Spending Out

A few weeks back I was listening to the audio CD of Gretchen Rubin’s Happier at Home which details her efforts to change her home / environment in order to increase her happiness levels (I should note that this is a sequel to Rubin’s original book The Happiness Project). While the book is definitely worth a read for all its parts, one concept in particular jumped out at me: “Spending Out”.

As Rubin describes on her website:

[By] spending out, I mean to stop hoarding, to trust in abundance.

She describes re-using razor blades too often, keeping toothbrushes too long and just in general “making do” with things that are worn, stained or broken when there are better alternatives.

I think that last qualifier (which is my phrasing, not hers) is the important aspect of this concept.   Of course if you are unable to afford a new pair of shoes, you’re going to wear an old pair and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what Rubin describes — at least as I interpret it — is the concept of wearing the old, stained white tee shirt because you’re “saving” a good one in your drawer. “I don’t want to ruin it,” you say. Same with the lovely bath soaps, the family silver, or the pretty scented candle.

Rubin instead advocates “spending out”: go ahead and use it up, wear it out — you can always replace it. And if you can’t? Well, how is that any different than having the thing but never using it in the first place? Either way you’ll be in a position of “I can’t use/wear X”.  In other words, you aren’t any worse off and will have already had the enjoyment of the use of it.

The same concept of spending out has been advocated in different terms by such authors as Shannon Ables of The Simply Luxurious Life, and Jennifer L. Scott of The Daily Connoisseur. In both cases they advocate regularly using the good china, the cloth napkins, the sexy lingerie, the expensive perfume simply to give yourself a little boost of pleasure.

Since I tend to hoard “the good stuff” I’ve begun taking this approach in baby steps.  The Mister and I regularly use cloth napkins, albeit in part because I think paper napkins are both wasteful and tacky. Eventually they get stained and tossed into the rag bag, and I buy new ones.  I’m okay with that because each evening I get to feel just a little bit more elegant as we sit down to dinner.

We also always use the family silver when eating meals. We even use the sugar bowl, creamer and silver tray from my grandmother’s 1930’s coffee service for tea time. It’s difficult to see the downside in this because honestly, it’s not like you can break or wear out a silver fork.  Worst case, we may eventually have to re-plate it.  And again, I get such pleasure from the beauty of an artfully arranged tea on a literal silver platter.

I’m also trying to extend this concept slightly in that I tend to hoard my time, scheduling every minute with What Needs To Get Done. This makes me very efficient and productive…and impatient and disengaged from others. No matter how much I like a person, I get annoyed if they want to chat when I haven’t mentally scheduled “chat 10 minutes with Laura”.  And what do I do with all that saved time? Hang out on Pinterest or Twitter.


Instead I’m trying to teach myself to “spend out” my time. If someone wants to chat, unless there is a human life on the line, I’m going to stop and chat without getting impatient.  If the dog wants to sniff a bush for five minutes — which is an eternity, by the way — I’ll let her.  Why not? It’s a lovely day, I’m outside, where’s the harm?  And instead of rushing through my evening beauty routine (often skipping flossing or eye cream or properly removing my mascara), I am trying to slow down and enjoy the ritual of my end of day beauty care: the sensuality of rubbing creams on my skin, the taste of the fresh minty toothpaste, the slither of my silky nightgown.

In some ways — at least for me — Rubin’s concept of “Spending Out” has become associated with mindfulness. Taking the tiny bit of pleasure in the moment of something fleeting. The white tee won’t stay white forever, the French-milled soaps will eventually melt away, the perfume will evaporate, the housework may not get completed today.  But in this moment, I will have a small joy.


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