to the bus stop.
posted by livinglearning at 5:09 AM on April 1, 2012

I used to worry about using up the special things -- what if I used it all and then couldn't replace it? That does happen. But the not-unpleasant side effect of that is memories. I'll catch a whiff of a scent and it'll remind me of a long-gone soap. If I had rationed the soap and was still using it, I wouldn't have it as a memory-jog to the past.

One way I make peace with things wearing out and getting used up is to take lots of photos. Around the house photos especially. To be able to look back and see your special coffee cup next to the scarf on the hook helps me feel like I really am living intentionally.

I once lived in a place that I wouldn't decorate or buy furniture for. I only used old towels while keeping a nice set in a trunk for when I got a nicer place. I ended up living in that space for 12 years.
posted by xo at 5:14 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I continue to buy things in hopes of using them when I become the person I want to be.
Be that person right now. Does she dress sloppily just because she hasn't quite reached every single goal yet? I don't think so.
posted by anaelith at 5:28 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a grandmother like that too- Chanel perfume in the packaging from 1969 etc. Now she is 95 so...

I'm a bit like that too, I will also admit.

Everyone in NY has heard (a variation on the story) about the single woman living in a studio 'just until she gets married' and now she's 67.

Not that life can't also be great when you're older, just that the intervening years should be lived fully too. (If only I could take my own advice).
posted by bquarters at 5:37 AM on April 1, 2012

My mom loves to tell the stories about how very different my sister and I are from each other in this regard.

When she'd take us shopping when we were little, I'd always want to wear my new clothes and shoes out of the store, ripping off the tags at checkout and my sister would keep the bags with all her new purchases neatly stacked in our closet. She's very rarely move out of the rotation of what she was already wearing and very often would outgrow those new things before she had a chance to put them on.

My mom always found this equally amusing and frustrating, but I just think it speaks to how people are wired. I fly right out there and my sister finds comfort in the tried and true. Even shopping 30 years later, she will only buy variations of what she already owns and that's only if her current stuff is falling apart or ruined beyond repair.

My point is that she's okay with this, living this way helps her feel happy and stable, and that's fine. But if she weren't, all I'd suggest is that she wear those new shoes out of the store or go home and immediately put on those new clothes. If you want to make this change, you have to force yourself past your comfort zone and just do it.
posted by kinetic at 6:00 AM on April 1, 2012

Skimming the comments above, I see a lot of helpful points on giving yourself permission to use these things now. I just wanted to give you a suggestion that goes toward the other part if your question, that elusive point in your life where you'll suddenly feel you've arrived and you deserve this:

Fake it.

Seriously. You're waiting until you feel like you've achieved success or gotten your life in order and the truth is nobody ever does. Ever hear the phrase 'fake it til you make it?' That doesn't apply only to obnoxious posers and wannabes, it can help us over analytical types who are waiting for that magic point where every last detail falls into place.

Story time: I am a lawyer. My socioeconomic background is somewhat more modest than my colleagues'. I didn't know any lawyers growing up or even really what being one was like. In school and the early stages of my career I felt like an imposter at a country club. Not only wasn't I as well off as a lot of the people around me, I had no sense of the lexicon: those little shared connotations and social understandings that came naturally to the people who grew up comfortably and were confident in their place.

Long story short, I just sort of decided one day that I was going to picture who I wanted to be at the end of this transformation I was waiting for, and start acting like her. I felt like a phony initially: here I was acting like I knew what I was doing, or like I knew I was successful and I clearly wasn't. But here's the thing: it worked. In a surprisingly short amount of time I felt like I had arrived. And it certainly wasn't because I had achieved all the goals I thought I needed to before I'd feel that way: I still drove a beat up old car, I still didn't know half of the laws I thought I should, or have all the life skills that would mean I'm a grown-up.

The coda to this is one day my boss, an accomplished and poised woman who embodied everything I felt I wasn't, was having a particularly trying day. While we were troubleshooting she confessed that she worried that [stressor] meant that she is a failure at everything. In the context, it could only have come from someone with some underlying insecurity: the issue was not that big of a deal. It floored me, though, because she is very clearly not a failure - like why would you even think that? Through our conversation she basically said that feeling that your life hasn't come together yet never goes away. You just get better at dealing with it.

