Are You a Creature of Habit?

May 17, 2013

The other day I was emptying the trash in my office and I looked at my trash basket. I mean really looked at it. It was then that I realized I’ve had that same trash basket for thirty years. You heard me right … the same exact basket for thirty years!

Even after all that time there’s nothing particularly wrong with it except that it is a basket so you have to wiggle things out of it sometimes, but mostly it works. It holds just the right amount of trash and is still in good shape. To be honest, it has never occurred to me to replace it — even when I had a whole new office desk system installed a few years ago. I simply placed the same basket in a convenient spot and went about my business.

I bet you are wondering why I am telling you about my trash, right? It’s because this new awareness got me thinking about what else I may be holding onto out of habit and familiarity (rather than for love and beauty) for years or even decades? I began to wonder how that is serving me … or not.

Ginger's JacketsAs you can imagine, I am pretty good at evaluating my wardrobe each season and I regularly let go of clothing and accessories that no longer make me happy, don’t fit or are worn out. Since my new awareness, however, I have honed in on a few items that I have had for, ahem, ten+ years. Two jackets immediately came to mind. One is a brown jacket by my favorite designer, Joseph Ribkoff, and the other is a green jacket from JC Penney that seems to be indestructible. Both are in great condition although I realized I have not been wearing them as much lately. So, in the spirit of understanding this phenomenon (both for my own benefit and my clients’ support) I started asking myself a few questions:

  • Are they still in style — or at least not out of style (e.g., remember the 1980’s when pleated, tapered pants were in? They are no where to be found now (thankfully!)) — Yes.
  • Do they still fit?  Yes.
  • Where will I wear them? (Sometimes, our lifestyle changes and we no longer have the need for certain garments or outfits.) The brown jacket I wear working and the green one has become more casual.
  • Can I make a complete outfit with them? (Have you ever had the experience that you retire one part of a full outfit and then can never seem to find anything else that works as well?) Yes.
  • Do I love wearing them? (This is the clincher!)  Hmmm… think I’m just tired of them.

After the trash basket incident and the awareness that I keep some of clothes for a very long time, I began to gaze around my home with a new mindfulness. It didn’t take long to realize that I am a creature of habit. I sometimes keep things simply because they are familiar. While I don’t do this as much with my clothes because I have learned to assess and reassess what really makes me happy, both when I get dressed each morning AND when I shop, when it comes to items around the house, it’s a different story.

What is the Belief Behind Being a Creature of Habit?

I realized there are two things going on here. One is my reluctance to get rid of anything unless it’s falling apart. I tend to live by the old protestant ethic of my upbringing that says ‘waste not, want not’ and if it’s still in good condition I feel I should keep it. I admit that this is a good and wise choice for the environment — I am certainly not into “fast” consumerism — the idea of buying something just to use once or twice and then discarding it holds very little appeal (on many levels) for me. I like to procure things I enjoy and keep them for a long time. I also am now realizing that I do not have to make apologies for passing something along that I have used well and I can do this before it is in total tatters.

The other thing is that I still have (on some level) the belief that I should save my best things for special occasions. While I have definitely learned not to do this with my clothes and I talk about this more in That’s So You! in the section entitled, “What Are You Waiting For?”, I have not yet applied this to everything in my life.

Silverware - Old & NewThe truth is that as a creature of habit, it is hard for me to see new possibilities when I am tied up in old, automatic habits. In fact, as a result of writing this I had a realization about my every day silverware. I’ve had it for well over 15 years. Do I love it? No. It’s fine (I’m not even sure I loved it when I bought it). It works. It’s in good condition, but I certainly don’t love it. Then I remembered that I have this beautiful silverware that I purchased in St. Augustine Florida at an antique store many years ago that sits in a beautiful box in the pantry waiting for company. Oh, dear. We rarely have company for dinner and even then I often forget to use it. So, it is sitting there in its precious box unused and under-appreciated. I have been such a creature of habit that every day I reach into the kitchen silverware drawer, pull out a fork or spoon and eat. While I’m very particular about the plate I use and always choose that with great intention, it has not occurred to me to question my silverware … until now.

Why am I sharing all of this with you?

  • Because it was a completely new awareness for me and now I can’t stop evaluating everything in my house. I have been totally committed to only keeping and wearing clothes that I love and enjoy wearing, so the realization that this habit had not extended to the rest of my possessions, felt profound. Just as I move things out of my wardrobe from time to time and consign or donate them when they no longer serve me, I can do the same with everyday items in my home. Who knew!
  • If I am having this new awakening with household items then I suspect that there are many women out there who are doing the same thing with their wardrobes: wearing things out of habit rather than because they love the garment and feel beautiful wearing it. As a result, they are oftentimes either overwhelmed with too many clothes (as they add new things without purging older items first), or, they are settling for wearing things that are “good enough” because the clothes are still “wearable” and fit even if they no longer make their heart sing.

It also makes me even more committed to purchasing things only if I love them. No more settling for “good enough” (you can read more about this in That’s So You! as well in the section on “Are You Settling for Good Enough?”). If I am going to keep something for a long time (which I don’t see that habit changing anytime soon) then I want to be fully aware of my appreciation for the item and use it with joyful intention rather than just out of habit.

While there is comfort in habit, it is also easy to fall into a fog of complacency or to do things on automatic pilot. The good news is that we can change all of that. Every night before I fall asleep I spend a few minutes feeling appreciation for people, things and experiences throughout my day. As of now, I have added a new component: I will find one thing to appreciate that is new each day — something seemingly mundane, something I take for granted. As I do this, it will create a new awareness of where I am settling for things that don’t make me happy. Believe me, as I unpack my new/old silverware I will be appreciating that for a long time!

So, where are you a “creature of habit?” And, where is that not serving you?  Have you had any new awarenesses?  If so, please feel free to leave a comment!

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