So there's my advice to you: act like you're at the point in your life where you think you need to be when you deserve to use all this stuff, because that point doesn't exist. Or put another way, you can be there if you let yourself.
posted by AV at 6:04 AM on April 1, 2012 [18 favorites]

My read on this is that you may be buying these things as proof of your intentions to make certain changes, and as a stand-in for the actual actions that would bring those things about. On the other end of things, your decision not to use them serves again as a stand-in for those actions, for the control you're not exerting elsewhere.

posted by alphanerd at 1:02 AM on April 1 [−] Favorite added! [!]

I am a little bit like the OP some days, and a lot like the OP on other days, and I came in here to try to explain why, and alphanerd explained it so perfectly and eloquently that I'm sitting here crying a little. So yeah, that.

I'm gonna go print this out now and tape it up all over the house.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:13 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm going to encourage you to use all those cute stickers & fun stationery & fancy bubblebath right away.

I recently moved & was rummaging through some old boxes looking for art supplies my kids could play with. What did I find? PILES of beautiful paints, markers, stickers, etc. All ruined. They had all dried up & gotten destroyed. But instead of using them when I got them (20 years ago, for some), I saved them because they were "special". And now, instead of having memories of the pleasure I got from creating beautiful art, I have garbage & regrets.

I now let the kids use my nice paints & the real canvases, instead of cheap watercolor & scrap paper. I let them open up the new box of crayons & scribble away, even though I know the crayons are all going to be broken & spread across the floor in just a few days. (I'm looking at them now, in fact. The rocking chair has crushed several into interesting patterns of color on the floor. sigh.) The toddler & I used my expensive glitter to make Christmas presents this year, even though I cringed ever time she spilled some on the floor.

My point is, these things are in our lives to be used and enjoyed. And your life is NOW. This is what you have. Make it special.
posted by belladonna at 6:34 AM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Some thoughts that help me:

Things are made to be used.

There will always be more things.
posted by bobobox at 6:46 AM on April 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am a perfectionist like you, and I have clothes with tags on in my closet waiting for when I become the person who deserves to wear those clothes.

My advice is to pick one day a week and make it your "dress up day."Every Monday you're allowed to dress in those clothes no matter where you are or where you're going. You can justify it in your mind because honestly, the best way to become something is to "fake it till you make it.". So consider it a dress rehearsal. It's important to practice being the the person you're striving for because it's the best and fastest way to get there.

If you can't change your brain, you need to figure out a way to justify what you want to do.
posted by katypickle at 7:23 AM on April 1, 2012

It seems more punitive than perfectionist. You deserve to enjoy your nice things.

To pile on with the anecdotes: My mother has very similar tendencies. (She also struggles with self-esteem.) My family didn't have a lot when I was young. I rarely had new clothes. One time a friend of my mother gave me a brand-new, hand-sewn (!!) skirt and blouse. It was a beautiful outfit - I'll spare you my rhapsodic description, but suffice to say that it was age- and fit-appropriate and simply lovely. Of course I wanted to wear it right away, but my mom said that it was too nice for every day wear, so I'd have to wait. Was I allowed to wear it to a special school event? No, not special enough. Was I allowed to wear it to church on Sunday? No, not special enough. Was I allowed to wear it to church on a big holiday? No, not special enough. Was I allowed to wear it to a friend's birthday party? No, not special enough. As a child I never attended any weddings or funerals, so you see there was never going to be an event that was special enough. The President of the United States and the Queen of England could have invited me to tea and it still would not be a special enough event, it seemed.

The outfit hung in my closet for a long time. I'd admire it longingly, wondering when I'd ever get to wear it.

One day I came home and my older sister, a teenager, greeted me full of pride. She had dressed herself in what I suppose she thought was a sexy and edgy way -- a crapton of makeup, some tight top with the bra showing through, fishnets, and the skirt of my beloved and never-worn outfit. It barely covered her ass - butt cheeks were visible below the hem. It was so small on her that she had busted the zipper. You can imagine how I felt. I'm sure she got the idea to "repurpose" clothing from some magazine -- thanks a bunch, Sassy -- so I'm not bitter toward her for doing it, but it still stings that I never had the opportunity to enjoy what had been a present to me.

Oh - and why I never got to enjoy it? My mom tossed the outfit once she saw the broken zipper and seam because it was "ruined."

This formative experience taught me not to save things for some ill-defined future-and-better time. That time may never come.

My mom still saves things. She'll buy herself new, flattering outfits and let them languish in the back of the closet. Stylistically they are not far from her "everyday" wardrobe, but she just never gets around to it. I think it's sad.

So, I give you internet-permission to use your nice things. Be who you want to be starting today.
posted by stowaway at 7:24 AM on April 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

If you tend toward OCD, harness that trait to help you do what you want.

Get a pair of dice. Roll them every day, promising yourself that the day they come up double six is the day you'll wear your nice dress.

Also, I'm telling you that you don't have permission to wear it until your dice do come up double six. So you might want to practice telling me to fuck off, and wear it just to spite me.
posted by flabdablet at 7:29 AM on April 1, 2012 [8 favorites]

Hi Anon! You could have been me when I was younger! And my mom, as well. She was such a huge believer in "saving things for best so they don't get ruined." She grew up super-poor and with an (at the very least) emotionally-starved childhood and it scarred her for life. So she became something of a "tidy hoarder" (neat living areas but bursting closets and spare rooms). Not only did she have clothes and jewelry "too good" for everyday wear, she had spices that were 10 years old and long since crumbled to dust because "spices are gourmet, and gourmet food is just for company." She also had one of those "living rooms" that no-one was actually allowed to LIVE in - it was just for "company" and, later, a repository for Christmas decorations (seriously, during the last 15 or so years of her life the only time anyone WENT into that room, beside the dog, was to put up or take down holiday decorations!). And the china? She had TWO sets. TWO. None of which were to be "spoiled" by using them for every day.

Now, she is dead, and wherever she may be and whatever afterlife exists, the point is she's shuffled off of THIS mortal coil and will never sit in her pristine living room or use her good jewelry. And I spent a good deal of my life the same way. I honestly think that not having much money, or not having grown up with much is part of the equation - when I had low-paying jobs and/or was a poor grad student I had to be so careful with what I bought and used because if, for instance, my one pair of good interview shoes got scuffed and shabby, I couldn't replace them. Or if I wore a nice dress and spilled marinara sauce on it I was SOL.

Now I've made up my mind to do things like wear nice clothes every day - I don't mean wearing my good wool dresses just to do housecleaning, (realistically, I'd rather wear something less constricting and that I can sweat in if I can) but I'm not going to sit around in my pajamas all day if I'm not working, or working at home, or it's a weekend. I at least wear jeans. Likewise, I've broken out Mom's wedding china to eat from, every day. If I break a dish, so what? This is a process and a journey, not a destination - I still slip back into old, bad, "save it for best" habits, because I was brought up that way. (Yes, mom always told me that certain outfits or jewelry or whatever was to be hoarded, not used. When you're a growing child and are going to grow out of that dress before you wear it out that makes no sense!) It's a process of mindfulness and practice. It takes 30 days, or so I've heard, to make something a habit. I don't know about the exact 30 days but I do know if you keep doing something every day it eventually DOES stick and become a habit.

Another thing that has helped is FlyLady. While most of her stuff is focused around housecleaning, one of her points is that you feel better and get more done if you dress to shoes every day. I don't dress to shoes because I hate wearing shoes in the house, but I've adapted that to "dress to jeans, light makeup, and a pair of earrings." Finally, I have this spiritual idea (and to each their own on this!) that my clothes and dishes and other things want to be loved and used and to be of service. Corny? Yes. Helpful? Yes.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 8:45 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe it would help to start buying nice things from thrift stores, resale shops, etc. That's where I buy most of my clothes, so whenever I catch myself "saving" one of the nicer items, I can remind myself, "Hey, you only paid $4 for that shirt, and its original owner gave it up entirely. You might as well wear it; what do you lose if you mess it up, $4? Take a picture; enjoy wearing it; and if it gets messed up, go buy another cool unique thrift-store thing." Knowing serendipity is always available for $5 has helped me immensely in this regard.
posted by limeonaire at 8:59 AM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to nth what everyone else is saying re: I too have been (and currently am, to some extent) there, and sometimes you just have to break down and use the "nice" whatever.

My example is kind of embarrassing, but it's candles. I know! I love fancy candles and I pick out the perfect scent that will make my house be the best-smelling house, but then I'm scared to actually burn them once I buy them, because what if I use it all up before company comes and then my house doesn't smell like jasmine? But candles don't last forever, and if you don't use them the smell disappears and what was the point of spending the $20?! And in actuality, there will always be more candles (unless they get outlawed...oh shit, why did I have to think about that?). But really--someone will buy me a Bath and Body Works gift card, or Glade candles will be on sale, or I'll just scrape up the $20 to make myself happy, because having my house smell nice DOES make me happy, and I deserve that.

I just bought a new couch and am struggling with that, too. It's the most expensive thing (besides a car) that I've ever bought with my own money, and it's gorgeous and I feel like it's too good for my three-dog household. I think I've sat on it twice, because I'm scared to ruin it. I will keep an eye on this thread for a compelling reason to sit on the damn couch. :)
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:09 AM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm a bit like this with certain things. It helps me to look at it as though I'm wasting these items by not wearing/using them. Good luck. You can get out of this pattern.
posted by missmerrymack at 9:31 AM on April 1, 2012

I do this too, to the extent that I have always longed for Babybel cheeses because they are so cute and tiny and fancy but they were $3.49 a bag (the horror!) and I thought they were too "fancy" for everyday eatin'. My partner had to literally put them in the cart for me and tell me I deserved to eat Babybels.

It helps me to keep a mental (or an actual, if that works for you) checklist of the last time you indulged or denied yourself special things. I have a favorite sweater that I am afraid to wear and wash too often or it will get worn out. I keep mental track of the last time I wanted to wear it. If I did, then this time I will deny myself. If I didn't, then I get to enjoy it this time!
*This probably doesn't handle the overall "problem", if you think of it as a neurosis you want to get rid of, but it helps me feel less guilty the times I do indulge to know that I also sometimes say no, and makes it extra-special when I do get to say yes.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:39 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe I need permission from strangers on the internet to wear my nice dress tomorrow?

Granted again. Moreover: burn the stickers. Toss out the makeup. Cut your hair off. Wear all the dresses until you've decided which ones look any good on you and take the rest to goodwill. Make a project out of defeating these things that have serving to reflect your own fears back at you.

Freedom from your own expectations is worth more than all the possessions in the world.
posted by ead at 10:15 AM on April 1, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm with doreur: throw away your worst stuff to put your best stuff in the regular rotation.

Until very recently, I had two stacks of t-shirts in my closet: one was the sort of promotional crap you get for free at conferences, in a variety of sizes that only sort of fit me. The other was of fun, quirky t-shirts I had actually bought because I liked the designs, and they were my size. I told myself that the former was for sleeping and working out, while the latter was for actual wear outside the house where other people would see and where they wouldn't get worn out by sweating all over them. The problem was, I almost never wear t-shirts as everyday wear because I dress business casual most days and wear bum around clothes on the weekends. So I never wore the shirts I actually liked.

A month or so ago, I threw away (well, donated) all of my freebie, crap t-shirts. Now, when I go running or go to bed or whatever, I wear the t-shirts I actually like. If they get ripped or sweat-stained or whatever, I can throw them away and replace them with new ones. But I'm actually wearing the clothes I like that fit me, and I'm really enjoying it. I still struggle with the "I shouldn't wear this now, because what if I want to wear it later and then it's dirty," but I'm working on it. And it's much better than when my nicer things were part of a spare wardrobe for a hypothetical life, while I was spending my actual life in ill-fitting clothes I don't like.
posted by decathecting at 10:37 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it helps at all, you don't need to think of this as a harmful pattern you have to completely break or change. You can think of it as a good, practical instinct in many situations, but one that you have simply taken too far.

For example it's smart, especially if you don't have a lot of money, not to wear delicate silk blouses just to sit around at home. It can be nice to use certain dishes only on special occasions (assuming that you really do use them on actual special occasions.) If you can buy an item for the future and use it, not as a stand-in for action as alphanerd astutely points out this might be, but as a reminder or inspiration for action, that could be helpful. (E.g. if you want to go on a tropical vacation, and if buying a bathing suit and hanging it up reminds you every day to save or plan for that vacation, that could be a useful tool rather than a procrastination technique.)

But sometimes applying this instinct actually hurts you, as with the makeup. Makeup goes bad, so you're not doing anything but losing money by buying makeup and not using it. Same with things like stickers - they don't literally go bad, but for most people, their taste in small cheap decorative things will change every few years. If you use them there's nothing that says you can't buy new, even more special stickers, when that time comes.

And even with more expensive things like the polo shirt and watch...well, let's say you do someday become the person you want to be. That person will, by definition, be at least a little different than you are now, or else you'd be her already. She might not really like that watch or that polo shirt. You can't be sure yet. But you know you like them now! I say wear them while you still want to.

(One more thing. If you're accumulating these things as a sort of record for yourself of the way you want to be, switch to doing that via Pinterest or saving clippings in a file folder. At least it takes up less money and space!)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:43 AM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's obvious from the comments that this is a fairly common feeling. And it seems to operate on a kind of continuum.

I've got this tendency, too, but I try really hard to fight it. My mom's got it too (show place living room? check! special china that never gets used ? check!) Partly I just don't buy stuff any more that is too special for every day. Those super special fantastic events? THEY PRACTICALLY NEVER HAPPEN. And if they do? I can go buy something appropriate then. And in the mean time, super special fantastic things make the every day a little nicer.

I use my grandmother's wedding silver as my every day cutlery, for example. My mother was a little miffed at first, but I pointed out that I didn't even know my grandmother had had silver, since she never even used it for special occasions. But now that silver has been used every day for almost 20 years. And I often think of my grandmother when I'm washing the dishes. And I also think of the roommate I had when I first started the silver, dinner parties where it's been used, etc. How impersonal it would be if it had all just been sitting in a box all this time.

One thing I want to point out about the makeup specifically -- makeup goes bad.

EVERYTHING GOES BAD. I've saved amazing chocolate--even though I know better!--only to have it be crumbly and dry by the time I eat it. I've tossed out very expensive oil paints that I never used, because I was waiting to become a better painter. I have outgrown dresses I never wore! And I have saved other fabulous clothes until they went out of style.

Part of what improved things for me was having a kid (there are easier ways to cure it, though, I'm sure). They grow so fast when they are little, but it takes a little while to figure that out. So she had many adorable outfits, gifts from loved ones, that she only wore once, or never wore at all, because I didn't want to ruin them. And then I had to give them away, because you can only save so many 3-6 month dresses.

A lot of this is scarcity mentality, for me. I hoard things because what if I never get another nice thing again?? Except I have a whole lovely little home full of nice things. And I work hard and earn good money and can buy myself little nice things any time I want (within reason). You have to let go of the fear of having nothing and embrace the fruitfulness of life. There's always going to be more stuff. (Which is a mixed blessing, for sure.)

So, go for it! Wear your fancy makeup every day! Put on your favourite dress and take yourself out for tea and cakes. Enjoy it all now. And in particular, enjoy the boost your nice things give you. Let that boost bump you a notch closer to the life you are waiting for.
posted by looli at 12:05 PM on April 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, sweetie. It's wonderful that you're noticing this pattern, and questioning it, and seeing that it holds you back from enjoying your life to the fullest.

I briefly dated a man whose home was full of mouldering, mouse-chewed, "special" things that had turned to mostly garbage and ashes. Things had become much more important to him than actual humans, although a lot of his stuff was kept because it symbolized or reminded him of people. He screamed at me for chipping a pint glass, the sort that the pub gave away for free. He has dozens of the glasses but he no longer has me.

I share this because it sounds like you might have a tendency to fetishize things. It's best to break this habit before it grows. You've received some wonderful advice here. Please take it and enjoy all the beauty in life.
posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 12:08 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think this is fine and I'm the same way. I'm just starting to use my nice clothes, feel like I look good when I go out, and buy something nice when I like it.

I think you're totally on the right track. Maybe you can just start wearing them, and "fake it til you make it". I bought a pair of black boots last winter and was so surprised how different I felt when I wore them. It was like an instant boost of confidence. It was like I realized that I was the type of person who could wear cool boots.

There was a time when I was definitely not ready to wear flashy things though. Maybe you're not there yet but you're still on the way. I say wait it out. For me, I think my sexual maturity has come later than other people (~~ when I was 22, and am now 24). Maybe you're still learning to be a woman. That's fine and I really don't think you need to be diagnosed with anything.
posted by costanza at 12:16 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with many of the points above.

One tiny thing to add is to figure out whether there are actually any barriers stopping you using your nice things. If you have nice dresses but none of your shoes work with them because you've never tried to wear them, then you need to add shoes (ditto appropriate bras, handbags that don't look ridiculous with a nice dress etc).

Do you never wear makeup because you don't have a certain type? You need to fill in the gaps. Because you're not confident how? Book a makeup lesson and take along your own makeup.

Do you not use nice ingredients because you don't know any recipes or the recipes are know are too complex? Search for new recipes!

I'm the last person to advocate buying loads more stuff, but it's so silly not to enjoy the things you clearly like if you could get yourself over that hurdle by having a nice neutral pair of heels, nice neutral flat shoes and a nice neutral handbag.

By the way, I get over my tendency to do this with clothes by making myself wear new things within a week (unless it's something silly like a ballgown). Even for a specific outfit bought for a wedding or something you need to try it out for a couple of hours otherwise you won't know in advance that you need to fix the way it rides up/slips down/shows your bra/pinches in the wrong place.
posted by kadia_a at 1:55 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

What you are doing is delaying your life, delaying becoming the person you want to be. This is very much psychological. It is a bit obsessive, and I think some deep introspection is due on why you feel this way. Can you control it or are you using the internet as a means to reach out to others to figure out why you are doing what you're doing? Only you can answer that and it may be hard to come to terms with if your honest answer is not so positive.

Like others have said, you only live once. Just once, and you're also only young once. Why would you waste the most intense, fun, and carefree years of your life... because you will not be who you wish you could be; maybe because it's scary, uncomfortable? Let me tell you, it is THRILLING to dress up. Fashion is a HUGE interest of mine and just wearing what you love, what makes you feel pretty, can transform you in thought and also the thoughts of others about you. You will become the person you want to be when you can be that person who wears those clothes, or shows off that handbag... but you have something in the way. You should figure it out. Anxiety can also drag you down. You are who you believe you are. Key words are you and believe.
posted by Chelsaroo650 at 4:37 PM on April 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are so many good stories and advice above, so I will only add this post that was made by Gretchen Rubin on her Happiness Project blog about "spending out."
posted by mild deer at 4:42 PM on April 1, 2012

One thing I try to remember is that better things are coming, but you may have to get through the things you have/are/experience now to get to the better ones. Don't hold on too tightly to an idea or a thing because your fists might be too full to take hold of something that is truly great later on.

You can't hold on to anything. "This, too, shall pass." -- even the opportunity to use these things will pass.

Act like the person you want to become. -- pretend until it is real.
posted by ramenopres at 7:27 PM on April 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

When my husband and I got married we got several bottles of whisky (he's Scottish) as gifts, and I also bought 2 bottles from a distillery that I toured with some of the wedding guests. After the wedding, we had all these bottles and at first they just sat there because it felt like they needed to be saved for "special occasions".

But really, other than our wedding anniversary that comes once a year, it's hard to tell what's "worthy" of it. And then my husband was listening to a podcast that talked about this very situation and what's totally changed our attitude came down to this:

The moment you even wonder if the moment is "good enough", it is.

It isn't the whisky itself that's particularly special, it's the moment, the time, the context. The whisky just affirms the specialness.

So I guess my point with your clothes, your makeup, your shoes, your watch - you say you're waiting for life to start, but using those things can be the start. So just start living that life you admire, the aesthetic that you want and beforey you know it, you're living the life you wanted rather than waiting for it to arrive. Life is not something that happens to you, it's something you do. Cheers!
posted by like_neon at 2:19 AM on April 2, 2012

You're waiting until you feel like you've achieved success or gotten your life in order and the truth is nobody ever does.

A thousand times this. This must be one of the most pervasive thought patterns that we humans have. Once I get married/have kids/finish my PhD/buy a house then I'll be like those people I admire who have done these things.

Bad news: getting to those milestones does not automatically make you have your life in order. Good news: all those people you admire because you think they have their life in order actually don't (see bad news above). So there isn't really this unimaginable gap between you and them. So you might as well start doing what ever it is you would like to be doing (like using your nice things).
posted by primer_dimer at 7:59 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The clothes you're putting off using will eventually go out of style.

To maximize the amount of value you get from them, use them *now*, or otherwise, you're wasting money by not using them.
posted by talldean at 12:15 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't have a ton of money...I continue to buy things in hopes of using them when I become the person I want to be. I have quite a bit of makeup that I don't use, because I don't feel ready yet.

You are squandering your money when you buy things that you aren't going to use. If you aren't ready to wear makeup, quit buying it! It dries out and goes bad. Clothes will get out of style. Keep your money and buy these things when you need them.

As to the things you have already, like the watch and polo shirt, just go ahead and wear them someplace even once, and they won't be these sacred items any more. Wear your watch to see a movie, or when you are typing -- nothing bad will happen to your watch while you are sitting there. Just wear it for half an hour -- get the watch, unfasten the strap, and put it on your wrist. If you can't make yourself do that, how about trying the watch on? For a minute or so -- maybe just put on the watch to take a picture of your wrist with it on. Then, off and away. Next day, two minutes -- pictures in two locations.
posted by yohko at 2:00 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

How about instituting Try It Out Tuesdays? You can start using your stuff one day a week, for just half an hour to start. Expand to other days of the week later. Or have Makeup Wednesday, Polo Thursdays and Sticker Weekends.

Now that you mention it, I have a few dresses and Hello Kitty stickers that I need to put into action. And I've got to pull the silver and soup tureen out!
posted by dragonplayer at 8:25 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hi. I'm a recovering clutterer. One of the biggest things I've learned - aside from the money wasted in clutter - is that things will wait and then by the time you need to use them, they won't work. I can tell you about the perfume that went off, the skirt, bought for a time when I had a smart professional career (I have never worked in an office with a dress code in ten years of professional life) which got eaten by moths before it fitted me. The biscuits my mum brought me from Germany which were so nice that I wanted to save them, and discovered that almonds go rancid. And countless make-up items that soured or dried out.

Part of it was the fear of not being able to find those items again (and so buying back-ups, or things that didn't fit then) but some of it was feeling like it wasn't time to wear them. I'm trying to use everything now, if only to get into the habit of thinking that if it can't be used, it shouldn't be part of my life. There is an expensive bottle of perfume in my drawer at home which I try to use every day, as it's more of a waste to save it for 'special occasions' than to use it and enjoy it just for myself. Believe me, the number of 'wasted' things that led me to make that decision far, far outweighed the cost of the bottle. I put it on and feel bright and mysterious and intelligent even if I'm just going to and from work. I'm trying to get this feeling to extend to other areas of my daily life - fewer scruffy outfits, nicer meals, generally treating myself like I'm worth it. Why are you not 'worth' these things now?
posted by mippy at 9:29 AM on April 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

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